The Railway Mysteries, 1990
Agatha Christie is considered one of the world’s top selling novelists, with somewhere between 2 and 4 billion copies of her works having been sold to date. However, the first Folio Society publishing foray into Christie’s work was only in 1990, when they released a two-volume Railway Mysteries set, including 4.50 from Paddington & The Mystery of the Blue Train.
The Mystery of the Blue Train was first published in 1928, and features Hercule Poirot solving a murder aboard the luxurious Blue Train running from London to the Riviera. It is bound in blue cloth with a 1930’s train design by David Eccles and includes an introduction by biographer Tim Heald.
First published in 1957, the British title 4:50 from Paddington refers to a train departing from Paddington Station in London, but the US publishers considered the London railway stations not particularly well-known at the time, and so the mystery was released in the US under the title “What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw”. This mystery has Miss Marple solving a murder on a local train assisted by housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow. This edition includes an introduction introduced by English crime writer Robert Barnard, and a matching green cloth binding featuring a 1950s train design by David Eccles.
► Look for The Railway Mysteries
The books do include a few decorative elements by Eccles, but somewhat disappointingly, neither of these two volumes are illustrated.
Short Story Crime Collections
The next major Agatha Christie outing by Folio Society was in 2003, with two collections of short stories illustrated by Christopher Brown. The Complete Hercule Poirot Short Stories was released as a three volume set, with each book bound in different coloured linen and featuring 10 black & white illustrations in each volume.
This set includes stories taken from ‘Poirot’s Early Cases’, ‘Poirot Investigates’, Murder In The Mews and Other Stories, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrees’, ‘Problems at Pollensa Bay’ and ‘The Labours of Hercules’. It includes an introduction by crime writer Maxim Jakubowski that explores the development of Poirot’s character, his depiction in the books and on screen, and highlights some of his favourite stories.
► Look for the Complete Hercule Poirot Short Stories
The Complete Miss Marple Stories was a single-volume release, in a matching binding. It features an introduction by author Stella Duffy, which explores some of the more spiky elements of Miss Marple’s personality, and also rather hilariously warns against reading all the stories in one sitting, noting that “after half a dozen stories in which no one else even guesses at the truth while Miss Marple not only solves the equation, but also… explains to us how foolish everyone else was to miss the clues, I was itching for her to get it wrong, just once”. The 2003 edition features Miss Marple on the cover, and the 2006 edition is decorated with teacup designs.
► Look for The Complete Miss Marple Short Stories
These are cute volumes, but the linen bindings are rather susceptible to fading if you’re not too careful, so you have to be careful with storing them.
Folio revisited the Grand Dame of crime fiction again in 2012, when they released a four-volume boxed set of Folio Society Miss Marple Novels, featuring The Murder at the Vicarage, The Body in the Library, A Pocket Full of Rye and Sleeping Murder. The series included a newly commissioned introduction by Christie biographer Laura Thompson, which explores the life experiences that inspired Christie to create Miss Marple, the ‘deceptive simplicity’ of the novels and their shrewd grasp of human nature. The set was priced at £100.
This series features delightfully nostalgic colour illustrations by London based illustrator Andrew Davidson. For his Agatha Christie illustrations, he uses gouache paint to lay down large blocks of colour, but Davidson is also well known for his wood engravings and his work has been featured in many other interesting commissions, ranging from Royal Mail postage stamps to designs for the glass doors at Wimbledon’s Centre Court. Each book is bound in dark coloured buckram, and contains seven or eight colour plates.
This series features delightfully nostalgic colour illustrations by London based illustrator Andrew Davidson. For his Agatha Christie illustrations, he uses gouache paint to lay down large blocks of colour, but Davidson is also well known for his wood engravings and his work has been featured in many other interesting commissions, ranging from Royal Mail postage stamps to designs for the glass doors at Wimbledon’s Centre Court, as well as the ‘Adult’ Harry Potter book collection.
The Murder at the Vicarage was the first novel to feature Miss Marple and the village of St Mary Mead.
The Body in the Library has Miss Marple’s intuition beat several other detectives involved in solving the murder of a young woman in the Bantry’s library.
A Pocket Full of Rye in which Miss Marple solves a series of murders disguised within a nursery rhyme
And Sleeping Murder is Miss Marple’s last case, which was actually written over 30 years before it was published, and left for her husband Max to publish after her death.
► Look for the boxed set of Folio Society Miss Marple Novels
► Look for The Murder at the Vicarage
► Look for The Body in the Library
► Look for A Pocket Full of Rye
► Look for Sleeping Murder
To match this set, Folio also gave the Complete Miss Marple Short Stories volume a new look in 2013 by re-releasing it in a new binding with 8 new colour illustrations by Davidson. This edition retains the earlier introduction by Stella Duffy.
This was followed in 2014 by a four-volume set titled the Folio Society Hercule Poirot Novels. The introduction to this series is by Anthony Horowitz, who adapted the Poirot novels for television.
Again featuring Andrew Davidson’s illustrations, and nicely matching the Marple set, the titles in this collection are: The Mysterious Affair at Styles; Murder on the Orient Express; The ABC Murders; Death on the Nile. It was released at £110.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles was the first novel to introduce us to both Poirot and Hastings.
Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s most famous novels, with an amusingly solution.
The ABC Murders is an unusual novel that employs multiple narrators. The FS edition is quite cute one of the illustrations shows the ABC Guide resting open on the counter over which the policeman shines his torch. The back cover of the Guide features an advertisement for The Folio Society (you can see the logo).
And Death on the Nile is set in Egypt and was inspired by Christie’s travels with her archaeologist husband.
► Look for the boxed set of the Folio Society Hercule Poirot Novels.
► Look for The Mysterious Affair at Styles
► Look for Murder on the Orient Express
► Look for The ABC Murders
► Look for Death on the Nile
However, a note of caution on the slipcases for the boxed sets as they are very, very tight. The books were also released as single volumes, which I recommend if you can get them, although they are cheaper to buy as a set.
Update 1: In 2019, FS released The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in series with those previously illustrated by Andrew Davidson to their publication list. It’s one of Christie’s cleverest Poirot novels, and you’ll be sure to read it more than once.
2016 saw publication of The Floating Admiral. This is an interesting novel that was written by members of The Detection Club, which included Christie along with other leading lights of the golden age of crime fiction, including Dorothy Sayers and Gilbert Chesterton. Each author contributed a chapter apiece, often gleefully introducing a new twist to the story just before passing it on. As well as the ‘true’ solution provided by Anthony Berkeley (in a final chapter appropriately titled ‘Clearing up the Mess’), each contributor’s solution is included in an interesting appendix.
It includes a preface by mystery writer Simon Brett, who was himself President of the Detection Club from 2001 until 2015. The story is illustrated with 7 colour plates by Mark Thomas, who also illustrated the Folio Society edition of The Princess Bride.
► Look for The Floating Admiral.
At time of writing, also still available new from FS direct (now OOP).
The FS also released one of Christie’s most famous mysteries that did not feature either of her signature detectives in 2017: And Then There Were None. This volume is three-quarter bound in cloth with a printed textured paper front board and includes haunting black and white illustrations by David Lupton, who also illustrated A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe in 2015.
I’d love for you to share your favourite Christie novel in the comments below – mine is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, so I was thrilled when the Folio Society released this one!
And if you love the vintage Christie paperbacks, do also check out my collector’s guide to the amazing Tom Adams Christie covers.