Most readers of this column would know that this isn’t essentially a review, but more a space where I recommend interesting reads within a broad remit of detective/mystery fiction. Since discovery is the primary objective, applecarts remain mostly unharmed. Let me, however, push the envelope a little today. Below are three stories/novels from the grand dame of detective fiction, Agatha Christie, which are rather unheralded, but I think are absolutely brilliant; three others, which are praised to the high heavens, but which do not really stand out, in my humble opinion; and three others, which deserve every bit of the mighty praise they get.
The unheralded greats:
Sad Cypress: My first Poirot. A gentle, lovingly written, slowly unravelling twister of a story. Plus, this even contains a courtroom. This contains the best of all that is Christie.
The Mysterious Mr. Quin: I decided that I would want to be a short story writer after reading this collection. A crime happens in the presence of Mr. Satterthwaite. Mr. Quin lands up, as if by happenstance, and solves it by the sheer means of mere conversation. Absolute magic.
The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side: Clean as a whistle. And remade into perhaps the best cozy whodunit in the history of Indian cinema, Rituparno Ghosh’s Shubho Mahurat. So there’s your movie recommendation for this week.
The umm… meh ones:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: I could identify the criminal from a mile off. This was as template as it could get. You couldn’t? Really? Perhaps I do read too much detective fiction, then.
Murder on The Orient Express: After the wonderment of this fantastically-crafted mystery would subside, the aftertaste would be pretty sub-par. What a bunch of gobbledygook this is!
Death on The Nile: While Sad Cypress contains all that is the best in a Poirot novel, this here contains all that is the worst. Gimmicky, elaborate, opulent, and awfully predictable.
And the three which deserve every accolade they get
The ABC Murders: This remains the high watermark of how you write a serial murder whodunit.
And Then There Were None: I would read late into the night when I was young. This was the one novel which I slammed down, covered myself up in my blanket and shut my eyes tight ‘til daybreak, when I would start reading it again.
Crooked House: The most shocking denouement. A thoroughly enjoyable, entirely unexpected favourite.
So, what is the solution to the mystery of this specific column, dear reader? Is it that this reviewer is a bigger fan of the wise spinster of St Mary Mead than of the estimable Belgian? The reader
would not be very wrong in his/her reasoning, in that case.