BritNotes on Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

She’s brilliant, she’s insightful, she’s tricky. Agatha Christie is truly the Queen of Mystery.

Agatha Christie wrote over 80 mysteries and detective stories during her long and productive writing career. You can find a full list of her books in order of publication here if you’re curious about the scope of her work. I adore mysteries in general and Agatha Christie mysteries in particular, so over the years I’ve tried to read as much of her body of work as possible.

Why murder mysteries, you may ask?

What good can reading murder mysteries bring to our soul? Well, when we’re talking about detective stories from the Golden Age, we’re actually reading books written as a powerful response to and spiritual antidote for the post-World War era.

In a true Golden Age mystery, you have an environment such as a home or village that is shaken to the core by disorder: a murder. The mystery story is a quest for justice, an unravelling and labeling of the unimportant and important, a journey of restoration. Thus in the end a right order is restored to the environment and family: a mini-triumph of truth over evil and chaos. You can see how this formula appealed to a post-World War readership. And personally I still feel this quest for justice and order appeals to me deeply.

That’s why I advocate reading a good mystery- if you’re the right age and maturity.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries equally well crafted?

No. She grew as a writer, and certainly some of her mysteries have much more depth than others.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries clean?

Well, you’ll never find graphic bedroom scenes. But the careful parent will want to be forewarned that plenty of these mysteries involve plot elements of casual affairs, out of wedlock pregnancies, and adultery. Sometimes, you’ll also find disturbing motivations, twisted narrators, and questionable ethics.

So let’s take a look at some individual Agatha Christie books and what you want to know about as a parent. Note that I will be adding to this list frequently as time allows and I get through my Christie notes.

IMPORTANT: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

Crooked House

This is one of my favorite standalone Christie novels. A young man finds himself unwillingly investigating his fiancée’s grandfather’s murder. The whole family is suspect, but if you’re like me you’ll miss-guess the culprit. A masterpiece of distraction.

Parents want to know: disturbing solution to the mystery; a schoolgirl committed the murder. Situation is revealed and resolved when the girls’ aunt intentionally drives off a cliff killing both herself and the child. This is portrayed as more merciful than letting the child be accused of the murder.

Amazon affiliate link: Crooked House

Death on the Nile

Let’s start with the novel that just came out as a major film in theaters this year. Death on the Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries. This eccentric Belgian detective solves crimes by focusing on the little details.

In Death on the Nile, Poirot goes on a cruise down the River Nile with a diverse assortment of shipmates, including a newly married heiress. When the heiress is murdered, it’s up to Poirot to unmask the killer.

What parents should know: This is a particularly disturbing crime in its motivations. The husband and his lover between them accomplished the wife’s murder. The husband had only married the heiress so that when he killed her he could inherit her money.

Although there is no sexual content in the book, be aware that the new 2022 movie does include some content.

Amazon affiliate link: Death on the Nile

Elephants Remember

Hercules Poirot takes on a cold case that might be a double murder, murder/suicide, or even a double suicide of a husband and wife.

Parents want to know: there’s a suggestion that the husband or wife or both might have been having adulterous affairs. This is a suggested in passing a few times but not dwelt on too much.

Amazon affiliate link: Elephants Remember

Endless Night

This is probably the most disturbing Christie I’ve ever read, so be warned. It’s also a brilliant example of the “Unreliable Narrator.” It’s told in the first person by a bereaved husband who turns out to be both insane and the killer.

Parents: be warned that this is a psychological journey through the mind of a murderer who killed his wife in order to marry her best friend, his mistress.

Amazon affiliate link: Endless Night

Five Little Pigs

The daughter of a woman who murdered her husband 16 years before asks Hercules Poirot to take a second look at her parents’ case. He can’t resist the challenge.

Parents will want to know: this murder revolves a scandalous situation in which a married artist brings his mistress/model to live in the same house with his wife. It’s stated the artist has had a series of adulterous affairs previously. Positive: it turns out that the artist planned to repent and return to his wife so the mistress actually killed him.

Affiliate link: Five little pigs

The Moving Finger

Miss Marple is called in to help the police solve a Poison Pen case in the sleepy town of Lymestock. When letters turn into murder who is on the right trail to the real serial killer?

Parents will want to know: the poison pen letters accuse recipients of sexual misconduct such as affairs, illegitimate children, adultery, etc. A young man mourns a beautiful woman lacks “sex appeal.”

Affiliate link: The Moving Finger

A Murder is Announced

A dinner party invitation in a small English village announces a murder. Intrigued, the guests come expecting a party game. Instead, they find themselves murder witnesses- and suspects. Fortunately Miss Marple, spinster-detective extraordinaire, is on hand to unravel the mystery.

Parents will want to know: that this is a fairly tame murder mystery involving two deaths, one by gunshot and one by strangling.

Amazon affiliate link: A Murder is Announced

Peril at End House

Hercules Poirot meets a young girl who describes three recent brushes with death. Knowing her life is in danger, Poirot rushes against time to prevent a murder. Or so he thinks.

Parents will want to know: drug use plays a major role in this novel, but drugs are clearly a bad thing that lead to misery. Very subtle implications of casual affairs between unmarried people.

Amazon affiliate link: Peril at End House

A Pocketful of Rye

When a rich businessman is poisoned, no one in his unhappy family seems very upset. Miss Marple sifts through a cast of thoroughly unlikeable characters to find the killer.

Parents will want to know: the wife of the deceased was engaged in an adulterous affair, though this is a minor plot point with no details given.

Affiliate link: A Pocketful of Rye

The Secret Adversary

Here’s a fun and light espionage style mystery! Two young and penniless friends agree to form the Young Adventurers company and do anything to earn money. Quickly recruited by a mysterious employer, they find themselves deep in the world of spies. This one is not as well written as other Christies, but teens usually enjoy the touch of romance and young hero and heroine in this novel.

Parents want to know about: mild suspense and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Adversary

Sparkling Cyanide

In Sparkling Cyanide, George Barton is on the hunt for his wife Rosemary’s murderer. He recreates the circle of guests and dinner she died at…. and then dies himself. It’s up to Colonel Race to figure out what really happened to Rosemary and George.

Parents will want to know: there are implied adulterous affairs between some of the party guests. A secretary secretly tries to ruin her employer’s marriage.

Amazon affiliate link: Sparkling Cyanide

They Do It With Mirrors

Miss Marple visits an old friend who runs a reform school for troubled youth and immediately feels a sense of foreboding. She isn’t surprised when three murders soon follow.

Parents will want to know: two young men pursue a young married woman and try to convince her to leave her husband. A young man kisses a married woman by force. An older woman shares her ex-husband left her for a notorious “dancer.”

Affiliate link: They Do It With Mirrors

For ideas of great books, check out My Book Lists!

Review of “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links .

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Novel by [Bradley, Alan]

70 year old Alan Bradley’s debut mystery novel quickly became an international bestseller- and with reason. In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia de Luce brings something completely fresh and new to the mystery scene. Amateur chemist Flavia is all of 11 years old, but when a stranger gets murdered in her family’s garden, she is instantly determined to solve the murder. Precocious and cynical and lovable, Flavia is a one-of-a-kind sleuth in these charming, well-plotted mysteries.

In the Great Tradition of Golden Age Mysteries

Author Bradley seems to have intentionally created a Golden Age of Mystery atmosphere in these novels. Like most Golden Age detective fiction, these books are set in English country houses and cozy villages. Each book opens with Flavia becoming involved in a murder investigation. The clues are provided for the reader so there’s actually hope of figuring out whodunit. The theme is always about bringing justice and restoring order to the house and village.

Surprisingly Clean

With an 11 year old protagonist, this series easily avoids many of the common racy relationship scenes common in mystery novels. There are a few plot points here and there involving adultery or promiscuity, but no explicit details. Since they’re so clean, this series is actually appropriate for teens too.

A Troubled Family

The sad part of these books is Flavia’s troubled family life. Her mother was absent, then dead. Her father is depressed and disinterested. Her sisters are frequently quite cruel. Flavia’s cynical nature is better understood after she explains how her sisters play cruel pranks such as leaving her tied up and locked in a dark cellar. Paradoxically, these same sisters do show loyalty on occasion, even saving Flavia’s life in one novel. The evolving relationship between the sisters is one of the threads that connects the books together and a reason to read them in order.

Given her troubled family situation, it’s no surprise that Flavia is no angel. She frequently lies, manipulates, and prevaricates. She disobeys adults habitually, breaks rules, plays malicious pranks and generally tries to get attention. She’s somewhat disturbingly obsessed with poisons. But despite all this, it’s easy to see this brilliant, lost adolescent’s potential, and you quickly begin rooting for her- not only to solve the mystery but to grow as a person.

A Mystery Series for Teens and Adults to Enjoy

Fans of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Sherlock Holmes will really enjoy these clever mysteries which reach back to the Golden Age for inspiration. Given Flavia’s troubled, precocious personality and the violent murders, I wouldn’t recommend them for younger teens. The books are intended for adults, but I think older teens would also enjoy them. Enjoy a little escape time as you peruse The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Good books to read on vacation

I love reading almost anything. Even calculus books and Russian novels. But when on vacation, I generally crave lighter literary fare. If sandy beaches or mountain views are in your not so distant future, here are some fun light novels to help you rest and rejuvenate. They’re organized by genre so pick your favorite flavor.

CHRISTIAN FICTION

Christian fiction is a genre I recently spent some time exploring. My research netted me many poorly written novels I dropped after a few chapters, but also some clean, enjoyable mysteries, adventures, and romances, perfect for a vacation.


Dani Pettrey’s Submerged is a fast-paced mystery/romance set in beautiful Alaska. Pettrey is a decent writer and this book has a sweet theme about second chances and redemption. If you fall in love with the characters, there are several sequels including Shattered and Stranded.

 

 

 


Dee Henderson’s books vary greatly in quality, but I did enjoy her O’Malley series. The Negotiator is the first in a series of seven books about a family of adopted siblings who each work in a law enforcement or first-responder type career. Each book recounts an exciting mystery while also tackling a faith-related question such as the Resurrection, trust in God, or why bad things happen to good people. The answers Henderson provides to these questions are not always complete, but a Catholic reader can practice their apologetic skills and think about even better answers!

 


Long Time Coming by Edie Claire was a thriller with a twist: the biggest villain may not be a villain. A thought-provoking look at psychology, prejudice, and buried memories, with a healthy dose of romance to lighten the mood.

 

 

 

 


Leslie Lynch is actually a Catholic author, and the mention of subjects like theology of the body gives her novels a unique flavor. Her Appalachian Foothills series is another sequence of adventure-romance style novels about young women with dark troubled pasts who find healing through friendship, love, and the Catholic church. Kudos for a positive portrayal of Catholics, but also a warning that Lynch’s books are darker than most other Christian fiction, involving subjects like rape, abortion, and addictions.

 

SCIENCE FICTION


C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength are some of my very favorite books, even though science fiction is not one of my favored genres. Lewis offers a truly cosmic worldview of salvation history and a new twist on planet exploration.

 

 

 


Michael O’Brien’s Voyage to Alpha Centauri: A Novel might not actually be the best book to haul on vacation if you’re flying at over 800 pages, but if you’re not worried about tonnage, it is a typical O’Brien novel: thought-provoking, creative, and well-told.

 

 

 

 

MYSTERY
I love a good mystery, and have yet to find a modern author that matches the brilliance of the writers in the golden age of mystery! Also, I appreciate that these writers were able to tell a captivating story without needing to have the sleuths be sidetracked with lurid sex scenes.


You can’t go wrong with an Agatha Christie such as Ordeal by Innocence. Her mysteries are fast-paced, well-plotted, and utterly bewildering. She is truly the Queen of Mystery.

 

 

 

 


However, don’t overlook her contemporary and fellow female author Dorothy Sayers. I actually enjoy Sayers’ books even more than Christie’s. Her sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, introduced in Whose Body?, actually does fall in love with a woman on trial for murder in Strong Poison. Their tempestuous courtship and marriage add interest to the mysteries they make a hobby of solving together.

 

 


Margery Allingham is another golden age mystery author. Her detective, Albert Campion, stars in a long series of novels including Look to the Lady, a whodunit, and The Tiger in the Smoke. Allingham’s mysteries are clever, but also follow the life events and character development of Campion.

 

 

 

FOR ANIMAL LOVERS


I hesitate to use the word adore for anyone other than God, but I do greatly admire and love James Herriot’s books. All Creatures Great and Small: The Warm and Joyful Memoirs of the Worlds Most Beloved Animal Doctor and its seven sequels are truly heart warming and funny and refreshing.

 

 

 


Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals is a new favorite of mine. Check out my Review of My Family and Other Animals for more details about this hilarious book, perfect for lovers of all creatures great and small.

 

 

 

 

COMEDY


Leave It to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse could, or to be more accurate has, made me smile during some of the most trying seasons of life. And on vacation? My husband and I laugh till we cry at this master writer’s spot on similes and knack for situational comedy. If you have not read Jeeves & Wooster, you need to. You will be a more cheerful person after encountering Wodehouse. Also your vocabulary will expand tremendously.

 

 


Although you may not immediately think of L. M. Montgomery in conjunction with comedy, I actually find her depictions of small town life and insight into human flaws and foibles quite amusing. Anne of Green Gables‘s escapades are even funnier to read as an adult, and the later Anne books are actually meant for adults.

 

 

 

CLASSICS


I won’t deny that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma are her best works, but if you haven’t read some of her lesser known books, they are a perfect length and lightness for a vacation! For example, Northanger Abbey is a clever satire of Gothic novels.

 

 

 


Kristin Lavransdatter is has a graver theme and tone than most of the books on this list, but if you are more of a classics fans, then you won’t be disappointed by this sweeping tale by the master writer Sigrid Undset. If you have already enjoyed reading about Kristen, Undset’s The Master of Hestviken trilogy is also excellent.

 

 

 


Rumer Godden is one of my new favorite authors. Five for Sorrow Ten for Joy is a wonderful novel about one woman’s journey from the depths of sin to life in a convent. (Review here)

 

 

 

 

HISTORICAL FICTION


Gone with the Wind is certainly worth reading. Margaret Mitchell’s novel captures the aura of the Civil War so vividly, and her heroine is so unforgettable (both for spirit and selfishness), that this novel just flies by despite its length.

 

 

 

 


If you are fascinated by World War II, read Aline’s unique account of her involvement in The Spy Wore Red. From clothing model in a department store to undercover agent to Countess, Aline’s life is colorful and captivating.

 

 

 


I also enjoyed The Zookeeper’s Wife, an account of how one family’s courage made a small difference and saved lives during the turmoil and persecution of World War II.

 

 

 

 

BIOGRAPHY


Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler is the story of her conversion from atheism to Catholicism. I find her books both inspirational and funny, which is a fantastic combination.

 

 

 


Without having watched a single episode of the hit TV show Fixer Upper, I read The Magnolia Story on a friend’s recommendation. What a beautiful story about a couple filled faith in God and each other.

 

 

 

 


Who doesn’t love the Sound of Music? But I love The Story of the Trapp Family Singers even more. Maria Von Trapp recounts the real story which inspired the beloved movie. Heartwarming and imbued with love for the Catholic faith, this book has always been a favorite of mine.