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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

IN DEPTH: Agatha Christie's Italian Editions


Agatha Christie has been published in over forty different languages and has sold billions of books worldwide. Of those, half were sold in languages other than English. Christie has strong appeal around the world and being aware of her foreign editions enriches the experience of being a Christie fan. In a prior article I catalogued the early first French printings by the Le Masque imprint (link). Whether one can read French or not, the cover art on the jackets of these small books, especially pre-WWII, is beautiful and fun to collect. With its strong fan base, France continues to be enamoured with Agatha Christie as productions such as the recently released third season of Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie confirms.


Many other European countries also have a love for Christie. In this article, I explore the Italian printings of Christie’s works where she still enjoys a strong fan base. While Italians have some wonderful websites and online resources to enrich their enjoyment of Agatha Christie, anglophones have far fewer resources to turn to. Yet for fans of Agatha Christie there is a lot to be gained by studying her Italian publications – from learning about government censorship in the early years, to the rich and varied translated titles, and to the unique cover art. The diaspora of Christie fans is something that can bring us together, shrink the world and allow us to find commonality – something the world is often in need of.


As I researched this article on first Italian editions, I want to acknowledge several useful resources. The website Delitto & Paura is excellent – not just for Christie but also for their insights on other detective fiction authors. I also want to recognize the Facebook group ‘Studiosi e collezionisti di Libri Gialli’ and its Administrator, Federico Floresta, for providing directional support. Lastly, thank you to Tiziano Agnelli, who provided guidance for this project plus an earlier article I wrote solely on the numerous Italian editions of her first novel – The Mysterious Affair at Styles (link).


Italy: The Early Years.

Italian publishers were hesitant to publish British mystery fiction in the 1920s and 1930s as the genre was generally considered immoral and there was concern about British values and culture being too influential domestically. Despite these concerns demand was growing by readers for mystery fiction and Italian authors could not solely meet this demand. While the National Ministry of Education allowed for British mysteries to be translated, they imposed heavy limitations on the publishing houses in the 1930s. For example, among the restrictions there were to be no references to suicide, no sexual scenes or references to it, and no statements that belittled the Italian people. In addition, Italians could not be the murderer nor be portrayed in a negative light. This led to numerous changes within Christie’s books over the years. A singular example - in The Murder on the Orient Express, Lanfranco Cassetti’s last name had to be changed.


Given all this censorship it is not a surprise that the early Christie books published in Italy were heavily edited. As an example, when The Mysterious Affair at Styles (First Italian title: Un Delitto Misterioso a Stylen Court) was published by Mediolanum in 1932, the final chapter had been substantially changed.

It wasn’t until 2020 that Mondadori finally published this book the way Christie had written it. As the publisher stated in this 2020 printing: “One hundred years after its publication, Poirot a Styles Court is here accompanied by “special contents”: the original text sent to the publisher of chapter 12.


Other examples of censorship related to the dust jacket covers. When one considers that the second edition of Christie’s Il Delitto di Styles Court had a cover that already showed too much of Emily Inglethorpe’s chest (below left), it’s not surprising Casa Impero’s 1937 reprint of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was just a step too far (below middle: image source: Delitto & Paura).

Below is the text of a letter from the Ministry of National Education ordering the seizure of all of these books.


24 Nov 1937 - National Ministry of Education

Subject to a Ban on Dissemination

The following telegram was received from the Ministry of Popular Culture

Please have an agreement with the provincial authorities to seize the Agatha Christie novel entitled “Who is the Murderer?” [The Murder of Roger Ackroyd] (collection I Gialla Moderni number 23 published 15th October this year) published by Casa Impero Milano and printed by Redaelli, viale Gorizia n.l.. Participate in this requirement by contacting the Prefect of Milan who is required to ensure compliance.


Given its seizure, it makes this book one of the rarest vintage Italian Christie’s to find even though it is not the first edition. When I located one copy that was sold in years past, the cover had been modified though rather amateurishly (above right). It appears to have been coloured in – though it is unclear whether this was by an owner perhaps agreeing the cover in its original form was too scandalous or a modification by the publisher or dealer to avoid seizure.


Titles and More Titles.

Italian printings of Agatha Christie’s novels naturally had Italian titles. However, Italian publishers seemed to enjoy excessive tinkering with the actual title used. For the 66 novels, a total of 87 different titles in Italian are known. While there were 55 books that only ever had one title, there were 11 books that were published under multiple titles. Yet there is a definite winner for the book with the most titles – The Mysterious Affair at Styles. So far, this book has had at least 9 different titles and numerous different translations! In addition, Agatha Christie’s name was misspelled multiple times – either on the jackets or in the book. Needless to say, collecting all of them will be quite a challenge.


Other books with numerous titles include The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and its three distinctly different titles: Dalle Nove alle Dieci (From Nine to Ten), Chi è l'assassino? (Who is the Murderer?) and L'Assassinio di Roger Ackroyd. The first edition is below left, a later edition below middle and a more modern version below right. See higher above for the third title - the banned book!


In addition to a direct translation, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? had an alternate title of Ritratto d'Ignota (Portrait of an Unknown Woman). Sadly the first printing was in an anthology so we don't have vintage cover art for this title.


Most anglophonic readers are familiar with the alternate titles used in the States – most of which added in ‘murder’ or ‘death’ to make it clear the genre of the book and perhaps to be a tad more dramatic. For example Murder in Three Acts in lieu of Three Act Tragedy or Remember Death in lieu of Sparkling Cyanide.


The theme in Italy was different as the English translations of the Italian novels shows: Auito, Poirot! (Help, Poirot!) for Murder on the Links, Poirot e i Quattro (Poirot and the Four) for The Big Four and Poirot Sur Nilo (Poirot on the Nile) in lieu of Death on the Nile. These all indicate that the detective ‘Poirot’ was the selling feature worth including in the title whenever possible.


The same was true for Miss Marple novels. For example, A Caribbean Mystery became Miss Marple nei Caraibi, At Bertram’s Hotel became Miss Marple al Bertram Hotel, and Sleeping Murder became Addio, Miss Marple (Goodbye, Miss Marple). Images for these books are later in this article.


Other interesting titles include Se Morisse Mio Marito (If my Husband Died) which was the title for Lord Edgware Dies. One wonders what audience that title attracted! The use of Quinta Colonna (The Fifth Column) for N or M? in post-war Italy was obviously an interesting choice. The quite different Nella mia Fine il Mio Principio (In My End, My Beginning) was both a rather cryptic but poetic alternative for Endless Night especially when one considers it isn’t from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence but from T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets. Why the publisher went to an entirely different poem is befuddling.


The Publisher.

In England, the first six books were first published by The Bodley Head after which almost all Christie’s books were first published by William Collins – mostly under the Crime Club imprint though a couple were under the Collins Mystery imprint. In the US, Dodd Mead & Co was the almost the exclusive first edition publisher with many titles under their Red Badge Mystery imprint. Christie’s Italian publishing history is similar in that almost all her books were first published by Mondadori, which was founded by Arnoldo Mondadori in 1907 and is now the largest Italian publishing house. His initials - AM - and a palm tree (genesis unknown) adorned the covers of the books and was generally present on the title pages.

In the earlier years, most of these were part of their I Libri Gialli imprint and in later years it became Il Giallo Mondadori. For English readers Gialli (detective stories) and Giallo (yellow) are very similar and Mondadori clearly benefitted from this wordplay with their consistent use of yellow covers for these Agatha Christie detective stories.


The covers of the books were consistent also. Shod in orange cloth with the initials of Arnolodo Mondadori and the palm tree. The price was on the rear of the book.


The Dust Jacket Art.

A significant focus of the cover art by Mondadori’s artists was of the actual characters in the stories rather than a stylised or thematic cover more commonly used in England or the States. For Hercule Poirot novels the majority had a portrayal of the detective on the cover. While Poirot appeared on one cover - Poirot Investigates - in both the UK and US, he was absent from the rest of the first hardback printings (unless I’m forgetting). Even when Tom Adams created his paperback covers, he was instructed not to include Poirot on the covers. Though he did break the rule once as Tom told me the figure on the rear of the US Pocket Book paperback printing of The Mystery of the Blue Train is actually Poirot. Clearly this rule did not apply to Mondadori.

Images are: 1937: The ABC Murders; 1938: Cards on the Table; 1956: Hickory, Dickory, Dock.


The second dominant character portrayal on the Italian covers was that of a female character – generally either in distress or an evocative pose.

Images are: 1935: Lord Edgware Dies; 1948: The Body in the Library; 1963: The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side.


However, later novels that featured Miss Marple used a likeness of Margaret Rutherford on the covers given her then recent film roles.

Images are: 1958: 4:50 From Paddington (later edition: 1983); 1972: Nemesis; 1976: Sleeping Murder.


Mondadori’s art was all original though a few covers were clearly inspired by covers from the UK - for example the film tie-in paperback issued earlier for A Mirror Crack'd. The image on the left is the original art by their cover artist, Carlo Jacono.


Carlo Jacono created many covers for Mondadori from 1950 until 1986. His Agatha Christie covers are far to numerous to list, but included first editions such as A Murder is Announced (original artwork: below left) and A Caribbean Mystery (book cover: below middle) - another featuring Margaret Rutherford's likeness.

He also designed many updated covers for reprints and paperbacks such as for Lord Edgware Dies (original art: above right). For many Italian readers, Jacono is as much a part of the Christie experience as Tom Adams is for British readers - though their artistic styles are very different and distinct.


Only two first printings did not have yellow covers. The first was the 1933 publication of L'Avversario Secreto by Casa Editrice Salani. The cover artist clearly found ‘inspiration’ for their cover of from the second Bodley Head Edition of The Secret Adversary previously published years earlier in the UK. As you can also see a bit of shoulder was added.


The only other first printing not to have a yellow cover was Passenger to Frankfurt. Mondadori decided to create a new 'secret spy' imprint, known as Segretissimo Superspia. Agatha Christie's book was the first to be published under this imprint - thus n°1 - and the colour scheme was black - not yellow. I expect in hindsight Mondadori would have preferred a different book to launch this series.


Italian First Editions.

Listed below are all the first printings of Agatha Christie books in Italy. Several books were serialised before being published as a complete novel. I have excluded those and focused solely on first complete novels. In a few instances the first novel was included in a multi-author omnibus – generally published as a ‘Super Yellow’ (Supergiallo). These I am considering first editions in book form as they specially stated ‘inedito’ or ‘unpublished’ previously. Of note, each ‘Super Yellow’ was numbered sequentially as the first, second, third… etc… Super Yellow. Not all of them included Christie’s but a few did.


Lastly, I have sequenced the first printings by date published in Italy though the original first edition date for an English-language printing is also cited. The publisher’s name and imprint are provided. While Mondadori was headquartered in Milano (Milan) it appears they were physically published in Verona. Lastly, if the title isn’t a direct translation, easy to visually translate, or hasn’t been cited earlier in this article, then a translation is provided. If any readers, especially fluent Italian speakers, have more accurate translations please let me know. For example, there's likely a better translation of La Domatrice.


1931: Dalle Nove Alle Dieci (1926: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). No.15, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1932: Un Delitto Misterioso a Stylen Court (1920: The Mysterious Affair at Styles). No.6, I Romanzi Gialli, Mediolanum.

1933: Avversario Segreto (1922: The Secret Adversary). No.2, I Romanzi della Sfinge, Casa Editrice Salani.


1933: Pericolo Senza Nome [Nameless Danger] (1932: Peril at End House). No.64, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1933: L'Uomo Vestito di Marrone (1924: The Man in the Brown Suit) No.80, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori. (Note: image below is of the 1940 edition).

1934: Aiuto, Poirot! (1923: Murder on the Links). No.86, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.


1934: La Morte nel Villaggio (1930: The Murder at the Vicarage). No.97, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1935: Un Messaggio Dagli Spiriti (1931: The Sittaford Mystery). No.111, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1935: Se Morisse mio Marito (1933: Lord Edgware Dies). No.117, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1935: Orient Express (1934: Murder on the Orient Express). No.127, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1936: Un Delitto in Cielo (1935: Death in the clouds). No.134, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.


1936: I Sette Quadranti (1929: The Seven Dials Mystery). No.153, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1936: Il Mistero del Treno Azzurro (1928: The Mystery of Blue Train). Supergiallo, Mondadori. Note: The 4th Supergiallo omnibus with six different novels by different authors.


1937: Tragedia in Tre Atti (1935: Three Act Tragedy). No.161, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1937: La Serie Infernale (1936: The A B C Murders). No.173, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1937: Ritratto d'Ignota (1934: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?). Supergiallo, Mondadori. Note: The 5th 'Supergiallo' omnibus with six different novels by different authors.


1938: Non C'è Più Scampo [There’s no Way Out] (1936: Murder in Mesopotamia). No.185, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1938: Carte in Tavola (1936: Cards on the Table). No.191, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1938: Due Mesi Dopo [Two Months Later] (1937: Dumb Witness). No.198, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1939: Poirot sul Nilo (1937: Death on the Nile). No.206, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1939: Poirot e i Quattro (1927: The Big Four). No.219, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1940: La Domatrice [The Tamer] (1938: Appointment with Death). No.224, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.


1940: Il Natale di Poirot (1938: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas). No.231, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1940: La Parola alla Difesa [The Word to the Defence] (1940: Sad Cypress). No.249, I Libri Gialli, Mondadori.

1940: E’ Troppo Facile (1939: Murder is Easy). Supergiallo, Mondadori. Note: The 8th Supergiallo omnibus with six different novels by different authors.


No further first printings occurred until after World War II. The government shut-down Mondadori’s operations from late 1940 until 1946.


1946: E Poi non Rimase Nessuno (1939: Alt: And Then There Were None). No.10, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.


1946: Il Ritratto di Elsa Green [The Portrait of Elsa Green] (1943: Five Little Pigs). No.16, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1947: Il Giorno dei Morti [The Day of the Dead] (1945: Sparkling Cyanide). No.20, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1947: Corpi al Sole (1941: Evil Under the Sun). No.31, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.


1948: C’è un Cadavere in Biblioteca (1942: The Body in the Library). No.44, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1949: C’era una Volta [Once Upon a Time] (1945: Death Comes as the End). No.57, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1949: Il Segreto dei Chimneys (1925: The Secret of Chimneys). No.64, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1950: E’ un Problema (1949: Crooked House). No.105, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1951: Un Delitto avrà Luogo [A Crime will Take Place] (1950: A Murder is Announced). No.109, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1951: Poirot non Sbaglia [Poirot Doesn’t Mess Up] (1940: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe). No.117, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1951: Alla Deriva [Adrift] (1948: Taken at the Flood). No.130, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1951: Il Mondo è in Pericolo [The World is in Danger] (1951: They Came to Baghdad). No.137, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.


The next three books were all initially serialised before being issued as a complete novel.


1951: Poirot e la Salma (1946: The Hollow). No.152, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1952: Verso l'Ora Zero (1944: Toward Zero) No.187, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1952: Il Terrore Viene per Posta [Terror Comes by Post] (1943: The Moving Finger). No.193, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.


The short-term practice of serialising books now ended.



1953: Fermate il Boia [Stop the Executioner] (1952: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead). No.225, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1954: Giochi di Prestigio [Sleight of Hand] (1952: They Do it with Mirrors). No.264, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1954: Dopo le Esequie (1953: After the Funeral). No.286, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1954: Polvere Negli Occhi [Dust in the Eyes] (1953: A Pocket Full of Rye). No.298, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1955: Destinazione Ignota (1954: Destination Unknown). No.350, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1956: Poirot si Annoia [Poirot Gets Bored] (1955: Hickory, Dickory, Dock). No.381, I Libri Gialli Nuova Serie, Mondadori.

1957: La Sagra del Delitto [The Murder Festival] (1956: Dead Man’s Folly). No.446, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1958: Istantanea di un Delitto [Snapshot of a Murder] (1957: 4.50 From Paddington). No.496, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1959: Le Due Verità [The Two Truths] (1958: Ordeal by Innocence). No.541, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1960: Macabro Quiz (1959: Cat among the Pigeons). No.606, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1961: Quinta Colonna (1941: N or M). No.164, I Capolavori dei Gialli, Mondadori.

1962: Un Cavallo per la Strega [A Horse for the Witch] (1961: The Pale Horse). No.725, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1963: Silenzio si Uccide [Silence is Killed] (1962: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side). No.759, Il Giallo Mondadori.



1964: Sfida a Poirot [Challenge to Poirot] (1963: The Clocks). No.830, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1965: Miss Marple nei Caraibi (1964: A Caribbean Mystery). No.878, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1967: Miss Marple al Bertram Hotel (1965: At Bertram’s Hotel). No.935, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1968: Nella Mia Fine il Mio Principio (1967: Endless Night). No.1000, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1969: Sono un'Assassina? [Am I a Murderer?] (1966: The Third Girl). No.1082, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1970: In due si Indaga Meglio [Two Investigate Better] (1968: By the Pricking of my Thumbs). No.1107, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1970: Poirot e la Strage Degli Innocent [Poirot and the Massacre of the Innocents] (1969: Hallowe’en Party). No.1122, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1971: Passeggero per Francoforte (1970: Passenger to Frankfurt). No.1, Segretissimo Superspia, Mondadori.

1972: Miss Marple, Nemesi (1971: Nemesis). No.1239, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1973: Gli Elefanti Hanno Buona Memoria (1972: Elephants Can Remember). No.1278, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1975: Sipario, l'Ultima Avventura di Poirot (1975: Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case). No.1403, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1976: Addio, Miss Marple (1976: Sleeping Murder) No.1451, Il Giallo Mondadori.

1979: Le Porte di Damasco [The Gates of Damascus] (1973: Postern of Fate). No.1611, Il Giallo Mondadori.


Values.

Very Good condition First editions in like jackets from the 1930s generally appear to sell for €250 – 350. Those in the 1940s appear to sell for €100-200 in Very Good condition, and those from 1950 onwards are all generally less than €100, with the late books selling for normal used book prices. Clearly there is a smaller market for these books given the size of the Italian-reading collector base. However, I think this makes them undervalued. At these prices they offer fair value and are appealing in their own right for their place as part of the global Christie experience. Most collectors of first edition Christie’s enjoy seeing them on their shelves and allowing them to connect you to that time in the past when they were new and Christie was being first experienced. This same experience can be had whether the text is in English, Italian or any other language.


As to Jacono's art, it appears at auction fairly frequently given how many covers he did - though Christie covers are a subset. Recent auction results include the art for later Lord Edgware Dies (shown above), which sold in 2021 at Heritage Auctions for $1,260 US. Several non-Christie covers have also sold over the last few years with prices realised in the $400 - $1,000 US range.


Closing Comments.

I do enjoy hearing from readers. If you enjoyed this article or have any corrections or enhancements to the article, drop me a note at collectchristie@gmail.com


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Happy Hunting!


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