The Mysterious Miss Christie

In a Downton Abbey world, may we recommend rediscovering the joys of Agatha Christie?

Christie has gotten a lot of flak over the last few decades for her tropes. A group of well-heeled men and women, usually living under a silent strain together at a country home, discover a murderer in their midst. There are is, of course, a coterie of servants and secretaries upon whom suspicion also falls. But the joys of a drawing room mystery are in its very unlikeliness. The poison in the coco, the mysterious shot in the night, the candle wax stain, the jewels hidden in the handle of a tennis racquet…all of that has a certain soothing meticulousness.

We entered into our Christie faze almost a decade ago, and swiftly read most of them. Hercule Poirot, with his studied eccentricities and his maddening calm, was never a draw, which is a shame because the best books feature him (in the case of the later Christie Cat Among the Pigeons, he mercifully doesn’t make an appearance until the end). But there you have it; for the best-plotted novels, one must tolerate Poirot.

There’s much to enjoy in the non-Poirot novels, though. The Man in the Brown Suit is an early thriller more than a mystery, and Christie was never better than when crafting interesting, courageous female protagonists. Likewise, Destination Unknown, for all of its preoccupation with Communism, is an entrancing novel as well. And of course there is And Then There Were None, one of the best novels of the 20th century, genre excluded, and the very strange, eerie Endless Night.

Few of the novels have much meat to them; one won’t put it down and see the world in a new way. But there is a certain comfort to be found in them, as Katey Kontent points out in Rules of Civility, because by book’s end, everyone has gotten exactly what they deserve. And how refreshing it is to submerge oneself in a world like that for a few hours.

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