The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie (1942)

For some reason The Body in the Library is one of the Christie book titles that stands out the most in my mind, although I’m not even sure that I’ve read a review of it.  I somehow have the impression that it’s one of the quintessential Christie novels, which makes no sense because I don’t recall anyone really talking about it.  But that’s kind of cool, because I have an early 1940s novel by an author in her prime, and I know next to nothing about it.

It may be the American in me, but whenever I hear “body in the library”, I always imagine a murder victim found in a town’s public library.  I’ve read enough British books from the era to know better, but for some reason my mind always goes there.  I can now confirm to you that the body in Christie’s novel is indeed found in the reading room of a country house, and not a building of the book lending variety.  The owners of the estate are shocked to discover the corpse, as they both claim they’ve never seen the girl before.  Things do look a bit grim for the man of the house, as it’s immediately assumed that someone knocked off his mistress.

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Murder in Mesopotamia – Agatha Christie (1936)

I’ve always been under the impression that Murder in Mesopotamia is one of Christie’s big novels, although I’m not sure how that thought formed.  The title definitely stands out, with the reference to Mesopotamia being a bit more memorable than, say, Easy To Kill or The Secret of Chimneys, and maybe my mind draws a bit of an association with the “exotic travel” titles like Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express.  Plus, the book did feature on the Roland Lacourbe list of top impossible crime novels, although I’ve come to learn that isn’t exactly a guarantee that a novel will in fact feature an impossible crime.

Whether Murder in Mesopotamia is actually a staple of Best of Christie lists or not, it didn’t really work for me.  This is actually the first Christie novel that I struggled to get into.  That’s not to say that it’s a bad book in anyway, it’s just that I didn’t find myself sucked into the characters, location, and story in the way that I’ve come to expect from Christie’s work.  The Christie magic was missing.

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Towards Zero – Agatha Christie (1944)

As much as I enjoy reading Agatha Christie, I’ve had the unfortunate luck of seeing through a number of her solutions.  I’m going to guess that I have about a 50% success rate, which is nothing to brag about since when I reach the end of a mystery novel I really want to feel thoroughly fooled – or as Scott K Ratner more eloquently puts it, I want to experience “sudden retrospective illumination”.  I’m happy to report that Towards Zero did indeed give me that sudden retrospective illumination, although honestly Christie’s books are fun enough reads that I enjoy them either way.

I’ve had Towards Zero on my radar as one of the better Christies – perhaps as a result of some helpful comments on my past reviews – although honestly I could be mixing it up with another title.  I’ve had a dreadful 1972 Pocket Books edition on my shelf for years (honestly, who knew that the cover quality of Pocket Books dropped so severely; see pic further below), and when I stumbled upon an inexpensive 1963 edition with a proper cover, I had to snatch it up.  And of course, I couldn’t leave a cover that nice unread for long.

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A Holiday for Murder – Agatha Christie (1938)

There’s something about reading a seasonal mystery during the actual season, and I do such a poor job of this.  Every winter I find myself binging on a wide spread of stories (due to extra spare time), but rarely an actual winter mystery.  And then, inevitably come some time around April, I find myself hitting a snowbound story and wondering why I didn’t read it back when my house was surrounded by two feet of white.  And so this year, I decided that I’ll actually pack my winter with winter-appropriate reads… although I’ll tell you now that I’m probably going to fail at that resolution.  It’s just that I have all of these other recent acquisitions that I’m dying to get to, and I don’t know that I’ll make time for Mystery in White, Portrait of a Murderer, or Envious Casca… this year.  And inevitably, come the spring, I’ll find myself regretting…

It’s been half a year since I read a Christie, and she just seemed like the natural fit for my mission for a solid holiday read.  The problem though is that A Holiday for Murder (more famously published as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Murder for Christmas) has zero feeling of the holidays.  Other than the premise of the characters gathering together for the holidays (and the question of whether to feed the servants beef instead of chicken), there’s really nothing wintery about the story, much less Christmasy.  It might as well have taken place in July.

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Murder at Hazelmoor (The Sittaford Mystery) – Agatha Christie (1931)

MurderAtHazelmoorI’ve been in desperate need of a British mystery.  There’s just something about a Golden Age story set in England that checks all of the boxes.  Yeah, you can have an exceptional mystery set elsewhere, but it’s that combination of British setting and the accompanying mid-century mannerisms that take me to a certain place.  I realize that this view may not resonate with my friends on the other side of the pond, but there’s something that a British mystery stirs in me that will never be captured by their American brethren, whether set on the streets of NYC, or in the bucolic hills of New England.

I’ve been reading some solid stories lately, but with all being set in the US, I’ve hungered for a British read.  I even have this whole stack of “I need to read this next!!!” books, that for some reason are all bound to The States.  I really want to read them, but first…

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There is a Tide – Agatha Christie (1948)

ThereIsATideTell me that this isn’t the best book cover that you’ve ever seen.  Seriously.  Ok, so my 1955 Dell edition is a bit worse for wear, but with that exceptional William Rose illustration, I don’t mind.  The style, the color palette, the perfectly captured expression, even that subtle shift of the title type – I struggle to think of a cover that I like better.  Mmm… maybe Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliot Chaze, but I don’t have $200 to shell out on a book simply for the art work.

This is the type of cover that you want blown up and framed on your wall.  No, tattooed on your arm!  Err… that might get a bit awkward and regrettable – walking around with a picture of a woman getting strangled on your arm.  Err… well, enough about that topic…

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Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie (1941)

EvilUnderTheSunI had a distinct impression going in that Evil Under the Sun is widely regarded as one of Agatha Christie’s better books.  Upon finishing it, I have to question whether that is in fact true or whether I’ve just gotten mixed up with all of the reviews that I’ve read.  That’s not to say it’s in any way bad, it just lacks elements that typically suck me into a Christie novel.

We find Hercule Poirot vacationing on Smuggler’s Island, just off the Devon coast.  Among a small group of other occupants is Arlena Marshall, an enchanting siren who draws the attention of the men and the scorn of their wives.  It’s hardly surprising when Arlena winds up dead – strangled on the beach of a secluded cove.

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Poirot Investigates – Agatha Christie (1924)

PoirotInvestigates1As my next step for reading Agatha Christie’s first decade in order, I decided to scoop up Poirot Investigates – a collection of her short stories first published in The Sketch magazine.  I could have gone straight on to her next novel, The Man in the Brown Suit (1924), but it seemed worthwhile to understand what Christie was putting out in the year leading up to it.  The stories of Poirot Investigates were released between March and October of 1923, unless you factor in the three stories included in the US edition, in which case they stretch on an additional month to November.  In that way, this overlaps nicely with my recent reading of The Murder on the Links (1923).

Poirot Investigates doesn’t include all of the short stories that Christie published in The Sketch throughout 1923.  For that, you’d need to factor in Poirot’s Early Cases, which wasn’t released until 1974 (although the stories had already been released in various other collections – The Regatta Mystery, Three Blind Mice, The Under Dog, and Double Sin).  Nor are the stories in order of release; rather, they’re somewhat randomly scattered. Continue reading “Poirot Investigates – Agatha Christie (1924)”

Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie (1923)

MurderOnTheLinksIs it just me, or is this one of Agatha Christie’s best books?  Crooked House?  Enjoyed it.  Death on the Nile?  Loved every minute.  After the Funeral?  Yeah, didn’t see that coming.  And yet, when it comes down to pure country house jamboree, Murder on the Links throws it down.

I’m not expecting anyone to agree, mind you.  But still, when I search through all of the lists of top Christie that I’ve seen, I’m kind of stunned that Murder on the Links isn’t even making a showing.  Really.  When I think back through all of the Christies that I’ve read (which admittedly isn’t that many), it seems as good as any.

No, it doesn’t have that masterpiece of an ending that you get from Murder in Retrospect.  No, it doesn’t have the hook of say, Death Comes as the End or Cards on the Table.  No, it doesn’t have the memorable twist of… well, I suppose I could list ten titles that you all know and love.

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Murder in Three Acts (Three Act Tragedy ) – Agatha Christie (1934)

MurderInThreeActsA gathering of socialites at the seaside Crow’s Nest ends in tragedy when the local reverend grasps at his throat and drops to the floor dead.  Poison?  Unlikely, since all of the guests were served drinks at random from the same platter.  A few months later though the circumstances repeat themselves at a party with many of the same guests in attendance.  Is there a hidden killer lurking amongst them?

For me, Murder in Three Acts is a story of two halves.  The set up is just gorgeous and I found myself chugging down the pages.  There’s an odd bit of romance between an older man and a much younger woman that somehow managed to tug a bit at the heartstrings (creepy as it may seem to the modern reader).  Plus there’s that delicious set up.  Two very similar crimes that simply can’t be explained.  Are they even related at all?

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