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Mystery Solved: Sophie Hannah Suggests Five Great Entry Points for Reading Agatha Christie and Why

Agatha Christie's last novel, published in 1976, was Sleeping Murder. Miss Marple's Last Case, as it was subtitled, saw her return to her small village home, hanging up her detective's hat for good. She certainly fared better than Hercule Poirot, whom Christie killed off when Curtain was published the year before (though she had written it decades earlier).

But it seems even death, neither real nor fictional, can keep the great Poirot down. Agatha Christie's estate, for the first time since she passed on in 1976, has authorized a new Poirot novel to be written by British author Sophie Hannah. We'll have more about that closer to the book's publication in September. For now, to celebrate our list of 100 Mysteries and Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime -- where Agatha Christie is the only author to appear more than once -- we asked Hannah to share her own list dedicated to Agatha Christie's work. Here's what she had to say.


Murder on the Orient Express

GENIUS SOLUTION AWARD: Murder on the Orient Express

This book has the best solution-to-a-mystery of all time. It cannot be beaten, has never been beaten, and will never be beaten. It is perfect, elegant and --best of all -- its brilliant concept can be summarised in five words. I spent years pointlessly wishing I'd thought of it, then more years equally pointlessly wishing I'd thought of something else that was anywhere near as good. The train stuck in the snow is a wonderfully atmospheric setting, and Poirot is at his best in this book.
Sleeping Murder

IMPOSSIBLE PREMISE AWARD: Sleeping Murder

This is the best of Agatha's "It can't be happening and yet it is" books. It begins with the unlikely scenario of a woman finding herself in a house that she knows very well, and recognizes right down to its old, peeling wallpaper -- but she also knows that she has never been there before and so the house cannot possibly be familiar to her. At the beginning of this novel, the reader thinks, "It's a great premise, but it simply cannot be made to work without resorting to ghosts or aliens with special powers" -- and then Agatha makes it work stunningly well, while playing fair with the reader throughout.
Lord Edgeware Dies

MOST SINISTER MURDERER AWARD: Lord Edgeware Dies

Agatha's murderer characters are not always so psychologically developed, but the killer in this novel is so vividly realized, and so horribly plausible, that I would, on balance, prefer to be murdered by any or all of Agatha's other murderers rather than this one. There's a section of the book in the killer's voice at the end, and it is utterly chilling and convincing. I suspect Agatha knew someone with this kind of personality, and based the killer in this book on him or her.
After The Funeral

BEST ALL-ROUNDER: After The Funeral

Everything about this novel is wonderful. The characters are brilliantly drawn, the balance between plot and character is exactly as it should be, and the structure of the story is perfectly sculpted. The clues are where they should be -- visible but not too obvious -- and the motive is one of the most memorable in Agatha's fiction. I wouldn't commit murder for this reason personally, but it's such a unique, persuasive and idiosyncratic motive that, once the solution is revealed, the whole book comes alive in a new way. It's also a double-layered motive, which makes it more interesting. There is an obvious reason why the killing takes place, but beneath that there is another reason -- the true motive 0-- which is so poignant and plausible, it takes the book to a whole other level of excellence.
Three-Act Tragedy

INNOVATIVE IDEAS AWARD: Three-Act Tragedy

In this novel, there are three murders. One is ordinary enough, but the other two are committed for reasons that are conceptually so daring and inspired that you can actually feel the possibilities of the genre expanding as you read. Both of these -- as with the perfect solution to Murder on the Orient Express -- can be summed up in a sentence. When you read this novel, you realize that Agatha never -- not for a second -- stopped thinking to herself "Why else might someone kill? What other reason could there be, that I haven't thought of yet?" You can feel her enquiring intellect at work in these pages, and it is a joy to behold.

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I read nearly all Agatha Christie's novels when I was about 11 (43 years ago) and I can still remember the thrill of discovering who did it in "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd". I don't want to spoil it, but anyone who's read it will know why. Totally brilliant and turned me onto reading. I've never turned off.

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