I have chosen my ‘top ten’ books about Agatha Christie’s novels 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 for my two volumes. 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 crime 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 other books. 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 those 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. And much later, as I was nearing completion of my text for Volume I, Martin Edwards published his very impressive The Golden Age of Murder, 2015.
By then, more books had been published or republished about Agatha Christie. Of the ones whose principal focus relates to her novels, the following would be in my ‘top ten’:
- 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
There are also some very good biographies, whose principal focus on Christie herself, rather than her novels, means that they have to fall outside my ‘top ten’, namely Janet Morgan’s Agatha Christie, A Biography, 1984/2017, Laura Thompson’s Agatha Christie An English Mystery, 2007 and, of course Christie’s own An Autobiography, 1977.
I seriously considered Mark Aldridge’s two expertly written books for my ‘top ten’ but, as with the biographies, I can’t justify including them. That is because the first, Agatha Christie on Screen 2016, is about films rather than novels (just as Julius Green’s very impressive Agatha Christie – A Life in Theatre, 2018 is about plays) and because the second, Poirot The Greatest Detective in the World 2020, was published after I had already formulated my ideas about Poirot for Volume I. Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend all three of these books.
I also thoroughly recommend J. C. Bernthal’s Queering Agatha Christie, 2016 but I think that, of the books that I have read in the last five years, it was another excellent one that helped me most in formulating some of my ideas for Volume II. It completes my personal ‘top ten’:
- Peter Keating’s Agatha Christie and Shrewd Miss Marple, 2017
During the 45 years since Agatha Christie’s death, about 45 books have been written about her (that is to say, books that I know of and have read – as listed in the Bibliography to Volume II). 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.
“I’ve written thirty-two books by now – and, of course, they’re all exactly the same really, as M. Poirot seems to have noticed – but nobody else has – and I only regret one thing – making my detective a Finn.”
MRS ARIADNE OLIVER IN CARDS ON THE TABLE (CHAPTER 8).