Archive (page 1 of 2)

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha ChristieThe Secret of Chimneys (Superintendent Battle, #1) by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. on January 1st 1970
Pages: 400
Goodreads

A bit of adventure and quick cash is all that good-natured drifter Anthony Cade is looking for when he accepts a messenger job from an old friend. It sounds so simple: deliver the provocative memoirs of a recently deceased European count to a London publisher. But the parcel holds more than scandalous royal secrets. It contains a stash of letters that suggest blackmail -- and lead to the murder of a stranger who's been shadowing Anthony's every move. Discovering the dead man's identity means retracing his steps -- to the rambling estate of Chimneys where darker secrets, and deadlier threats, await anyone who dares to enter.

You’ve already had the chance to read Obsidian’s thoughts on this Agatha Christie mystery. As she was reading, it was pretty clear to me that she wasn’t loving it, which caused me to try to reach back into my past to the first time I read this book.

Because this is one of my favorite Agatha Christie non-Poirot books, but I don’t think it was the first time I read it. What I like about it is its simplicity, which sounds really strange because the plot itself is quite convoluted. But the premise is simple: mysteriously attractive young man meets bright attractive young woman at beautiful country home, mayhem, murder, hijinks and romance ensue. The rest of it, to me, is just gravy. It is a first class romp, madcap and occasionally harebrained. It’s a grown up Nancy Drew mystery, with Virginia as Nancy and Anthony as Ned Nickerson, wandering about Chimneys in the dark with torches, running into umbrella stands and finding corpses.

I can’t take it seriously, but I can seriously enjoy it. I understand why it isn’t for everyone. Obsidian did such a good with the plot summary and analysis that I’m not going to bother with it myself. My review is about how this book makes me feel. Nothing she said is inaccurate – it is convoluted, obscure, occasionally silly, and the characters behave like ninnies from time to time. Inspector Battle is wonderful, but OB’s dig about his “twinkle” is well deserved.

It took me more than one reading for it to worm its way into my affections, and at this point it is a comfort read of the highest order.

The Secret of Chimneys (Superintendent Battle #1) by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys (Superintendent Battle #1) by Agatha ChristieThe Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollins on June 1925
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 273
Source: Borrowed: print book
Goodreads
three-stars

A bit of adventure and quick cash is all that good-natured drifter Anthony Cade is looking for when he accepts a messenger job from an old friend. It sounds so simple: deliver the provocative memoirs of a recently deceased European count to a London publisher. But the parcel holds more than scandalous royal secrets. It contains a stash of letters that suggest blackmail -- and lead to the murder of a stranger who's been shadowing Anthony's every move. Discovering the dead man's identity means retracing his steps -- to the rambling estate of Chimneys where darker secrets, and deadlier threats, await anyone who dares to enter.

I can honestly say that I will probably never re-read this book in the future. It was honestly a trial to get through. The first 50 or so pages made no sense and then things get a bit smoother when Superintendent Battle arrives on the scene. But honestly, he is not even needed in this story since once again another person solves the crimes that are central to this story. I found the ending to be ridiculous and pretty implausible.

The central figure in this story is Anthony Cade. When the book begins he runs into his friend James McGrath and agrees to take on two jobs for him. He is to deliver a memoir from the late King of Herzoslovakia (I never want to read that name again). I was honestly baffled why anyone cared about these memoirs, but apparently they are very important. Anthony is also supposed to return some letters to a woman who wrote them.

Now besides Anthony, we also get several other characters we need to become familiar with. George Lomax who is a British politician, Lord Caterham, who lives at Chimneys,  Virginia Revel, she stays at Chimneys and is related to George, Bill Eversleigh who works for George and also seems to be flirting or something with Virginia and various other people along with Inspector Battle. I can usually keep people straight, but I had a hard time int his book.

I didn’t understand the character of Anthony or Virginia really. Virginia gets blackmailed, realizes the blackmailer made a mistake, but likes the sensation of it so much she decides to not tell him she’s not the woman he’s looking for. Anthony comes across Virginia and moments later is helping her deal with a dead body she finds in her home with no questions asked. I mean there were ludicrous moments dancing through this book, but those two are at the top of my list.

There are other characters in this one, but they are so underdeveloped I just don’t want to get into them at all.

I will say that Battle wasn’t needed in this book. He didn’t do anything and solved nothing.

I really didn’t care for the writing in this one either. Pretty much what I got from it was that Christie thought that all countries should be ruled since people without having a strong ruler would not be better than what they are. Also the racism that was prevalent at the time pops up in the book too. When a character announces he got married, another character freaks out that he may have married a black woman in Africa. And the man who gets married remarks:

“Come, come, it’s not so bad as all that, said (redacted) laughing.

She’s white enough–white all through, bless her.”

Image result for stares gifs

 

The flow was pretty awful until Battle shows up I thought. Once he arrived, the plot flowed a lot better. But honestly I am still surprised Christie even had Battle in this one. He was not necessary to anything. Anthony keeps going on about how smart Battle is and how afraid of him he was, but really? I didn’t get much from Battle besides how his eyes twinkled. Seriously be prepared to read that a lot, Christie loves that word.

The ending was so random and I actually just shook my head. I was shocked at the surprise marriage between two people who literally just met. And then a random reveal of identities and I was wishing for a Poirot novel before the end.

three-stars

The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie

The Labors of Hercules by Agatha ChristieThe Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #26
Published by William Morrow on 1947
Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense, Mystery
Pages: 412
Source: Borrowed: print book
Goodreads
five-stars

In appearance Hercule Poirot hardly resembled an ancient Greek hero. Yet—reasoned the detective—like Hercules he had been responsible for ridding society of some of its most unpleasant monsters.

So, in the period leading up to his retirement, Poirot made up his mind to accept just twelve more cases: his self-imposed 'Labours'. Each would go down in the annals of crime as a heroic feat of deduction.

Many long time Christie fans know that Hercule would go on and on about retiring (at least it felt like it) well in this collection we have Hercule talking about going into retirement and growing the perfect vegetable marrow. This makes me think that the events in this collection all occur before the events in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” Poirot’s conversation with his friend, Dr. Burton leads into the Greek hero named Hercules and his 12 labors that he undertook. What did make me laugh was Poirot finding Hercules to be a brute who was not smart at all (I tend to agree when you read the Greek myths, Hercules sucks a lot). But, Poirot decides that he will investigate 12 more cases that interest him before setting in the country.

The Nemean Lion (5 stars)-This one tickled my funny bone a lot. We have Poirot becoming intrigued by the case of a gang of thieves who appear to abduct rich women’s Pekingese dogs. Reading about how Poirot has to deal with each of these rich women (there are two in this story) and how many of them are pretty terrible people was fun. Due to Poirot being called in to investigate by one of these women’s husbands was what made Poirot intrigued. The main reason why I liked this one besides the awesome solution though was that Poirot revealed something about someone else in this story and I loved it. Great ending.

The Lernaean Hydra (4.5 stars)- Poirot investigates when a dentist is being hounded by gossip about being behind the death of his wife. Of course it doesn’t help that the man was not really in love with his wife and had fallen for his assistant. The only reason why this case is not five stars was that I guessed at who was behind the whole thing.

The Arcadian Deer (3 stars)-This one was weird to me. Poirot gets stranded in a remote village and is asked to find out about a missing maid. Poirot travels to Italy and Switzerland in this one. And I had so many questions about how much money Poirot has that he is able to do things like this. The solution to this one was pretty odd I thought.

The Erymanthian Boar (5 stars)-Due to Poirot still being in Switzerland due to his last case, he is called upon by a local policeman in helping to track down a highly wanted criminal. I do have to say though, there is a side character called Schwartz who I did find highly annoying. He and Poirot’s comments on women traveling alone was aggravating. I imagine that Christie was drawing some ire towards Poirot and this other fictional character. The solution to this one I found to be pretty clever.

The Augean Stables (5 stars)-This once again was a pretty cool case. Poirot was called in to help out the current Prime Minister who is trying to get ahead of the scandal due to his predecessor who is also his father in law.  How Poirot goes about dealing with the scandal was quite clever and the ending that came with Poirot almost getting throttled for the first time in his life cracked me up.

The Stymphalean Birds (5 stars)-This story starts off a bit differently. We follow a man (Harold Waring) who is on vacation where he befriends an older woman (Mrs. Rice) and her daughter (Mrs. Elise Clayton) who are also vacationing. Harold becomes increasingly afraid of two older Polish women who seem malevolent to him. Harold also finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Elise and feels sorry for her based on what her mother has said about her marriage. When Elise’s husband shows up and accuses her of having an affair with Harold. Murder ensues. We have Poirot who also seems to be vacationing who comes along and meets Harold who is freaking out over the whole situation. When Poirot reveals all once again you are left surprised. Or at least I was.

The Cretan Bull (3 stars)-This one was a lot of nonsense to me. A woman (Diana) comes to Poirot due to the fact that her fiancee (Hugh Chandler) has called off his marriage claiming that he is going insane. Apparently it’s genetic (yeah, not touching that at all) and he has seen signs that he has done some things. Poirot goes down to visit with Diana, her fiancee, and her fiancee’s father and his best friend and of course gets to the bottom of things. I have to call boo towards the solution though. Also we have Poirot and his odd brand of justice taking place in this story.

The Horses of Diomedes (2 stars)-A friend of Poirot’s, Dr. Michael Stoddart calls for his help. Poirot arrives and Dr. Stoddart tells him about a possible cocaine epidemic going through a crowd. Stoddart is particularly worried about a young woman named Sheila Grant. Sheila is the daughter of a retired general and has three other sisters. Stoddart is worried that Sheila will become addicted which can lead her towards ruin. Poirot meets with Sheila’s father and others nearby to see who could possibly be bringing drugs into the area. I have to say that the solution to this one did not make any sense to me at all. And who would even set up something like this?

The Girdle of Hippolyta (3 stars)-A man called Alexander Simpson asks Poirot for help when a painting goes missing. Poirot is told that the painting is most likely on it’s way to France and Simpson wants him to find it before it is carried off. On top of this case, Poirot is asked to look into a kidnapping of a teenage girl called Winnie King. Winnie goes missing on a train (Christie and her trains) and is later found drugged up. Winnie was supposed to be heading to France to school and what happened to her and why leads Poirot down a long winding path. I just didn’t buy the solution in this one at all. It made very little sense to me. Then again maybe I was getting flashbacks to “Mystery of the Blue Train” and got irritated.

The Flock of Geryon (5 stars)-A character we meet in the Case of the Nemean Lion is back in this one. I won’t reveal this person’s name since it may clue people into the solution in that one. I did enjoy though that Poirot had a side kick again in this one. Poirot is asked to look into a cult and the leader’s possible connections to the deaths of some of the older members of the cult who were thinking of leaving money to him.

The Apples of Hesperides (2 stars)-Honestly I was bored with this one from beginning to end. I guess the moral of the story is that rich people get sad too. I don’t know. I just was glad to be done with it.

The Capture of Cerebus (3 stars)-Even though this one stars one of Poirot’s favorite women, the Countess Vera Rossakoff, I found myself bored. Poirot is invited to visit Hell (a new club in London) and once within its gates he finds that not all is what it seems. He meets a fairly aggravating girl that is engaged to the Countess’s son who is away in America. And Poirot also meets a very large dog which would have given Cerebus a run for his money.

 

Image result for poirot gifs

five-stars

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder is Easy by Agatha ChristieMurder is Easy by Agatha Christie
Published by William Morrow on June 1939
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Borrowed: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

A new 'signature edition' of Agatha Christie's thriller, featuring the return of Superintendent Battle. Luke Fitzwilliam could not believe Miss Pinkerton's wild allegation that a multiple murderer was at work in the quiet English village of Wychwood -- or her speculation that the local doctor was next in line. But within hours, Miss Pinkerton had been killed in a hit-and-run car accident. Mere coincidence? Luke was inclined to think so -- until he read in The Times of the unexpected demise of Dr Humbleby...

I love me some Christie. She is getting me through some bad times right now. I plan on reading the rest of her backlist and didn’t realize until after the fact I grabbed up the Superintendent Battle series (this is number 4) and am reading out of order now. I will correct that later.

“Murder is Easy” confused me a bit since I recall this being a Miss Marple television episode. So when I started reading about Luke Fitzwilliam and there was no sign of Miss Marple anywhere I was not pleased. But the story grabbed me and I found myself rushing to finish it.

Luke is back in England after being a policeman out East. He ends up talking to an elderly woman named Lavinia Pinkerton who proceeds to tell Luke that she is going to Scotland Yard to report someone she thinks is a serial killer in her village. Luke though he doesn’t say it to Ms. Pinkerton’s face thinks that she may be imagining things. However, the names that Lavina provides him stick in his head, especially a man she said would be the next victim, Dr. John Humbleby. Luke puts the whole thing out of his mind until he reads how Ms. Pinkerton was killed by a hit and run driver. And when he then reads later that Dr. Humbleby is dead as well he decides to dig deeper into Wychwood under Ashe.

Due to a connection that Luke has, he is able to pretend to be a cousin of a woman named Bridget Conway that lives there and is to be married soon to Gordon Whitfield.

I honestly liked how Luke goes about investigating whether a potential killer is on the loose in Whychwood under Ashe. He pretends to be there to investigate some potential witchcraft/death ceremonies that I don’t know how in the world anyone bought that. I would have been all:

Image result for you sit on a throne of lies gif

Luke ends up getting a lot of gossip and feelings and starts to think that Lavina was right that there is something darker going on with one of the residents. Of course Christie throws in some some random I hate you, but I love you story-line between Luke and Bridget and it doesn’t quite work because I honestly don’t even get why either one of them is attracted to each other.

Related image

Hmmm, I may go watch the Notebook later. And I tend to loathe all things Nicholas Sparks.

So we have Luke trying to figure out who killed previous residents and also barely able to contain his loathing for Bridget’s ridiculous fiancee.

Image result for love triangle gifs

I loved the writing in this book. The atmosphere that Christie evokes in the village is creepy as anything. I maybe turned on more lights while reading this book. I just felt like someone was reading over my shoulder and had a very sharp knife ready to stab me with it.

The flow in the book is a bit off though. I think that’s because we have Luke running around and then we go to Bridget for a bit and then back to Luke. And we get a quick appearance by Battle who does nothing really in this book.

The ending and reveal of the villain was creepy and very well done. If I were Luke and Bridget I would have thrown some holy water at the murderer, they were one of the most memorable villains in one of Christie’s books for me.

four-stars

Crooked House by Agatha Christie

Crooked House by Agatha ChristieCrooked House by Agatha Christie
Published by Minotaur Books on March 1949
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 259
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
five-stars

The Leonides are one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. That is until the head of the household, Aristide, is murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection.

Suspicion naturally falls on the old man’s young widow, fifty years his junior. But the murderer has reckoned without the tenacity of Charles Hayward, fiancé of the late millionaire’s granddaughter

Honestly I don’t have that much to say here besides the fact that I really really love this book.

This was one of Agatha Christie’s favorite books and I can see why.

There are a lot of twists and turns and I thought I figured out the perpetrator, but per usual, I was wrong.

“Crooked House” follows the character of Charles Hayward, as he goes about investigating who could have murdered his potential fiance’s (Sophia) grandfather, Mr. Aristide Leonides.

Christie sets up the book so readers get to read about Charles and Sophia and their time together before the war (WWII) before the book transitions over to post war England with both of them back dealing with the aftermath of Sophia’s grandfather’s death.

Due to Charles’s father having a high position at Scotland Yard he is called upon to go down and determine if he can figure out just by watching and listening who killed Sophia’s grandfather. Sophia smartly realizes they cannot have a future until it is determined who murdered Mr. Leonides.

We do get some interesting characters in this book such as Sophia’s younger sister Josephine, and her younger brother as well. Also Sophia’s father is kind of a cold fish and her mother is an actress which apparently means drama drama drama. There’s also an interesting uncle and aunt as well as the great aunt of Sophia’s grandmother that still lives with the family. I like that Christie does a very good job in just a few short scenes of showing who all these characters are and what ultimately moves them by the end of the book.

Christie’s quite smartly lays out a couple of clues that if you’re paying attention you could figure out who the murderer is, but honestly I didn’t notice any of this till the very end. One thing that I did like though is that you get to see Charles hypocrisy in a couple scenes with him feeling bad for Sophie’s step-grandmother and just kind of ignoring the signs of what type of woman that she really is.

The writing is top-notch Christie. I know this is no “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” but I can definitely see myself re-reading this again and again in the future.

five-stars

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

The Murder on the Links by Agatha ChristieThe Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #2
Published by William Morrow on November 23, 2004
Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense
Pages: 240
Source: Purchased: ebook
Buy on Amazon
five-stars

An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course.

But why is the dead man wearing his son's overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse . . .

I realized this year that I have never read this book. I could have sworn I had since I did my Poirot readings a few years back, but then realized nope that I must have confused this book with another. Either way, I am thrilled that I got a chance to immerse myself back into the world of our egg-head shaped detective and his “little gray cells.”

Image result for poirot gifs

Told in the first person POV by Hastings (Poirot’s mostly bumbling and honestly dumb as anything assistant) in this one. We have Hasting and Poirot go off to investigate after Poirot receives a letter from a Monsieur Paul Renauld. Renauld believes he will be murdered and asks for Poirot to come as quickly as he can. However, when Poirot and Hastings arrive, they find the police on the scene since Renauld was found murdered and his wife bound by unknown attackers.

We have Poirot getting into a mental pissing match with another detective named Giraud who hates Poirot and seems him as old and outdated. I did want to shake Hastings a bit here and there since he wants Poirot’s deductions to be correct since he doesn’t want Poirot to look foolish which would mean he would look foolish. Speaking of Hastings, he falls in love at first sight with a young woman he calls Cinderella. I hope you like that name, because she is referred to as such throughout mostly the entire book. We even have a connection to the murder and we have Hastings acting a fool (IMHO) cause of love. I don’t know. I may be heartless, but if I think you committed a crime I am going to get the heck away from you.

This is not one of Poirot’s locked room mysteries, but it does leave a lot of intrigue into who killed Renauld and why. Also I have to say that once again I was totally in the dark about who the villain was in this one. I guessed wrong (twice) and just gave up on who dun it until Poirot revealed all.

The ending in it’s own way had a HEA which surprised me.

Image result for poirot gifs

five-stars

The Poirot Project: Cards on the Table, Dumb Witness, & Death on the Nile

The Poirot Project: Cards on the Table, Dumb Witness, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot
Published by Harper Collins Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense, Mystery

I read these over a year ago, and rather than do full blown reviews of each of them, I am just going to jot down my thoughts, impressions and memories. When I began the Christie Project, I considered reviewing each book as I read it, but decided against it because it is sometimes difficult to review books in a vacuum. Before I could review them, I felt like I needed, in my own mind, to have an understanding of where I would personally put the book in the overall series in terms of quality. Christie was prolific, and her work is definitely of varying quality even within her various series. Plus, it is difficult for me to come up with sufficient material for a review of a piece of detective fiction since being spoiler-free is critical.

Most of these posts have "reviewed" four of the Poirot mysteries. However, I am planning on doing a full treatment of Appointment with Death, Poirot #18, which would be the fourth book in the post.

Three Act Tragedy (Poirot #15)
Year of publication: 1936
Setting/Locations: London
Narration: third person
Investigator(s): Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver

This is a solid entry in the Poirot canon, and is the only book that brings together Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver. It is also the first book in which Ariadne Oliver – a rather bumbling mystery writer who functions as a self-insert by Christie – appears with Poirot. The murder itself is ingenious. The strange Mr. Shaitana invites the four sleuths and four individuals whom he suspects of previously getting away with murder (similar to And Then There Were None) to play a game of bridge, tosses out bait, and gets himself murdered. There are four suspects, and each of the sleuths is assigned to investigate one of the four and get to the bottom of the murder, psychologically speaking. I don’t play bridge, and enjoyed this one in spite of the fact that the rule of bridge actually do play a significant part in determining the solution.

Dumb Witness (Poirot #16)
Year of publication: 1937
Setting/Locations: English country house
Narration: third person by Arthur Hastings
Investigators: Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings

In my opinion, this is a rare clunker from Agatha’s best period. There are actually brief bits that are narrated from the perspective of Bob, the dog, who functions as the “dumb witness.” It’s just overwhelmingly stupid. The murder itself is classic Christie, with family members knocking off the family matriarch who doesn’t have the good manners to die soon enough for them to inherit all of the family money. Those Brits and their matricide!

Death on the Nile (Poirot #17)

Year of Publication: 1937
Settings/Locations: Egypt
Narration:
Investigators: Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race

This is one of my all time favorite Agatha Christie mysteries. It is brilliantly conceived, and daringly executed. There are actually three concurrent mysteries – who killed the gorgeous Linnet Ridgeway, who is the jewel thief, and what is the deal with the raging communist on board the ship. I want to give nothing away because the entire book is simply delightful. Christie’s writing is tight and her plotting is impeccable. The characterization of the fierce Jackie is fantastic. I also always enjoy the addition of Colonel Race to the plot!

The Poirot Project: Appointment With Death

The Poirot Project: Appointment With DeathAppointment with Death (Hercule Poirot, #19) by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #19
Published by HarperCollins on January 1st 1970
Pages: 303
Goodreads
five-stars

Among the towering red cliffs and the ancient ruins of Petra sits the corpse of Mrs. Boynton, the cruel and tyrannizing matriarch of the Boynton family. A tiny puncture mark on her wrist is the only sign of the fatal injection that killed her. With only twenty-four hours to solve the mystery, Hercule Poirot recalls a remark he overheard back in Jerusalem: "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" Mrs. Boynton was, indeed, the most detestable woman he had ever met.

Note from MR: This review is coming out of order in my Poirot Project recap! The bulk post for books 16, 17, & 18 will be published tomorrow.

This book is about what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. It is one of my absolute favorites of the Poirot novels for both the setting – the rose red city of Petra, Jordan – and the villainy of the ultimate victim.

Christie again draws on her experience travelling with her archeologist husband, Max Mallowan, as she did in Murder in Mesopotamia and Death on the Nile. In my opinion, this mystery is loads better than Murder in Mesopotamia, and is every bit as good as Death on the Nile.

The book begins with Poirot overhearing two people speaking in the hotel room next to his, through an open window. The voice of a man says “You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?” The first section of the book occurs at the hotel, where the reader is introduced to the Boynton family, including Mrs. Boynton, who is a simply unredeemable, petty domestic tyrant. She has exercised total psychological control over the four children who travel with her: Lennox Boynton, Raymond Boynton, Carol Boynton and Ginevra Boynton. She is manipulative and extremely cruel to her family, and she has them so cowed that they have simply collapsed under her tyranny.

The book is partially narrated by a young doctor named Sarah King, because once the Boynton family leaves Jerusalem for Petra, Poirot is not present until the end. The murder occurs with him off-stage. Sarah King is also an interesting character – one of Christie’s bright young women – and she is more than capable of seeing clearly that Mrs. Boynton is mostly pathetic, in spite of her ability to terrorize her family.

Mrs. Boynton is the sort of person who doesn’t understand that everyone has a breaking point, so by the time we get to Petra, it becomes clear that she is going to come to an unhappy end. This is essentially a closed circle mystery, with an ingenious solution. The first time I read it, I was a bit blindsided by the identity of the murderer. In subsequent readings, I’ve been astounded at how cleverly Christie drops clues into the book that, with exquisite subtlety, point the reader to whodunnit.

five-stars

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

Towards Zero by Agatha ChristieTowards Zero by Agatha Christie
on June 1, 1944
Pages: 233
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

What is the connection among a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl, and the romantic life of a famous tennis player?

To the casual observer, apparently nothing. But when a house party gathers at Gull’s Point, the seaside home of an elderly widow, earlier events come to a dramatic head. As Superintendent Battle discovers, it is all part of a carefully laid plan — for murder.

This is the fifth, and last, of the Superintendent Battle interconnected mysteries. Superintendent Battle wasn’t one of Christie’s favorite creations, apparently, since she only wrote 5 books with him, but to my mind, they are five of the most enjoyable! He does exist within the same universe as Hercule Poirot, as he appears with Poirot, Colonel Race and Ariadne Oliver in Cards on the Table, although none of them appear in this book. Superintendent Battle does, however, make reference to Hercule Poirot while he investigating the murder of Lady Tressilian, noting Poirot’s attention to detail and its usefulness in crime solving.

The obsessive need for revenge takes center stage in this book. Agatha Christie has previously plumbed the depths of the obsessive personality, in books like Death on the Nile and And Then There Were None, and she will return to the theme in her psychological thriller Endless Night. The more I read – and reread – Agatha Christie, the more convinced I am that she had a way of cutting through societal niceties to see the blood and bone beneath, and frequently the true sight was terrifying. Her character sketches are quite compact, and while the negative or positive traits can be exaggerated, they are also remarkably perceptive given their brevity. This book demonstrates the devious and malicious undercurrents that can flow between two people – a victim and a perpetrator – while society sees something entirely different. And, until the very end, as is so often the case, Christie hides the truth in plain sight.

There are several supporting characters in this book that I particularly like, including Mary Aldin. About Mary Aldin, Christie said:

She has really a first-class brain—a man’s brain. She has read widely and deeply and there is nothing she cannot discuss. And she is as clever domestically as she is intellectually. She runs the house perfectly and keeps the servants happy—she eliminates all quarrels and jealousies—I don’t know how she does it—just tact, I suppose.”

If there is one thing that this book needed, it was more Mary Aldin!

One significant weakness to this book, I think, was Christie’s failure to develop the character of Angus McWhirter, using him as a prop to jump in and save the day, and the damsel, at the end. Christie had a thing for literal (not figurative) love at first sight, in which her male characters are constantly plunged into deep passionate love with a pretty face at first glance. While I am perfectly willing to buy lust at first sight, or infatuation at first sight, the shallow manner in which her characters profess love at first sight annoys me, and demeans the emotion. I also didn’t care particularly for the ending, although the promise of a legitimate happy ending for Mary was pleasant.

If you’re a fan of Dame Agatha, and you’ve somehow missed this one, I recommend it. If you are coming to Christie as a new reader, there are others that I would recommend before Towards Zero, although it is an enjoyable read and shows many of her skills to advantage.

A note on the television adaptation: the Miss Marple series grabbed this one for an adaptation, along with several other of the non-Marple independent mysteries, a fact which I personally consider a travesty. It was poorly done, so don’t bother with it. I really wish that someone would do a solid adaptation of the Christie mysteries that don’t involve Marple and/or Poirot. There are some really good books, and trying to shoehorn them into the Marple series doesn’t do them justice!

four-stars

The Poirot Project: Tragedy, In The Clouds, A.B.C., and Mesopotamia

The Poirot Project: Three Act Tragedy, Death in the Clouds, The A.B.C. Murders, Murder in Mesopatamia by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot
Published by Harper Collins Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense
Source: Purchased: print book

I read these over a year ago, and rather than do full blown reviews of each of them, I am just going to jot down my thoughts, impressions and memories. When I began the Christie Project, I considered reviewing each book as I read it, but decided against it because it is sometimes difficult to review books in a vacuum. Before I could review them, I felt like I needed, in my own mind, to have an understanding of where I would personally put the book in the overall series in terms of quality. Christie was prolific, and her work is definitely of varying quality even within her various series. Plus, it is difficult for me to come up with sufficient material for a review of a piece of detective fiction since being spoiler-free is critical.

With these four Poirot mysteries, Christie has clearly hit her stride as an author. They are some of the strongest in the Hercule Poirot series, as well as in her overall bibliography.

Three Act Tragedy (Poirot #11)

Year of publication: 1935
Setting/Locations: England
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Mr. Satterthwaite

This is a really interesting Hercule Poirot puzzler! Hercule Poirot partners with a friend by the name of Mr. Satterthwaite who has previously appeared in The Mysterious Mr. Quin, a book of short stories that I have not yet read. The format of the book is designed to mimic a stage play with three acts, and one of the main characters is Mr. Cartwright, an actor. The initial murder occurs at a party. In this book, Christie uses a concept that she will use in at least other mystery (The A.B.C. Murders) – I read that one on the heels of this one and it gave me some clues as to, at least, how and why the murders were being committed. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give the story away, but this is a good one. In addition, this is one of the books where Christie makes reference to the killer avoiding justice through the criminal justice system through suicide.

Death in the Clouds (Poirot #12)

Year of publication: 1935
Setting/Locations: Airplane over the channel
Narration: third person
Investigator:Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp

Of the four books referenced in this post, I think that Death in the Clouds is the least interesting. It is a locked room mystery, taking place on a airplane flight between Paris and London. Christie brings into the mystery Jane Grey, one of her ubiquitous young women who end up captivating Poirot – similar to Katherine Gray in Mystery of the Blue Train, Amy Leatheran in Murder in Mesopotamia, and Appointment With Death’s Sarah King. This book also features Inspector Japp. The murderer has a complicated plan that is motivated by basic greed, and the murder weapon, a poisoned dart, is among the more novel features of this mystery.

The A.B.C. Murders (Poirot #13)

Year of publication: 1936
Setting/Locations: England
Narration: first & third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp, Hastings

The A.B.C. Murders is one of the best Poirot mysteries. I would probably put it in second place, just under Murder on the Orient Express. It serves as Christie’s take on the “serial killer” mystery, with an incredibly ingenious murderer who keeps the reader guessing. I would probably recommend reading this one before reading Three Act Tragedy, as having read that one really clued me in to what was actually going on with this one (I read them in order, so I had read Three Act Tragedy very close in time to this one). I think that this is the better and more interesting book of the two. Or, wait and separate your reading experiences and you’ll probably be fine. In addition, the narrative style of this book is very interesting, being presented both in the first person through Hastings, but also in a third person narration of the killer, reconstructed by the first person narrator. It is extremely unique among all of the Poirot mysteries.

Murder in Mesopotamia (Poirot #14)

Year of publication: 1936
Setting/Locations: Iraq
Narration: first person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Amy Leatheran

According to Christie’s website, you should read Murder on the Orient Express before reading this one. I loved Murder in Mesopotamia, set at an archeological dig in Iraq for its exotic setting. Amy Leatheran, a young nurse, provides an interesting change of narrators in this one. There are some difficulties with the plot, however, as the resolution of this particular mystery (like that of The Third Girl) crosses the line between merely unlikely into utterly implausible. In this, as in many other Christie novels, it is very clear that being in possession of clues into the identity of the killer is likely to end badly for the person involved once the killer figures it out! The moral of that story is: tell Poirot everything, immediately!

Older posts

© 2017 Bookish Pursuits

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑