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Written in 1916, set in 1917, published in 1920, this was Agatha Christie's first murder mystery and also the first novel starring Hercule Poirot - already described as old and a refugee from occupied Belgium, yet with another fifty years of detecting ahead of him. It's a little rough around the edges - in particular, the narrator's infatuation with one of the suspects is a bit overdone - but as John Curran says in the foreword to my edition, it has a lot of the ingredients of Christie's future success in place: "an extended family, a poisoning drama, a twisting plot, and a dramatic and unexpected final revelation." Still, I suspect its popularity rests on its crucial place in the chronology of the Christie canon and on a couple of decent screen adaptations rather than on general quality. I had read it as a teenager but completely forgotten any of the details.

My edition also includes the deleted original version of the final scene, where Poirot would have unfolded the solution while testifying in court; Christie's publisher told her that this was too implausible (this, in a novel with time-travelling robots a Martian invasion three different people accessing strychnine the day the victim decides to change the terms of her will) and she opted instead for the grand revelation scene in the drawing room for which she was to become famous. It's also notable that the story is illustrated with maps and handwriting samples, to add verisimilitude, a bit reminiscent of the way we are told that Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is a montage of our hero's own photographs; there's probably a micro-study to be done of how and why Christie moved away from that technique.

This is the fifth most popular of Christie's novels on LibraryThing, and the fourth starring Poirot, but only the first in which the perpetrator(s) of the crime are actually handed over to the police and judicial system at the end. And for all that Christie is seen as the poison queen, this is also the first which solely features poisoning - Roger Ackroyd is not poisoned, nobody in Death on the Nile is poisoned, and the victim on the Orient Express is drugged but done away with by more physical means. I shall keep tracking these statistics (if I keep up my Christie reading).

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
gareth_rees
Aug. 19th, 2013 09:05 am (UTC)
It's worth adding that this novel is out of copyright in the United States (published before 1923), so Americans can read it here with a clear conscience.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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