Reading Lists

Your Nearest and Dearest: A Deadly Reading List

L Inline Nearestand Dearest

Agatha Christie expertly explored a huge range of families and family dynamics during her writing career. The author's own happy childhood, and devotion to her parents would seem like a dream to some of the fictional characters whose relationships we explore below. From multigenerational households, to books which require a family tree to reveal their complex history, there are so many instances of dysfunctional families to explore in Christie's works. Sophie Hannah's Poirot continuation novels continue this trope, introducing the readers to both complex and sprawling families.

We reflect on some of the most deadly families in Christie, and recommend an excellent selection of mysteries. Which family would you least like to spend the holidays with?

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
We are told by the narrator, Hastings, at the outset that this story is written at the request of the family involved. The Cavendish/Inglethorp family reside at the eponymous house in Essex, Styles Court. Hastings’ friend John Cavendish has invited him to spend his leave from the army there, and is surprised to find out that John’s step-mother, the former Mrs Cavendish, has remarried, and is now Mrs Inglethorp. The house has plenty of occupants and the fractious family are tense, so when Mrs Inglethorp is found poisoned, a Belgian refugee named Poirot is called in to help solve the case.

Appointment with Death
The wicked stepmother trope is used to great effect in this novel, as we join the Boyntons holidaying in Petra. Mrs Boynton’s manipulative treatment of her child, and step-children is brought to our attention by outsiders, and her odious nature is certainly visible for all to see. So when the cruel matriarch is found dead, of a suspected poisoning, in the desert, Hercule Poirot has 24 hours to determine who is responsible. Impossible, n'est-ce pas?

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
A popular favourite, this seasonal country-house mystery focuses on the Lee family, and the bloody murder of the vicious father, Simeon. Having invited all his (estranged) family to join him for Christmas, the tyrant delights in boasting that after the holidays he will be changing his will… But the old man doesn’t reach the big day, as he is found dead on Christmas Eve amidst a grisly scene. Who did it? The Belgian detective, who is staying nearby, must decide.

The Hollow
Lady Angkatell has invited plenty of guests for the weekend, and is now concerned at the “discordant personalities” she will be bringing together at The Hollow. Plenty of Angkatells will be there, alongside Dr Christow, his wife, and the sculptor Henrietta Savernake, who has captured two of the men’s heart Their host plans a party game to welcome their Sunday lunch guest, a Hercule Poirot, but the scene has deadly consequences.

Taken at the Flood
A widow tragically loses her second husband, Mr Gordon Cloade, in a WW2 bombing in 1944. Poor Mrs Underhay. The news is reported in a London club, where Hercule Poirot is in attendance. Over a year later, Mr Cloade’s sister-in-law makes a visit to the detective’s house, stating she was guided by the spirits. She wishes for Mrs Underhay’s first husband to be found, convinced that he is still alive (thus rendering the widow’s claim on the Cloade inheritance invalid). The trouble is, that the rich and childless Gordon had promised plenty of other people that money too..

Crooked House

I don’t know what put the Leonides family into my head—they just came.
Agatha Christie, from the foreword to Crooked House

The family at the heart of this story is a large one. Sophia Leonides, the granddaughter, explains at the outset of the novel that the 10 of them are living together, ‘One brother, one sister, a mother, a father, an uncle, an aunt by marriage, a grandfather, a great-aunt, and a step-grandmother ‘ in the eponymous crooked house, because of the war. It is autumn of 1947, and her amalgamated family live in Swinly Dean, a suburb of London. Her grandfather, Aristide Leonides is a rich man, and his murder prompts a hunt for the killer amongst the family themselves, with tragic results.

After the Funeral
Following the death of heir Richard Abernethie, the remainder of his large extended family are brought together by solicitor Mr Entwhistle for a reading of the will. Tragedy has blighted the Abernethies, and plenty of those who remain have only distant hopes of being included in Richard’s bequests. His sole surviving sister Cora hasn’t been seen at Enderby House for years, but is labouring under the allusion that Richard’s death was not a natural on Used to her outbursts, the family dismiss her rumour-mongering, that is, until she is found murdered. This Poirot novel features a family so complex Christie even included a family tree.

A Pocket Full of Rye
Disagreeable businessman Rex Fortescue is taken ill in his office, whilst his staff look on in horror. His sudden death becomes a matter for investigation, and Detective Inspector Neele must get to know a little more about Mr Fortescue’s second wife, the family finances, and his prodigal son Lancelot’s background. The inspector’s enquiries bring danger to the household though, and Miss Marple feels compelled to step in when a former housemaid of hers is embroiled in the murder.

4.50 From Paddington
A deadly attack, witnessed via a passing train, prompts Miss Marple to get involved in an investigation, sending a spirited Lucy Eyelesbarrow to Rutherford Hall to keep an eye on Luther Crackenthorpe and his extensive family. The household plays host to Luther, one of his six children, a son-in-law, a grandson and his friend, as well as a resident doctor. But what do they have to do with the murdered woman discovered in their grounds? The perpetrator seems determined to cover up their crime at any cost, and several members of the family mysteriously fall ill.

Ordeal by Innocence
If Jacko Argyle didn’t kill his mother, then who did? The Argyle family are moving on from the tragedy of their adoptive mother's death at Sunny Point, until a Dr Calgary turns up to confirm Jacko's alibi. The children and her widower are disturbed by his intrusion, and reluctant to hear him out. Is it too late to rake up the past, or do they just not want to consider that the killer is among them?

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill
Sophie Hannah's fourth Poirot continuation novel features a dysfunctional family dynamic akin to those in Christie's works. Richard Devonport, son of Sidney and Lilian Devonport, has appealed to Hercule to undertake a covert investigation into his brothers death, Frank, as Richard's fiancé has been found guilty of his murder. The Devonport parents were estranged from Fred for sometime, forcing both Richard and their daughter Daisy to cut all ties too, but it seems he was invited back into the fold recently, with deadly consequences.

Hercule Poirot's Silent Night

How many nights could one safely spend at Frellingsloe House without being reclassified as a member of the family?
Sophie Hannah, Hercule Poirot's Silent Night

Poirot and his sidekick Catchpool have been summoned to a crumbling mansion, home to the Laurier family to solve one murder, and prevent another. But everyone seems to be concealing a secret that could hold the vital information needed to solve the case. The detective duo must work together to encourage the family to share what they are determined to keep hidden. Perhaps a spot of Christmas tree decorating will encourage the family to talk?

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