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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Sad Cypress – Agatha Christie (1940)

SadCypress“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!

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The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie (1920)

MysteriousAffairAtStylesAm 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.

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After the Funeral – Agatha Christie (1953)

AfterTheFuneral“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.

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Cards on the Table – Agatha Christie (1936)

CardsOnTheTableFour 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?

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The Hollow – Agatha Christie (1946)

TheHollowMy last encounter with Agatha Christie, Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect), really stuck with me.  There was something that she captured between those pages that my mind couldn’t leave alone – the tragedy of it all.  It’s been several months, and yet my thoughts continually drift back to the characters, the setting, and paint drying on a canvas.

It’s a rare thing for me to really be impacted by a mystery book.  Christianna Brand has a certain knack for it – creating a cast of characters so richly painted that it becomes anguishing in the end when one of them is revealed to be a killer.  John Dickson Carr was less effective at it, but he had his moment with books like He Who Whispers and She Died a Lady – titles in which some element of the story pulls at the mind long after the book is set down.

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