One hundred and twenty-five years ago the most popular mystery writer ever, with well over two billion copies of her work sold, was born. Over a career that spanned over a half century, Agatha Christie (1890-1976) published more than 150 short stories (including the linked collection The Labors of Hercules), wildly successful plays like Witness for the Prosecution and The Mousetrap, still playing at London’s West End, and of course, more than 60 novels, featuring beloved detectives like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and a dizzying array of mystery plots. Here are five that stand out:
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
Even with the benefit of 90 years of hindsight and countless imitators, Christie’s culminating twist in this early Hercule Poirot novel pulls the rug out with a level of audacity that leaves new readers breathless and repeat customers eager to see how she did, indeed, play fair throughout. Other notable Poirots: Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and Evil Under the Sun (1941).
- The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
The first and utterly pleasurable introduction of Miss Jane Marple, the doyenne of St. Mary Mead and an amateur sleuth of deadpan demeanor and formidable skills. Other notable Marple selections: The Body in the Library (1942) and The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (1962).
- And Then There Were None (1939)
There’s a good reason this novel was voted as Christie fans’ all-time favorite in a recent poll: it’s ruthlessly plotted, masterful in tick-tock suspense, and claustrophobic in feel as victims are murdered, one by one.
- Death Comes As The End (1944)
This, the only historical mystery Christie ever published (and a precedent-setter for this subgenre), is set in Thebes in 2000 BC, drawn from the extensive digs Christie and her second husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, conducted over several trips to Egypt and other Middle Eastern spots.
- Endless Night (1967)
This late-career Christie gem is a real favorite of mine—and, apparently, hers—because it’s more psychological in feel. Think of a cross between Frances Iles’ Malice Aforethought and James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Yes, it’s that doom-laden.
Sarah Weinman is the editor of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Library of America).
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