Agatha Agatha

Sometimes you just need to read an Agatha Christie, don’t you?  Well, I do.  When I was getting bad headaches still (they seem to have worn off now, for the moment at least) I needed something that didn’t require much thought, but which still would be good – and so I picked up Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie.  You may remember, from my report of a talk at Folio HQ, that Christie’s biographer Laura Thompson considered Five Little Pigs her best novel, and so I had to give it a go.

I shan’t write that much about the novel, because I really want to use this post to find out which one you think I should read next, but I’ll give you a quick response to Five Little Pigs (1942).  Well, for starters, I don’t think it’s her best.  Laura Thompson admired the way in which character and plot progressed together, and depended upon one another.  I agree with that in the abstract – but not in the way that the novel actually reads.
Poirot is investigating a murder that took place 16 years previously – on the commission of the daughter of the woman who was convicted.  Carla is the daughter, Caroline is the supposed murderer, and Amyas – Caroline’s husband; Carla’s father – is the artist who died of poisoning.  Shortly before she died in prison, Caroline wrote to her daughter to say that she was innocent… Carla, although only a young child at the time, believes her mother is telling the truth.  Poirot agrees to investigate… and narrows down the search to five people.  
The title Five Little Pigs is based on a nursery rhyme.  To quote Wikipedia: “Poirot labels the five alternative suspects “the five little pigs”: they comprise Phillip Blake (“went to the market”); Philip’s brother, Meredith Blake (“stayed at home”); Elsa Greer (now Lady Dittisham, “had roast beef”); Cecilia Williams, the governess (“had none”); and Angela Warren, Caroline’s younger half-sister (“went ‘Wee! Wee! Wee!’ all the way home”).”
The conclusion is clever and believable, and the characters well drawn (especially the contrasts between their present personalities, and the personalities shown in everyone’s accounts of the fateful day.)  The big problem with the novel, for me, is how repetitive it is.  Poirot goes to interview each of these five in turn, and he then receives written accounts from each of them (which are given in full).  That means we get ten accounts of the day, one after another.  Ten.  Five felt like it was pushing it; ten was simply dull by the end.  I get that Agatha Christie wanted to show how perspective can shed different lights on events.  But… too much.
Still, this is Agatha Christie.  It was still very enjoyable, and pretty compelling reading, but I don’t usually want to skip chunks when I read her.  Contrary to what Laura Thompson said, this is probably one of my least favourite Christie novels…
…and now I want you to suggest which one to read next.  Whenever I read one Christie I want to read more straight away.  I asked on Twitter, and got some great recommendations which I’m definitely keeping in mind, but I want to see which one would be most popular – so do comment with a recommendation even if someone else has already mentioned it.  To help you out, the following are the novels by Christie I HAVE read, so you don’t need to suggest these… oh, and I know the twist to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, so I don’t really want to read that one just yet.  Over to you (thanks in advance!)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Murder at the Vicarage
Peril at End House
Murder on the Orient Express
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
The ABC Murders
And Then There Were None
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
The Body in the Library
Five Little Pigs
The Moving Finger
A Murder is Announced
They Do It With Mirrors
A Pocket Full of Rye
Hickory Dickory Dock
4.50 From Paddington
The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
A Caribbean Mystery
At Bertram’s Hotel
Endless Night
Nemesis
Sleeping Murder

63 thoughts on “Agatha Agatha

  • July 2, 2013 at 10:10 pm
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    I have Death on the Nile in my reading stack, and so far it's pretty interesting. Though…And Then There Were None is one of my favorite Christie books (which I know you have read). I suggest Murder at the Vicarage. It's a Miss Marple novel and quite intriguing.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:40 am
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      Sadly that one is on my list of already-read, Amelia! It was the first Christie I'd read in years, when I read it in 2009 or thereabouts.

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  • July 2, 2013 at 10:18 pm
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    I really like Elephants Can Remember and Murder on the Links. And Mysterious Mr. Quin which isn't really murder but still really enjoyable.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:40 am
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      Thanks Sakura, all great choices! My colleague recommended Murder on the Links too, but it wasn't in the library.

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  • July 2, 2013 at 10:22 pm
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    You haven't read Evil Under the Sun? Check that one out, it was always my second favourite (after And Then There Were None).

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:41 am
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      Sadly I know the plot to that one too! People say that doesn't matter, but it does to me…

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  • July 2, 2013 at 10:33 pm
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    Great review. I have never read anything by Agatha Christie yet, it is just one of those authors that I have thought about getting started with for SO long without quite getting there.
    But I have heard a lot of great things about Death on the Nile!

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:41 am
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      Oh, Caroline, start! I recommend The Mirror Crack'd as a good place to start, and see Christie's ingenious plotting.

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  • July 2, 2013 at 10:59 pm
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    Like Caroline, I've not got to Christie yet :-O

    Which would you suggest starting with??

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  • July 3, 2013 at 12:10 am
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    The Seven Dials Mystery is one of my favorites — definitely my favorite Christie that doesn't feature Miss Marple. It has a satirical element that I can't resist.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:42 am
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      Christie doing satire sounds very intriguing! I shall have to track that one down…

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  • July 3, 2013 at 12:15 am
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    Can't recommend a book because I've fallen in love with the BBC productions and consume my Christie that way. Have you seen Joan Hickson as Miss Marple? The actresses portraying Miss Marple more recently are good, too, but Miss Hickson had a quality that makes her, for my husband and me, THE Miss Marple, period. "Nemesis", in particular, was terrific.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:42 am
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      I have seen one or two Hicksons, and thought she was brilliant – everyone seems to like her best! I love Margaret Rutherford, but I can't see her as Marple…

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    • July 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm
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      I also love the Margaret Rutherford movies, but Agatha Christie did not. Two weren't even Miss Marple stories and one wasn't an Agatha Christie story. I don't see Miss Marple having a gentleman friend so when I watch those movies I enjoy them for the fun that they are and not as a true Agatha Christie story.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 12:26 am
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    Be careful! Because reading Christie can become a life long addiction. I first read her novels as a young Anglophile growing up in the US. I read them again during a decade long stay in England, as an adult. And now, I'm re-reading them again…on my Kindle! This time I am reading them in some semblance of order; first all the books with Marple, and now all those with Poirot. (I am not reading the others). I have left the last books of both, for the very last. And who knows, maybe I'll read them one more time again when I'm a bit older?

    There are several lists which you can Google compiled by much more astute Christie readers than me, which lists the books in a preferred reading order. For me, this time around, I read "The Murder At The Vicarage" as it's the first Miss Marple, (but do know they can be read in any order with the exception being "Nemesis" which I think should be read after "Caribbean Holiday"). And for Poirot, "The Mysterious Affair at Style" is the first…and "Curtain" the last Poirot book (and so should be read last).

    Lastly, I think I must agree with Colin, my favourite is "And Then There Were None".

    I hope you enjoy them Caroline and Samara!

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:44 am
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      Ha! Thanks for suggesting some great choices for Caroline and Samara – I've read them all except Curtain, but since we have the same favourite, I think we'll both like that too!

      I thought Christie was only a significant part of my transition to grown-up books, as it were, but I'm having a bit of a renaissance, reading six so far this year, I think.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 12:43 am
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    I always have to put a vote in for the Tommy & Tuppence books. The first – and a favorite – is The Secret Adversary, published in 1922 but set just after the War.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:44 am
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      I've realised I don't enjoy Christie as much when she's doing spy rings and the like, so perhaps I should steer clear of T&T…

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  • July 3, 2013 at 12:52 am
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    This is a tricky one, Simon, so many good ones. Why Didn't They Ask Evans is very good, and I heartily recommend watching (after reading it) the perfect LWT adaptation from 1980 (I think it was) with Francesca Annis and James Warwick.

    Murder Is Easy is one of my favourites, one of those stories with something creepy going on in a small village.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:45 am
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      Evans I have read (although remember nothing except that an attic was involved?) but I haven't read Murder Is Easy, and I do love it when she sets books in small villages….

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  • July 3, 2013 at 3:49 am
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    Towards Zero.

    I just finished reading The Fault in our stars by the way. Thought I'd drop by and say thank you.

    Efua

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:45 am
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      I did mention The Fault in Our Stars, but I still haven't actually read it myself, so must do! And thanks for your Christie suggestion.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 4:33 am
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    They Came from Baghdad was the Agatha Christie that started me off, and I really enjoyed it- though it is more adventure than murder mystery. So hard to choose! Though I'll second Lisa and recommend the Tommy and Tuppence books.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:46 am
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      Hmm.. more adventure than murder mystery puts me off a bit, I'm afraid! I think I prefer the typical village-murder-mystery varieties.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 5:42 am
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    I went through my Christie phase when I was a teenager and romped my way through the entire collection at record speed … so my recollection of each of them individually is a little blurred. I'm sure, after reading 'Pigs' you can imagine they'd all sort of blend together after a while. I did recently re-read 'Dead Man's Folly' because I'd been to Greenaway (her house in Devon) and most of the story is set there, especially in the boathouse. But in dredging up those long-lost teen Christie memories, I think a couple of the best ones are 'Seven Dials' and '4.50 from Paddington' … but don't hold me to that!

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:47 am
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      They definitely do blend, don't they? Although it's odd that some solutions (like The Mirror Crack'd) stay vividly in my mind, while most of them have faded. 4.50 From Paddington I remember enjoying (again, no clue as to culprit) and I must try Seven Dials.

      And I really want to visit her house too!

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  • July 3, 2013 at 7:03 am
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    I can't say which I'd recommend but I do love Christie. I bought a couple by her in French at the weekend (French attic sale) — as she is not too hard to read in translation. Passenger to Frankfurt was one and the other The Sittaford Mystery — haven't read either before.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:47 am
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      That's a good idea for French reading – although frustrating if the subtle clues are lost in translation?

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  • July 3, 2013 at 9:36 am
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    I would put Five Little Pigs pretty far down my list too. Yes, it might work seamlessly, but that's not all I look for in an AC.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:48 am
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      I am curious as to how it could be her favourite – it's one I can imagine looking back on admiringly, but not much enjoying reading.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 9:40 am
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    I also love Agatha Christie specially for summertime readings. I've read quite a lot of them but definitely 'The murder of Roger Ackroyd', 'Sleeping murder' and 'The man in the brown suit' are my top three.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:48 am
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      I loved Sleeping Murder when I read it (I was about 12 or 13) but I don't remember anything at all about it!

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  • July 3, 2013 at 10:14 am
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    I knew the twist to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd before I read it, but I suspect the interesting feature of that story is canvassed so widely that it is difficult for anyone to get to the book without inadvertently stumbling across that information. However, I didn't think that the knowledge detracted from the experience of reading it. It simply altered it, in that I was intent on observing how it had been done, and I thought it was worth reading anyway.

    I can offer no other recommendations, but I am thinking of reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles next myself. It is a Penguin title with an interesting history, and I was thrilled to receive a copy in the mail today from someone I have never met.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:49 am
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      I do read Christie mostly for the surprise and the enjoyment of being fooled, so I think it would matter to me… but it could be intriguing to see her at work.

      Mysterious affair at Styles is good, but there is FAR too much going on. She put lots and lots of ideas into it, and learnt restraint later!

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  • July 3, 2013 at 1:04 pm
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    Oh, there are so many lovely ones, and really, I haven't read them en masse in years, but still pick them up from the shelf in the basement from time to time, or, if I get a notion I HAVE to read one I don't have, rush over to my local 2nd-hand bookstore, The Great Escape (on Kingston Road, for anyone in east end Toronto) and get it.

    I think they're all wonderful. Off the top of my head, Sleeping Murder. Written during WWII, but not published until the 1970s, it was wonderful to read a new vintage Christie it when it first came out.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:50 am
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      What a fantastic name for a bookshop! I have read Sleeping Murder, but don't remember anything about it, other than that I thought it was very good.

      How nice it must have been to read a new Christie, especially a classic era one! I had forgotten how relatively recently she was still being published.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm
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    I spent the last year and a half reading all of Agatha Christie's novels. They are the perfect escape and I am quite sad that I haven't found anything comparable. My personal favorites are The Secret of Chimneys, The Seven Dials Mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, and They Came to Baghdad, but even at her worst, I still love Agatha Christie!

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:51 am
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      Wow, heady! They definitely are wonderful escapist reading, and at the moment they're all I seem able to read (I go through periodic reader's block). Thanks for your recommendations!

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  • July 3, 2013 at 5:41 pm
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    I was always very fond of the ABC Murders (and Middle Child just read it and loved it) – so we would recommend that one! Earlier Christie is often better but nothing she wrote can be truly bad!

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:52 am
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      That one is on my already-read list, sadly, Karen! I thought it was clever too.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 6:09 pm
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    I can’t say that I have a favorite AC book. I like them all (well, the mysteries at least, I haven’t read any of her romance novels). Since you have read all the Miss Marple novels, why not polish off the rest of the Poriot books? Death on the Nile, Evil under the Sun, Murder in Mesopotamia, Curtain… Or as Lisa suggested, try a Tommy and Tuppence novel?

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:57 am
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      Polishing them off might be quite a long task! But I have read a couple more of his since I wrote the list, and I'm definitely coming around to his books (being a diehard Marple fan earlier.) But T&T… maybe one day. But espionage bores me rather.

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  • July 4, 2013 at 10:03 am
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    I don't normally read crime stories, well, not as such. But I love Agatha Christie on television. My favourite, David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, of course. Maybe I should start reading some of her novels.

    Marianne from Let's Read

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:58 am
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      You should! The adaptations are good, but often they change the plots in silly ways, and the books are definitely better and more gripping.

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  • July 4, 2013 at 10:04 am
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    I'd recommend Death in the Clouds or Three Act Tragedy as good examples of the locked room variant where the murder takes place while Poirot is in the room (or aircraft cabin); Evil Under The Sun which I remember as full of nifty sleight of hand; if you want an example of her earlier,lighthearted strand, The Secret of Chimneys has a good dose of P.G. Wodehouse daftness.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 10:58 am
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      I do love a locked room murder (which is why I love Jonathan Creek) – Oxford library didn't have either of these this morning, but I'll wait for them to come in!

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  • July 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm
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    Second those who recommend "The Secret of Chimneys", my favorite non-Marple, non-Poirot Christie.
    My first Christie ever was "Evil under the Sun" so I still have a fondness for it, my first encounter with the little Belgian. And it's very clever, too.
    But do avoid, sorry, Harriet, "Passenger to Frankfurt" – it's absolutely terrible.

    Happy reading!

    Henrietta

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:02 am
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      It's getting a lot of love! I almost got this out of the library this morning, but I couldn't remember whether it came before Seven Dials Mystery or after. Next time, I'll pick this up too!

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  • July 4, 2013 at 6:40 pm
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    The Pale Horse – different for the era and style it is set in.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:02 am
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      Intriguing, I've not heard great things, but I will give it a go!

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  • July 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm
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    Just finished watching Poirot – The Clocks. I LOVE the TV adaptations! Do check out my book blog which i recently started: lostinquiteagoodbook.blogspot.co.uk

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:03 am
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      I find the TV adaptations always a little too long for my liking, and I get cross when they add or take things away from Christie – mostly because plotting is very strong point, and there's no need to alter them. But there's no denying that David Suchet is fantastic!

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  • July 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm
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    I'm no help, but I'll be keeping an eye on the comments. Christie is an author I've always wanted to read and finally decided to start last Halloween. I grabbed Halloween Party, but couldn't get into it.

    I'm still interested in reading another Christie novel, but this time maybe I'll go for one of the more popular ones?

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:04 am
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      I haven't tried that one (and, notably, nobody has recommended it!) You should definitely try again, with one of the suggestions here.

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:04 am
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      What a fun project! My brother was going to do that, but hasn't yet…

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  • July 6, 2013 at 7:27 pm
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    Evil Under The Sun (though you've heard me discuss the solution in two separate papers!)

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:04 am
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      Ha! Yes, luckily I knew the solution before I heard your papers, otherwise I might have thrown something at you…

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  • July 6, 2013 at 10:02 pm
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    I would have recommended my favourites: Why Didn't They Ask Evans, Sleeping Murder and The Murder at the Vicarage but you have already read them. Evil Under the Sun is good, Death on The Nile (sadly I saw the film first) is good. The Pale Horse is interesting.

    Pia

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:05 am
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      Sorry, Pia, all done! I'm intrigued by Murder at the Vicarage being among your favourites, I thought it was very funny, but not the best plot of the Marples.

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  • July 12, 2013 at 1:01 am
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    You've covered most of my favorites, except one. N or M is a Tommy and Tuppence mystery, and I always find them charming and funny (I even love the completely daft Postern of Fate, which is low on most readers' lists). It is actually set during WWII, with T&T in pursuit of a German spy. Not one of Agatha's cleverest puzzles, but it is great fun, and is as far as I recall the only of her novels written in wartime that acknowledges the war at all!

    BTW, I agree with Henrietta on Passenger to Frankfurt. Ugh. Still the only Christie novel I've never finished.

    Enjoy!

    Scott

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    • July 13, 2013 at 11:06 am
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      Great name, 'Furrowed Middlebrow'! (Scott also a good name, of course.) As I've mentioned to other people, I don't always get on with the spy novels Christie wrote… but amusing that it is the only one to use the war! That's often added to the adaptations.

      And I will definitely avoid Passenger to Frankfurt!

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