Agatha Christie Books That Would Make Great YA Retellings
Agatha Christie and young adult novels don’t necessarily make an intuitive pairing. Christie’s cozy, genteel mystery style doesn’t mesh with the gritty realism of today’s market; her books are filled with village parishes, nosy old ladies, “charred scrap of paper in the fireplace” clues, gardening, and lots of tea. But she also provides razor-shop plotting, inspired red herrings, unexpected twists, and motives that aren’t clear until the last piece of the puzzle locks into place.
One of my favorite YA mystery books from the past few years is Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, which is based off Agatha Christie’s famous And Then There Were None. Ten high school students are invited to an exclusive party on a remote island, only to realize that they’re trapped in someone’s complex revenge scheme as a mysterious killer picks them off one by one. McNeil navigates some of the trickier updates—phones and Internet need to be disposed of so characters can’t call for help—and keeps the sense of mounting dread as deaths become more violent and the remaining characters turn on each other.
I’ve been inspired by Christie in my own writing, and when I sat down to think about other works that could serve as the jumping-off point for a modern teen mystery, I came up with seven that I’d love to read.
A Murder Is Announced
In the original, a notice appears in the village paper inviting people to witness a murder at one of their neighbor’s houses. Everyone thinks it’s a clever party invitation—until someone winds up dead. Switch the local paper with social media, turn the village setting into a small-town high school with complex social structures, and you have the start of an intriguing YA whodunit.
The Secret Adversary
Smart, ambitious, attractive young people agree to work for a secret spy organization and fall in love while trying to figure out whether their employer is friend or foe? Sign me up. As a matter of fact, Cale Dietrich already did a fun take on romance between reluctant teen spies with The Love Interest this year, but I want more.
After the Funeral
This is a classic “dysfunctional relatives assemble for a reading of the will from their rich patriarch” kind of story, which is always an interesting dynamic. Instant wealth—or being cut off from it—isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of in YA until Jennifer Smith’s Windfall earlier this year. In Windfall, a girl buys a lottery ticket for the boy she secretly loves, and their friendship becomes strained when he unexpectedly wins. Cross a lottery ticket winner or surprise heir with a Pretty Little Liars-type mystery, and I’d stay up way too late reading it.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
This one had the ultimate unreliable narrator and a final twist I never saw coming. Enough said.
Peril at End House
Christie isn’t known for her memorable characters, but Peril at End House features one of my favorites—a poverty-stricken socialite who’ll do anything to save her rambling family home. Send a modern version of that girl to live with wealthy cousins and attend their prestigious boarding school on scholarship while plotting her return to glory, and I’m in.
Death on the Nile
Part of this story takes place on a luxury cruise, which in my mind transforms into a semester at sea with a handful of mysterious students who all have reasons for taking a break from their typical school experience. Christie’s original featured a deadly love triangle that might be too cliché for today’s YA, but it could be recast as a trio of friends in which two are secretly plotting against the third.
Five Little Pigs
This is one of Christie’s best books, in my opinion, and one of the few that deal with a cold case—a murder committed sixteen years previously. There’s less reliance on the physical clues Christie likes, and more of an emphasis on character and psychology. In YA, you’d need to shorten the timeframe, of course, or make your protagonists interested parties to the unsolved crime (family members, maybe?) instead of potential suspects. And … I might have just talked myself into writing this.