Agatha Christie was chosen for the all-time best crime writer by the Crime Writers Association this week. The same poll declared Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle the best ever series. I like them both. However, while I’ve read many of Christie’s books, I’ve only ever read The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Study in Scarlet by Conan Doyle. For me, Sherlock Holmes has always been better in visual form – any version, I’m not choosy. Christie, however, is enjoyable in both.
I binge-read Christie’s books when I was maybe fifteen or so. I read every book of hers my local library had, and if there weren’t any unread ones when I went to get more, I would read one of them again. I continued this until I was fed up. I don’t recall having a favourite among them, but I read And Then There Were None more often than others. I should mention, too, that not all her books were available in my language or in my local library so I haven’t read them all.
One would think that a mystery loses its charm the moment one knows the killer, but that doesn’t happen with Christie’s books. More importantly, I don’t think finding out who did it is what draws readers to her books in the first place. Her two wonderful characters alone, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, with their idiosyncrasies, are a reason to return to the books.
And although this is a reading blog, I have to admit that I love all the movies and TV series based on her books that I’ve seen too. David Suchet is perhaps my favourite Poirot, but I think I’ve liked all the actresses who have portrayed Miss Marple.
What then, makes a good crime novel? Christie’s books are character driven, filled with interesting, funny and bizarre people who all have secrets to hide – all of which are revealed one by one as the story unravels, keeping the reader guessing till the last page. The murderer is never who I expect it to be, but I must admit that the extremely elaborate plot in Death on the Nile remains my favourite; as a movie too, the 1978 version with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.
Once I was over my Christie binge, I left crime novels behind, hers and everyone else’s. I don’t think I’ve picked a crime novel above a handful of times since. I like a bit of mystery in all my reading, but crime novels for their own sake haven’t felt like worth my while. Perhaps I read too many of them at once. Perhaps no other crime writer has intrigued and entertained me as well as Christie has. I guess, for me, she is the best crime writer there is.
Here, to leave you with style, the trailer for the Death on the Nile: