I suspect that most readers who have ever picked up a Young Adult mystery novel have shared my experience of discovering the big reveal by page five. The remaining 350 or so pages beyond that point drag on with cliché plot twists and little suspense. On occasion, the plot appears to so closely replicate prior YA mysteries that I begin to suspect the writer merely changed the title and names of the characters from an earlier book. To read a rewarding mystery book, I propose delving into one of the classics.
Agatha Christie, nicknamed the Queen of Mystery, accomplished what few authors today seem to manage: in each of her 66 mystery novels, Christie creates a unique and spellbinding narrative that leaves the reader in constant suspense. Her recurring star sleuths range from a Belgian detective with a knack for human behavior to a British grandmother who likes to go investigating in her free time. Christie has been outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. The Guiness Book of Records has dubbed her the best-selling fiction author of all time, with almost 2 billion books sold.
Of Christie’s many books, one lesser-known gem is “By the Pricking of My Thumbs.” This novel remains on the periphery, as it was published late in her career and stars detectives Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, not her iconic Hercule Poirot or Mrs. Marple. However, the ingenuity of the plot distinguishes this book and leaves the reader guessing until the end.
For much of the book, the reader remains unsure whether a murder has actually occurred, creating an intense feeling of suspense. Tommy and Tuppence visit their Aunt Ada at a home for the elderly and meet her mysterious friend, Mrs. Lancaster. After Aunt Ada dies, Tommy and Tuppence learn of Mrs. Lanaster’s ominous disappearance and set out in search of her. I was as surprised as the book’s characters upon learning the identity of the murderer and was left wondering how I missed so many clues.
Reading a book by Christie does take a slight adjustment if one is used to reading mostly YA novels. Many of her books start at a slower pace and build in intensity and suspense as the narrative progresses. Some of the language and cultural references she employs have since become antiquated. However, these are trifling details, and the books still feel fresh and lively decades after they were originally written.
“By the Pricking of My Thumbs” is an overlooked yet skillfully crafted story of intrigue and suspense published by arguably the greatest mystery writer of all time.