Listening to Agatha Christie: The Takeaways

Part II: The Takeaways

My pandemic project is complete. I have listened to every Agatha Christie mystery novel and short story. Oh, except one Passenger to Frankfurt. I had started it months ago and didn’t like it so I returned it to Audible.com. I think I will stick with that decision. I have picked out of few of my favorites stories, characters, dislikes, etc. While Christie is formulaic in many ways, there are standouts and some not so hots. I must admit they do begin to run together if you listen to them all one after another.

My Favorite Christie Character: Mrs. Ariadne Oliver. While Mrs. Oliver is only in six books, usually as Hercule Poirot’s sidekick, she stands out to me as Christie’s best character. She is funny, frumpy, opinionated, addicted to apples, and not afraid of Poirot’s “little grey cells.” Most of books featuring Mrs. Oliver were written in the 1950s and 1960s when Christie had started to allow her characters to comment on social issues or current culture. Mrs. Oliver had only on stand alone book, The Pale Horse (1961). Elephants Can Remember, her last book with Poirot. is my favorite of their joint adventures. Critics has suggested that Mrs. Oliver is Agatha Christie’s send up of herself and her career.

My Favorite Character Who Gets No Credit: Captain Arthur Hastings, loyal sidekick and whipping boy of Hercule Poirot. We meet Hastings in the first Hercule Poirot novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Hastings narrates most of the Poirot short stories published the 1920s. After Murder on the Links (1923), when Hastings meets his future wife, he goes off to the Argentine. We see him in only six more novels, including Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975), the last Poirot novel published, bringing their friendship full circle.

My Favorite Poirot Novels: After The Funeral (1953), The Third Girl (1966) and Death on the Nile (1937)

My Least Favorite Poirot Novels: Evil Under the Sun (1941) and The Big Four (1927).

My Favorite Miss Jane Marple Novel: While Miss Marple has become a staple for dramatizations of Christie mysteries, there really are only 12 novels featuring her character. Miss Marple’s character undergoes a distinct metamorphosis from the early set of short stories published in the US as The Tuesday Club Murders (1932) and in the UK as The Thirteen Problems, where she first makes an appearance. Her last case, Sleeping Murder, was written in the 1940s but not published until 1976. More on that in another post. I had to read The Tuesday Club Murders because the book is not available in audio format.

My Least Favorite Novels; The Big Four (1927), Passenger to Frankfurt (1970)(obviously because I didn’t finish it) and They Came to Baghdad (1951). The last two are stand alone espionage novels. The Big Four, which started as a series of short stories and were combined to make a novel, is about one of Christie’s favorite crime themes, the Master Criminal. Poirot and Hastings hunt for the four master criminals who control crime across the world. They are of four different nationalities. The only thing that saved the book for me was the presence of Captain Hastings, who happened to be in London on a trip from the Argentine.

My Favorite Tommy and Tuppence Novel: By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968).

Most Evil Character: Mrs. Enid Boynton, Appointment With Death (1938). Has there ever been such a wicked stepmother?

Most Misogynistic Male Character: Dr. John Christow, The Hollow (1946). He mentally and verbally abuses his wife Gerta, who is besotted with him. He is having an affair with Henrietta, a sculptor he resents because she won’t devote herself to him. He is obsessed with the memories of Veronica, an actress who left him to pursue a career.

Creepiest Short Story: “The Dressmaker’s Doll.” While Christie is known for her mysteries, she also wrote numerous stories dealing with spiritualism, the occult, ghosts, the supernatural, and just plain weirdness. “The Dressmaker’s Doll” falls in the last group. Included in Double Sin and Other Stories (1961) in the US.

Most Annoying Aspect of Christie’s Stories: Her attitudes toward women, which don’t improve over time. When a male character meets or discusses a female character, the first thing mentioned is the way a woman looks. And looks seem to be tied to success in life and mobility in upper class society. In her books in the 1960s when she describes the new fashion trends (The Third Girl, 1966), Christie says that young women with long greasy hair and relaxed clothing look dirty.

3 Comments

My first ever adult book was an Agatha Christie one. I found it in a box marked free outside an antiques store on my way home from school in England. I remember going into the store to verify it was really free as it was hard for me to believe as an approx. 10 year old child that a store would give anything away without payment.

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I don’t remember my first adult book. We went to the library often and I know at some point I moved from the lower level children’s room the the regular books b;ut I think I floated between them for a long time. It wasn’t a huge library but it opened my eyes to so many things. Books are magical. Have a great weekend.

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I moved around a lot as a child and that helps remember all kinds of events from my childhood (according to location where my family lived at the time).

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