Book(s): Agatha Christie’s Poirot Mysteries
Author: Agatha Christie
Review by: Leslie Gordon, director of the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University
Lately I have escaped the endlessly dismaying news cycle by reading 35 of the 37 Agatha Christie Poirot mysteries. Stealing an hour for myself, I settle in a quiet place, my cat on my lap, and read. Being asked to write this led me to ask myself what draws me to the stories and to consider if I have a favorite.
A recent review by John Lanchester in The London Review of Books notes that Christie is not the best writer from what is known as the golden age of detective fiction. (He cites Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham as writers who had “a lot more writing going on” in their works.) Christie’s less artful but efficient writing, he suggests, makes her work less dated.
Focusing on one book is impossible for me. I can recommend Cards on the Table in which the mystery’s solution has Detective Hercule Poirot questioning four suspects on their distinctly different accounts of each hand of a bridge game aga on the night of the murder. Then there is Dumb Witness, where a dog, Bob, is thought to have caused a fall that turns out to be attempted murder — not by Bob. But choose any of the books, early or late, and if you like a good mystery, you won’t be disappointed.
For me Christie’s appeal is that of Romance – not in the sense of a love story, but in the sense of a tale of adventure set in a strange and distant place (England, mostly, a few generations back). The books are set in a kind of fairyland of unreasonable upper-class privilege inhabited by simple types who are haunted by apparently inexplicable and mysterious murders that serve as puzzles to be solved by the persnickety, brilliant and elderly outsider, Hercule Poirot.
Although Christie herself did not find Poirot very likeable, I do. If he weren’t, why would so many millions of copies of the books been sold? Why would over 35 actors, from Charles Laughton to Kenneth Branagh and John Malkovich wish to play Poirot on stage and in films? And for those of us hooked on BBC TV, there is the portrayal by David Suchet, who made the diminutive detective with an egg-shaped head and a penchant for patent leather shoes a very likable character.
Poirot’s rigorous charm makes sense of the most tangled and ambiguous situations. That is much of his attraction. When I read the novels, I can enjoy the time travel, the play of character types, the sense of mystery, the ambiguities of motive, the suspense – knowing all along that the Magician of Reason will untangle it all in the end. I know that, at least in these pages even if not on the evening news, everything will be solved, the perpetrator will get his/her just desserts and the characters can simply move on with their lives.
Read Ms. Gordon’s reviews from previous years below:
Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2011. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All reviews were written independently with only mild editing from our staff.