COLLECT: Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
For the last few years Agatha Christie Limited has promoted reading (or re-reading) Christie books through their Read Christie campaigns (#readchristie2021). Each month a different novel is selected that will be a focus on an online book club, trivia and quizzes. To further build on this focus Collecting Christie is providing insights into collecting the chosen book – from first editions to recent paperbacks. So far this year we’ve collected The Hollow, Parker Pyne Investigates and Lord Edgware Dies. This month, April 2021, Murder is Easy has been selected as as the book of the month.
Murder is Easy is considered a pre-war Agatha Christie, as it was printed in June 1939. While Superintendent Battle makes a brief appearance in the story, it is one of Agatha Christie’s books independent of her oft-used characters. First published in magazine form in the USA under the title “Easy to Kill”, its first book version was by Collins’ The Crime Club in the UK on 5 June 1939 under the title Murder is Easy. In the US, the book was first published by Dodd, Mead and Company under the original magazine title in September 1939.
Note: All the data below regarding printings, editions and dates is to the best of our knowledge. Since we have not seen every edition in person, some dates are missing. Those that are provided are accurate. Any information that fills in the gaps or other updates from our readers is most welcome. They can be sent to CollectChristie@gmail.com.
The First Printings: Magazines:
The true first appearance of Murder is Easy was in the USA in The Saturday Evening Post. Printed in seven parts from 19 November 1938 (Volume 211, Number 21) to 31 December 1938 (Volume 211, Number 27) under the title Easy to Kill (image at the top of the article).
In the UK, the first appearance was in twenty-three parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday, 10 January, to Friday, 3 February 1939, also titled Easy to Kill.
Values: Issues of The Saturday Evening Post are fairly common and can generally be found for $10 (£7 UK) per issue in collectible condition. The challenge will be finding collector quality versions of all 7 magazines. It is unlikely anyone will find a full set of the UK printings, solely because of the disposable nature of newspapers. While thus scarce, there is minimal interest in the collector world for the newspaper printings.
UK Hardback Printings:
First edition, first impression: Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK, 5 June 1939. Priced 7/6 on the front flap (image of jacket and book higher above).
The second impression was dated June 1940 and the third impression was dated March 1943. Both were priced 4/- net on the front jacket flap. Both of these editions were likely small print runs as they are fairly uncommon as they were printed during WWII and may have been subject to paper rationing.
The book then took a longer printing hiatus, primarily due to the war and printing restrictions, with the fourth impression dated March 1949. This edition’s jacket is priced 4s. 6d. net on the front flap.
Values: The UK first edition is now uncommon in dust jacket and the book is becoming harder to locate in collectible quality. Expect to pay £300 ($420 US) for a very good condition book and £1,500 ($2,100 US) for a very good book in very good dust jacket.
The HarperCollins facsimile edition was released in 2010 and is valued at £15 in jacket.
USA Hardback Printings:
First US Edition, First Impression: September 1939. Published under the Red Badge Mystery imprint of Dodd Mead & Company, New York, USA, priced $2.00 on the flap.
The Second Edition was published by Grosset & Dunlap in October 1940. As there wasn’t a 2nd printing by Dodd, Mead & Co, it naturally means there was no reprinted jacket that could be married with first edition books as the Grosset & Dunlap jacket had distinct differences, including the publisher’s name, despite the cover art being similar. As a result, the first edition jacket is surprisingly uncommon in very good or better condition.
The 3rd and 4th US printings were Madison Square imprints (a common wartime printer), dated May 1943 and January 1944 respectively.
Values: The US first edition is much more affordable but still uncommon in jacket. For a very good book in very good jacket values today are likely to be $1,000 - $1,500 (£700 - £1,100 UK). Without a jacket a very good copy of the book can be acquired for $50-$100. Lower quality jackets and books are significantly more affordable and easier to find. For books from this period collectors should be patient and strive to buy the best quality example they can find and afford.
Note: US paperbacks are always issued under the title “Easy to Kill” while UK and Commonwealth editions were always titled “Murder is Easy”.
First Paperback: 1945, October: Pocket Books, USA. Number 319 in the Pocket Book catalog this is the first paperback.
[date: c. 1950]: Collins White Circle Crime Club, London, UK
1951: Pan Books, UK. Number 161 in the Pan catalog.
1954: Pan Books, UK. Refreshed cover art (now with various images).
1956: Penguin Books, UK. Standard white stripe cover.
1957: Penguin Books, "Games Cover", UK. This edition is of particular note and is highly collectible and sought after not only by Christie fans but Penguin collectors. Competition from other publishers was in full swing by the 1950s and Allen Lane experimented in 1957 with full-colour covers to see how it impacted sales. Lane awarded the project to designer and illustrator Abram Games who established the one-and-a-quarter inch grid for the author, title and logo to be placed above the illustration. While most of the illustrations were by Games, nine other illustrators were commissioned during the series (including Stanley Godsell who illustrated this cover). Fewer than 30 covers appeared before Allen Lane decided to stop the experiment and cease production of these covers. The increasing cost of full colour printing was not being offset by any uptick in sales. Consequently, this is an exceptionally rare book to find.
1957: Pocket Books, USA. Issue #2319, graphic cover art by Clark Hulings.
1960: Pocket Books, USA. Cardinal edition C-397.
1960: Fontana Books, 1st thus (1963: 2nd; 9/1964: 3rd; 2/1966: 4th). All had the same cover.
1965: Pocket Books, USA: Refreshed cover art (five hash marks).
1968, February: Fontana 5th edition: First of the early Tom Adams cover (spider).
1971, November: Pocket Books, 15th edition: First Tom Adams US cover with its wrap around cover (scroll the images to see the full cover).
1973: Pan Books, 5th edition. New photographic cover.
1980, October: Fontana, UK: 11th impression. Now with the new more sinister Tom Adams cover, which was painted in 1977 and likely used on the 9th & 10th editions.
1983, October: 14th impression by Fontana.
1985, April - 1986: 15th &16th impression by Fontana. It should be noted that this version has a cross on the radiator grille of the car. As the image shows, the 14th edition was published with the Rolls Royce logo on the grille, but very few copies are known to exist. See 'Values' below for further discussion on this uncommon book.
Values: The early paperbacks are getting harder to find in collector condition, but most are still very affordable, with values ranging from £5–15. Within the early editions, the second “Games” Penguin is the rarest and could easily command £50-100 if in very good condition. Of the later editions, the Fontana edition with the car radiator grill that shows the Rolls-Royce logo is rare, and likely worth £25 if you can find one. It appears it was first issued with this logo and then pulled (perhaps for trademark rights reasons). The replacement edition put a cross in its place.
It should also be noted that in 1993 a play based on the novel with the same name by Agatha Christie was adapted by Clive Exton. The playscript is unpublished. While the play was not warmly received and lasted only a few week, Clive Exton did dramatize 21 episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot for television with great success. Also of note, the stage play starred Peter Capaldi in the lead role.
As avid collector of Christie’s works and items associated with the world of Christie myself, I feel it only appropriate to share an image from my own collection related to this book – the original painting, dated 1977, by Tom Adams for his second Fontana cover.