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The 9 Best Agatha Christie Novels for Your Autumn Reading List

The genius of Agatha Christie was her ability to stuff emotion and terror into a literary Rubik’s Cube. Her plots were devilishly clever, and her characters made you want to keep turning each page instead of skipping to the solution in the back.

It’s a testament to her status as ruler of the deadly weekend getaway/train ride/exotic vacation that her work has been adapted hundreds of times, making her the Shakespeare of Cyanide. The new Murder on the Orient Express is, counting television, the fourth time the classic story has been adapted for the screen, and it’s only one of 73 novels on Christie’s eternal bookshelf.

So where do you start with the best selling author of all time? How about the best?

9. A Murder is Announced

A fiendish set up that makes your head spin from the outset, the town of Chipping Cleghorn (oh, the English) is on pins and needles after a notice in the local newspaper reveals that a killing will occur at a local pub called Little Paddocks. A crowd shows up, and so does a gunman. The lights go out, and when they come back up, it’s the gunman who’s dead. Good thing Miss Marple is around to solve the case and judge people’s manners.

8. Death Comes As the End

A different Christie for two reasons. The first is that it’s structured more like a slasher film than a standard detective novel. The second is that it takes place not in the Art Deco days of flapper dresses and mustache combs, but in Egypt, the year 2000 B.C.E. It’s a dramatic, romantic rush that shows off Christie’s love of archaeology.

7. The Murder at the Vicarage

The first appearance of Miss Marple is a lot of small town, backstabbing fun. Instead of spending the whole novel sussing out motives, Christie introduces us to an entire community–including the local clergyman–who wanted to kill the horrible man who ends up horribly killed. Everyone is so open about their disdain for the cruel magistrate of St. Mary Mead that two people even readily confess to murdering him. It’s a twisty example of dark humor and sharp detective work.

6. Endless Night

In another departure from her formula, this novel is a Gothic-style horror about cursed fates and mysterious dark forces. It’s told by Michael, a charismatic and thoughtful young man who falls deeply in love with a wealthy heiress named Ellie. They get married, Michael’s best friend designs a fantastic, modern home for them in Gipsy’s Acre, and an old woman tells Ellie she’ll die if she doesn’t leave the village. It’s a delicate and frightening tale that puts a pessimistic spin on the typical dreams of young people in love.

5. Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Christie sent Poirot out with a bang. Rising to (and exceeding) the occasion of her famous detective’s endgame, the story sees an aged, arthritic Poirot confined to a wheelchair as he hunts a suspect who murders by subtly and insistently getting others to kill. Not only does the tale take us back to Styles Court–the site of Christie’s first published novel and Poirot’s first appearance–the mystery deals in an array of moral questions, family squabbles, and fantastic twists. The depth here is astounding, and it lets Poirot exit the stage with cunning intellect and dark dignity.

4. The A.B.C. Murders

Poirot faces off against a serial killer who slays victims in alphabetical order and taunts the Belgian detective with letters announcing where he’ll strike next (“Monsieur Police, I gave you all zee clues!”). What follows is an impressive game of cat and also-cat wherein Poirot utilizes the collective strength and intelligence of the murder victims’ family members. On top of being a cracking mystery, it also mines the personal cost of losing a loved one more thoroughly than the average whodunnit.

3. Murder on the Orient Express

I doubt that there’s a better solution to a mystery story than this one. Maybe “The Mouse Trap,” but a list of Christie’s plays is its own animal. As a bonus, it’s presented swaddled in a moral conundrum that stabs at both our human failings and the failings of the standard justice system. The set up involves a bedraggled Poirot canceling travel while in Istanbul to return to London on the world famous train, which is a spot of bad luck for whomever has plotted to murder the craven Samuel Ratchett. After Ratchett turns up with more holes than his body is supposed to have, Poirot unravels a large group of passengers’ connection to a kidnapping gone wrong and unearths a slew of devastating family secrets.

2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Over 90 years old and still kicking, this classic opens with an egregiously confusing set of situations surrounding a murder which Christie deftly manages to satisfy by the end. Roger Ackroyd is a rich businessman (and a widower) who is set to marry a widow who dies unexpectedly. Troubled by the loss, Ackroyd dines with a group of family and friends and dies later that night, creating a mystery that brings Poirot out of retirement. This novel is all about the tiniest details and the darkest family dramas, creating a fog that even the best detectives would struggle to see through. Not Poirot. He pieces together every tiny scrap of evidence and delivers a shocking conclusion.

1. And Then There Were None

With all the trappings of the best detective stories, this novel has the added bonus of being absurdly fun, as if Christie were lampooning her own plot concepts while deepening the twists. The tale involves a group of strangers–all horrible people responsible for the deaths of others–going to a mysterious house on a mysterious island for a mysterious holiday. Echoing ethical shades found in “Curtain,” the slasher style of “Death Comes as the End,” and a shocking ending worthy of “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” this wondrous work is the culmination of the best qualities of Christie’s writing. Engaging because of its characters, Christie sets a peerless trap for the reader while setting them for her fictional victims. Thank goodness they changed the original title.

What’s your favorite Agatha Christie novel?

Images: Twentieth Century Fox; Dodd, Mead and Company; Fontana Books; Dell Books; HarperCollins; Pocket Books; Collins Crime Club; William Collins, Sons

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