From the works of Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie to John Grisham, mystery novels have long captivated audiences in print and on screen with their professional detectives, amateur sleuths and whodunit plots.
Among the genre’s greatest writers, Christie has long been heralded as “The Queen of Mystery,” with adaptations of her novels frequently appearing as movies, television shows and stage productions. (The latest is the Kenneth Branagh-directed film “Murder on the Orient Express.”) Hugh Fraser, one of the recurring actors on the long-running BBC adaptation series “Agatha Christie’s Poirot,” has now become a crime novelist himself, a genre he said “provides an escape [from] the drudge of ordinary life.”
Fraser’s “Rina Walker” series is about a female contract killer — working in the kind of world Christie’s detectives had always tried to fight. For years, Fraser played Captain Hastings, sidekick to Christie’s most famed character, the unusual detective Hercule Poirot. Fraser has also performed over 70 audiobook adaptations of Christie’s 66 novels and short stories, many of them “whodunits.”
“The whodunit form is timeless really, and I think it’s very satisfying to read a book or watch a television series where you don’t know who did it and you need to know who did it, and then you discover in the end who did it,” Fraser said. “It’s a simple form, but a quite entertaining one.”
Fraser’s favorite Christie novel remains Poirot’s last case, “Curtain.” Here are five more of his favorite mystery novels, in his words:
1. “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier (1938)
I think it’s a wonderful novel. It’s a murder mystery but it is also about a man who is very powerful and a woman who is not powerful. It’s about how the heroine, who is never named but is the narrator of the novel, wins out in the end. It’s a beautiful book.
2. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1966)
It’s an account of the murders of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. I think it is a really chilling read because it’s based on real events.
3. “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo (1969)
The film is familiar to most people because of Marlon Brando’s fantastic performance as the Godfather, but the book is really wonderful. There’s more to it overall. There is more plot and subplot and it’s a great read.
4. “Get Shorty” by Elmore Leonard (1990)
I love Elmore Leonard’s writing — the dialogue is fantastic, it just moves along so fast. It’s about Chili Palmer, who is a mob lone shark and gets involved in Hollywood. The film starred John Travolta and is also fantastic to watch.
5. “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith (1950)
Highsmith has this incredible way of building up a sinister atmosphere about normal, seemingly innocuous people. She takes you into an ordinary world and gradually builds a sinister atmosphere. I think she’s a master of suspense and intrigue.