Agatha’s Back: Five Mysteries That Channel the Queen of Crime
When filmmaker Rian Johnson’s latest movie Knives Out hit theaters in late 2019, it was met with both critical acclaim and box office success. Some called it a “star-studded thriller,” others “a romping delight,” but there was one constant: almost everyone likened the film to the novels of Agatha Christie.
It’s easy to understand why the movie was interpreted as an homage to the Queen of Crime. With its charismatic private detective, locked-room mystery, and cluster of secretive suspects, this contemporary whodunit has the muscle to satisfy even the most loyal of Christie fans.
The motifs featured in Knives Out are inherent in novels like And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Death on the Nile, a remake of which is slated for later this year. But these literary devices aren’t just making a comeback in cinemas. Over the past eighteen months, we’ve seen a return to this subgenre on bookstore shelves and in the stacks as well. The release of locked-room mysteries like The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest, and Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down suggests renewed interest in the impossible crimes and puzzle box plots of old.
With a sequel to Knives Out in the works, movie buffs won’t have to wait long for their next Benoit Blanc fix. In the meantime, these five novels do an excellent job of honoring Christie’s groundbreaking work.
A Better Man, by Louise Penny
Last, year, Canadian author Louise Penny gifted her fans with A Better Man, the fifteenth book in her Inspector Gamache series. Like most of her prior novels, the story takes place in and around the hidden village of Three Pines, Quebec.
As ideal as this setting may be for a Christie-style mystery, it’s Penny’s masterful characterization that puts her on par with the original master. Armand Gamache is a modern-day Poirot who feels more deeply than most fictional detectives, and faces both personal and professional trials as he investigates a case involving a missing woman.
After more than a dozen previous books, Penny still manages to keeping her readers guessing, not just about the identity of the killer but about what motivates her vivid and credible characters.
Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty
Assemble nine very different people with secret backstories in a remote setting, and you’ve got a story worth reading.
It’s the location that makes Nine Perfect Strangers most like a Christie mystery. The health resort where the story’s action takes place is in the Australian outback, just far enough from civilization to be unnerving – especially when the spa’s owner starts to play mind games with her guests. There’s even an actual locked-room to satisfy classic detective fiction fans.
A Bitter Feast, by Deborah Crombie
A picturesque village, rolling meadows, and an effective mix of detectives and locals ensure this mystery will appeal to Christie fans. Think of it as a police procedural with a side of English country charm.
Readers will enjoy speculating about the deadly car accident that occurs at the beginning of the book, especially when they discover the passenger was dead before the crash occurred. In true Christie fashion, there are suspects and motives aplenty to captivate even the most practiced armchair sleuths.
The Wedding Guest, by Jonathan Kellerman
When LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis arrives at a former strip club turned wedding venue to investigate a murder, he finds a body in a bathroom and a guest list full of suspects. But it’s psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware that most makes The Wedding Guest like a Christie novel.
Every detective needs a sidekick; Hercule Poirot had Captain Hastings, and Milo Sturgis has Alex Delaware. Not only does the partner archetype allow writers to provide more insight into the protagonist’s character, but it can supply a secondary point of view on the crime and the specialized expertise needed to solve it. This book flips the sidekick trope on its head by focusing more on Delaware than Detective Sturgis, sending Agatha vibes all the while.
The Mystery of Three Quarters, by Sophie Hannah
There’s no more convincing evidence of an Agatha Christie resurgence than the release of more Hercule Poirot novels. Enlisted by Christie’s estate, English crime fiction writer Sophie Hannah is continuing Poirot’s legacy with a collection of fresh new stories.
The Mystery of Three Quarters finds Poirot investigating a number of poison pen letters purportedly written by the detective himself. The letters accuse four different individuals of murdering an elderly man who appears to have drowned in his bath.
Because this novel was designed to honor its muse, fans will find the suspicious family members, clever deductions, and cozy feel of a classic Agatha Christie mystery. They can also take heart in knowing there are more Hercule Poirot Mysteries to come.
Tessa Wegert is the author of DEATH IN THE FAMILY, a mystery set on a private island in Upstate New York. As a former freelance writer, her work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. Tessa grew up in Quebec near the border of Vermont and now lives with her family in Connecticut. DEATH IN THE FAMILY is her first novel.