"The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances."
March 31, 2011 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Where is the best place to start reading Agatha Christie novels? Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple?

Shorter stories or novels? I've only read one Agatha Christie novel, The Death of Roger Akroyd, which I enjoyed but I'm at a loss for where I should begin? By detective or chronologically? When at the bookstore/amazon I am overwhelmed with choices. There are many different "collections" and I'm confused as to which one to pick. Thanks.
posted by Fizz to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I never warmed up to Poirot, but I know many find Marple too fuzzy. It depends on how cozy you like your mysteries, I think. Poirot was always a little too broadly drawn for my tastes, and Miss Marple's smarts and the fact that she always drew upon things out of her own experience to solve mysteries made me speed through all the Marple novels and stories.

I would stick with one main character for a few books, just to see how you like how that character progresses.
posted by xingcat at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2011

I liked both, but Poirot a bit more. I don't think it really matters much where you start -- Poirot has a first (Mysterious affair at Styles) and a last (Curtain), which should be read in that order, but you can read them before or after any other books and not lose much.

I like Murder on the Orient Express and Ten Little Indians, as titles that I can distinctly recall enjoying.
posted by jeather at 8:30 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly there are so many, and so little character development/change across books (Miss Marple does get older) that it doesn't really matter. I would recommend reading the most famous ones (so The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which you've already read, Murder on the orient express, And then there were none, maybe Death on the Nile, The Body in the Library) and then choosing randomly, based on what you find used in your local book store. I find her short stories uniformly less interesting than the books. (And don't bother with the spy thrillers any time soon...)
posted by advil at 8:33 AM on March 31, 2011

Eh, there's very little chronology to the books other than a small handful of characters who show up a few times, so it doesn't matter much what order you read them in.

There's a list of Miss Marple appearances and Hercule Poirot appearances on their respective Wikipedia pages, if you did want to at least start with something earlier...I would maybe pick up The Thirteen Problems (early Marple short story collection) or Poirot Investigates (uh, Poirot short stories) to get a flavor for their respective styles.
posted by bcwinters at 8:34 AM on March 31, 2011

I find her short stories uniformly less interesting than the books. (And don't bother with the spy thrillers any time soon...)

Gotta agree on the thrillers...but there are certainly short stories that are sublimely perfect examples of their genre, like Witness for the Prosecution, Three Blind Mice, Dead Man's Mirror, Tuesday Night Club...
posted by bcwinters at 8:36 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here is another ranking that wouldn't exactly match mine, but not a bad list.
posted by advil at 8:37 AM on March 31, 2011

Eh, there's very little chronology to the books other than a small handful of characters who show up a few times, so it doesn't matter much what order you read them in.

I foolishly assumed that there was more continuity to the books. I guess it's best to just pick one up and see if I enjoy it.
posted by Fizz at 8:38 AM on March 31, 2011

I'm the opposite of xingcat: I find Poirot to be a sharply focused, wonderfully human character, and Marple to be fun but a little too cozy.

Unfortunately, the early and late Poirot books are sort of...bad, too self-concious at the beginning and hastily or a little lazily written toward the end. You could certainly start at the beginning of the novels and go to the last (the short stories are mostly just for die-hards—there's a lot of bad Sherlock Holmes aping in them), but I myself would start with Roger Ackroyd, skip the crazy Big Four, and go from there. They get really fine in the mid to late thirties until the mid-fifties, but in different ways.

An alternative thought: try reading the standalone novels first. Some of them are real jewels, and the characters aren't tired acts being put through their paces. There is no real continuity to them, but you'll notice the changing backdrops as society shifts. The Sittaford Mystery, Murder is Easy, and Crooked House are all very good. Toward Zero is the best of them all.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:38 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

Partners in Crime is a fun one, especially if you're familiar with the detective fiction tropes being parodied. If you prefer your stories grim and nihilistic, then go for And Then There Were None.

Beyond that: Crooked House, Death on the Nile, The Secret of Chimneys, Death Comes as the End.
posted by Iridic at 8:42 AM on March 31, 2011

Seconding the standalone novels. I much prefer them to either Poirot or Marple, though I have warmed up to Marple a bit over the years.

But to my taste, the television Poirot and more recent Marples (2005 onward) are better than their inspiration novels, too, with a few exception.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 9:04 AM on March 31, 2011

As far as the short stories, I think the most worthwhile collection is The Mysterious Mr. Quin featuring Harley Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite. In fact I'm going to reread right now.
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:15 AM on March 31, 2011

I like Miss Marple because even though she seems like a frail little old lady surrounded by fuzzy pink yarn...she has a deep understanding of the darker side of human nature based only on her observation of the folks in St. Mary's Mead--she assumes the worst, not the best of people and that is what allows her to figure out the mysteries. One of the best Miss Marple's is The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. Another character I really like is Ariadne Oliver who is sort of a self-portrait. She appears in a number of Poirot stories. Any of her stories would be good. Then when you tire of Agatha Christie (I didn't, I read every one of her books). You can move on to Dorothy Sayers (her Lord Peter novels should be read in chronological order). Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2011

Oh, god, I LOVE Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite. Christie called them her Love Detectives...must go reread.

A pro-tip for Christie lovers—Hugh Fraser has been narrating many of the novels for BBC Audiobooks. He's a good reader who has an unobtrusive but obviously sincere feel for the source material. If you like audiobook brain candy, it doesn't get much better than that.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:35 AM on March 31, 2011

Yeah, I agree with the people saying you don't need to read them in order. peachfuzz is right on with the early and late Poirot, but at some point I read them all anyway. You'll do fine by starting with any of the most well known books. I'll second The Mirror Crack'd, and I also really liked The Pale Horse, which is neither Poirot nor Marple, but does have a small bit of Ariadne Oliver. I think it's one of the better later, supernatural novels of hers. Towards Zero is a good Superintendent Battle mystery. I also especially liked The ABC Murders and A Murder is Announced.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:55 AM on March 31, 2011

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side is awesome... especially when you learn a little about the real life incident that probably inspired the fictional motive (if you want to read it, don't spoil it)

But like everyone has said, they can be read in almost any order; it's just that some are better than others character-wise -- Mirror is definitely one with very memorable secondary characters
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:57 AM on March 31, 2011

As others have said, some books are worse than others. Christie had a longer career and her later books are not very good, but she had a large number of very enjoyable ones, some excellent ones, and a few flat out masterpieces. If you find one you don't like just continue on to another.

Just don't expect every book to be as good as Ackroyd. It might not be her best, but it's close (I was always partial to Crooked House, myself, but Ackroyd is excellent).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:18 AM on March 31, 2011

I prefer Poirot to Marple, but I agree that you can start wherever. I'd probably start with Mysterious Affair at Styles, because it is the first, but I'm sure I didn't. I also agree that the later ones are often not as good as some of the earlier ones. I think Christie struggled sometimes writing later time periods (I'm thinking particularly of Third Girl, set in the '60s I believe, but other books as well).

I also enjoyed the standalones, and the Tuppence books. I prefer novels to shorts (here, and otherwise), but I enjoyed the Labors of Hercules (Poirot shorts).
posted by Caz721 at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2011

Oh yeah, +1 on the Tommy & Tuppence books, especially if you like the Nick & Nora Charles-type couple dynamic. T&T predate N&N and could have inspired them, although they didn't as far as I know.
posted by CheeseLouise at 11:23 AM on March 31, 2011

Adding a vote to the Tommy & Tuppence books, I found them particularly charming.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 11:40 AM on March 31, 2011

I tried reading Agatha Christie a couple of times. Both times I couldn't make it very far because all action - hell, everything really - takes place via dialogue. There is so little exposition and, well, narrative. Intolerable to read that. More quotation marks than vowels I think.

Maybe I picked the wrong books?
posted by yesster at 11:25 PM on March 31, 2011

Yesster - no, that's pretty much the way she writes. She was well known for her conversational style. It's just not your thing, I guess.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:09 AM on April 8, 2011

« Older Please Help Me Eat Alone in London!   |   Oh, shoe-t! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.