Agatha Christie tries something new in “The Big Four” (1927), pitting Poirot against a global illuminati. I know it’s less successful than her single-site mysteries because I wasn’t drawn back to each sitting with the book for the whodunit, but rather for the oddity value. “The Big Four” is strangely structured, with bizarre choices of emphasis as Christie shoehorns her strength – Poirot solves mini-mysteries, all of which feature The Big Four’s hand – into something she’d like to be good at (international intrigue), but isn’t quite. (Her interest in larger-scale crime is tipped in “The Secret Adversary,” but it’s more effectively in the background there.)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” (1926) often appears on top 10 lists of Agatha Christie novels (it was even named the best crime novel of all time by a 2013 panel), and that’s well deserved. It’s armed with one of the most famous endings in mystery-novel history, and Hercule Poirot is in vintage form even though this is only his third novel. At first blush, it’s strange that Poirot acquires a new amateur assistant – King’s Abbot town doctor James Sheppard, who also serves as the narrator – and I wondered if we’re not missing out on something by not having Hastings or someone else be the regular Watson to Poirot’s Holmes.
Early in my reading of the short-story collection “Poirot Investigates” (1924), I didn’t like how Agatha Christie was unleashing various tropes and tricks within such brief yarns; I felt like she should save them (especially her really good ideas) for her novels. But a ways into this 14-story collection (the last three of which are only in the American edition), I started to look forward to each one as a mental snack. Not as fulfilling as the full-course meal of a Hercule Poirot novel (of which only two were published by this time), but tasty.
Agatha Christie juggles a lot of ideas and jumps between a lot of characters in “Murder at Hazelmoor” (1931, also published as “The Sittaford Mystery”). I was engrossed in the mystery and always looked forward to knocking off a couple chapters, and the author plays fair with the solution, but “Hazelmoor” didn’t stick with me as much as some other Christie yarns. I think this is because so much is crammed into one novel.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” (1938) stands out because of its holiday setting, making it an ideal book to read while warming your toes by the fire (but darn that draft around your shoulders!). Agatha Christie taps into the holiday theme with a robust family gathering, and reflections among the adult Lee children about their patriarch, Simeon, and what it was like growing up in Gorston Hall. I’m a little disappointed that the novel isn’t replete with a holiday vibe, although Christie does hang a lampshade on this when a character reflects that Christmas is merrier without a murder.
Hercule Poirot is in vintage form right out of the gate in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” (1920), Agatha Christie’s first novel (which – trivia time — was actually published in the U.S. three months before England). The book includes all the endearing affectations of the small, methodical, sometimes ebullient Belgian, and Christie’s go-to storytelling traits.
The ABC Murders,” a three-part miniseries that aired last year on BBC and is now on Amazon Prime, is a case study in the creativity and/or annoyances that come from reinventing source material in an adaptation. I’m not much of an Agatha Christie historian, but writer Sarah Phelps’ previous adaptation of the mystery author’s work, 2015’s “And Then There Were None,” rates an 8.0 on IMDB compared to a 6.6 for this one. My mom is a big fan of David Suchet’s work in “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” (1989-2013, ITV), and she found the reinventions here to be strange, making John Malkovich’s turn essentially PINO – Poirot in Name Only.