Agatha Christie is an author who needs no introduction. I am pretty sure that every bookworm would have heard of Agatha Christie, the indisputable Queen of Crime, if not read her books. I have been a fan of Agatha Christie from a very young age. I always loved reading mystery and crime novels; therefore, the gradual transition from Famous Five mysteries to Agatha Christie books was just par for the course. The first time I read her book, I became a huge fan and made a goal: to read every book Agatha Christie had ever written.
As of last year, I can proudly say that I have the indubitable honor of reading every book the author has written. She was a prolific writer with a literary career spanning more than half a century, that includes 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, several plays, including the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, and six novels under her pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Some of the most famous books from her illustrious bibliography include, And Then There Were None, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, and, The Murder at the Vicarage.
Best Underrated Agatha Christie Novels
Her writing career began in 1920 with the publishing of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which also introduced the world to Hercule Poirot, one of the greatest detectives of all time. The idea for this novel came to her in 1916, during the First World War, when she worked as an apothecary’s assistant. Being an avid reader of detective novels and working close to different drugs and poisons gave her the idea to write a book. That’s how she published her first book in 1920, 4 years after she first came up with the idea and after facing a slew of rejections from different publishers.
By the time she published the book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1926, her fame had skyrocketed, and she became a household name. That’s why when she disappeared for 11 days in the same year, it caused such a furor and immediately became national news. A huge nationwide search was conducted to find her. To this day, the reasons behind her “11-day disappearance” remain a mystery, despite many theories and books written around it. Not only was she one of the greatest mystery writers of all time, but her personal life was also an embodiment of mystery!
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Despite everything, she continued to rule the literary world. She lived in an exciting era through two world wars and an ongoing Cold War. She was also an avid traveler and met different people from all over the world through her travels. All these life experiences helped heavily inspire her books’ plotlines and characters. Her traveling experiences grew manifold after she met her second husband. Max Mallowan. He was an archaeologist, and she accompanied him on surveying expeditions that served to become inspirations for books such as Murder in Mesopotamia and one of her memoirs, Come, Tell Me How You Live.
She remains the most translated individual author and one of the biggest names in detective fiction to date. Despite so much visibility surrounding her books, the sheer volume of her work makes it challenging to give each individual book its due. Some of her books are, forgive my pun, criminally underrated. In this article, I will list some of the books (in chronological order) that I don’t feel get their moment in the spotlight.
1. The Secret Adversary
The second book, written by Agatha Christie, and published in 1922, does not receive the praise it deserves. This book introduces the readers to the loveable detective duo Tommy and Tuppence, Christie’s lesser-known detectives. This is the first book in a series of five. Thomas Beresford and Prudence Cowley, popularly known as Tommy and Tuppence, are suffering from the boredom of monotonous everyday life after the excitement of wartime. A chance mention of an uncommon name, Jane Finn, sets into motion a series of events that entices these youngsters into a dangerous mystery.
Who is Jane Finn, and why are so many people interested in finding her whereabouts? Tommy and Tuppence set about to solve the mystery, their first of many, bypassing the dangers thrown at them by the ubiquitous villain, the elusive and dangerous Mr. Brown. One will be hard-pressed not to fall in love with this amateur detective duo. Their camaraderie and youth come as a breath of fresh air amongst Christie’s detective novels. The dialogues are filled with fun, witty banter between the two and are worth giving a read. You can get the book here! 📖
2. The Thirteen Problems
Not many know that The Murder at the Vicarage was not the first appearance of Miss Jane Marple. She appeared well before the publication of that book in a short story titled The Tuesday Club Murders, written for the Royal Magazine in 1927. After the relative success of the first full-length book in the Miss Marple series, Agatha Christie decided to publish the original short story as a collection of short stories, with a new title, The Thirteen Problems (Though in the US, it was published as The Tuesday Club Murders).
Agatha Christie fans are very well acquainted with this sweet but shrewd old maid, whose understanding of human nature is beyond compare. Despite being one of the most famous detectives of Agatha Christie’s writing career, she was the last to be introduced. The storyline follows the titular thirteen problems discussed by a group of six members, including our detective Miss Marple and recurring characters such as her nephew Raymond West and her friend Sir Henry Clithering.
The group assembles every Tuesday night in the fictional village of St. Mary Mead to discuss crimes. Every week each member takes turns to relate the crimes that they have witnessed, and it falls on the other five members to find out how the crime has been committed and who is the perpetrator of said crime. The problems put forth are so intriguing and filled with ingenuity that only someone with a deep insight into the nature of humans will be able to solve them. Someone like our leading expert in human nature, Miss Marple herself, perhaps! You can get the book here! 📖
3. Cards on the Table
Hercule Poirot makes his appearance in this list with this book, along with a few recurring characters such as Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, and Ariadne Oliver (her first introduction in the Agatha Christie Universe). The book is memorable for having the most amusing victim ever, in the form of Mr. Shaitana. He is an eccentric and flamboyant personality with too much money and time on his hands than is good for him, as is witnessed in this book.
He makes Poirot’s acquaintance and invites him to a dinner party with a tantalizing promise to view his extensive crime-related collection. A collection that includes real criminals is people who have managed to evade the justice system for their crimes. There are eight members invited to the dinner party, excluding Shaitana. Four crime professionals, including Poirot, and four supposed criminals. After dinner, the guests commence playing cards in groups, with the criminals making one group and the professionals the other.
Unsurprisingly by the end of the night, there is a death. And as with most of her books, there are many suspects and a common motive. What follows is a look into the criminals and the crimes they may have committed in a bid to find out the murderer. This book is entertaining from start to end, filled with many characters – some likeable, some tolerable, and some downright detestable. Another thing about this book is that it dedicates many pages to discussing Bridge – a card game central to the plotline and from where the book gets its title- which makes it an educational and unforgettable experience. You can get the book here! 📖
4. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
Hercule Poirot makes up almost half of Agatha Christie’s literary works, and that’s why it comes as no shock when gems like Hercule Poirot’s Christmas are overlooked. I remember reading a preface written by Christie for this book in which she states that this book will have a good violent murder with lots of blood because most of her murder victims are only of the poisoned and other bloodless murder variety. She stays true to her word. There is blood and lots of it when the unpleasant and vile patriarch Simon Lee, a multi-millionaire, is murdered in his own home on Christmas Eve.
All his family members are present for the occasion, along with an estranged granddaughter and a family friend. Everyone is a suspect, and there are a lot of them, so it falls on Poirot to find out the truth. And it is not an easy task, even for Poirot’s famed grey cells, because the victim was an unpleasant, cruel man who took sadistic pleasure in baiting his family. There are a number of people who would benefit from his death. If you are ever in the mood to satisfy your bloodlust, then this Agatha Christie book is the one for you. You can get the book here! 📖
5. Sad Cypress
Hercule Poirot once again makes an appearance to entertain the readers with another mystery. Agatha Christie’s books are famous for their inheritance drama and the murder plotlines related to it, and this book is no different. In this book, Elinor Carlisle and Roddy Welman are a betrothed couple and supposed beneficiaries of their wealthy aunt’s estate. But things do not go to plan when one-half of the couple falls in love with someone else. To add to this drama, the wealthy aunt dies, leaving their estate to the jilted person, who is then suspected to be a murderer. Poirot is called in to investigate the murder(s), and he does so in true Poirot fashion, with the help of his famous grey cells. This book is memorable because of the tangible vulnerability exuded by the murder suspect, which is uncommon in her books. You can get the book here! 📖
6. Absent In The Spring
Apart from being world-famous as the Queen of Crime for her detective novels, she also had another literary persona: Mary Westmacott. Feeling as though she was pigeonholed into the role of a detective writer, she wanted to try her hand at writing something totally different from her usual line of work. She used a pseudonym to write these books away from the judging eyes of her readers, and she managed to keep her identity a secret for twenty years.
She authored six bittersweet novels about human nature and matters of the heart. There is an alluring charm to these novels, and Absent in the Spring is my favorite of the six. This book is about a woman called Joan Scudamore who, while returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, finds herself unexpectedly stranded in a desert rest house. Maybe for the first time in her life, she is left in complete solitude, without anything or anyone to occupy herself with.
She has the unpleasant experience of going on a journey of self-discovery, viewing the past in a different light, and finally realizing who she really is as a person. The sense of claustrophobia is intense in this book, and it feels profoundly disturbing to be stuck in the main character’s mind. Yet this is what makes the book memorable to the reader, precisely the way the author intended it to be. In fact, in her own words, Agatha Christie mentioned this book as her favorite. You can get the book here! 📖
7. Death Comes As The End
This book is the only Agatha Christie book that is set in ancient Egypt, circa 2000 BC. She came up with the idea for this book based on a suggestion given to her by a family friend and a famous Egyptologist, Stephen Glanville. With his help, she got the accuracy to write the details of daily household life in ancient Egypt. She was always inspired by real-life events for her books, and this book is no different. The concept was derived from the translations of actual letters sent to his family by a man called Heqanakhte.
The premise is unique and is about the family of High Priest Imhotep, who are displeased with the arrival of his new wife, Nofret, who dies soon after. Told from the perspective of Imhotep’s widowed daughter, Renisenb, the narrative follows the numerous deaths and tragedies that have befallen the family. The story expertly weaves through treachery, betrayal, and greed and remains shrouded in suspense until the end, when the killer’s identity is revealed. You can get the book here! 📖
8. Sparkling Cyanide
This book is a standalone devoid of the presence of Christie’s famous detectives. Colonel Race, the character from Cards on the Table, makes an appearance in this book. Death at the table turns the dinner party into a fatal experience. Trying to forget the incidents of the ill-fated last party, the original members, sans one, congregate anew only for this experience to also be marred by another death.
Now people start to think that maybe these deaths are not coincidental and there is some foul play behind them. Lots of red herrings are thrown into the mix, making this book a page-turner. There is an atmosphere of danger that is palpable throughout this book that carries forward till the final reveal. A quick but fascinating read without the presence of any trademark Christie detectives, this is a book that is overlooked in favor of other equally good books, which is a shame indeed! You can get the book here! 📖
9. Crooked House
Some of Agatha Christie’s standalone books do not get the recognition they deserve, and Crooked House is one such understated book. The narrator of this book Charles gets engaged to the beautiful Sophia Leonides, granddaughter of the wealthy Aristide Leonides. After the engagement, they decide to visit her family when they receive the news of her grandfather’s death. At the family house, Three Gables, Charles, and Sophia come to the realization that the patriarch did not die of natural causes but seemed to have been murdered. The murderer could be no other except for the people in the house.
The family members did not like that the victim had gotten married a second time to a much younger woman. Almost everyone living in the house had a motive and the opportunity to commit the crime. As the story moves forward, it does not appear to be the open-and-shut case it initially seemed. It falls on the newly betrothed couple to find out the real killer before more family members end up getting murdered. This is one twisted story with an ending that will throw the readers into a loop. It has to be one of my top ten books with a shocking ending. You can get the book here! 📖
10. The Pale Horse
This standalone book takes a detour from Christie’s usual style of writing. The storyline is tinted with a supernatural aura, replete with seeming users (or misusers) of black magic and cults. Mark Easterbrook, the main character, gets sucked into this mystery when he witnesses a fight between two women in a coffee bar and later finds out that one of the women has died. Subsequently, he comes across an organization called the Pale Horse. The organization claims to have the power to arrange the deaths of people. They are, in other words, glorified contract killers whose services can be recruited by becoming a member of the organization.
The narrator sets out on a journey to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding this creep cult. On the way, he witnesses more deaths that seemingly happen out of nowhere. The recurring character Ariadne Oliver appears in this book and assists the main character on his quest to solve the mystery surrounding the Pale Horse. This book has left its mark in the real world too. It has helped save two people’s lives and, inversely, had a negative effect in the form of two copycat killers, who used the same methods the killers used in the book to murder people. This book was simultaneously a lifesaver and a lifetaker! You can get the book here! 📖
11. Endless Night
The Endless Night is unlike any other Agatha Christie book. It is dark and has a Gothic aura from the start. This is one of the author’s all-time favorite books that she has ever written, and it is easy to see the reason why. The main characters of this book are Michael Rogers and Fenella Guteman, commonly known as Ellie. They are both young and head over heels in love with each other. They plan to settle in a beautiful house built on their picturesque new property, Gipsy’s Acre. They get married and start their new life with happiness. The only thing spoiling their blissful existence is a curse that is said to be placed on the inhabitants of Gipsy’s Acre. Soon after, bad things seem to take place, and it looks like something deadly is going to happen to one of them.
This book is a slow burn, and the feeling of unease intensifies with each page. The central mystery pans out only at the halfway point of this book. This book gets progressively creepy, and the ending will leave the readers out of sorts. Dark, poetic, and bittersweet are the words that can be used to describe this book best. More than just a crime story, this is a story of love, and a haunting one at that… literally! You can get the book here! 📖
12. By The Pricking Of My Thumbs
This book is the fourth book in the Tommy and Tuppence series. In this book, Tommy and Tuppence are long past their youth. They’re older, wiser with the same propensity for getting tangled up in adventures. A seemingly innocuous visit to Tommy’s aunt Ada who resides in a retirement home, gives them a chance to take a break from their monotonous life. A question asked by one of the inhabitants of the retirement home, “Was it your child, my dear?” is all Tuppence needs to sniff out a new mystery.
This new adventure leads them to a countryside whose outwardly innocent appearance hides a macabre secret. Not everything is as it seems in this book, and the setup leading to the ending is executed brilliantly so that the reader will not see it coming. Tuppence shines in this novel, and we are once again reminded that she is a brilliant detective in her own right and not just Tommy’s sidekick. The storyline is an ode to the title – which is taken from the Shakespeare play Macbeth – “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” You can get the book here! 📖
13. The Unexpected Guest
Apart from being a famous novelist, Christie was also a popular playwright. She wrote many successful plays throughout her career, and The Unexpected Guest is one of them. This play was later novelized by Charles Osborne (who was also responsible for novelizing her other plays such as Black Coffee and Spider’s Web) in the year 1999. The narrative remains faithful to the original play in a novel format.
On a fog-filled night, a car belonging to a man called Michael Starkwedder breaks down near a house. The area surrounding the house seems isolated, and so he goes into the house in search of help. On entering the house, he comes across the body of a dead man and a woman holding a gun in her hand, standing next to the body.
Later he finds out that the dead man is not a good person. He decides to help the woman, who is revealed to be the victim’s wife, not to get incriminated in the crime. He questions everyone present in the house on that day and finds out that they all had motives and equal opportunity to commit the murder. Taking place over the course of 24 hours, this is a fast-paced book, crackling with excitement at every turn. All this combines to make this a very satisfying read that should not be missed. You can get the book here! 📖
Her fictional works tend to overshadow her nonfiction works. She has written two memoirs – Come, Tell Me How You Live and Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. The former comes under travel literature and details her experiences on different archaeological expeditions headed by her second husband, Max Mallowan. The latter gives the readers a glimpse into her life from childhood to old age. She writes about her happy childhood memories, her journey toward becoming an author, and the breaking down of her first marriage, which continues in the same vein till her later years.
Both these books are must-reads for Agatha Christie fans, as they show a different side of her. Her real sense of humor shines through, and her zest for life is palpable, which endears the readers to her even more. Reading these books reveals to the world the woman that she was behind the façade of a world-famous author. You can get the books here: Come, Tell Me How You Live 📖 | Agatha Christie: An Autobiography 📖
I have read Agatha Christie’s books for over half my life. She is one of my most favorite authors. As a lifelong fan and someone who has read every published work by the author, I consider myself to be a good authority on this subject. The above-given list of books is some of my favorite ones that I feel do not get the recognition they deserve. So all you Agatha Christie fans out there, make a note of these recommendations and suggestions. Don’t forget to read them, lest you miss out on some of her best works. Happy Reading!
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