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.
For a really good discussion of why Golden Age mysteries are worth reading, listen to The Importance of Detective Fiction from The Literary Life Podcast.
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!
The Body in the Library
When Miss Marple’s friends the Bantrys find a young woman’s body in their library, she knows she must help clear her friends’ names. This unlikely spinster sleuth draws on her extensive knowledge of human nature to solve crimes.
Parents will want to know: fairly clean. A film producer is implied to be carrying on an affair and living with a girl, but then it turns out they are married after all. It is hinted that various men, some married, may have been romantically involved with the victim.
Affiliate link: The Body in the Library
Cards on the Table
Cards on the Table is actually best enjoyed by Agatha Christie connoiseurs who have already read tons of her mysteries. You can tell she had fun with this sleugh reunion premise. Beloved Christie characters Hercules Poirot, Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, and Mrs. Oliver are all invited to an ill-fated dinner party where they are confronted with four sucessful murderers who were never convicted. Then the host is killed. Which guest is the killer?
Parents will want to know: this is a clean mystery with a focus on the pscyhology of crime.
Affiliate link: Cards on the Table
A secretary is summoned to a blind woman’s house to take dictation and finds a dead man. Who is he? And how did he get there? Poirot consults on the case at the request of a young spy. Murder with a hint of espioage in this alibi-dependent mystery.
Parents will want to know: One character is revealed to be of illegitimate parentage. Another mentions her husband was unfaithful and got another woman pregnant.
Amazon affiliate link: The Clocks
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
This novel has jumped to very well-known due to the recent Kenneth Brannagh film. 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 explicit sexual content in the book, be aware that the new 2022 movie does include sexual content.
Amazon affiliate link: Death on the Nile
Did elderly Emily Arundell’s beloved dog really leave a ball on the stairs and nearly kill her? Only he can tell Poirot and he’s only barking. When she dies two weeks later, Poirot investigates a small pool of possible suspects: only 5 people had an opportunity to kill her. And was it even murder?
Parents will want to know: a clean and enjoyable Poirot mystery.
Affiliate link: Dumb Witness
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
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
The Murder at the Vicarage
When a corpse is discovered in the study of the good-hearted local vicar, no one can seriously suspect him, can they? Miss Marple swoops in to help the police find the real culprit in her typical unexpectedly brilliant manner.
Parents will want to know: quite a bit of innuendo in this mystery. Lots of gossip about a suspected affair between an archaeologist and his secretary. Later, an affair between a married woman and an artist is uncovered and presented somewhat sympathetically. The only explicit detail is when the adulterous couple is surprised embracing by the vicar.
Affiliate link: The Murder at the Vicarage
A Murder is Announced
A dinner party invitation in a small English village announces a murder will occur that night. 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
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
In this early Hercules Poirot mystery, an unreliable narrator adds an extra twist to a cunningly devised plot. It is sometimes called Christie’s masterpiece. This is a great Agatha Christie intorudction for teens due to the lack of innuendo and adult situtations.
Parents will want to know: Poirot suggests suicide to the murderer to save his sister from public disgrace.
Buy it through my amazon affiliate link: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
In this iconic Agatha Christie mystery, Poirot and his sidekick Hastings investigate a family murder. With accusations being thrown around and everyone hiding part of the truth, how will the real murderer ever be discovered? Great twist in this classic.
Content: it is mentioned as part of an alibi that one suspect is having an adulterous affair.
Affiliate link: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
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
Postern of Fate
One of the Tommy & Tuppence series. The “young adventurers” of The Secret Adversary return in their 70s for a slow-paced espionage meets mystery type story. Not Christie’s best work, this rambling mystery probably wouldn’t interest anyone except diehard Tommy & Tuppence fans.
Parents will want to know: no content.
Amazon affiliate link: Postern of Fate
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
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!