Agatha Christie and my mystery mission

This is a post about Agatha Christie and her books. Not all of you will know that her books are said to outsell all others except the Bible and Shakespeare. She wrote approximately 83 books, thirty-nine of them featuring her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, fourteen starring elderly spinster and amateur investigator Miss Marple and five about her amusing, enthusiastic, mystery-solving couple Tommy and Tuppence. I haven’t included her other novels, written as Mary Westmacott, her plays or her autobiographical works in this tally. I have included short story collections.

Of these books, I have read all of the Poirot, a feat I discuss in more detail elsewhere on this blog. For several years now I have planned to complete reading the rest. This year I hope to do so. 

In pursuit of  this quest I have read four books so far this year by the Queen of Crime. 


I started with two volumes of shorts stories: The Mysterious Mr Quin and The Listerdale Mystery. Of the two, the latter is more typical as volumes of Christie’s short stories go. The problem being that it is hard to set up a mystery, introduce a hero or heroine or adversary (or both) and have them solve the mystery in the space of only twenty or so pages. I love Agatha’s style but I definitely prefer it when she gives herself a novel to showcase her storytelling talent. Many of her short stories are simply too short, although a few in this collection were still perfectly formed and gave me good entertainment. The Mysterious Mr Quin, however, stands apart from her other volumes of short stories. 7/10. In these stories, a man named Mr Satterthwaite keeps encountering the eponymous Harley Quin. He always seems to meet him when there is some sort of mystery to be solved or some lovers to be helped. Each of these stories are carefully detailed and have lovely twists in the tales. These are unusual for Agatha Christie, but are characteristic of her great talent, and her underrated ability to turn her hand to anything.

I’ve given The Listerdale Mystery 7/10 as well. It was very light reading in places but some stories had brilliant twists. The worst of the stories was probably ‘The Manhood of Edward Robinson’. The best three (and worth checking out) were ‘Philomel Cottage’, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ and ‘Accident’.

Next, I read By the Pricking of My Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence novel. This is one of their best mysteries and has a somewhat supernatural element to it. It was such a page-turner that I read it in a day, while on holiday. I’ve been reading the Tommy and Tuppence books in chronological order: these are the only Christie books I have done this with. 7/10.

The Pale Horse also has a supernatural element to it with people dying from a distance, seemingly without explanation. I had been looking forward to this one for a while, and my copy is a first edition, given to me by my husband for. Our ‘paper’ wedding anniversary. It’s a brilliant mystery but what I expected from the premise did not completely deliver. In places it was spooky, intriguing and mysterious; in others slightly dragging and a little far-fetched. Still, it was Agatha and it was a good read. 7/10.

So, we are less than halfway through the year and I am currently reading a fifth Christie: Passenger to Frankfurt.


Only time will tell whether I complete my challenge in 2016. I still have three Miss Marple books to go: At Bertram’s Hotel, Nemesis and Miss Marple’s Final Cases; one Tommy and Tuppence: Postern of Fate; and three others: Death Comes as the End, They Came to Bagdad and While the Light Lasts. It sounds very do-able. 

My love of Agatha Christie’s brilliant body of work will go on long after all these books are finished. I’d like to think I may reread some eventually once I’ve repressed the twists and solutions a bit more. Once the challenge is complete I also intend to read Agatha’s Autobiography, the Mary Westmacott novels (which are much harder to get hold of: so far I own one out of six) and Christie’s published plays. I will keep you updated. In the meantime, if you’ve yet to pick up an Agatha Christie book, go out and get yourself a couple and settle in for a  really good time.

Book 9: Nerve by Dick Francis

My second Dick Francis of the year! [She said, hoping no-one had noticed her month long absence when she had resolved to post fortnightly.]

I read this straight after The Woman in White so you will have to excuse me if this is less than detailed.

Nerve was Dick Francis’ second novel about horse racing and crime. It’s very different from the first, which you can read about on my blog, here. This time, a jinx seems to falling on the jockeys. Nerve kicks off with one of them killing himself (gun to the head) in the middle of the show ring. Rob (our hero) blames the immense pressure on him and the fact he was going to lose his job. But even worse is to come. A leg break leads Rob to get some better rides than usual. Meanwhile, another of his friends is sacked for being late in freak circumstances, and another jockey suffers a mental breakdown.

For Rob, everything is going well, until his horses start to lose. All the time. Everyone says he’s lost his nerve. He investigates, and finds an interesting culprit. The ending is interestingly played out. My only problem with the story is that Rob is hopelessly in love with his cousin. I’m not sure why Francis chose this subplot but I found it rather weird.

Overall though, a very gripping, read in one sitting, type of book. I give Nerve 7/10.

Reading has taken a backseat to work of late, so I’ll return when I have read something else!

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Book 21: Killer in the Rain by Raymond Chandler

This will be a mini review for a mini book. I borrowed it from the library and have failed to photograph it, but it only included this one short story.

First off, I’ve been a bit quiet in June. Being a teacher at this time of year took over for a few weeks! I’ve written, proof read and edited 30 reports, found out lots about my next class and been at countless meetings and one school trip. So the blog has been unloved I’m afraid! If its any consolation I haven’t had time to read either. Eek!

I read Killer in the Rain in one evening, directly after finishing the rather epic The Historian. I’m writing this a full twenty days later so I’m a little fuzzy on the full details. This is a predecessor to The Big Sleep and you can see Chandler was working himself up to the latter if you’ve read both. Same style of writing, very similar characters, a classic little crime plot. I enjoyed it, but it left little impression on me. I love Chandler’s phrasing, it is very quotable. I liked having a short sharp read that was like The Big Sleep with less of the long winded descriptions.

I recommend this to anyone wanting a quick fix of crime writing, or a brief insight into Chandler’s characters and style. If you like this and want more, read The Big Sleep. If you skip this and just read his most famous work, you won’t miss out on much!

I give Killer in the Rain 6/10.

I’m now working hard on finishing Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley, another crime classic borrowed from the library. I’ve fallen behind with the Readarama! Roll on the summer holidays where I will catch up!

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 27

27. Your favourite genre.

If this is the first post of mine you’ve ever read, here is the answer to this question: crime fiction.

Readers of this blog will already know that, so here is a bit more detail. Before University, and for the first two years I was there, I read mainy fiction, a lot of it trashy chick-lit. The likes of Adele Parks, Claire Calman and Jennifer Weiner were all on my bookshelf. In 2005, in my final year of university I was starting to read a lot of thrillers such as The Bourne Identity by Ribert Ludlum and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Then, right after my dissertation was handed in in third year, and exams were over, I suddenly had a lot of time to read again after months of work. It was then I made a discovery, and that discovery was Ian Rankin. I bought his first Rebus book from a campus bookstall in the student union. I read it, my husband (then my boyfriend) read it after me. I was soon back at the stall for books two and three, and from there I was hooked. Crime fiction became my genre of choice. The following year I discovered Agatha Christie and learnt how good an old fashioned mystery can be. Crime fiction remains my genre of choice.

I often also read books about vampires, werewolves and the supernatural. Charlaine Harris and Laurrell K. Hamilton have written some fantastic books. I’ve been known to read sci-fi, fantasy and a lot of young adult and children’s books. But whatever I read, I keep coming back to the thrill of crime fiction and mysteries.

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Book 17: Lady Killer by Ed McBain

Last week, not a lot of reading happened. I had started Lady Killer after the Bank Holiday because I finished my previous book so quickly. I raced through the first 100 pages, and then life got in the way! So I’m still ahead on the Readarama but only just!

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Lady Killer by Ed McBain is a funny sort of book. It starts really strongly, with the police receiving a letter stating that “The Lady” will be killed at 8. So the cops of the 87th precinct try to stay ahead and prevent this crime before it happens. They race around for the first 150 pages, then it all slows down, and almost stumbles to a conclusion which is hastily done and over in a matter of pages. So, I’m a little bit disappointed with the ending based on the build up.

What I loved about Lady Killer was the characters, and I would certainly pick up more of the 87th precinct novels. My favourite part of the entire novel was McBain’s description of a bookshop on page 79. This was worth reading the book for on its own.
“The shop instantly touched something deep in his memory. He felt he had been here before, had seen the dusty racks and shelves, had sniffed of the musty bookbindings, the intimate smell of stored knowledge.”

I would recommend Lady Killer to lovers of police procedurals, and lovers of description. I give it 7/10.

Next up, I will be reading The Portable Door by Tom Holt, as voted by my fellow bloggers! I’ve started today, and I’m really enjoying it, despite the disconcerting fact that there is a bookmark in page 44, announcing to me that I’ve tried before.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 19.

Day 18: A book you think is woefully underrated.

Again, I’m having the same problem as yesterday with not knowing which books have been ‘rated’ as such! Anyway, I’m going to nominate a book I love that doesn’t seem to have got much recognition, or even been stocked by many bookshops.

That book is The Death Artist by Jonathan Santlofer. As far as I know it was his debut crime fiction novel, and I loved it. It is well written, has great characters and a fantastic plot idea. It was even followed by an equally brilliant sequel Colour Blind, and yet I found it in a bargain bin at a bookshop, and have never heard anyone speak of it, ever! It’s a great book, and it should be being enjoyed by more people.

Me, Bookshelf and I is also taking part in the 30 Day Book Challenge. Why not check out her take on it if you haven’t already.

30 day book challenge: Day 12.

Day 12: Your favourite authors.

I like this one. It won’t tax my tired Sunday morning brain too much. If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll know a lot of what I’m going to say already. Stay tuned anyway: I have a favour to ask at the end of the post.

Agatha Christie
The ‘Queen of Crime’ wrote close to 100 mysteries and ‘whodunnits’, her work spanning five decades. Her plays still run in the West End. Read almost any one of her novels, and I challenge you not to be hooked! When I first read Murder on the Orient Express, back in February 2006, I would go on to read six more of Christie’s novels that month alone. This year, I hope to finish the last of the Poirot books – I have two left to read.

Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritsen
Two similar crime writers, who know their stuff. They write gore, psychopaths and mysteries so well, and both ladies have come up with great detectives and medical examiners among their characters. My favourite Slaughter is probably Skin Privelege, my favourite Gerritsen either The Surgeon or The Apprentice.

Ian Rankin
Read his Rebus series. I started it in 2005, with Knots and Crosses, reading the books in order until 2010. I hear there is a new one though, which I must seek out. Rankin writes crime like nothing else I have ever read.

Nick Hornby
I’ve yet to read Juliet Naked or any recent works. Hornby makes the list for High Fidelity, Fever Pitch and About a Boy. Great writer.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The creator of 221b Baker Street, Holmes, Watson and Moriarty. What a genius.

I also love the following authors (I hope I don’t leave anyone out): Jeff Lindsay, Patricia Cornwell, Charlaine Harris, Stephenie Meyer, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Louise Rennison and Allan Ahlberg.

Off the topic at hand, as part of my Readarama challenge, next week I’m letting my readers decide what I should read! Just for fun, if you would like to vote, go here to vote for what I read next week. I’ll probably start reading whatever wins tomorrow, so vote today if you want to influence things!

Lastly, if you enjoy reading about the book challenge, check out my fellow 30 day bloggers at Flower Faerie Lives Life, Books on the Tube and Me, Bookshelf and I.