Dubbed the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie didn’t invent the detective novel, but she certainly perfected it. Between her 60 novels, 14 short stories, and the longest running play, Christie has mastered the art of murder. I read my first Agatha Christie novel when I was in middle school and feverishly devoured at least 40 of those 66 by the time I graduated high school, always eager to solve every whodunit alongside Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, who I was particularly fond of, along with his little grey cells and handlebar mustache.
Both Poirot and Marple have been brought to life on screen countless by several different actors, as her films continue to be adapted as they have been since the late 1920s. Two of her most acclaimed film adaptations feature some heavy hitters such as Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, and an Oscar winning performance by Ingrid Bergman. The best of these films manage to preserve the ingenuity, dry wit, and the razor sharp humor that fill the pages of Christie’s body of work. As the body count rose over the years, Dame Christie consistently conjured up more and more creative ways to kill and be killed, yet no matter the circumstances, from bizarre to bland, from a cozy card game to a crowded train ride, at the end was always a perfectly logical solution, packaged up and all lose ends tied together in a pretty bow.
My favorite thing about Agatha Christie’s novels was that all of the clues were always laid out, the motive and opportunity hidden in plain sight for the reader to see. And although I tried and tried, I was rarely able to solve the crime before Poirot dove in to his impressively detailed, always-rational explanation, providing a thorough rundown of every clue I missed along the way. I never saw the twists coming, and they came aplenty–from no one did, to the narrator did it, to everyone did it. No one provides the sucker punch of a surprise with more patient precision and cunning as the Dame.
So whether you are already a fan and just need a reminder of her best work, or happen to be one of the few people who haven’t dabbled in the works of the most widely read author of all time, join me in celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday by reading or rereading her five best works, ranked by yours truly:
5. And Then There Were None
Ten strangers are gathered on an island, and one by one they begin to die under mysterious circumstances, the manner in which their deaths are executed eerily parallel to the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians.” As her best selling novel, this one most commonly known by those who are unfamiliar with Christie’s work. It’s actually slightly more graphic and boasts a higher body count than most of her other mysteries, but the ending is one of the most unexpected yet satisfying of the bunch.
4. Cards on the Table
Crime writer Ariadne Oliver, who is often discussed to be likened after Agatha Christie herself, makes her debut in this story that takes places during a bridge game at a dinner party. The host gathers four sleuths and four other guests who are suspected to have been involved in murders themselves, and when their esteemed host is killed, fingers begin to point and the stakes of the game are heightened. It’s like a game of clue, but with a more clear division of sides between what appear to be the good guys and the bad guys.
3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
How much can you really rely on your narrator? That’s the question posed in one of Christie’s most well known, yet controversial novels in her career. Poirot investigates the death of a wealthy widow, and what he discovers has a permanent impact on the future of the mystery genre as we know it today.
2. The ABC Murders
This innovative novel combines both first and third person narrative to tell the story of the ABC murderer. This novel is one of Christie’s most intelligently crafted, providing a layered story that’s both complicated and concise, putting even Poirot’s little grey cells hard at work.
1. Murder on the Orient Express
Many of you have probably seen one of the adaptations of this novel, the best of which boasts the aforementioned star studded cast. A murder on the train Hercule Poirot is taking back to London causes him to investigate every passenger as he discovers these strangers might not be as unfamiliar to one another as they seem. To this day, Murder on the Orient Express contains the most shocking yet satisfying ending I’ve ever read, and it’s the only novel I’ve ever read more than once.
Happy Birthday Agatha Christie!