Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie!
September 15 is Agatha Christie's birthday! If you're a classic mystery fan, you're likely already familiar with some of her best-loved and groundbreaking works such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, and Murder on the Orient Express. With over 70 books to her name, there's an abundance to choose from if you want to expand your Christie reading or want to enjoy a reread. The following five are lesser known ones I'd recommend regardless of whether you're reading her for the first or hundredth time. Get comfortable on your couch with a hot beverage and prepare to exercise your little grey cells.
The Pale Horse is a standalone mystery so you won't meet Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot here, though a few familiar side characters make their appearances. Instead, you'll find a likable young man, Mark Easterbrook, who takes on the mantle of amateur detective to investigate the murder of a priest and the murders of the seemingly unrelated people the priest had on a list in his pocket. The black magic and witchcraft story line is spooky, and in proper Christie fashion, there's plenty of smoke and mirrors and red herrings to put you off the real killer. Once you've read the book and are safe from spoilers, ask your librarian to help you research how Christie's book is rumored to have spawned copycats using the same method to murder in real life.
The Moving Finger is ostensibly a Miss Marple mystery, but the real heroes of the story are the urbane siblings, Jerry and Joanna, who descend on the quiet little town of Lymstock so that Joanna can nurse Jerry, who was wounded in the war. They don't quite get the peace and quiet they'd hoped for when village scandal and poison pen letters lead to a suicide. Or...is it a murder? While the mystery was enjoyable, the character studies in this book are amusing and believable, and show off Christie's amateur psychologist bent.
Death in the Clouds stars Christie's revered Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, as he gets conveniently embroiled in yet another murder. This twist on a classic locked room mystery has the murder taking place on a plane. And you thought modern day flying was a pain! The solution is delightfully convoluted and allows Poirot to wax poetic about the "psychological moment" or moment of mass misdirection he believes is needed for publicly committed murders. Unless your mind is as neat and orderly as Poirot's (or as twisty), you'll be guessing until the very end.
Partners in Crime is one of my absolute favorite Christies. Tommy and Tuppence, an intrepid couple who've done some light espionage after The Great War, are called into service for Queen and Country by their old handler. This time, their mission is to take over the running of a detective agency, and while taking on real cases, to keep an eye out for some top secret spy letters and run counterintelligence on them. The premise is a bit thin, but I'll take any excuse to follow Tommy and Tuppence along on their entertaining adventures as private eyes. The short story mysteries allow Christie to pay homage to famous detectives such as Sherlock Holmes, while also poking self-deprecating fun at her own characters like Hercule Poirot. This is a great book for classic mystery aficionados who'll feel in on the jokes and are in the mood for something lighthearted.
Crooked House is one of Christie's more serious in tone mysteries, and the solution was quite shocking in her day, and may still be to some readers today. Charles is a young man who's looking forward to marrying Sophia Leonides, his wartime sweetheart. However, their engagement is postponed when Sophia's grandfather is killed and suspicions falls on the members of his household. Charles, as the son of a Scotland Yard official, becomes the inside man at the Leonides' house in the hopes of speeding up the solution to the murder and finally marrying his beloved. He soon discovers that many secrets lurk in Sophia's family, and almost everyone, including his fiancée, may have had a motive to kill the great patriarch.