During her lifetime, British mystery writer Agatha Christie published 66 detective novels. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s — the peak of Christie’s career — in the U.S. these works often first appeared as serials in magazines like Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and Redbook, giving fans an opportunity to read and follow a story months before the book’s publication. While many artists illustrated her work, perhaps no illustrator collaborated with her more than Mario Cooper; by our count his illustrations accompany at least 8 of her novels that appeared in Collier’s. Cooper’s illustrations for Christie’s fiction are striking, economical, and bring a bit of glamor to detective fiction. All of the images below are tear sheets from the Charles Craver Collection. To learn more about the collection or Mario Cooper, check out the collection’s finding aid.
Cooper’s first illustrations for Christie were Appointment with Death, which Collier’s published in nine installments from August 28 to October 23, 1937. This novel, as all of the others in this post, feature Christie’s best-known and most frequently used character, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The amazing sky in the background of the first image reveals Cooper’s expertise with watercolors; for many years he taught the medium, and from 1959 to 1986 was president of the American Watercolor Society.
Murder for Christmas (published in the UK as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) followed Appointment with Death. It appeared in ten parts in Collier’s from November 12, 1938 to January 14, 1939. This illustration (like the one below from The Patriotic Murders) has relatively few components, but the simple, if slightly off composition and bold color perfectly convey the tension in Christie’s fiction.
Sad Cypress appeared in Collier’s in ten parts from November 25, 1939 to January 27, 1940. Reviews of the novel ranged from modestly positive to lukewarm, perhaps the inevitable result of being the follow up to the wildly popular And Then There Were None, Christie’s biggest success and the best-selling mystery of all time.
The Patriotic Murders (published under the name One Two, Buckle My Shoe in the UK) appeared in nine installments from August 3 to September 28, 1940.