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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

COLLECT: Christie's Colonel Race Quartet

Updated: Mar 6

There are a number of characters that Christie used across multiple titles. While Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are the dominant characters, there are many others who frequent her novels and short stories. We’ve previously profiled several of these secondary characters, such as Harley Quin (link) and Ariadne Oliver (link). Another minor character is Colonel Race who appears in four Christie novels and is briefly referenced in a fifth.

The Quartet:

The Man in the Brown Suit (1924).

Cards on the Table (1936).

Death on the Nile (1937).

Sparkling Cyanide (1945).

While he does not appear in Appointment with Death (1938), he is mentioned in it when Poirot travels to Amman to meet Colonel Carbury with a letter of introduction from him in hand.

Given that books mostly from 1936 - 1938 integrated or referenced Race, it may initially appear odd that Christie only used him once more – but after a 7 year hiatus. However, Sparkling Cyanide was based on short story – Yellow Iris – that was first published in 1937. While the original short story featured Poirot, Christie reworked the story significantly for the novel and replaced Poirot with Colonel Race. While it is unclear when Christie first started working on the expanded story, it is known that by the end of 1943 the script was completed. In Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran he notes that the earliest outline for Sparkling Cyanide, in notebook 13 thus, states ‘Col. Race on job’. It’s fair to speculate that this early outline could easily have been written in the three year period of 1936-1938 when Race was clearly on Christie’s mind. After his inclusion in Sparkling Cyanide, Colonel Race was never used again in any of her works. It would be interesting to know Christie’s thoughts behind when to use such a character and why she chose to replace Poirot in Sparkling Cyanide. We do know from her plays, where she removed Poirot regularly when adapting her novels, that she felt Poirot could be too dominant of a character and thus distract from the other characters.

Collecting the Books:

If you are interested in collecting first editions of these books the scarcity and value ranges substantially given the span of years from 1924 (very rare) to 1945 (quite easy to locate).

The Man in the Brown Suit (1924).

If you are interested in collecting this book, the true UK first is of legendary scarcity in a jacket and is likely worth well over £40,000. Unjacketed hardbacks are easier to find. Jacketed reprints - even early Bodley Head ones (picture below left), are much more affordable (this second printing worth ~£3,000) and often make a necessary substitution. The US first from Dodd Mead and Co. is also exceptionally rare in jacket (below right) and would likely command $10,000 plus.

For details on the true first (including the US printing) click here - or for the Bodley Head reprints click here.

Just for a change of pace, below is the cover of the Canadian "Harlequin-Pan" printing from 1955. I share this because the imprint is rather uncommon. Harlequin and Pan collaborated on just 11 titles between 1953 and 1957 of which 3 were Christies. The other two were 'The Secret of Chimneys' and 'The Secret Adversary' - so all under the control of Bodley Head. Thus, it is a very unique publisher for a Christie book. However, they are available for used paperback prices!

Cards on the Table (1936).

The UK first is a scarce book to find in jacket, though unjacketed copies are much more plentiful. A very good jacketed book is worth £15,000. Later Collins printings often had the same cover art - a selection of playing cards on a green background - and are very affordable (less than £100 depending on edition). If you are interested in collecting the true first, then learn more at this link. The US Dodd Mead printing is more available in a jacket, though most jacketed copies that show up for sale are quite tatty. A very good copy would command $1,000.

For an affordable vintage paperback, here is the first Fontana paperback version from 1957. As with many paperbacks from the 1950s, they had covers that rarely connected with the actual plot line. This also sells for typical used book prices.

Death on the Nile (1937).

Arguably one of his most popular books and the basis of both film and television productions. The first printing by Collins Crime Club would now likely command £9,000 or more in a very good jacket. The US printing has now become very scarce too and would likely retail for $3,000 in a very good jacket. I wrote a detailed article on collecting this book in all its forms which can be found at this link.

Below are the two US Avon book printings - the one on the left is from 1944 and was the first American printing while the one on the right is from 1956. Both are available for used book prices. The true first paperback was by The Albatross - a German publisher but in English - in 1939.

Sparkling Cyanide (1945).

The Collins Crime Club printing was one of the last to have an artistic cover, before the branding shifted to a plain font based approach for the majority of the titles published after this. In the US the book was renamed 'Remembered Death' and was actually the true first printing, preceding the Collins publication. Both are relatively easy to find though are become scarcer in very good condition and prices are starting to rise. The Collins book can generally be secured for £300 and the US veriosn for $300. For these books be selective if you have patience to find ones that are not price clipped or heavily chipped.

The first Fontana printing from 1960 (below) has a rather odd cover as the artist has made Iris look like a frozen mannequin and neither the teaser comment nor design evoke any shelf appeal.

As always, if I've missed any facts or insights related to the quartet of Colonel Race books, please let me know at .

An Update: The International Agatha Christie Festival: September 2023.

As you likely know if you've read my prior articles over the last few weeks, I will be presenting a ‘Collecting Christie Live!’ event at the 2023 International Agatha Christie Festival. Well I finally finished putting together my presentation and can't wait to share it. If you are able to come it starts at 3pm on Friday 15th September (yes – Christie’s birthday!) at the Spanish Barn, Torre Abbey, Torquay, Devon UK. My presentation will be about Christie’s stage plays, with insights into collecting playscripts, programmes and other theatre memorabilia. Tickets are required with proceeds supporting the Festival’s Charity. For more details click here.

Several have asked if there will be a post-event video or similar for those unable to attend. I will work on something so those around the world who can't be there in person won't miss out. For those who are coming I will be at numerous other events, including the numerous talks, the cocktail night on Wednesday, the Towards Zero play event on Friday and the Greenway dinner on Saturday. I hope to connect with as many of you as I can at these events.

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2 comentários

Tim Kitchen
Tim Kitchen
13 de jul. de 2023

Hi, I think there were only 11 PAN Harlequin titles as the 12th 'Son of the Gods' was mistakenly labelled as such on the back. Tim

David Morris
David Morris
07 de mar.
Respondendo a

Thanks Tim - and sorry for the very delayed response - I noticed it as I'm working on a related article. I've updated this article now though.

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