And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Like most Agatha Christie novels, I’ve listened to And Then There Were None a dozen times and know the solution of the mystery by heart. It was interesting to slow down and read it on paper, because different things jumped out at me.

Enveloped in an aura of righteousness and unyielding principles, Miss Brent sat in her crowded third-class carriage and triumphed over its discomfort and its heat.

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s prose is clear and to-the-point, summing up all ten of her main characters in only a few words. The descriptions of Emily Brent and Anthony Marston were particularly effective, while on the other hand it’s easy to get ex-Inspector Blore and Philip Lombard mixed up in the early stages. Even knowing the ending, it’s interesting to watch the atmosphere of increasing dread play havoc on everyone’s anxieties.

“My point is that there can be no exceptions allowed on the score of character, position or probability. What we must now examine is the possibility of eliminating one or more persons on the facts. To put it simply, is there among us one or more persons who could not possibly have administered cyanide to [the first victim], or an overdose of sleeping draughts to [the second victim], and who had no opportunity of striking the blow that killed [the third victim]?”

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

One of the things which makes And Then There Were None a really clever mystery is the total lack of trustworthy sources. Every character is equally open to suspicion, and that means the reader can’t trust anything, not even murder mystery staples like time of death or who last saw the victim alive. And by the time solid alibis are established, the characters are all too psychologically wound up to recognise and act on it.

While And Then There Were None is widely recognised as one of Agatha Christie’s most unique offerings, it’s surprising to me that it’s so often recommended to people who haven’t read any others. The very fact that it’s not a detective story makes it a slightly odd place to begin. I’d advise new Christie readers to start with something a bit more traditional and work their way up to And Then There Were None once they’re familiar with the format!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie — Revisit Review

When I picked Elephants Can Remember off the shelf to read next, I was expecting it to be Miss Marple’s Sleeping Murder, which is one of my favourites. The two novels have similar concepts: a young woman with a past mystery about which she needs help discovering answers, so I’m not surprised that I mixed them up. On realising I wasn’t about to read Sleeping Murder, I was initially disappointed, but the first chapter of Elephants Can Remember got me over that hurdle almost immediately.

“I don’t know,” said Mrs Oliver. “I might be going to — well, bother you rather. Ask things. I want to know what you think about something.”
“That I am always ready to tell anyone,” said Poirot.

Elephants Can Remember, Agatha Christie

Ariadne Oliver is immediately charming, in much the same way that Tuppence is in By the Pricking of My Thumbs. Agatha Christie has mastered the conveyance of the meandering way one’s mind moves from topic to topic. In some adaptations (and possibly in the original stories they’re based on) Ariadne Oliver can act a little idiotically, but that isn’t the case here. Her relationship with Hercule Poirot, the way she chastises him for merely sitting at home, also helps cut through his character’s superiority.

A tragedy of love may not always belong to Romeo and Juliet, it is not only the young who suffer the pains of love and are ready to die for love.

Elephants Can Remember, Agatha Christie

The actual puzzle mystery in Elephants Can Remember isn’t Agatha Christie’s best. The clues are there, but the red herrings are presented in such brief and indirect fashion that it’s readily apparent they’re not going to be important. Hercule Poirot explains how he came to his conclusions, but he doesn’t really give each clue its proper weight and explanation. On top of all that, the final proof of the mystery comes not from deduction but from simply asking someone who knew the truth all along! It doesn’t feel particularly satisfying.

I immensely enjoyed reading Elephants Can Remember, I just know that Agatha Christie can and has done even better.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie — Reread Review

Cover: bookshop.org

‘From the way she spoke I got the impression — it’s only an impression, mark you — that the man she was speaking of was at least her social equal. Of course, I may be wrong.’
‘You’re probably quite right! Those nuances of conversation can’t be put down in black and white, but they’re the sort of things one doesn’t really make mistakes about.’

Murder is Easy, Agatha Christie

Murder is Easy has a very strong opening. I love Luke, seeing Miss Pinkerton as an old aunt of his, listening to her describe the string of murders that has happened in her hometown. It’s quite similar to the opening of By the Pricking of My Thumbs in that Luke, Tuppence and Miss Pinkerton are all a bit vague about what exactly is happening and where. I think I prefer that to Poirot’s being called in on cases in a fairly official manner. I particularly love the quotation above, where Luke describes something he sensed from Miss Pinkerton without her putting it into words. I absolutely believe that this kind of thing is possible, and I find it fascinating. My go-to example is that native English speakers inherently know the correct order of adjectives when describing something without ever being taught this as a rule. Our brains can follow rules and infer things without us being able to point to exactly how it’s done, and that’s really cool!

The opening is not the only thing Murder is Easy has in common with By the Pricking of My Thumbs. The murderers also have things in common, though I won’t say what in the hopes that I don’t spoil the books for anyone. The murderer in Murder is Easy is one of my favourites in the Christie-verse, though I have to say they didn’t strike me quite as delightfully as they usually do this time around.

‘Liking is more important than loving. It lasts. I want what is between us to last, Luke. I don’t want us just to love each other and marry and get tired of each other and then want to marry some one else.’
‘Oh! my dear Love, I know. You want reality. So do I. What’s between us will last forever because it’s founded on reality.’

Murder is Easy, Agatha Christie

Last time I read Murder is Easy, I found the romance between Luke and Bridget utterly charming. This time, it felt as though it came out of nowhere and I didn’t particularly appreciate it. It’s amazing how differently things can strike you at different times. This was also the first time I felt a little uneasy about Luke, on very little actual evidence, breaking into the house of one of the people he suspected. I do still like the end, with its focus on a foundation of liking each other rather than a storm of passion.

As far as I’m concerned, you can rarely go wrong with an Agatha Christie. This might not be one of my favourites now, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable, and I still enjoy the solution to the mystery very much! I was also impressed with the neat transparency of Agatha Christie’s prose.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie — Reread Review

While I enjoy all the Agatha Christie stories, I have a definite soft spot for what I privately think of as ‘the creepy ones’. And By the Pricking of My Thumbs (something wicked this way comes) is gloriously full of creeping thrills. Agatha Christie contrasts a sinister atmosphere against the anything-but-creepy antics of Tuppence and Thomas Beresford.

Someday, maybe I’ll come across it by accident!
And so – she had forgotten all about it – until a picture hanging on a wall had reawakened a veiled memory.
And now, thanks to one word uttered unwittingly by Albert, the quest was ended.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Agatha Christie

For the star of a mystery novel, Tuppence isn’t a very good detective. But somehow, she’s all the more endearing for that. The way she thinks, meandering from recollection to connection to frustration, is excellently depicted. She remembers things in just the way real people do, in bits and pieces and with plenty of extraneous information to sift through.

On this reread, I particularly noticed how Thomas approached exactly the same set of clues in a completely different way. And it’s not a spoiler to say that he and Tuppence both got somewhere with their lines of enquiry, which meet up again towards the end of the book.

What I’d done was murder, wasn’t it, and you could only atone for murder with other murders, because the other murders wouldn’t be really murders, they would be sacrifices.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Agatha Christie

I can’t go into the creepiest thing about By the Pricking of My Thumbs without giving away the ending, so I won’t mention it here. Instead, I’ll recommend that if you enjoyed this, you might like Murder is Easy or Halloween Party.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie — Firm Favourite

My mum introduced me to Agatha Christie as a preteen in the form of audiobooks. We were driving in Oman, probably coming back from a camping trip, and I very clearly remember her pausing Motive v. Opportunity – one of the Thirteen Problems – at the moment before the solution is revealed to ask me what I thought. Of course, I had no idea! But from then on, I would borrow all her books on tape, which were mostly of the BBC radio adaptation.

Later, when she discovered Audible, I’d borrow her iPod during summer holidays and listen to the unabridged editions of the same stories. And eventually, I got my own account, which has, at current count 24 Agatha Christie titles.

It’s safe to say I’m familiar with almost all of the novels and short stories. But I’ve only read very few of them. Including Five Little Pigs, I could count the number on one hand.

“It’s psychology that interests you, isn’t it? Well, that doesn’t change with time. The tangible things are gone – the cigarette end and the footprints and the bent blades of grass. You can’t look for those anymore.”

Five Little Pigs, Agatha Christie

Five Little Pigs is probably the Agatha Christie novel that I, personally, think is the cleverest. I always enjoy the ones where the murder happened a long time ago, because – as Agatha Christie herself points out – they showcase the methods of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple very effectively. These aren’t, by and large, detectives who hunt around for physical evidence, and I would be a lot less interested if they were!

As is hinted at in the title, Five Little Pigs is written in the form of five interviews with witnesses, followed by five written statements by those witnesses. And despite the fact that all ten of these go over broadly the same ground, it never feels repetitive! I really can’t over-emphasise how cleverly this novel is constructed. Each witness has gaps in their recollection, some of which will be filled in by subsequent accounts, while some of the outright contradictions between statements prove to be vital to solving the mystery!

How would he, Hercule Poirot, have seen her?
On the answer to that question depended, he felt, the success of his quest.
So far, not one of the people he had seen had doubted that, whatever else she was, Caroline Crale was also a murderess.

Five Little Pigs, Agatha Christie

To see every character from five different perspectives is a fairly unique thing in crime fiction, as far as I’m aware. And as someone who values character, it’s really fascinating. It’s no surprise to me that Five Little Pigs was very highly ranked by podcast All About Agatha.

Five Little Pigs is truly a firm favourite of mine. On the whole, I think I prefer Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot, but it certainly didn’t hurt that I had John Moffat’s familiar voice reading certain lines in my head as I enjoyed this novel!

Rating: 5 out of 5.