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Channel 5 Picks: Top 10 Christie Novels

On 10th October, Channel 5 in the UK broadcast a new documentary to celebrate 100 years of Agatha Christie’s stories and 100 years of Poirot. They took an in-depth look at ten of her famous novels; read on to learn more about the books they chose.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The book that began it all, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was completed by Agatha Christie in the middle of the First World War and marks the debut of the extraordinary Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot.

Lieutenant Hastings is convalescing at home from the Front and is invited to spend time with his friend John Cavendish at Styles Court in Essex. While there, John’s stepmother dies suddenly. When Hastings discovers that Hercule Poirot, another old acquaintance of his, is staying in the nearby village, he calls upon his services to solve the murder.

Christie wrote the book largely as a result of a challenge from her older sister, and used the knowledge of poisons she had gained working in a war-time pharmacy to come up with the murder method. The novel was finally published in 1920.

Find out more about the writing of The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Widely considered to be the defining moment of Agatha Christie’s career, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is famous for its twist, the idea for which was proposed to Christie from two different people: her nephew James Watts, and Lord Mountbatten. The book was her first to be published by William Collins in 1926; HarperCollins publish her in the English language to this day.

Hercule Poirot has retired to the country to grow vegetable marrows and befriends his various neighbours in the village of Kings Abbot, including the doctor and his sister who live next door, and wealthy Roger Ackroyd at Fernly Park. One evening, Roger Ackroyd is found stabbed in his study, and his niece Flora commissions Poirot to find the murderer. Poirot enlists the help of his neighbour the doctor and discovers that all those close to Ackroyd have something to hide.

The Murder at the Vicarage

Published in 1930, this is the first novel to feature Christie’s second famous detective, the delightfully curious, ever under-estimated, elderly Miss Marple. Miss Marple evolved partly from the character of Caroline Sheppard, the nosy doctor’s sister from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and partly from the characteristics of Christie’s grandmother and friends.

The story is set in Miss Marple’s village of St Mary Mead, and it soon becomes clear that such quaint locations are in fact rife with intrigue and wickedness – something the observant Miss Marple knows all too well. Her experience with supposedly trivial matters of village life is put to good use here as she manages to untangle the web surrounding the murder of poor Colonel Protheroe, whose body is found in the vicarage study.

Murder on the Orient Express

This is probably Agatha Christie’s most famous work, published in 1934. Christie used her own personal experiences of travelling on the Orient Express through Europe and the Middle East to set the scene. She made her first trip on the iconic train in 1928 when she journeyed to Syria and on to Iraq to visit an archaeological dig. On her second trip to the site she met her future husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, whom she married soon after in 1930.

Hercule Poirot arrives in Istanbul after providing his services in a delicate political affair in Syria. Here, he receives an urgent telegram to travel immediately to London, and proceeds to board a fully-booked Orient Express leaving that evening. His travelling companions are an intriguing collection of all ages, nationalities and classes, strangers travelling together for the next three days. Their progress is halted by a snowdrift, however, and then one of the passengers is found killed in his cabin. Poirot agrees to investigate why he was murdered, and who is the culprit.

Death on the Nile

A sweeping mystery of love, money, jealousy and betrayal, Death on the Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s best-loved and most famous works. Set in the exotic surroundings of Egypt, it’s another iconic title from the prolific 1930s. Christie was again inspired by her own trips to the country, firstly as a young debutante in Cairo, and then again following a trip on a Nile cruise with her husband Max and her daughter Rosalind.

Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a glamorous young heiress during her exotic honeymoon cruise on the River Nile, and becomes embroiled in a poisonous love triangle amidst a group of deeply suspicious fellow passengers. A new movie adaptation from 20th Century Studios, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot and with an all-star cast, will be released in cinemas in late 2020.

And Then There Were None

The World’s Favourite Christie novel, And Then There Were None, published in 1939 on the brink of World War II, is truly genre-defining. Christie found the idea fascinating, and set herself the difficult challenge of killing off ten people, isolated on an island with no one else there.

The story has spawned countless spinoffs and influenced popular culture, with some seeing it as the forerunner to the modern day slasher movies.

Ten strangers are invited to a remote island off the Devon coast by mysterious hosts. It soon appears each of them harbours a secret, and one by one they begin to die horribly.

Five Little Pigs

Perhaps one of Christie’s lesser-known titles but worthy of a mention on this best-of list, Five Little Pigs was first published in 1942 and is often regarded as one of her greatest mysteries. Hercule Poirot is approached by Carla Lemarchant, who tells him that her mother was convicted murdering her father and died in prison, but she knows her mother was innocent. We are transported 16 years into the past as Poirot interviews each of the five other suspects (the ‘little pigs’ of the title), looking retrospectively at the psychology of the murder from various points of view.

Five Little Pigs is one of three novels where the setting is inspired by Christie’s holiday home Greenway, in Devon. Some of the features, such as the Battery in the gardens, are easily-recognisable here.

A Murder is Announced

Christie’s 50th book, A Murder is Announced is often considered the best of the Miss Marple novels, and is certainly a favourite among Christie’s family. Not only does it have the familiar humour associated with Miss Marple stories, but it also provides an insight into the changing world at the start of the 1950s. There is a village black market for various rationed goods, the close community is being infiltrated by unfamiliar faces, and a regular serving staff is being replaced with a ‘daily woman’.

An announcement in the local Chipping Cleghorn Gazette states that a murder will take place at Little Paddocks that evening. Curious villagers turn up at the house eager for entertainment, where owner Miss Blacklock is just as confused by the announcement as her guests – but politely manages to prepare food and drinks to welcome them into her home. At the appointed time of 6.30pm, the lights go out without warning and a gunshot is fired…

The Pale Horse

Published in the early 1960s, The Pale Horse explores superstitions, traditions, witches and black magic against a backdrop of modern, swinging London with its new coffee houses, hissing espresso machines and the ‘Chelsea set’. Incredibly, this book saved lives – readers recognised the symptoms of the particular poison used, managing to save people from further poisoning and apprehend a murderer.

The story follows Londoner Mark Easterbrook, who hears rumours about a strange house in the village of Much Deeping called The Pale Horse, where three mysterious women live. He wonders if they could be connected to a list of people found hidden in the shoe of a murdered priest.

Curtain

Curtain is the last Christie Poirot novel that was published, released in 1975. The novel was in fact written much earlier, at some point during World War II, and kept safe in the event of something happening to Christie in the war. When it was finally released, fans worldwide went into mourning – for this is indeed the book where Hercule Poirot himself dies. The New York Times ran an obituary, the only one for a fictional character.

Hastings, now a widower, returns from the Argentine to once again visit Styles, no longer a private residence but a guest house of sorts. One of the guests is Hercule Poirot, now suffering from illness and old age. Poirot has a theory that someone at Styles is responsible for several murders and must be stopped as soon as possible, and asks Hastings to help him.

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