The Essential Agatha Christie – The New York Times

The Essential Agatha Christie - The New York Times

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In “Peril at End House,” Poirot and his old pal, Hastings, have arrived at a coastal resort in Cornwall. “The sea was a deep and lovely blue, the sky clear and the sun shining with all the single-hearted fervor an August sun should (but in England so often does not.)” Their holiday has barely begun when a young woman tells them, “I’ve had three escapes from sudden death in as many days.” Accidents? Poirot doesn’t think so: By the end of the first chapter, he’s convinced someone is trying to murder her.

In general, in Christie’s books, “home” is not a warm, nurturing place, and her mansions — often isolated, moldering and gloomy — make ideal spots for murder, like the one in her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” When the book opens, Hercule Poirot is living in somewhat straitened circumstances as a Great War refugee in the English countryside, not far from the estate of his benefactress, Emily Inglethorp, who is soon done in by a cup of strychnine-laced cocoa. (The Pharmaceutical Journal, which reviewed “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” said it “has the rare merit of being correctly written.”) There are any number of suspects in Mrs. Inglethorp’s murder, including her cad of a husband, her churlish stepsons and even her best friend, who’s hiding a big secret.

I’m fond of “The Man in the Brown Suit,” an over-the-top caper involving South Africa and diamonds, and “Murder in Mesopotamia,” set on an archaeological expedition in Iraq, but if I had to pick one Christie novel set abroad, it would be “Death on the Nile.” In this atmospheric novel set in the shadows of Egypt’s ruins, poor Hercule Poirot — who never gets to enjoy a vacation — is on a luxe Nile cruise when someone has the temerity to kill a young newlywed. Just as in “Murder on the Orient Express,” none of the passengers on the boat are who they appear to be; it’s up to Poirot to suss out their true identities and figure out why they’ve come to Egypt. A top-notch literary brainteaser.

That would be “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” the story of a wealthy man slain in his study less than a day after the woman he hoped to marry commits suicide. Although — as Hercule Poirot discovers — the dead man’s assorted friends, relatives and servants have reasons to wish him ill, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” will still leave you reeling. When you find out who the murderer is and begin leafing through the pages, looking for missed clues, you’ll realize just how completely Christie snookered you.

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