Please note: to see the Youtube links for some of these books please view this post in a web browser. Thank You!
Brace yourselves. This post is about the Agatha Christies you’ve never heard of or likely haven’t read because they aren’t popular.
But I happen to love them. There, I have unashamedly said it. I love them, even her “worst” book has always been one of my favorites (Postern of Fate). So you might want to take what I say with a grain of salt.
Why? From what I can figure I am very drawn to books where she uses parts of her Victorian childhood, a human element, a mystery that could happen to anyone, or thrillers that involve every day people. I don’t seem to be very keen on the detective who swoops in to save the seemingly un-savable situation, or cold murder mysteries without much characterization from the players.
In late 2018 I decided to read every single Agatha Christie, in order, and take notes as to why I liked the ones I did and to list the ones I would read again and again. I also decided to try and collect all of the Tom Adams covers- he is one of my favorite artists and his covers are the best. I haven’t gotten them all yet (as you will see) but I significantly upgraded my collection for about $10-$30 USD a month as I was reading. Here is the end of that lovely project which I finished in 2020.
These are my favorites and why from each decade, plus links to Youtube series videos don’t want to miss:
The Secret Adversary (1922)
Many critics hate Tommy and Tuppence, but I find them fun and refreshing. The Secret Adversary is their first book. They are poor and looking for adventure. They team up to track down spies and double-crossers in the time of the first World War. It is a quick and very exciting read. There is a lovely 1980s TV series with the early Tommy & Tuppence mysteries. Episode 1 is this book- its a hoot!
Poirot Investigates (1924)
I know I said I did not like Poirot, but Agatha’s short stories about him are such small doses they are easy to handle and often very interesting and fun. I love all the short stories, no matter the main characters. You probably know of the Great David Suchet as Poirot. I don’t have the series’ episodes matched to the books but you can watch a lot of them on Youtube- they are very entertaining!
The Secret of Chimneys (1925)
Another work panned, but I find it to be exciting. “Bright young thing” Bundle and Inspector/Superintendent Battle make their debuts in another spy romp taking place in an old manor house Bundle’s parents are renting. This is my Mother’s favorite Christie!
The Big Four (1927)
Universally panned as the worst of the 20s, but it is a quick read of 4 short Poirot stories thrown together to make a book when Agatha was struggling with her divorce. It’s very uncharacteristic for a Poirot, but maybe that’s why I like it! Poirot and Hastings are tasked with finding the Big Four masterminds behind the world’s evils and defeating them. There are some fascinating plots like a deadly chess game that make this an exciting read.
The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
More Bundle! I do enjoy her and wish there were more books with her, but oh well, there will be more Tommy and Tuppence books at least. Bundle tries to infiltrate a secret society and unwind the strange murder of a friend.
Partners in Crime (1929)
This new Tommy and Tuppence has them happliy married, but bored; missing their adventures in the previous book. They are tasked with keeping a detective agency open to catch spies and find themselves solving all sorts of mysteries with Tommy trying on different detective styles from popular novels of the time. This extra layer adds a lot of fun to their adventures and is a treat for lovers of detective novels. There is also a really fun Nick & Nora styled series with Francesca Annis in the best 1920s costumes! A lot of them are on Youtube:
Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
This story is a little slow-paced at first, but its our introduction to Miss Marple and has some very interesting plots. The TV series with Joan Hickson as Marple features a great rendition of this book.
The Mysterious Mr. Quinn (1930)
Christie has sub-characters many have never heard of- and these next two are great. Mr. Satterthwaite is a man who keeps running into other peoples’ problems, but he has a special friend that seems to magically show up, Mr. Quinn, to help him help others. This book has a little bit of the creepy factor that shows up in Christie’s works around this time which adds to the story plots a lovely touch.
The Thirteen Problems (1932)
AKA The Tuesday Club Murders
Short stories featuring Miss Marple as her demure self, shyly solving each “problem” as it baffles everyone else in the room? Yes, please!
The Hound of Death (1933)
Remember the creepy stuff that starts to show up? This book of short stories is completely devoted to the strange, paranormal, and spiritual. It is thoroughly enjoyable and a great read under quilts late at night with tea and candlelight.
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1934)
AKA The Boomerang Clue
Another fun romp. Christie particularly enjoyed the lighter mysteries and spy plots with no name characters because it gave her a break from Poirot, which even she admits to disliking!
Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective (1934)
“Are you unhappy? Consult Parker Pyne.” This book is really interesting. Parker Pyne is able to help all sorts of people with their life problems using very objective data to problem-solve and to come up with ingenious solutions to complicated human problems. A gen of a book and a great feel-good read. Their is also a TV series called the Agatha Christie hour (free on Youtube) that features several of the cases like this favorite:
Murder in Three Acts (1935)
AKA Three Act Tragedy
There are going to be exceptions to Poirot and whether or not these books are truly “unloved.” Here is one I enjoyed because it has Mr. Satterthwaite in it from Mr. Quinn, plus another “bright, young thing” like Bundle named “Egg.” (Some of the nicknames for people and pets are so upper-crust English in these books it is adorable, i.e. Bundle, Egg, Wonky-Pooh, )
The A.B.C. Murders (1935)
I like this book because it is very dark. Poirot is on the trail of a serial killer before serial killer was in our vernacular. I really like it when Christie strays from the “safe” murder mysteries and goes into uncharted territory for cozy mysteries. She was passionate about helping others be aware of evil so they could protect themselves. If you didn’t already love Christie this should seal the deal. I really liked the new adaptation of this movie- it was David Fincher dark with John Malkovich and it played out well with lots of good character actors rounding it out.
Death on the Nile (1937)
Admittedly this one is one of Christie’s best works- its on this list because I would read it over and over despite Poirot! This book IS on the best-read Christie list and for good reason- it’s great! The 1978 movie with Mia Farrow is outstanding and if you haven’t seen it watch it now!
Easy to Kill (1939)
AKA Murder is Easy
This book was one of the shining lights in the long list of Christie books I was working through, but only because I got the audio version! I was reading it and enjoying it, but I had to make a long drive to take my son to Boy Scout camp and borrowed the CD audio book from the library. Hugh Frasier reads it aloud and I immediately noticed the audio had parts that were not in my 80s American paperback. I have no idea why these things were removed. Editors must have thought Americans were stupid or didn’t understand England in the 80s. Either way I think Christie would have been very upset that her work was so changed. This was the first book I could tell that started to bring the nursery rhymes and child sayings and fun into the mysteries. Things that are omitted are all the little sing-songs that lead the soon-to-be victims to the real perpetrator and some very cute pet names. Without these things the book is ok, with these things it is fascinating. This book, re-read in it’s proper British form, became one of my top favorites.
The Regatta Mystery (1939)
Poirot and Marple short stories, lots of short fun.
Sad Cypress (1940)
This book is definitely a human story with a murder. Its about childhood, unrequited love, money, punishment of self for wishing another woman to die, who does, and an ingenious plot. One can’t help but think Agatha was writing from her hurting heart to heal her wounds from her husband’s divorce from her for another woman.
N or M (1941)
This is one of my favorite books, and the cover art by Tom Adams is great too with a nursery puzzle flipped over to reveal Nazis. Tommy goes off to infiltrate a possible Nazi sympathizer and dangerous citizen in a seaside boardinghouse. What he doesn’t realize is that upset about being shut out of the case, Tuppence has gotten there first and he is very surprised to see her as Mrs. Blenkensop! (Incidentally this becomes an on-going joke between the two in later books.) The ending is lovely and has T&T adding to their family of children!
Towards Zero (1944)
This book is very odd and twisting and there is a reveal you won’t see coming. It’s all about deception and framing someone as a murderer who is not.
The Labors of Hercules (1947)
Lovely short stories featuring Poirot completing the 12 Labors of his namesake. It’s very tongue in cheek (pekingese dogs are beasts, lol) and full of funny characters and awkward situations for dapper Poirot, a real gem.
The Witness for the Prosecution (1948)
Christie was exceptionally proud of this play, even more so that the popular Mousetrap. It may well be the best courtroom drama ever. I know this- the 1957 Billy Wilder movie is outstanding as well. You will not be sorry you read and watched it!
Crooked House (1949)
I am going to close out this post with this one. It will be a spoiler so stop if you don’t want to know, ok?
I read this book as a teenager and it knocked my feet right out from under me. I almost couldn’t believe who the murderer was. My Mom and I discussed it, I remember. Christie was taking a big risk making the killer a child, but she had a passion for not only writing about evil but exposing it and protecting people from it as well. I think she viewed some of her work as warnings to us to be aware, that evil is truly in our daily lives and it can come from surprising places. Agatha, I salute you.
Stay tuned for the other half of this post coming soon!
With Reading Love to You from Kansas Street,
2 thoughts on “The Best “Unloved” Agatha Christie Books 1920-1949”
I should read more Christie novels: I’ve only read Poirot Investigates (which, I sadly forgot all about) and Five Little Pigs. What did you think of that one, if you’ve read it?
I remember liking the book quite a bit!