He might not be the most glamorous sleuth out there, but Agatha Christie’s “World Famous Detective” Hercule Poirot has stood the test of time. He’s appeared in 33 novels, two plays, and 50 short stories by Christie and has been hailed as the Queen of Crime’s most iconic detective. On screen, he’s been played by the likes of Orson Welles, Peter Ustinov, John Malkovich, and David Suchet (still my favorite!), and he’s even the star of a bizarre but cute children’s anime! Not bad for a diminutive Belgian refugee. But with so much choice, it can be tough for new readers to know where to start. Never fear, here are 10 of the best Poirot mysteries to get your “little grey cells” going.
Only the second published Poirot novel, Murder on the Links is a little more polished than its predecessor and makes for a great introduction to the series. Its French setting gives it a different feel to the English mysteries Poirot is known for solving, and an extra edge to his rivalry with the local police. It’s also a classic “detective hired to prevent a crime that’s already occurred” story as Poirot and his trusty sidekick Hastings arrive to find their client murdered in the middle of a golf course. Murder on the Links is the first in the series to establish Poirot’s “psychological” approach to crime solving. Blackmail, mistaken identity, red herrings, and an identical past crime all help muddy the waters. And as an added bonus, Hastings gets a sweet romantic subplot.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of the most critically acclaimed Poirot novels–an impressive feat since it was only Christie’s third book. It was even voted “best crime novel ever” by the British Crime Writers’ Association in 2013. Christie takes an unusual approach (for her), setting up a local doctor and friend of the victim as the novel’s narrator and Poirot’s temporary assistant (a literal Dr. Watson). This allows for plenty of arch observations about gossipy village life alongside the “locked room” mystery as (spoiler alert!) Roger Ackroyd is murdered! With one obvious suspect and an unknown blackmailer on the loose, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has more twists than a pretzel, including a shock ending that floored Christie’s contemporaries.
Nothing is as it seems when Poirot and Hastings holiday in Cornwall and witness an attempted murder. Magdala “Nick” Buckley may have just inherited End House, a crumbling cliffside manor, but the property is almost worthless, leaving no clear motive or suspects for the crime. As the “accidents” pile up, Poirot vows to protect Nick and catch the would-be-killer. But can he save her from a diabolically cunning adversary? Not a word is wasted in Peril at End House, one of Christie’s most tightly plotted and ingenuous murder mysteries.
A train breaks down in a desolate, snowy landscape. In the morning, a body is discovered. No one has boarded and no one has left the train, meaning the murderer is still aboard… It’s a juicy set up, especially as none of the passengers have any connection to each other or the victim. Luckily, Poirot is on hand to uncover secrets and the tragic backstory of the murder itself. The luxury of the Orient Express and its well-to-do passengers lends the novel some old-world glamour. And the solution to the murder is another of Christie’s shocking “Big Twists,” making Murder on the Orient Express one of her most famous and enduringly popular murder mysteries.
Cards on the Table deserves a mention for its concept alone. It’s a dinner party murder mystery with a twist as Poirot is invited to dine with Mr. Shaitana, a “collector” of crime. Also invited are three other crime “professionals” and four suspected murderers. Surprising no one, their host is stabbed to death while his guests play cards, leaving Poirot and his peers to work together to solve the murder. With four obvious suspects on hand, Poirot must investigate their alleged crimes to find the true killer. Though not before the murderer strikes again… Cards on the Table is cleverly plotted and action packed. It’s also notable for introducing Ariadne Oliver, one of Poirot’s most entertaining sidekicks since, as a crime writer, she’s a thinly-veiled self-insert for Christie herself.
If you’re a Poirot newbie, you can’t go wrong with Death on the Nile. There’s a reason it’s one of the most adapted of Christie’s novels; it’s quintessential Poirot. Like many of his cases, a simple request (to persuade a woman to stop stalking her ex-fiancé and his new wife) snowballs into a genteel blood bath as multiple murders plague a posh Egyptian river cruise. All while our hero is supposed to be on holiday. Then again, Poirot takes on about half of his cases when he’s off-the-clock or “retired,” so Death on the Nile really is a perfect sample of the Poirot experience.
7. Sad Cypress
Plenty of fictional murder victims are awful people, so it’s no mystery why anyone would want them dead. In Sad Cypress, the great detective has the opposite problem, and it’s honestly very sad. When Elinor Carlisle is accused of poisoning her wealthy aunt and Mary Gerrard, the old lady’s protégé, Poirot is enlisted to clear her name. Mary was a gold digger, we’re told, and the contents of Mrs. Welman’s will supplied plenty of motive for their murders. Yet as blackmail and family secrets are uncovered and the plot thickens, Poirot will have to question everything he knows about the case. Sad Cypress was the first Poirot novel to feature courtroom drama, and its sympathetic victims and tragic undertones give it extra emotional oomph.
Another tragic one, Five Little Pigs can be summed up by its original US title: Murder in Retrospect. Said murder is the long ago poisoning of Amyas Crale. His wife Caroline was convicted of the crime and died in prison, but 16 years later their daughter hires Poirot to prove her innocence and find the real culprit. And, as it turns out, there were five other “little pigs” on the scene who all could have done it… Christie breaks from her usual pattern as Poirot solves the crime through old letters and “narratives” provided by the five potential suspects. The result is a Rashomon style murder mystery as each provides their own versions of the same events, leaving us and Poirot to untangle the truth. Five Little Pigs is melancholy and intricate and an all-around first class detective novel.
A charwoman is found dead, apparently murdered by her lodger in a robbery gone wrong. But could the real killer be whoever Mrs. McGinty was blackmailing? Mrs. McGinty’s Dead is one of Poirot’s funniest outings. Of course, there’s still a murder to solve, and the stakes are high as Poirot races to find the murderer before an innocent man is hanged. The solution to the mystery is also wrapped up in a glorious melodrama involving mysterious femme fatales and secret identities. But under all that, there’s comedy as our fastidious hero is forced to stay in a ramshackle bed and breakfast while solving the cleaning lady’s murder. Better still, Ariadne Oliver makes her second appearance, complaining about her popular Swedish detective the whole time. Poirot doesn’t get more meta than that.
10. Hallowe’en Party
Outlandish schemes and weird murder weapons are staples of crime fiction. In Hallowe’en Party, death by apple bobbing takes the (pumpkin) cake when a teenager is found drowned. Shortly before her death, she’d claimed to have witnessed a murder as a young child, without realizing it was a murder at the time. So it’s a double mystery. Who murdered Joyce? And which murder (if any) had she stumbled upon? With not much to go on, it’s definitely a case for Poirot. Especially as, for a quaint country village, there are quite a few unexplained deaths and disappearances to investigate. Naturally. Christie keeps us guessing as the mystery deepens and the body count rises, before climaxing with a dramatic showdown.