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Reading Lists

Christie's Best Openers

We asked Agatha Christie expert Chris Chan to explore the best openers in her novels. We hope it inspires you to pick up your next read!

The Body in the Library

Why it’s a great opening: This was Christie’s personal favourite of her own openings. It deftly blends the pleasant ordinariness of village life with the macabre chaos that comes with murder…

Mrs. Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a First at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing suit, but, as is the blessed habit of dreams, this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life. Mrs. Bantry was enjoying her dream a good deal.

She usually did enjoy those early-morning dreams that were terminated by the arrival of early-morning tea. Somewhere in her inner consciousness was an awareness of the usual early-morning noises of the household. The rattle of the curtain rings on the stairs as the housemaid drew them, the noises of the second housemaid’s dustpan and brush in the passage outside. In the distance the heavy noise of the front-door bolt being drawn back.

Another day was beginning. In the meantime she must extract as much pleasure as possible from the flower show, for already its dreamlike quality was becoming apparent.

Below her was the noise of the big wooden shutters in the drawing room being opened. She heard it, yet did not hear it. For quite half an hour longer the usual household noises would go on, discreet, subdued, not disturbing because they were so familiar. They would culminate in a swift, controlled sound of footsteps along the passage, the rustle of a print dress, the subdued chink of tea things as the tray was deposited on the table outside, then the soft knock and the entry of Mary to draw the curtains. In her sleep Mrs. Bantry frowned. Something disturbing was penetrating through the dream state, something out of its time. Footsteps along the passage, footsteps that were too hurried and too soon. Her ears listened unconsciously for the chink of china, but there was no chink of china. The knock came at the door. Automatically, from the depths of her dream, Mrs. Bantry said, “Come in.” The door opened; now there would be the chink of curtain ring as the curtains were drawn back.

But there was no chink of curtain rings. Out of the dull green light Mary’s voice came, breathless, hysterical. “Oh, ma’am, oh, ma’am, there’s a body in the library!” And then, with a hysterical burst of sobs, she rushed out of the room again.

The Secret Adversary

Why it’s a great opening: In this flashback action scene, Christie introduces a world of espionage and international diplomacy, set during a real-life tragedy: the sinking of the Lusitania.

It was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7, 1915. The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed.

The women and children were being lined up awaiting their turn. Some still clung desperately to husbands and fathers; others clutched their children closely to their breasts. One girl stood alone, slightly apart from the rest. She was quite young, not more than eighteen. She did not seem afraid, and her grave, steadfast eyes looked straight ahead.

“I beg your pardon.”

A man’s voice beside her made her start and turn. She had noticed the speaker more than once amongst the first-class passengers. There had been a hint of mystery about him which had appealed to her imagination. He spoke to no one.

If anyone spoke to him he was quick to rebuff the overture. Also he had a nervous way of looking over his shoulder with a swift, suspicious glance.

She noticed now that he was greatly agitated. There were beads of perspiration on his brow. He was evidently in a state of overmastering fear. And yet he did not strike her as the kind of man who would be afraid to meet death!

Lord Edgware Dies

Why it’s a great opening: Hastings sets the scene well, intriguing the reader. We know the victim. We know the vital clue. What we don’t know is why Poirot considered the case “a failure.” And who is this “very fascinating lady?”

The memory of the public is short. Already the intense interest and excitement aroused by the murder of George Alfred St Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware, is a thing past and forgotten. Newer sensations have taken its place.

My friend, Hercule Poirot, was never openly mentioned in connection with the case. This, I may say, was entirely in accordance with his own wishes. He did not choose to appear in it. The credit went elsewhere—and that is how he wished it to be. Moreover, from Poirot’s own peculiar private point of view, the case was one of his failures. He always swears that it was the chance remark of a stranger in the street that put him on the right track.

However that may be, it was his genius that discovered the truth of the affair. But for Hercule Poirot I doubt if the crime would have been brought home to its perpetrator.

I feel therefore that the time has come for me to set down all I know of the affair in black and white. I know the ins and outs of the case thoroughly and I may also mention that I shall be fulfilling the wishes of a very fascinating lady in so doing.

Death on the Nile

Why it’s a great opening: In a few brief lines of dialogue, we meet the character at the centre of the upcoming murder investigation on the Nile: a spoiled, imperious heiress, who many people want dead…

Linnet Ridgeway!

“That’s her.” said Mr. Burnaby, the landlord of the Three Crowns.

He nudged his companion.

The two men stared with round bucolic eyes and slightly open mouths.

A big scarlet Rolls-Royce had just stopped in front of the local post office.

A girl jumped out, a girl without a hat and wearing a frock that looked (but only looked) simple. A girl with golden hair and straight autocratic features – a girl with a lovely shape – a girl such as was seldom seen in Malton-under-Wode.

With a quick imperative step she passed into the post office.

“That’s her!’ said Mr. Burnaby again. And he went on in a low awed voice.

“Millions she’s got …. Going to spend thousands on the place. Swimming pools there’s going to be, and Italian gardens and a ballroom and a half of the house pulled down and rebuilt . . .” “She’ll bring money into the town,” said his friend.

He was a lean seedy-looking man. His tone was envious and grudging.

Mr. Burnaby agreed.

“Yes, it’s a great thing for Malton-under-Wode. A great thing it is.” Mr. Burnaby was complacent about it. “Wake us all up proper,” he added.

“Bit of a difference from Sir George,” said the other.

“Ah, it was the ‘orses did for him,” said Mr. Burnaby indulgently. “Never ‘ad no luck.” “What did he get for the place?” “A cool sixty thousand, so I’ve heard.” The lean man whistled.

Mr. Burnaby went on triumphantly: “And they say she’ll have spent another sixty thousand before she’s finished!” “Wicked!” said the lean man. “Where’d she get all that money from?” “America, so I’ve heard. Her mother was the only daughter of one of those millionaire blokes. Quite like the pictures, isn’t it?” The girl came out of the post office and climbed into the car.

As she drove off the lean man followed her with his eyes.

He muttered: “It seems all wrong to me—her looking like that. Money and looks–it’s too much! If a girl’s as rich as that she’s no right to be a good-looker as well. And she is a good-looker… Got everything that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…”

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans

Why it’s a great opening: When the amiable Bobby Jones is enjoying a game of golf, a stray ball leads him to a shocking sight: a dying man at the base of a cliff. Bobby just manages to catch the man's last words. What does his question mean? And why is someone threatening Bobby for hearing it?

Suddenly Bobby stiffened and called to his companion. ‘I say, doctor, come here. What do you make of that?’

Some forty feet below was a dark heap of something that looked like old clothes. The doctor caught his breath. ‘By Jove,’ he said. ‘Somebody’s fallen over the cliff. We must get down to him.’

Side by side the two men scrambled down the rock, the more athletic Bobby helping the other. At last they reached the ominous dark bundle. It was a man of about forty, and he was still breathing, though unconscious. The doctor examined him, touching his limbs, feeling his pulse, drawing down the lids of his eyes. He knelt down beside him and completed his examination. Then he looked up at Bobby, who was standing there feeling rather sick, and slowly shook his head.

‘Nothing to be done,’ he said. ‘His number’s up, poor fellow. His back’s broken. Well, well. I suppose he wasn’t familiar with the path, and when the mist came up he walked over the edge. I’ve told the council more than once there ought to be a railing just here.’
He stood up again. ‘I’ll go off and get help,’ he said. ‘Make arrangements to have the body got up. It’ll be dark before we know where we are. Will you stay here?’ Bobby nodded.

‘There’s nothing to be done for him, I suppose?’ he asked. The doctor shook his head. ‘Nothing. It won’t be long—the pulse is weakening fast. He’ll last another twenty minutes at most. Just possible he may recover consciousness before the end; but very likely he won’t. Still—’ ‘Rather,’ said Bobby quickly. ‘I’ll stay. You get along. If he does come to, there’s no drug or anything—’ he hesitated.

The doctor shook his head. ‘There’ll be no pain,’ he said. ‘No pain at all.’

Turning away, he began rapidly to climb up the cliff again. Bobby watched him till he disappeared over the top with a wave of his hand. Bobby moved a step or two along the narrow ledge, sat down on a projection in the rock and lit a cigarette. The business had shaken him. Up to now he had never come in contact with illness or death. What rotten luck there was in the world! A swirl of mist on a fine evening, a false step—and life came to an end.

Fine healthy-looking fellow too—probably never known a day’s illness in his life. The pallor of approaching death couldn’t disguise the deep tan of the skin. A man who had lived an out-of-door life—abroad, perhaps. Bobby studied him more closely — the crisp curling chestnut hair just touched with grey at the temples, the big nose, the strong jaw, the white teeth just showing through the parted lips. Then the broad shoulders and the fine sinewy hands. The legs were twisted at a curious angle. Bobby shuddered and brought his eyes up again to the face. An attractive face, humorous, determined, resourceful. The eyes, he thought, were probably blue — And just as he reached that point in his thoughts, the eyes suddenly opened.

They were blue—a clear deep blue. They looked straight at Bobby. There was nothing uncertain or hazy about them. They seemed completely conscious. They were watchful and at the same time they seemed to be asking a question. Bobby got up quickly and came towards the man. Before he got there, the other spoke. His voice was not weak — it came out clear and resonant. ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ he said.

And then a queer little shudder passed over him, the eyelids dropped, the jaw fell . . . The man was dead.

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