The agony of choice

This week has been one of real decision making. I knew I needed to make my voice heard but I just couldn’t quite decide on the best choice. It was after all something I felt strongly about, but which way to go? After a lot of soul searching though, I made my decision, voted and hoped it was the right thing to do.

Don’t worry, I’m not joining the swaths of sudden political commentators that have popped up this week during the British General Election (although I did vote I’m keeping my political opinions to myself - that is not the type of discussion I want on this site!). I’m talking about the’s search to find her best book on the 125th anniversary of her birth. I did, after much soul searching, pick a book I was happy to call my ‘favourite’. Although before I ease you back from the edge of your seat by telling you which title it is, I want to explain exactly why it was such a hard decision to make.

Ask any book lover to pick their favourite book and you’ll find this seemingly simple question stumps them. But in fact, the question could mean any number of things. Do you mean the book they enjoyed the most? The one that inspired them the most? One they like to re-read the most? One they’d recommend most to a friend? Which genre do you want to know about? At what point in their lives do you want them to pick from? I for one could give you several different answers to this question and talk about them to the point that you’re wishing you’d asked me my favourite colour instead.

The same happens when you ask a fan to pick a favourite from an author with such a huge body of work. One of my favourite facts is, if you read one new Agatha Christie novel a month, it would take you seven years to complete her full works. By that time you’d have forgotten the solution to the first ones you’d read and you’d have to start over! (Not a bad way to spend a lifetime in my opinion!) I myself have read nearly everything she’s written, and have decided this year to re-read some that I barely remember.

So I’m more than qualified to answer - so which is my favourite Christie novel? It’s easy to go for one on sheer entertainment value. For example one of Dame Aggie’s I’d enjoyed the best was my first one, Peril at End House, that I read before I knew the key to her novels was to suspect the person least likely to have done it! I read it as a straight mystery, not knowing to expect so many plot twists, and it made the solution all the more amazing! But I wouldn’t necessarily call it her best.

For her best work surely you want to pick one where you would never seen the ending coming in a million years (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - it’s on a whole other level of twisty endings!). Or conversely do you pick the one that you worked out the solution for almost immediately? (I’m quite disappointed I worked out The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side so quickly!) Or how about the one with the most fascinating characters ever seen in such a short novel? (This is what I love about The Hollow - the interaction between characters is key to this mystery!)

However none of these are ones that I’d pick to give to someone starting out reading Agatha Christie. So should you go for ones that are quintessentially Christie such as Murder on the Orient Express, Sparkling Cyanide or Death on the Nile? These are the ones that would be great for first timers coming to her novels to give a taste of her style. But are they a favourite?

Poirot or Marple? Whodunnits or spy genre? Early 1920s works or later more refined 1960s novels? My finger hovered over choice after choice before I voted. In the end though I went with my gut. And Then There Were None (to give it its more PC title) is my title of choice that I feel incorporates enough elements to be called Agatha Christie’s ‘best’.

Even if you’ve not read it you’ll be familiar with the plot; a group of people find themselves stranded somewhere and are slowly killed off one-by-one by an unknown person. Is the killer among them? It’s a story that’s been done many times, however Agatha Christie was the first and arguably the best. The idea is so simple but so brilliantly executed. The feeling of suspicion and claustrophobia you get as you read it makes you feel as if you too are on an island with a killer on the loose. The narrative is told from each of the characters’ point of view, including the murderer’s, which means on repeat readings you can see how the solution is pretty much staring you in the face!

So this is my vote and I am happy with it, although ask me again in a month and I may not be so sure! However what a fantastic problem to have, to have too many wonderful stories to choose from, and I would think that as someone who made her living from frustrating and tantalising her readers, this would have made a certain Ms Christie very happy indeed!

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