I have chosen my ‘top ten’ books about Agatha Christie by reference to the influence which they had on my decision to write my book and on the help they gave me in formulating my ideas. The list is therefore rather subjective but I suspect that it would stand up pretty well to objective scrutiny.
The first book which I read about detective fiction was Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder. It was published in 1972 and I probably read it that year. By then I had read all of Agatha Christie’s published detective novels and Symons’ book was of great interest in contextualising her work within the history of detective fiction as a genre.
In the years following Christie’s death in 1976, quite a lot of books were written about her before I decided to write my own book in 2005. By then, I had read a few of these and in my ‘top ten’ I would put:
- Robert Barnard’s A Talent to Deceive – An Appreciation of Agatha Christie, 1990
- Charles Osborne’s The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie, 1982, updated 1999
- Bruce Pendergast’s Everyman’s Guide to the Mysteries of Agatha Christie, 2004
Over the next couple of years, I tried to identify and read all the others and I would select the following for my ‘top ten’:
- Earl F. Bargainnier’s The Gentle Art of Murder – The Detective Fiction of Agatha Christie, 1980
- Maida & Spornick’s Murder She Wrote – A Study of Agatha Christie’s Detective Fiction, 1982
- Mary S. Wagoner’s Agatha Christie, 1986
I also needed to read more widely about detective fiction – its theory, history, components, technique and the like – and I did so during the same period. Although none of these sources gets into my ‘top ten’ (because, like Bloody Murder, they are not specific to Agatha Christie), the ones that helped me most were Marie Rodell’s Mystery Fiction Theory and Technique and Howard Haycraft’s books, Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story and The Art of the Mystery Story.
Perhaps I should also mention another series of books which do not get into the ‘top ten’, namely those in which Agatha Christie is said to have written about – or rather parodied – herself in her amusing portrayal of the fictional author, Mrs Ariadne Oliver, who appears in seven of her novels, the one Poirot Golden Age novel being Cards on the Table.
Since 2005 more books have been published or republished about Agatha Christie. The following would complete my personal ‘top ten’:
- Laura Thompson’s Agatha Christie An English Mystery, 2007
- John Curran’s Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, 2009
- John Curran’s Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making, 2011
- Kathryn Harkup’s A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie, 2015
Over the 40 years since Agatha Christie’s death, other books have been published about her which I have enjoyed, most recently J.C. Bernthal’s highly original Queering Agatha Christie, 2016 and, although not specifically about her, Martin Edwards’ very impressive The Golden Age of Murder, 2015. No doubt, given the strong continuing interest in her works, we can expect valuable contributions to the literature concerning her to be published for years to come.