For most cosy mystery lovers, Agatha Christie is the first author that comes to mind. I’m no exception. She’s the master not only when it comes to mysteries, twists, and surprise endings, but for her unique characters and settings.
She shaped the world’s imagination of the English lifestyle, countryside, and character, pulling her readers under her spell and making them long to visit the United Kingdom.
She wrote about 66 full-length mysteries, 165 short stories, and 6 novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott. This doesn’t count the many plays and adaptations of her work for the theatre — an activity she loved.
Of course, it’s very hard to make up one’s mind on a single favourite in such a huge catalogue, but I can single out a few, though I reserve the right to be quite inconsistent and change my mind.
And Then There Were None
A special place certainly goes to And Then There Were None. It’s pure genius for its special setting, an isolated island, where 10 people are gathered by the mysterious Mr U.N. Owen who knows a dark secret about each of his guests. It’s one unputdownable story that builds tension from revelation to revelation, to the totally unexpected ending.
In this book, we find a lot of the typical tropes that made Agatha Christie popular, like the disquieting nursery rhyme and the centrepiece where one of the ten little statues gets broken by a mysterious hand each time someone dies.
As for the ending, I admire the clever detail of the chair that tells the police that things are not what they look like, leaving the puzzled investigators unsatisfied with any solution.
Miss Marple Mysteries
As you can imagine, I adore all books starring Miss Marple; among my favourites is A Murder is Announced. How can one resist just the idea of a murderer not only announcing where and when he will strike but actually doing it?
And 4:50 from Paddington, with its enthralling beginning: Mrs McGillicuddy is returning from her shopping in London. She finally settles down to rest when a train going in the same direction overpasses hers on a second track—again one of Christie’s brilliant strokes—and Mrs McGillicuddy sees a man strangling a woman in the train opposite. It takes a matter of seconds and the train disappears in the countryside.
Mrs McGillicuddy alerts the train attendant and the police, but their incredulity pushes her to call for help from her old friend Miss Marple who’s got a real talent for murder. But there’s more to the story—it’s peppered with the body not turning up, more sleuthing, a decadent house and family, and a sort of Mary Poppins who Miss Marple hires to carry out the investigations for her. Adorable!
A number of Miss Marple mysteries have been turned into movies, and, yes, I love Margaret Rutherford playing her. I think the public liked them so much that the producers even stole a few of Hercule Poirot’s stories to turn them into Miss Marple’s mysteries. Who could blame them? We readers have always it found a bit unfair that Agatha Christie should use the nosey spinster in only 12 mysteries and 20 short stories!
Critics hardly ever mention the book Parker Pyne Investigates. To me it’s simply fascinating. Parker Pyne is a retired government employee with considerable experience in… statistics! Numbers taught him that “human unhappiness can be classified under five main heads—no more. Once you know the cause of a malady, the remedy should not be impossible.”
Confident in his knowledge, he advertises his services in the personal column of The Times: “Are you happy? If not, consult Mr Parker Pyne.”
The book contains 12 cases, 6 of which set in the UK. The others occur during Mr Parker Pyne’s holidays because, as he says, if you are a detective of the heart, it’s very seldom people won’t need your services even when you’d like a break.
In my An Italian Village Mystery series, Agnese Brando runs a perfumery where she advises her customers on the best perfume for them. There’s an essence for each moment of their lives, even at the most difficult times, and Agnese knows how to help them. I won’t deny that the idea of these side stories appearing in each novel of the series (not in the prequel, which is a novella) comes directly from too much… Parker Pyne!
Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford
Maybe the Tommy and Tuppence books aren’t proper cosy mysteries since they often deal with international conspiracy and espionage, but the two are simply a talented, funny duo, with a romantic side too as after the first book they get happily married.
Partners in crime is their second book, a delicious collection of short stories. The combination of peppery Tuppence and the slow-but-reliable Tommy is hard to resist. This is especially true since they try to solve each mystery using the method of a famous classic detective, and yes, that includes Mr Poirot!
Hercule Poirot Mysteries
I guess you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Hercule Poirot? Don’t I like him? Of course I do, and I read his stories time and time again. I love The Murder of Roger Ackroyd where Agatha Christie cheats on the first rule of cosy mysteries and readers learn the hard way that they should never trust an author.
Of course I must mention Murder on the Orient Express, where again the rules of the genre are pushed to the limits and we are once more reminded of Mrs Christie’s love for train travel. Can anyone even hear the words ‘Orient Express’ without a thought to the legendary book? I can’t. And if I were to travel on that train, travel would be my second priority, living the Agatha Christie experience would be my first!
I confess I prefer those Poirot’s stories when he is working beside Mrs Ariadne Oliver, a rather quirky crime writer and possibly Agatha Christie’s alter ego, as in Dead Man’s Folly. The mystery solution is a bit too far-fetched for my taste, but the easily recognisable setting in beautiful Greenway in Devon, the summer fête, and the complicated mystery make it a favourite nonetheless. Greenway was one of Agatha Christie’s most loved properties and is now brilliantly run by the National Trust.
Hercule Poirot’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is a worthy read if only to enter the atmosphere of an old-fashioned, traditional Christmas in the English countryside. Beside the turkey with all the trimmings, porcelain tea sets, and the obligatory Christmas pudding with both a ring and a bachelor’s button, there’s also a pretty intriguing mystery to solve. Well, can we cosy lovers ask for more? I declare myself blissfully satisfied.
Agatha Christie’s Autobiography
I know it’s not a mystery and shouldn’t be on the list, but the life of Mrs Christie is such an extraordinary one, that it might be considered a mystery on its own. Her autobiography fails to mention her famous disappearance after her divorce from Archibald Christie. Those 12 days in hiding are doomed to remain just that: the only unsolved mystery in her career.
In her An Autobiography, she narrates her childhood and her folly of a sabbatical year around the world as a young wife. Despite their shaky finances, lack of jobs, their love for travel and world discovery was such that despite all the uncertainties (and there were many!), the couple decided to leave nonetheless. We also discover young Agatha as a world traveller as well as a pioneer in surfing and… sunburns!
Let’s fast-forward a few years… The couple has overcome the tough financial problems they faced upon returning from their long trip, Archibald finally got a stable job, and Agatha is gaining fame as a renowned author. But disasters strikes, first with the death of Agatha’s mother and soon after with her painful divorce. After a time of grieving and acceptance, she reacts with her unusual decision to leave for a long, lone trip to the Middle East to prove to herself she was still a strong independent woman. Her adventures in territories now destroyed by wars are not only a pleasure to read (and appreciate the wild beauty of peace), but they also reveal the backgrounds of the many mysteries she set in Istanbul, Baghdad, on the Nile, and more.
Overall, she comes up as an unconventional strong woman and so much more, even though she’s always declared herself as a proud Victorian. Didn’t I tell you her autobiography is the highway, I beg your pardon, the railroad trip to more mystery?
And how about you? What’s your favourite Agatha Christie mystery?
Leave your comment and let me know