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Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember
Photograph: Courtesy ITV | Agatha Christie's Poirot: Elephants Can Remember

Let me tell you—these are the best Agatha Christie books

I've read every book by the Queen of Crime, and here is my opinionated ranking.

Adam Feldman
Edited by
Adam Feldman

"Let Me Tell You" is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They are published every week.

I’ve never been a huge fan of true crime as a literary genre; the real world is scary enough already. What I do enjoy is fake crime: puzzle mysteries in which clues are available but carefully obscured, so that readers can match wits with a detective who, in the final chapters, makes everything click into place. Naturally, then, I have always been drawn to the Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie, whose mastery of the form has made her the best-selling fiction writer of all time; her novels and collections of short stories have sold more than two billion copies and have inspired countless film and TV adaptations. (She also wrote the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, which was slated to finally reach Broadway this year and may still make it.)

Christie's best books are quick, enormously entertaining reads that are perfectly suited to vacations or lazy days. The trouble is, she wrote so many that it's hard to know where to start. For the uninitiated, the sheer volume of Christie's output in her 55-year career is daunting, and not all of her work is equally worthwhile. How can readers find their way amid the vast Christie corpus?

That's where I come in. Like many other Christiephiles, I got hooked in my childhood—Dame Agatha's straightforward writing makes her accessible to a wide range of readers—and I've revisited her work from time to time with pleasure since then. But it was three years ago, during the pandemic shutdown, that I renewed my obsession in earnest. In the span of nine months, I read or reread all 66 of Christie's crime novels and all 188 of her short stories. That's right, all of them: the great, the good, the mediocre and the quite bad.

Having collected all the evidence, I humbly submit my findings to you now. Below are my recommendations of the best books by Agatha Christie, starting with an overall list of essentials and then moving on to rankings in four categories, according to the books’ principal crime-solvers: 34 books with Hercule Poirot, the fussy Belgian egghead with an elaborate mustache; 13 books with Miss Marple, the elderly village spinster who hides a sharp brain beneath her fluffy hair; 5 books with Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple who age in more or less real time throughout their appearances; and 23 books in which none of them are the main characters. (I have left out the six non-crime books that Christie wrote as Mary Westmacott.) All of them are the authorized American editions published by HarperCollins’s William Morrow imprint.

Time Out Tip: Find these books at the Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill and Astoria Bookshop in Astoria.

But first, some general guidelines:

1. Go in blind
It's all too easy to come across seemingly innocuous information that can ruin the central mystery of an Agatha Christie book. Don't do any research before reading these books. Don't read their Wikipedia pages or their comments on Amazon, and don't discuss them with anyone in advance. Spoilers are everywhere, and the people doing the spoiling often don't even realize that they're doing it. Trust no one—except, of course, me. (You can keep reading this page. I've avoided all spoilers below.)

2. Stick to Christie's books from the 1930s and 1940s
At the risk of incurring the wrath of passionate Christiephiles, I will say this right up front: Christie published roughly a book every year, but she peaked in the 1930s and 1940s. She was still finding her voice in the 1920s, and the quality of both her plotting and her writing began a steady decline in the 1950s before falling off a cliff in the 1970s, when it is likely that she suffered from undiagnosed dementia. With a few important exceptions, the books she published from 1930 through 1950 are the ones most worth reading. Unless you're a devoted completist, stray from this period at your peril.

3. Be prepared to roll your eyes sometimes
In some ways, Christie was ahead of her time, but in other ways, she was of it. Though brilliant, she was not immune to the biases and blind spots of the world in which she lived and wrote: upper-middle-class, mid-20th-century England. Dated attitudes and ideologies—racism, sexism, antisemitism, ableism, colonialism, homophobia—occasionally rear their ugly heads; these are often expressed in the voices of her characters, but sometimes they suggest authorial bias. (When I come across such moments in the Christie canon, I tend to find them more fascinating than offensive; I even take a certain perverse enjoyment in the way they reflect British sensibilities of their era.)

4. Enjoy companion pieces after the books
There's a trove of wonderful Christie-related material out there. Among the movies, your best bets are the star-packed 1970s adaptations of Death on the Nile (with Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury and Bette Davis) and Murder on the Orient Express (with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman), plus 1980's campy The Mirror Crack'd (with Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak). For television adaptations, you can't do better than the British series Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet. And the delightful All About Agatha podcast, hosted by Kemper Donovan and the late Catherine Brobeck, ranks all the novels and offers valuable insights and analysis of every Christie book and story. But save these for after you've read the originals, to avoid ruining surprises. (All About Agatha assesses all of the books in chronological order, and the later episodes sometimes have spoilers of earlier works; keep that in mind when you're deciding which episodes to listen to.)

5. These are just my opinions!
Christie has countless fans and many of them have strong feelings about her work. If you disagree with my rankings, please don't hurt me! Crime doesn’t pay. 

And now, to the business at hand.

And Then There Were None cover
Photograph: Courtesy HarperCollins | And Then There Were None

Top 10: The essential Christie novels

These are the 10 books I would recommend to anyone who wants to understand what the Agatha Christie fuss is all about. If you do read all 10, I wouldn’t read them in this order.

1. And Then There Were None (1939)
Ten visitors to a secluded island are picked off one by one in this stand-alone novel, a triumph of plotting and suspense.

2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
This is the early Poirot novel that made Christie's reputation, with a devilish solution that is shocking but scrupulously fair.

3. Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
The most famous Poirot novel finds him snowbound on a luxury train where a loathsome man is killed in the night. Everyone's a suspect.

4. Death on the Nile (1937)
A love triangle in the land of the Pyramids ends in murder—this time, on a boat instead of a train—in this archetypical Poirot adventure.

5. A Murder Is Announced (1950)
No Christie survey would be complete without her other great detective, Miss Marple, and this is the book that shows her off to best advantage.

6. Evil Under the Sun (1941)
Poirot can't seem to take a vacation without someone getting iced. This time, at a hotel in Devon, a femme fatale is the fatality.

7. Curtain (circa 1942)
Poirot's final mystery was written during the Blitz but not published until just a few months before Christie's death in 1976. If you're reading multiple Poirot books, save this one for last.

8. The Hollow (1946)
A personal favorite of mine, this Poirot mystery features richer psychological depth than Christie usually provides in her crime books.

Five Little Pigs (1942)
Character portraits are also key to Poirot's retrospective investigation of an artist's death in this novel, which some Christie devotees consider her best.

10. Lord Edgware Dies (1933)
The perfect starter Poirot: clever and evocative, with strong supporting roles for Poirot's faithful sidekick Hastings and the dogged Inspector Japp.

Honorable Mentions: The short stories

I recommend getting the complete short-story collections for Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple—see below—but if you want briefer books, go with The Labors of Hercules (1947) and Murder in the Mews (1937) for Poirot and Thirteen Problems (1932) for Miss Marple. Of the anthologies that feature neither of those detectives, The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (1948) is the best.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Photograph: Courtesy HarperCollins | The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Rankings by Detective:

Hercule Poirot

Christie wrote more novels and short stories about Hercule Poirot—by far—than any of her other characters. Her most dazzling solutions and formal innovations tend to be reserved for him. A saving grace of several of the inferior late books is the recurring presence of mystery author Ariadne Oliver, Christie's amusing self-spoof. 

The upper tier (recommended):

1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
2. Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
3. Death on the Nile (1937)
4. Evil Under the Sun (1941)
5. Curtain (circa 1942)
6. The Hollow (1946)
7. Five Little Pigs (1942)
8. Lord Edgware Dies (1933)
9. The A.B.C. Murders (1936)—a serial-killer thriller, innovative for its time
10. Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1938)—not very Christmas-y at all!
11. Three Act Tragedy (1935)of special interest to theater types
12. Peril at End House (1932)
13. After the Funeral (1953)
14. Appointment with Death (1938)
15. Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories—more than 50 Poirot stories previously collected in shorter volumes, including many early cases and the thematically ambitious Labors of Hercules

The middle tier (of some interest):

16. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1921)—Christie's first novel, notable for introducing Poirot and Hastings
17. Cards on the Table (1936)
18. Dead Man's Folly (1956)
19. Taken at the Flood (1948)
20. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940)
21. Death in the Clouds (1935)
22. Mrs. McGinty's Dead (1952)
23. Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)
24. Sad Cypress (1940)

The lower tier (not recommended):

25. Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)
26. Dumb Witness (1937)this one is partly told from a dog's perspective
27. The Murder on the Links (1923)
28. Hallowe'en Party (1969)
29. The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)
30. Hickory Dickory Dock (1955)
31. The Big Four (1927)
32. Third Girl (1966)
33. The Clocks (1963)
34. Elephants Can Remember (1972)—if you're lucky, you'll forget

A Murder Is Announced cover
Photograph: Courtesy HarperCollinsA Murder Is Announced

Miss Marple

Jane Marple is a marvelous creation and allows Christie to explore the dynamics of a small English village as opposed to Poirot’s more cosmopolitan world. The puzzles Christie assigns her, however, tend to be weaker. She shines in short stories.

The upper tier (recommended):

1. A Murder Is Announced (1950)
2. Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories (1932)—20 stories in all, including the ones from Thirteen Problems
3. The Body in the Library (1942)
4. The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)—the first Marple novel

The middle tier (of some interest):

5. A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
6. Sleeping Murder (circa 1941)—published posthumously but, like Curtain, written during the Blitz
7. 4:50 from Paddington (1957)
8. The Moving Finger (1943)
9. A Caribbean Mystery (1964)—Miss Marple finally gets to travel, at least

The lower tier (not recommended):

10. Nemesis (1971)—this is really Marple's last case, though Sleeping Murder is billed as such
11. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (1962)
12. At Bertram's Hotel (1965)
13. They Do It with Mirrors (1952)

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford

Tommy and Tuppence have their fans. I am not among them. There is no upper tier here: You can safely avoid reading any of these books.

The middle tier (of some interest):

1. Partners in Crime (1929)—these short stories at least have a certain youthful charm

The lower tier (not recommended):

2. The Secret Adversary (1922)—Tommy and Tuppence's earliest appearance
3. N or M? (1941)
4. By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968)
5. Postern of Fate (1973)—Christie's final book, an unreadable mess

The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories cover
Photograph: Courtesy HarperCollinsThe Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories


This catch-all category includes stand-alone mysteries and short stories as well as various efforts at writing thrillers and espionage novels.

The upper tier (recommended):

1. And Then There Were None (1939)
2. Crooked House (1949)
3. The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (1948)the title tale, which inspired the hit play and film, is Christie's best short story
4. Towards Zero (1944)

The middle tier (of some interest):

5. Endless Night (1967)—the best book of Christie's late career
6. The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)—a zany early romp with an engaging heroine
7. The Sittaford Mystery (1931)
8. The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)—a spy story with a dash of P.G. Wodehouse
9. Death Comes as the End (1945)—a true oddity in the Christie oeuvre, set in ancient Egypt
10. The Pale Horse (1961)
11. Parker Pyne Investigates (1934)—a quirky collection of 14 stories about an unconventional private investigator that Christie soon abandoned
12. The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1930)—a dozen stories about the encounters between one Mr. Satterthwaite and his supernatural friend
13. Three Blind Mice and Other Stories (1950)—only two of the this collection's nine stories can't be found elsewhere, but The Mousetrap is adapted from one of them

The lower tier (not recommended):

14. Sparkling Cyanide (1945)
15. The Secret of Chimneys (1925)—an early, rather silly thriller
16. Murder Is Easy (1939)
17. The Golden Ball and Other Stories (1971)a collection of 15 fairly minor short stories
18. Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (1934)
19. Ordeal by Innocence (1958)
20. The Harlequin Tea Set (1997)—nine previously uncollected odds and ends
21. They Came to Baghdad (1951)
22. Destination Unknown (1954)
23. Passenger to Frankfurt (1970)—a regrettable late attempt at an international spy thriller

…And that, my friends, is all she wrote.

Dame Agatha Christie
Photograph: WikipediaDame Agatha Christie

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