The Tuesday Club Murders #4: Christie’s worst paperback editions

c3a5ddf268c9c4adb2f1c7bd607a8560In the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary,GAD mystery blogger Curtis Evans proposed recently that some members of our Golden Age of Detection Facebook group should undertake “The Tuesday Club Murders”. Simply put, we’re going to do a Christie piece every week on Tuesday, “for a while anyway”. You’ll find a list of participants and associated links on Curtis’s blog. I’ve been using the cover art for Dell #8, The Tuesday Club Murders, as my symbol for this effort and want to emphasize that I don’t think this is one of the worst editions.

Pocket #753

Pocket #753

The competition for “worst Agatha Christie paperback cover” is stiff indeed — my shortlist was some 40 covers — so I thought I’d put some boundaries on what I was labeling. One aspect of cover art that drives me crazy is where the artist has realistically depicted a scene … that has nothing to do with the book. I don’t mind old-fashioned artistic styles like Good Girl Art (in fact, as you probably realize, they rather appeal to me) but I draw the line at GGA that is only tangentially connected to the action of the novel, if at all. Books that mislead the reader about the kind of book they’re getting are a terrible idea, I suggest; if you pick up a book because you think it’s a romance, and it turns out to be a mystery, you have good reason to be upset.


Pocket #6109

There are a couple of Christie designs that just boggle my mind. Look at Pocket #753, above; the cover for Crooked House depicting a giant hypodermic needle. (It is highly esteemed among “dope art” aficionados.) I mean, okay, you’ll find a hypodermic needle in the book. But it’s like advertising Moby Dick as a novel about scrimshaw. Another really strange set of choices is shown in Pocket #6109 nearby; So Many Steps to Death (aka Destination Unknown). I agree the action takes place in Morocco; the fashions of Morocco are only vaguely known to the artist, who appears to have concealed the swordsman’s lower regions with a lacy quilt. But the sullen redhead to me bears very little relationship to the doughty heroine who agrees to become a spy. And, um — I don’t remember any menacing swordsman playing a significant role in this book.


Pocket #80290

I don’t usually object to book covers that attempt to realistically depict scenes from the book — unless, like Pocket #80290, with the acid-green cover for Crooked House, they set the action back 25 years and get the period hopelessly wrong. (Crooked House was published in 1949, not 1924.) And unless I miss my guess, that’s not a scene from the book unless someone changed the ending. Speaking of changing the ending, Avon #690, The Big Four, depicts one of the villains restraining the innocent young actress, although I think the off-the-shoulder peasant blouse is a bit of a stretch. But the enormous head of the Chinese gentleman in the rear has nothing to do with the action at this point, I’ll suggest.

Avon 245 (1950). Reprint of Avon 3 with Different Covers

Avon 245 (1950).

Perhaps I’ll just leave you with a gallery of weird Christie covers and let you make your own selections — or pick from your own shelves.  If you have a cover in your collection that makes you think, “What were they thinking!”, perhaps you’ve found it here already. Your comments are welcome.

I should add that although I didn’t mean it that way, I seem to have duplicated the approach of another website, Pulp Covers, whose interest in “interesting, lurid, and awesome” paperback covers is shared by me. You should definitely check them out; the particular article on Christie is here. We seem to have a similar disdain for certain kinds of covers and my thoughts and choices of covers for this article were influenced by that site, so I thought I’d give credit where credit is due and give you an interesting link in the process.


Avon T-149. Perhaps this is what the victim slept in, but I doubt that her murderer was wearing a fez at the time.


Pocket #617, from 1949. Looks more like a romance than a mystery, doesn’t it?


An early Avon. The artist has failed to appreciate that Tommy and Tuppence in 1922 wouldn’t dress like it was 1940.


Pocket #2088. Unless I’ve mis-remembered the book, the body found on the beach was that of a male. (Amended the day of posting: I HAD mis-remembered the book, as was pointed out by a friend in the comments below. I’ll leave this up for my readers’ amusement … it’s not all that terrible if it’s true to the book.)



This scene isn’t in the book, and the profile portrait of Poirot makes him look half-asleep.


This is actually a rather nice graphic of an actual scene from the book … but it completely misleads the reader. And if you’re going to show a murder on the cover, shouldn’t it be the one described by the title?


No, she wasn’t killed in the library.


If I saw a woman with that hairdo, I’d look askance at her too.


I’m not saying exactly what this makes me think is happening, but it doesn’t necessarily remind me of murder.


This goes a little beyond Good Girl Art … and I can’t figure out why the victim has been reduced to line art.


I have no doubt this describes something in the book, although it seems like it’s trying to draw our attention to the boutonniere. This cover makes the list because of the infelicitous phrase, “the master mistress of crime”. Ugh.


A pretty girl is surprised! Yeah, that looks mysterious.


The clocks relate to the nursery rhyme — but not the novel.

A Caribbean Mystery

I’d be wide-eyed too, if my eyebrows looked like that.


HARLEQUIN tea set. It’s a series of interlinked diamond shapes. Not bright red.


This romance novel seems to think it’s a mystery (that particular shade of pink is an unfortunate choice).


This Dell edition stands for a bunch of silly-looking editions where they commissioned an illustration that is vaguely creepy and mostly ridiculous. In this case, nothing shown here is related to the murder in the slightest, except perhaps a bullet.



The Tuesday Night Bloggers: Where do we go from here?

The Tuesday Night Bloggers

A clever logo produced by group member Bev Hankins.

About a month ago, The Tuesday Night Bloggers (TNB) began as a kind of impromptu celebration of all things Agatha Christie to celebrate her 125th birthday. Essentially  members of a Facebook group decided that they were going to post something in their own blogs about Agatha Christie every Tuesday for what turned out to be a little more than the month of October, 2015. Yes, we’re still doing it. I’ve personally had fun working to a tighter deadline than “whenever”, and it encouraged me to find interesting things to present that could be explained in 500 words or so. Which, as you know, for me is barely a clearing of the throat 😉

dc9f2677eTuesday Night Bloggers (alphabetically by last name;the blog’s name links to the blog)

In conversation with a couple of my fellow TNB bloggers, I’ve learned that they are attracting a new and improved readership as a result of these Christie posts, as have I. Apparently people come for the Christie and look around for the Golden Age mystery, I guess, and welcome aboard! So I was wondering what would happen if we kept up the frequency but changed the topic a little bit … and we’re about to find out.

roundtableThe seven bloggers in Tuesday Night Bloggers have come to an agreement that, provisionally at least, we’re going to keep posting on Tuesdays but we’re going to change the topic once a month. We’re going to talk about a different Golden Age writer for a month of Tuesdays, and hope that our new readers are as interested in the other major names as they have been in Agatha Christie.

Personally I think this is going to work best if we focus on the major writers — as I put it, writers with a large number of novels that have been printed in a large number of editions. My TNB friends are all all aware of mystery writers whose work is rare and expensive, and when we find rare and expensive novels that we enjoyed or understood, I believe we’ll continue to bring you our opinions. (E.C.R. Lorac and Miles Burton are the literary equivalent of $500/bottle Scotch!)  In the meantime there are a bunch of Golden Age writers whose names many people will recognize and whose books are abundantly available at libraries and bookstores, and I think our breadth of information can shed light on these writers in a way that will interest people who may only be glancingly familiar with their work, or even people very familiar with their output. If you’ve read two Ngaio Marsh novels, well, we’ve frequently read all 29, and we have reasons why we like our favourites that we’ll share with you. I’m hoping this will encourage more people to share our pleasure in Golden Age mysteries.

sdc13504So here’s the list of suggested topics for a year.

  • October: Agatha Christie
  • November: Ellery Queen
  • December: Ngaio Marsh
  • January: Rex Stout
  • February: Dorothy L. Sayers
  • March: John Dickson Carr
  • April: Phoebe Atwood Taylor
  • May: Erle Stanley Gardner
  • June: Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • July: Arthur Upfield
  • August: Patricia Wentworth
  • September: S. S. Van Dine

Believe me, I’m open to changing this list, any part of it or any name on it. (I alternated males and females.) And I know that the TNB would join me in welcoming any blogger with an interest in Golden Age mysteries to add his/her blog to this list, even if — especially if — they’re not members of our Facebook group. There is no need to post every single Tuesday, for existing members or new ones; I’m sure we’d even welcome guests who merely wanted to contribute a single post from their own blog.

Your comments below are welcome and earnestly solicited. I have shamelessly swiped the logo that Bev Hankins designed for the group since I like it better than mine (and I will now retire my variant terminology for this effort of Tuesday Club Murders); thank you Bev!



The Tuesday Club Murders #3: Early Dell map back editions of Agatha Christie

c3a5ddf268c9c4adb2f1c7bd607a8560In the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary,my friend and fellow GAD mystery blogger Curtis Evans, whose highly recommended blog, The Passing Tramp, is found here, proposed recently that some members of our Golden Age of Detection Facebook group should undertake “The Tuesday Club Murders”. Simply put, we’re going to do a Christie piece every week on Tuesday, “for a while anyway”. I believe you’ll find a list of participants on Curtis’s blog.

Here’s my third contribution; last time it was the most valuable paperback editions of Christie and now on to some early American printings. Agatha Christie was remarkably widespread in that a number of different publishers did a couple of titles each, in the earliest days of US paperbacks … by looking at her editions you can get a good cross-section of what different companies thought was good marketing for a mystery. And since I’ve been using The Tuesday Club Murders (Dell #8, above) as the symbol of this  Tuesday Club blogging effort — let’s start with Dell. As I mentioned previously, Dell mapbacks are sought after by collectors because of the linking motif of the map on the back cover which depicts a scene from the novel; sometimes useful, sometimes not, but always funky and strange.

Dell experimented with a number of different styles of cover art but settled with a stable of reliable artists, principally including Gerald Gregg. A Chicago artist named Ruth Belew proved best at creating the maps for the back covers and produced almost all of them.

Mapbacks are also known for their innovative marketing gimmicks inside the books themselves. The opening pages were devoted to a series of fairly standard features such as “Wouldn’t you like to know …”  (What happens when a dinner party made up of four suspected murderers and four detectives winds up with a victim?) and “What this Mystery is about …” (Nineteen pair of extremely expensive HOSE which help to solve some puzzles). And of course the “List of Exciting Chapters” and “Persons this Mystery is about …”  “Hercule Poirot, that good-natured little Belgian with the remarkable gray cells which haven’t come up with a miss in years, admires the perfect murderer as he does a splendid tiger, but he will not voluntarily step into his cage — unless it is his duty to do so.” (Examples taken from #293, Cards on the Table.)

Prices vary: Christie is always very collectible, and condition is crucial to value. You’ll be able to find most or all of these titles on ABEBooks or even eBay if you’re interested in one of the most collectible Agatha Christie paperbacks you’ll ever see. As Dell progresses through time, the prices decrease and the cover styles change. This is all the Christie titles with numbers lower than #200 — there are more to come in a future post.

Dell #46, The Boomerang Clue (front)

Dell #46, The Boomerang Clue (front)


Dell #46, The Boomerang Clue (map back)

Dell #60, 13 At Dinner (Lord Edgware Dies) (front)

Dell #60, 13 At Dinner (Lord Edgware Dies) (front)

Dell #60, 13 At Dinner (Lord Edgware Dies) (map back)

Dell #60, 13 At Dinner (Lord Edgware Dies) (map back)

Dell #105, Appointment With Death (front)

Dell #105, Appointment With Death (front)

Dell, #105, Appointment With Death (map back)

Dell, #105, Appointment With Death (map back)

Dell #145, Murder in Mesopotamia (front)

Dell #145, Murder in Mesopotamia (front)

Dell #145, Murder in Mesopotamia (map back)

Dell #145, Murder in Mesopotamia (map back)

Dell #172, Sad Cypress (front)

Dell #172, Sad Cypress (front)

Dell #172, Sad Cypress (map back)

Dell #172, Sad Cypress (map back)

Dell #187, N or M? (front)

Dell #187, N or M? (front)

Dell #178, N or M? (map back)

Dell #178, N or M? (map back)

Dell #199, The Secret of Chimneys (front)

Dell #199, The Secret of Chimneys (map back)

The Tuesday Club Murders #2: Christie’s rarest paperback editions

c3a5ddf268c9c4adb2f1c7bd607a8560In the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary,my friend and fellow GAD mystery blogger Curtis Evans, whose highly recommended blog, The Passing Tramp, is found here, proposed recently that some members of our Golden Age of Detection Facebook group should undertake “The Tuesday Club Murders”. Simply put, we’re going to do a Christie piece every week on Tuesday, “for a while anyway”. You’ll find a list of participants and associated links on Curtis’s blog.

I thought about merely giving my opinion on this or that Christie title, but that seemed relatively unnecessary. There’s plenty of opinion/review material out there and quite a few graduate theses; not much untrodden ground for me there. Instead, I thought I could offer pieces based on my experience as a book dealer, or book scout, or behind the counter of a mystery bookstore.

Agatha Christie has sold more paperback books than pretty much anyone. That means, if you scout books, you are accustomed to charity shops and used bookstores that have a stack of beaten-up Agatha Christie volumes, and 99 times out of a hundred they’re not worth looking at. In my own experience buying used paperbacks and reselling them, sensible retailers draw a line at keeping more than three copies of the same book in stock.  It’s easier for a retailer to say, “No, no Christies, thanks” than it is to dig through the same editions of the same Poirot novels looking for nuggets of gold; but as mystery booksellers know, there are a couple of paperback editions of Agatha Christie for which you should be on the lookout. This is a way that a beginning book scout can make a score — booksellers don’t want to dig through Christies, but if you have the time and the eye, you can fill their want lists. So here’s the insider view of the very few Christie paperbacks that might actually be worth something some day.


Back cover of Dell #8.

When I half-jokingly proposed the cover art you see at the head of this post as an identifying artwork for Tuesday Club, I did so quite a bit because what you see there is Dell mapback #8 — and my regular readers know I am very, very fond of the Dell mapback editions. This very low number from the first months of Dell’s entry into the paperback market in 1943 is charming, with more restrained artwork than most mapbacks (art by George Fredericksen). The map on the back … well, it’s crude, they hadn’t developed the style they would present, say, 150 titles later. But to me it’s delightful in its ineptitude.

As of September 24, 2015, there’s two copies for sale on ABE that seems like good value at US $47 plus shipping for this Dell edition, both about VG or VG+. That means, by the way, that a book dealer will pay you half of $47 because book dealers need to eat too. Of course, if you find one at your local used book store for $5, grab it as long as it has all its pages. But buying a nice tight copy for $20 or $30 and then storing it away for 10 or 20 years will also be wise. My best recommendation is to find, if you can, an absolutely superb copy and pay well over the market price for it. You will bless your wisdom in years to come as less perfect copies do not hold their value as well as yours.

LA Bantam 26

LA Bantam 26

One of the scarcest snowflakes in the vast blizzard of Christie paperbacks is, paradoxically, one of the plainest and least interesting paperbacks you’ll ever see. L.A. Bantams were a delightful experiment beginning in 1939 (and therefore within months of the first paperbacks sold in North America). The company in question has no connection whatever with the large present-day Bantam imprint; this was a short run of 28 titles that was designed to sell for a dime — out of vending machines. Since their original distribution was very limited, they are rare and scarce and valuable, especially in the most desirable condition. There were 28 titles, but some titles have two or three different cover states as the publisher experimented with marketing techniques.

LA Bantam 26illustrated- copy1

LA Bantam 26P

Christie’s Mystery of the Blue Geranium and other Tuesday Club Murders — a unique title, with as far as I’m aware a unique story roster cut back from The Tuesday Club Murders — exists in two states, 26 (non-pictorial) and 26P (pictorial). As of September 24, 2015, I found a copy for sale of 26 in indifferent condition for $145. 26P in similar condition might sell for $200. Ten years from now, who knows? These books are exceptionally scarce and prices change dramatically, especially since the Internet has rationalized the collectibles market globally. This is the kind of find that a book scout talks about for years … I’ve had one single copy go through my hands in 40 years.

ackroydpbAll LA Bantams are rare birds indeed, but there’s one Christie paperback that is, as one dealer puts it, “a cornerstone of any collection of vintage paperbacks”. Early in 1939, in North America, the paperback book was about to enter the North American marketplace as anything except an imported curiosity. Pocket Books, of New York City, released its first ten titles in a test printing of about 10,000 copies each, only within New York City itself. The first ten titles included a volume of Shakespeare, a Pearl S. Buck novel, and Bambi, but #5 was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and that makes it the single most valuable mystery paperback. Important note: First Edition Only. There are two copies of the first edition available as of September 24, 2015 on ABE; one is $1,100 and the other is a mere $875. Yes, $1,100.  That makes it more expensive than about half of Christie’s first editions, at the very least. But if you don’t mind the second edition, from some months later, that will set you back a mere $150. Pocket helpfully puts a careful publishing history into each of its early books so there’s no excuse for getting this one wrong. Anything beyond the 2nd edition is not absolutely worthless, but the price declines dramatically. So don’t emit a high-pitched squeal in a charity sale until you’re absolutely sure of what you have. If you live outside the New York City area, chances are you have a third edition or later.

In the course of preparing this, I found enough material on the second rank of collectible paperback Christie titles that I’ll get another Tuesday Club entry out of it — next Tuesday. But I did want to mention a few points about collectible paperbacks. Simply put, it can be very satisfying to put together the “complete” Agatha Christie — a copy of every title, and every variant title, and … ad infinitum, depending on how serious you want to get. Years ago, I knew a man who was putting together every cover variant for every title, and I hope that crazy guy managed to keep going, because that would be a collection worth seeing. But if I were starting out as a collector and wanted to invest in books that might hold their value, no matter that that value is the price of a venti vanilla latte, I’d look for Christie titles from Fontana with the Tom Adams covers, in the best condition possible. They’re a uniform size and colour, they look impressive on your shelves, Adams is a great artist, and the cost of an individual title is fairly small at this point. There are a couple of variants for a few titles that would be fun to track down. And if you want to set out to accomplish a real feat of collecting, go for the first paperback edition of every Christie title.





The Tuesday Club Murders: My Top Ten Agatha Christie novels

c3a5ddf268c9c4adb2f1c7bd607a8560In the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary,my friend and fellow GAD mystery blogger Curtis Evans, whose highly recommended blog, The Passing Tramp, is found here, proposed recently that some members of our Golden Age of Detection Facebook group should undertake “The Tuesday Club Murders”. Simply put, we’re going to do a Christie piece every week on Tuesday, “for a while anyway”. I believe you’ll find a list of participants on Curtis’s blog.

This should be an interesting exercise. I have tended to avoid discussing Agatha Christie because I think of her as someone whose work doesn’t require “curation”; her work will survive and thrive whether or not I ever mention her name again. Yet there are, as I recently remarked, the possibility that some of her books might be overlooked, especially the books with flaws or problems.  It could be that some of my readers have hit the high spots, as it were, and overlooked lesser-known works … perhaps I’ll be able to introduce knowledgeable readers to a pleasure they have overlooked.

So I’m going to pretend it is yesterday for a moment, and publish my “Top Ten Agatha Christie novels”. I should say that these are not particularly the novels that I find have the most technical excellence, or that are the most clever and intelligent. I’ve read every single thing that Agatha Christie ever wrote and my top ten list is based on these novels being the ones that, essentially, I can read again. There are not many murder mysteries that stand up to repeated reading, and there are some very fine Christie novels, like for instance And Then There Were None, that I don’t find worth one more run-through. Another criterion is that I’ve used the word “novels”, but that was deliberate; I’m not especially find of short stories and would not bother to re-read many of them.

And finally — these are in no particular order.  Coming up with ten is difficult; ranking the darn things is just about impossible. I’ve also used the edition with the Tom Adams covers to illustrate this because, as a group, they’re just so evocative. I can spot a Tom Adams Christie from across a crowded charity sale!

Feel free to comment or disagree … which Christie volumes do you think are most worth re-reading?

imagesA Murder Is Announced (1950)

This has always been a favourite of mine. I will admit that Christie could not resist the temptation to recomplicate the plot just a tad too much with the involvement of “Pip and Emma”, and that’s not even a very funny joke. But the central line of the plot is brilliant, with the complete reversal at the end, and it taught me the valuable lesson that one doesn’t necessarily assume that a misspelling in a murder mystery is always a typographical error.

agatha_cover-After-the-FuneralAfter The Funeral (1953)

Another delightful reversal of expectations at the end of the investigation, and one of the few novels in which Poirot does not go overboard with enigmatic hints but nevertheless points us to the clue of the wax flowers in a straightforward but completely misleading way. The underlying motive for this murder is possibly the most bizarre in Christie’s oeuvre; I can remember thinking upon first reading this volume that it was chilling and yet completely believable.

RaThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

The premise that underlies the solution here is probably known to most readers of detective fiction, even the most casual. Regardless of your opinion of the “fairness” or “unfairness” of it, I find there’s a delightful sense of anticipation that builds as the novel progresses, even if — especially because — you know what’s about to be revealed at the end. The character of the doctor’s sister Caroline is a fascinating pre-figuring of the introduction of Miss Marple four years later.

3995331808_320088cb17Five Little Pigs (1942)

This shows up on most connoisseurs’ “top ten” lists. I think it’s the novel where everything comes together for Christie; a great plot, great characters, and powerful emotions displayed against a believable and complex background. The writing is spare and stripped-down, but every word counts. This is also one of the few times that Christie managed to create a believable adolescent character.

065321The Moving Finger (1942)

This is a murder mystery masquerading as a novel about poison pen letters, and it’s the perfect combination of Miss Marple, the ways of a little English village, and the ways in which village types repeat themselves. I love the way that the quotidian habits of villagers are peeled back for us to view, while Miss Marple assembles them into a coherent and believable portrait of what must have happened and why.

crooked_houseCrooked House (1949)

I’ve mentioned this one before as a non-series Christie mystery that needs a little curation; it’s always been a favourite of mine because Christie’s subtlety is never threaded through a clever plot so excellently as here. I think the lack of a series detective actually works in the favour of this book. The solution is one of the most unusual in all her novels and will surprise all but the most jaded and experienced.

040ab0294acca092f82cde2358625faaPeril At End House (1932)

This one is on my list because in this novel Christie invented a trick here that she used again and again throughout her career, never more subtly than here. The sub-plot about the wristwatch is a little tiresome, and it seems as though there are two “C” plots instead of a straightforward “A/B/C” structure, but I can imagine the reader of 1932 finishing this and grinning in pleasure at having been fooled so thoroughly and so well. It stands up well to re-reading as the tiny, tiny clues click into place.

3995331502_d89c03aafaThe ABC Murders (1935)

I’m very fond of the entire sweep of the serial killer novel and this is where Agatha Christie took this nascent form, still struggling to find its place in the genre, and turned it inside out. I admit her characterization of Mr. Cust doesn’t impress me with its realism, but, oh my, this book is so darn clever … it’s one of Christie’s “snow globe” novels where everything changes near the end when you look at events from a different angle.

f9b67ff22aa923632c1e84058e19649fThe Hollow (1946)

Yes, I’ve said recently that this novel is seriously flawed, and I haven’t changed my mind. Most of the characters, when you hold them up to the light, are pure cardboard. But the central three — the doctor, his wife Gerda, and the sculptor Henrietta — are so powerful and realistic that they carry the book. And Christie here works a variation on the “least likely suspect” idea that is beautiful in its simplicity and also completely unexpected.

71392ad18204374feb5e524cac869f72The Body in the Library (1942)

You’ll never get me to admit to a single favourite Christie novel, but if there was a gun to my head — this title might be forced from my lips. It’s beautifully plotted, elegantly written, and so exquisitely structured … it made me feel sad for the movie-struck Girl Guide, and opened my eyes to the tedium and squalour of what are thought of as glamorous professions.  It also taught me to always follow the money in a murder mystery.