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.
Continue reading “A Holiday for Murder – Agatha Christie (1938)”
Tell 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…
Continue reading “There is a Tide – Agatha Christie (1948)”
I 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.
Continue reading “Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie (1941)”
As 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)”
Is 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.
Continue reading “Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie (1923)”
A 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?
Continue reading “Murder in Three Acts (Three Act Tragedy ) – Agatha Christie (1934)”
“Come away, come away, death, and in sad cypress let me be laid”
Although I’ve recently started an effort to read Agatha Christie in order, I’ve always intended to cheat on my diet. It isn’t so much that I’m determined on reading Christie completely sequentially, but rather that I’m curious to read the first decade of her work in that way. My reasoning is her first ten or so books don’t quite enjoy the same reputation as her 1930s-40s period (with the obvious exception of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), and so if I’m going to tackle them, it might as well be with the added appreciation of where the author was in her career.
Sad Cypress has been a title that I’ve been eying for a while, and so it seemed like a good candidate as a diversion from my chronological affair. I was lucky to track down a Dell map back edition for about a dollar a few months ago, and as you can appreciate, it’s pure torture to leave a map back sitting on the To Be Read pile. It’s worth noting that there is actually another Dell edition with a very different cover and a different map on the back. I would have preferred that other edition because I love the cover, but hey, you can’t argue with a one dollar map back!
Continue reading “Sad Cypress – Agatha Christie (1940)”
Am I the only one with an odd bias towards the early works of prolific authors? Not a bias in that I don’t like the books after I read them, but in that I assume they won’t be that good before I read them. Well, it’s probably just me, so let me explain this quirk of mine.
Say that an author published four mystery novels and then disappeared into the depths of history. I wouldn’t pay any mind to whether I was reading their first, third, or last novel. But now let’s say that author published 30+ novels… Well, the first few were obviously them finding their voice so they couldn’t be any good… right?
I had that sort of assumption in my head when I approached John Dickson Carr’s first novel, It Walks By Night. In reading it, I was absolutely shocked that his prose were as rich as ever, his plotting much the same, and his impossibilities as crafty as they come. Of course, it seemed silly in retrospect – it’s not like Carr dragged his knuckles through several volumes of garbage before he hit pay dirt. That isn’t to say that he didn’t evolve over time, but even his earliest work featured that spark that I knew and loved in his wider library.
Continue reading “The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie (1920)”
“It begins, all this, at a funeral. Or rather, to be exact, after the funeral.”
At its heart, After the Funeral (alternatively published as Funerals are Fatal) is a story of England in transitioning times. The war has led to changes in all layers of society. Not just has the very upper crust seen their standing buckle in light of post war regulations, but those impacts have rippled to the staff or even the pre-war business owner in town. Christie has a knack for telling this sort of story. It’s not just the lord of the manor lamenting that he can’t find a good help anymore, but also the manor’s trained butler questioning his own place in a changing society.
Of course, After the Funeral also features a murder, and a damn fine one. The story unfolds after the natural death of Richard Abernethie – your typical rich corpse surrounded by a family pecking for his inheritance. At his funeral party, socially awkward Aunt Cora remarks to everyone’s horror – “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Twenty four hours later and Cora is occupying a coffin – her head nearly severed by an axe.
Continue reading “After the Funeral – Agatha Christie (1953)”
Four suspected murderers sit around a table playing bridge. Nearby, four of Christie’s greatest detective minds sit embroiled in their own game. The play is interrupted by a gruesome discovery – the body of the party’s host, stabbed through the heart. Despite the murder occurring in full view of a room of players, nobody can describe how it happened.
Sounds like a dream come true, right? There’s almost an element of John Dickson Carr’s The Problem of the Green Capsule or Seeing is Believing, in that a murder is pulled off in front of a room full of spectators. In this case though, it wasn’t quite a captive audience – the players were paying too close attention to their cards. It’s still a perplexing puzzle – how did the killer slip away from the game and dispatch the host without being observed?
Continue reading “Cards on the Table – Agatha Christie (1936)”