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The Poirot Project: Blue Train, End House, Lord Edgware & the Orient Express

The Poirot Project: Mystery of the Blue Train, Peril at End House, Lord Edgware Dies, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Published by Harper Collins

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.

So, now, with a bit of distance between myself and the books, these are my thoughts on books 6 through 10 of the Poirot series.

The Murder on the Blue Train (Poirot #6):

Year of publication: 1928
Setting/Locations: Train between England/France
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot

I thought that this was an exceptionally weak Poirot. I usually love books set on trains, but this one really did not work for me. I didn’t like the victim, Poirot was off his game, and the tie-in to the theft of the famous ruby, Heart of Fire, was unconvincing. Christie often uses the famous jewel thief trope in her mysteries, and I am always skeptical. It reminds me too much of the Pink Panther. Were there really jewel thieves that were so notorious that they received nicknames, like modern day serial killers? I don’t know, but I sort of don’t buy it. Anyway, this is a lower-tier Poirot, and apparently Christie herself didn’t think much of it! This is skippable, although it isn’t among the worst that she ever wrote!

The Peril at End House (Poirot #8)

Year of publication: 1932
Setting/Locations: English country
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp & Hastings

There is something about this one that I love. It never makes it onto “best of Christie lists,” but it is one of my favorite Poirots. This probably relates to the Cornwall setting, as I have a soft spot for books set on the Cornish Coast, and, as well, I really admire Christie’s cleverness in plotting this complex puzzle. I also love Inspector Japp even more than I love Hastings, so any book where he makes an appearance is probably going to be a winner for me. This one has a lot of moving parts, which Christie works together beautifully.

Lord Edgware Dies (Poirot #9)

Year of publication: 1933
Setting/Locations: England
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp and Hastings

Christie is moving into her strongest writing period at about this time, and Lord Edgware Dies is a strong entry in the Poirot series, although it doesn’t reach the level of Poirot’s next outing. However, there are some aspects of this book that I really liked – with Christie is important to pay attention to even stray remarks, because you never know what is going to turn out to be important at the end. This one also features Inspector Japp, going down the entirely wrong track, and a thoroughly narcissistic killer. It’s a good thing that Hercule Poirot didn’t actually retire, or the English jails would be full of the wrongfully accused!

The Murder on the Orient Express (Poirot #10)

Year of publication: 1934
Setting/Locations: Train/Croatia
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot

This is definitely my favorite Poirot mystery, and probably my favorite Christie mystery of all time. I love the closed circle trope, and Christie deploys it to fantastic effect in this novel. Just the idea of the “Orient Express” is glamorous, conjuring up images of art deco fixtures, crushed velvet curtains and women dressed in gorgeous 1930’s fashions.


In addition, the victim is a truly terrible person, so one feels nothing but pleasure at his demise, and the solution is unbelievably clever. When I am asked to recommend a Christie mystery to a first time reader, this is my go to recommendation.

I skipped Black Coffee (Poirot #7) a novelisation of a play that wasn’t published until 1998, long after Dame Agatha shuffled off her mortal coil. I’ve heard it is terrible.

The Poirot Project: A Mysterious Affair, Murder on the Links, Roger Ackroyd and the Big Four

The Poirot Project: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder on the Links, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Big Four by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot
Published by Harper Collins Genres: Golden Age Mystery
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.

So, now, with a bit of distance between myself and the books, these are my thoughts:

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1): Year of publication: 1920
Setting/Locations: English country
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot and Hastings

This is the book where she introduces Hercule Poirot, and is also her very first published mystery. In terms of quality, I would put it in the fair-to-middling category. It is a good example of an English country house murder, and we are also introduced to Poirot’s primary sidekick, Hastings, who is Watson to his Holmes. Having said that, it is fairly bland, and not very innovative.

Year of publication: 1923
Setting/Locations: France
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot and Hastings

The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2): Poirot goes to France for this one, which is, again, not Christie’s best (nor her worst) work. I am no golf fan, which put me off this book for quite a long time, although it has little, actually, to do with golfing. The most noteworthy, and in my opinion cringeworthy, aspect of this book is Hasting’s romantic relationship with “Cinderella,” a young woman he meets who basically lies through her teeth to him, and whom he ultimately marries. Hastings is unremittingly thick – dumber than usual – in this installment. There is also a fair amount of ogling of nubile and attractive young ladies, which is sort of gross.

Year of publication: 1926
Setting/Locations: English country
Narration: first person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot and Dr. Shephard

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4): This book could also be known as “When Agatha Got Her Game” because it is a total surprise. She goes out on a narrative limb with this story and holy hell does it ever work. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of her most innovative and startling books, and I know that I am not the only person whose jaw figuratively hit the floor at the reveal of this book. It is that good – one of her ten best books, in my opinion, out of more than 70 total mysteries.

Year of publication: 1927
Setting/Locations: England
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot and Hastings

The Big Four (Hercule Poirot #5): How in the heck Christie could’ve followed Roger Ackroyd with this disastrous entry remains one of the greatest mysteries in writing. As good as Roger Ackroyd is, this one is not. It is ostensibly a mystery, although it walks right up to the line of being a spy thriller, and if there is one thing that Agatha Christie sucked at, it is writing spy thrillers (Passenger to Frankfurt, I’m looking at you). Unless you are going to read everything that Agatha Christie ever wrote, for the love of all that is holy, skip this one. Skip. It. It sucks.

Also, I’ve skipped the third Poirot installment, Poirot Investigates, because it is a short story collection, and I plan to go back and listen to the shorts!

Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #4
Published by Harper Collins on 1926
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased: print book

In the village of King's Abbot, a widow's sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study--but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow's blackmailer. King's Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd's wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim's home. It's now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King's Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd--a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard's ingenious sister, Caroline.

This is book 4 of Christie’s books featuring Hercule Poirot, and is the book that made her a household name.

I’ve read the first 23 Poirot books in the last few months. I’ve been holding off posting full reviews because I wanted to give the books a chance to percolate in my mind for a bit, and get to know Hercule a little bit better. Not that I hadn’t read any Poirot books before embarking on this project – I had. But I hadn’t read them in any sort of a systematic, consistent, or ordered fashion.

The quality of the series overall is pretty high, although they are some huge clunkers in the bunch. Roger Ackroyd, however, is not one of them. In fact, it remains one of the highlights of the series for me, and is a very unique entry into the Poirot canon. It is one of the only (if not THE only) Poirot books that is written in first person narrative by one of the characters, the village doctor, James Sheppard. Neither Inspector Japp nor Hastings make any appearance in this book, and Sheppard takes on the role of “sidekick”. Christie is experimenting with narrative styles in this book, early in her career, and she does it very successfully. The identity of the murder is shocking and the way that Christie reveals it is brilliantly clever, on par with the solution in And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express for sheer inventiveness.

It’s my general plan to finish the Poirot books this year, at which point I will rank them in my personal order of best to worst. I’ve read enough to know that Roger Ackroyd isn’t going to be number one on the list, but I’m surmising that it’ll easily make the top ten.

There Was A Crooked Man

There Was A Crooked ManCrooked House by Agatha Christie
Published by William Morrow on 1949
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 236

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.

This is one of Dame Agatha’s stand-alones – not associated with either of her two primary detectives, Marple and Poirot, or with any of her repeating characters in the vein of Colonel Race or Inspector Battle. I was ready to accuse Ms. Christie of channeling her inner Shirley Jackson with this one, but she wrote it a full decade and a half in advance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, of which it reminded me.

This is supposed to have been one of her ten favorites, along with:

And Then There Were None
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
A Murder is Announced
Murder on the Orient Express
The Thirteen Problems
Towards Zero
Endless Night
Ordeal by Innocence
The Moving Finger

I think she had a pretty good sense of her own work, actually, as I tend to agree with her with respect to And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Endless Night. I am personally rather fond of Death on the Nile, which didn’t make the list, and I didn’t find A Murder is Announced to be among her best. I’ve not read The Thirteen Problems, Towards Zero, Ordeal by Innocence or The Moving Finger. Roger Ackroyd was a solid puzzle, but just doesn’t make my top list.

I highly, highly recommend this one. It is gripping – I inhaled it in less than an afternoon. It is written in first person narration, dependent upon the perspective of a young man who is an outsider looking into the Leonides family – the fiance of Sophia, beloved granddaughter of Sophie. The patriarch of the family, the successful Aristides has been murdered, and every member of the clan, living under the roof of the crooked house, is a suspect:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

Everyone in the house is just a tiny bit off kilter. This is really a character study of a true sociopath, a person who lacks a sense of empathy, and who is able to look at his/her fellow human being as an insect, under the microscope, pulling off the wings to see what will happen next.

I associate Christie so strongly with Poirot and Marple that I forget she was an accomplished story-teller in other contexts. As in Endless Night and And Then There Were None, some of her best writing comes in her stand-alone tales.

The details:

Year of publication: 1949
Setting/Locations: primarily London
Narration: first person
Investigator: Charles Hayward (non-recurring)
Motive: pure sociopathy & curiousity
Murderer: [Yeah, right]

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot # 2)

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot # 2)Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #2
on 1923
Pages: 249
Source: Scribd

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

But why is the dead man wearing an overcoat that is too big for him? And for whom was the impassioned love letter in the pocket? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse.…

Oh, Hastings. You ninny.

This is the second Hercule Poirot novel – and in spite of the title has almost nothing to do with golf. This is a good thing, in my opinion, since I find golf slightly less interesting than watching paint dry, but it was almost a deal breaker. I did not want to read this mystery. Based on the cover, I assumed it would be about a British guy in knickers geting clonked on the head with a five iron on the back nine. I read it purely for completeness sake – and I am glad I did.

The only connection to golf is that the body was buried in a location that was soon to become a hazard on a new golf course. Also, it is set in France, which I found totally baffling since I have never, not even once in my entire life, considered the possibility that there might be golf courses in France. So, I learned something there.

The mystery itself is quite a clever little mystery, with lots of misdirection. There is a funny rivalry between the vain Poirot and the equally vain and condescending Gireau, who is the inspector investigating the case for the French police. Poirot is frequently piqued at being mocked by Monsieur Gireau, and is able to prove his superiority in satisfying fashion. Hastings, though, is a total dolt. He gets mixed up with an acrobat known to him only as Cinderella, and ends up in a not-even-remotely convincing romance. It is silly, although Cinderella ends up proving her courage in a rather compelling way.

One of the things about Agatha Christie is that she has no qualms about depicting her female characters as just as venal, just as sneaky, just as mean, just as smart, just as strong, just as wilful, and just as brave as her male characters. It’s refreshing, really. Her character studies aren’t terribly detailed, but she stays away from stereotyping based on gender.

On the whole, I would put this in the midrange of Christie’s work. Not dazzling clever, like some, but still enjoyable.

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha ChristieSparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
Published by Harper Collins on 1944
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Source: Scribd

Six people reunite to remember beautiful Rosemary Barton, who died nearly a year before. The loving sister, the long-suffering husband, the devoted secretary, the lovers, the betrayed wife - none of them can forget Rosemary.

But did one of them murder her?

I listened to this one on audiobook – rather out of order, as it turns out, since this is the last of the Colonel Race books. I’ve not read Colonel Race 1 through 4, so, obviously, I didn’t read them in the right order.

But, that’s all right. Because Agatha wrote in the decades before the cliff hanger, and she didn’t really do multi-book narrative arcs. So, it’s all good.

My husband and I drove down to Eugene, Oregon today for the spring scrimmage. It was a gorgeous day, sunny, warm-ish, and Autzen stadium was full of Duck fans. It was really a great time. For our drive, I recapped him on what had happened so far in the book, and we queued it up. We didn’t quite finish it before we got home, so we muted the golf and finished it up in the comfort of our family room.

I honestly had paid little attention to the fact that Christie wrote more than Poirot/Marple books. I organized up a Christie reread project on my primary blog yesterday, and was stunned to learn that she had written a few more Inspector Battle books (I loved The Secret of Chimneys, after all), a short series with a pair of sleuths name Tommy and Tuppence (I’ve never read any of these), the Colonel Race books, as well as a few straight up stand-alones, and a whole bunch of short story collections.

Nary a Poirot or Marple to be found in Sparkling Cyanide.

I wouldn’t call this one of her best, but we both really enjoyed it. It was fun to listen with someone, because we were able to bounce solutions – the crazier the better – off of each other. The solution was clever (aren’t they always) but firmly guessable. I figured it out before the end, although not a lot before the end. There is both a mechanical puzzle to solve (how did the cyanide get into the champagne glass) and an identification puzzle (the whodunnit).

There’s even a bit of a romance thrown in, just for fun. It’s a Christie romance – not particularly developed, little focus, although it is important to the solution.

Nowhere near as brilliant as Murder on the Orient Express, not as charming as The Secret of Chimneys, and not as confounding as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. But still a lot of fun.

The Audio-files: A Christie Re-Read Is Undertaken

The Audio-files: A Christie Re-Read Is Undertaken by Agatha Christie

Several months ago, I joined scribd. This was around the time that they added audiobooks to their catalog. I’ve been a fan of Agatha Christie since my youth – my parents owned a number of her detective stories and I read them all. There are so many of them that it is, truly, impossible for me to remember which ones I’ve read, and which ones I have not. About a decade ago, I was in Barnes & Noble, and they had a display set up of her most enduring and popular works, reissued in hardcover. I fell in love with these books, and spent many months collecting them. The covers were deliciously matchy-matchy:

Christie collage

I’m not sure how many I ended up with, as since that time, my daughter also fell in love with the classic detective story, and has absconded with some of them to college. I do want them back, but they provide her with a delightful escape from the rigors of chem and bio, so she has them with my blessing. I am now unable to find this series, so I’ve begun filling in my collection with the Harper Collins trade paperback editions, which aren’t as pretty, but they have nice covers, and they also match nicely.

I have a thing with matching books. It’s an illness, actually.

In any event, back to scribd. When I was browsing their audiobooks, I noticed that Dame Agatha was smashingly well-represented. There were dozens of audiobooks available.

Audio   Agatha Christie   Scribd

See what I mean. That’s just a few of the audiobooks I dragged into my personal Audio: Agatha Christie folder.

I don’t drive a lot, so I haven’t really spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks. However, recently, I’ve been listening while I clean, and in the dribs and drabs of time I spend alone in the car. My daughter is about 2 hours away at college, so driving down to pick her up is prime listening time. I’ve also been trying to get back into crafting, especially cross-stitch, and listening to an audiobook while I stitch or knit is a great way to double my pleasure. So, I’ve been listening to Christie’s brilliant detective stories.

The fact that many of them are rereads by no means reduces the pleasure. Christie was an amazing plotter – one of the best ever, in my estimation. Rereading her books enables me to catch many of the clues that she plants that lead to the ultimate resolution, which are easily missed the first (and even second) time through. In addition, listening to a book is an entirely different experience than reading it. My consumption is forcibly slowed, so I’m not able to race to the finish. And the books are a great length for listening – between six and nine hours long. Long enough to be immersive, but short enough that they don’t take me weeks to finish. So far, I’ve listened to: The Murder on the Orient Express, The Secret of Chimneys, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’ve just started Sparkling Cyanide, which I am quite certain is new to me.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie – Agatha does psychological suspense

Endless Night by Agatha Christie – Agatha does psychological suspenseEndless Night by Agatha Christie
Published by William Morrow on 1967
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 303
Source: Purchased: print book

Strapped by a chauffeur's wages, Michael Rogers' want of a better life seems out of reach. Especially elusive is a magnificent piece of property in Kingston Bishop--unil a chance meeting with a beautiful heiress makes his dreams possible. Marrying her is the first step. Building the perfect home is the next. Unfortunately, Michael ignored the local warnings about the deadly curse buried in the tract of land, and living out his dreams may exact a higher price than he ever imagined.

Praised as one of Agatha Christie's most unusual forays into gothic, psychological suspense, this novel of fate, chance, and the nature of evil was a personal favorite of the author's as well.

This is a really interesting book, and manages to be both representative of Christie’s work and something very different from most of her books – simultaneously.

I have marked this review with a spoiler tag, because, although I don’t intend to provide a play-by-play of the book, I will reveal a pretty important plot device that, if you haven’t read this one and you are a fan of Christie, you shouldn’t have revealed.

Let me say here, so I can get it out of the way, this book is well worth reading for fans of Dame Agatha. It is outside of her series – Hercule Poirot makes no appearance, nor Inspector Japp, Miss Marple, Colonel Hastings, or Tommy and Tuppence. This is 100% stand-alone. So, if you are a Christie fan, stop reading, track down this book, and read it.

Then come back and tell me what you thought!

In terms of the similarities, well, it’s set in the same sort of place as most of her other books. It is a piece of domestic fiction, with descriptions of houses and rooms and British life that are consistent across most of Christie’s books. The characterizations are pretty standard early twentieth century British. It was published in 1967, but honestly, it could have been set in the ’20s through ’40s, which are the time periods that I most associate with her books. It bore a strong similarity – plotwise – to Death on the Nile, which is one of my favorite Christie novels.

In terms of differences, though, it is a barely a mystery. It is much closer to a thriller, and represents one of a few forays by Christie into using an unreliable narrator. And it worked beautifully – I can be pretty ambivalent about this particular plot device. I liked it here.

I called it pretty early, though, within the first 25% of the book.

This book was under the tree for my daughter. She is a huge Agatha Christie fan, and this is one I don’t already own. It is also one of Dame Agatha’s ten favorites, along with Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None (both of which I have read) and Crooked House (which was also under the tree for the girl, actually, and which I have not read). She was completely blind-sided by the ending – she is a less sophisticated suspicious reader than I am, apparently.

Anyway, it’s good! Recommended.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha ChristieThe Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #1
on 1920
Pages: 224
Source: Purchased: ebook

Set in Essex in the English countryside, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is one of the great classic murder mysteries. The victim, Mrs. Emily Inglethorp, is the wealthy mistress of Styles Court. After an evening of entertaining family and guests, she is found poisoned in her locked bedroom. The long list of suspects includes her gold-digging new husband, her stepsons, her best female friend, and a visiting doctor.

Here, in her first published mystery, Agatha Christie introduces us to her beloved Belgian protagonist, inspector Hercule Poirot, who methodically pieces together the intricate evidence of this bewildering crime. From his very first appearance, Poirot amuses us with his oddly fastidious habits--then astonishes us with the power of his razor-sharp mind. Christie keeps us guessing as to the murderer's identity until Poirot finally presents his ingenious solution to this landmark mystery. And, voila, one of the genre's most famous sleuths is born.

"You'll feel better after a nice cup of tea, m'm."

“You’ll feel better after a nice cup of tea, m’m.”

In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie introduced Hercule Poirot, one of literatures most recognizable characters. Poirot was small, neat, and a bit affected. He owes a great debt to Sherlock Holmes, who, although the two character’s appearances are entirely different, share the trait of using impersonal objectivity and logic in the solving of crimes.

Also introduced in The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Hastings, who fulfills the role of Watson to Poirot’s Sherlock – the slightly dense assistant.

Growing up, my father was a great fan of Dame Christie, so I read probably dozens of her books. Even the solutions are mostly left to the dimness of history, though, so rereading them is a pleasurable exercise. One of the things that I enjoy most about Christie is her engaging characters. She frequently wrote about bright young things, as in this description of one of the characters: Mary Cavendish – as seen through the eyes of Hasting.

“I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any other woman’s that I have ever known; the intense power of stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilized body – all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.”

Reading Christie is like dropping into post-world war I English society. It feels vaguely Edwardian – an idealized period of peace and prosperity amongst the upper classes, but she will often obliquely acknowledge the tension that provided an undercurrent to British society during this time period. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is no exception to this idea, as all of the major players in the novel are members of the British leisure class. Major financial pressures on this class are alluded to throughout the course of the novel – things like whopping death duties (known in America as “estate taxes), and the immense costs of upkeep on giant estates that are relics from a rapidly disappearing era present significant burdens on the characters. The setting of Ms. Christie’s books is enjoyable and populated with well-dressed characters having tea, and playing vigorous games of tennis or taking long country walks.

Agatha Christie excelled at the puzzle subset of mystery novels, and was a master of the whodunit and the locked room mystery. Misdirection abounds, and the reveal is always a primary point to her books. No spoilers here – the journey is about 75% of the fun, but revealing the solution to the mystery in a book discussion is just plain mean. If people want to know whodunit, they should read the book.

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