Reading Lists

The Mary Westmacott Reading List

Inline Mary Westmacott Stack

We are often asked "how many books did Agatha Christie write?" The official count runs to 66 crime novels, over 150 short stories, more than 25 plays, two autobiographical accounts, and six books under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.

Whilst not being classified as crime fiction, there are certainly still elements of mystery to these stories. These six books offered Christie a chance to stretch her skills as an author, and write a different type of narrative without preconceptions from readers. They have proved hard to categorise, with historic references to them as romance novels, before Christie's daughter Rosalind termed them "bitter-sweet stories about love".

Whilst her pseudonym was exposed in 1949, these stories still offer the reader a chance to explore an alternative style of Christie's writing. They showcase hallmarks of her recognisable skills: social commentary of the decades; ambitious narrative arcs and compelling characters. Find out more about these unusual, and underrated books, which take inspiration from the author's own life.

What I wanted to do now was to write something other than a detective story. So, with a rather guilty feeling, I enjoyed myself writing a straight novel called Giant's Bread.
Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Giant's Bread [1930]

We follow our central character, Vernon Deyre, through his late Victorian childhood at Abbots Puissants, as he learns to navigate the world around him with help from his beloved nurse and a troop of imaginary friends. His fear of music, inspired by "The Beast" (or piano), will not last, neither will his loneliness as outside events bring him a series of companions which will form the backbone of his adult life. Will the allure of music and a creative lifestyle be enough to sustain Vernon, with an inheritance of debts, or will he have to follow in his uncle's footsteps to become a man of business? His romantic feelings are tested amidst the outbreak of World War I, and his life will begin to take twists and turns which the reader will never expect.

The first novel Christie wrote under a pseudonym is an ambitious novel about friendship, love and loneliness, music, money, and a driving passion to create.

Unfinished Portrait [1934]

Considered semi-autobiographical, Unfinished Portrait is a story of love and loss, death and destiny.

After losing the three people most dear to her - her mother, her husband and her daughter - Celia finds herself unsure how to move forwards with her life. Then, on an exotic island she encounters Larraby, a successful portrait painter, who sensed that Celia was in need of support. On the island, he encourages Celia to tell him her life's story from her childhood and adolescence, through her period of courtship and motherhood, right up to the present day. Celia tells her story with brutal honesty, not hesitating at moments of hardship or grief. As she tells her tale, Larraby begins crafting his portrait of Celia, though it is unlike any portrait he has ever created before. Can Larraby help Celia to come to terms with her turbulent past, or will the outcome of her life remain uncertain?

Absent in the Spring [1944]

Joan Scudamore is a woman who believes she has the perfect marriage and an ideal relationship with her daughter. When she's stranded at a hotel in the Middle Eastern desert, she is left alone with her thoughts and the sand. Little by little, she runs through her memories, gradually realizing that her relationships are far more flawed than she previously believed. As she begins her journey home, she has to make a choice: does she strive to repair her relationships, or does she choose to live in denial? An introspective story of one woman's travels towards the truth.

The Rose and the Yew Tree [1948]

Captain Norreys is recuperating after being injured in a motor accident. What follows is an intriguing and immersive study of St Loo, Cornwall, as recounted by a narrator who is taken into everyone's confidences. In need of diversion, Norreys is as captivated by the young lady of the Castle, Isabella Charteris, as he is put off by the local candidate for an MP, John Gabriel. An outsider, with a determination to get what he wants, we watch on as his complacency threatens to destroy reputations, and the very fabric of the local community.

Expect Christie's comic flair, an intriguing cast of characters, and a healthy dose of gossip.

An adventurer, an opportunist, a man with no virtues save the virtue of physical courage.
Captain Norreys on John Gabriel, The Rose and the Yew Tree

A Daughter's A Daughter - novel [1952]

When her daughter, Sarah, leaves home for a few weeks to go to Switzerland, Ann Prentice is concerned with how best to occupy herself now she is alone. She soon falls in love with a widower and quickly accepts his marriage proposal. But upon meeting her soon-to-be father-in-law, Sarah can't comprehend the idea that her mother would marry again and does all she can to convince her to call off the wedding. However, this is only the beginning of their troubles. Can Ann and Sarah learn to bury their differences or is their relationship destined to fail?

This is a story of inordinate familial jealousy, exploring the psychological relationship between mother and daughter, and the lengths to which people go to obtain happiness.

A Daughter's A Daughter - play [1930s]

The play of the same name premiered in Bath in 1956, but was actually written two decades earlier than the novel. All the action takes place in the London townhouse where the mother, Ann Prentice, is welcoming home her daughter from abroad.

The Burden [1956]

Laura Franklin lived in the shadow of her older brother, Charles. He was handsome, bright and intelligent, whilst Laura was 'an anti-climax - a quiet disappointing child'. So much so that when Charles died from infantile paralysis, their mother wished it had been Laura instead. Following his death, Laura became the centre of their world, until her parents revealed they were having another child. Initially Laura resented her baby sister Shirley's presence, but after heroically saving her sister's life one night, Laura decided to devote her life to protecting her sister. But Shirley couldn't be protected from the consequences of her impetuous heart, and soon she was caught in an unusual love triangle, soon to be shattered by a mysterious death. But was it suicide, or murder?

Whilst these titles are all available in the UK via paperback and eBook, the stories haven't always been widely published further afield. We're delighted that these books are now being released in other international markets, and there are plenty of lovely editions to marvel over around the world. Struggling to get hold of them in the US? We'd recommend shopping via Amazon.co.uk or Blackwell's to start your collection.

Thumbnail MW Collection
Absent in the Spring published by ASA Editora and a selection of classic and contemporary Westmacott novels

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