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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: 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!

Where Are These Kids Parents?

Where Are These Kids Parents?The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
Published by Harper Collins on April 12, 2005
Genres: Children's fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Borrowed: print book
Goodreads
five-stars

Called one of America's favorite Christmas stories, and now a classic television movie, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" has been a favorite of young readers the world over since 1972. Funny, memorable, and outrageous, it is the story of a family of incorrigible children who discover the Christmas story for the first time and help everyoone else rediscover its true meaning.

I laughed throughout this hilarious story of the Herdmans consisting of Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys. My first thought is that I can see why the kids are terrible if their parents named them that.

This is honestly a short and sweet story about a clan of terrible kids who have their whole neighborhood and community in terror of what they are going to do next. I did laugh at one line that said that the Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world, they lied, stole, and played with matches.

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Yes, apparently playing with matches is equal to all of that.

The story takes a surprisingly sweet turn to the ending. The illustrations by Laura Cornell were great and really brought the Herdmans to life.

I read this for The (Mostly) Dead Writers Society 2016 Genre Fiction challenge. And with this final book/review I completed my challenge for the year.

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five-stars

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.

orient-express

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
Goodreads

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.

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
Goodreads

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 Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published by Harper Collins on 1911
Genres: Classics - Children's
Pages: 358
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

This 100th anniversary edition of The Secret Garden celebrates a cherished classic with Tasha Tudor's wonderful illustrations throughout, an extended author biography, games, activities, and more!

When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.

The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary's only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?

Frances Hodgson Burnett was born in 1849, and published The Secret Garden in 1911. The book itself relies heavily on Christian themes, and Burnett was an adherent of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science theology (not to be confused with L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology movement). These themes can be seen throughout the book, in which the physical frailty of Colin, one of the books three primary protaganists, can be seen to be entirely psychosomatic.

Looking at the book as metaphor through the eyes of an adult, I didn’t find it particularly successful. To me, trying to imbue the book with too much depth causes it to lose much of it’s charm – I would compare it to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is wildly successful as a child’s fantasy tale, but is much too heavy-handed as allegory when evaluated using adult standards. Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I liked The Secret Garden better before I knew WHY Burnett wrote it.

Where The Secret Garden really shines is if it is simply approached as a simple, pretty tale of childhood. There is much to love in the descriptions of the moor, and of the garden, and the inquisitive robin who makes friends with the girl. Burnett’s descriptions of Mary’s transformation from the unloved, unhappy, resentment-filled and spoiled child to a robust, laughing youngster is charming. The clash between Mary and Colin – two brats who’ve had their own way much too much – is hilariously foot-stamping. And Dickon is simply delightful as the boy who can talk to animals.

In addition, Burnett’s descriptions of the secret garden, and it’s impact on the children, are so winning:

There was every joy on earth in the secret garden that morning, and in the midst of them came a delight more delightful than all, because it was more wonderful. Swiftly something flew across the wall and darted through the trees to a close grown corner, a little flare of red-breasted bird with something hanging from its beak. Dickon stood quite still and put his hand on Mary almost as if they had suddenly found themselves laughing in a church.

Mary, describing the garden to Colin:

Perhaps they are coming up through the grass – perhaps there are clusters of purple crocuses and gold ones – even now. Perhaps the leaves are beginning to break out and uncurl – and perhaps – the gray is changing and a green gauze veil is creepin – and creeping over – everything. And the birds are coming to look at it – because it is – so safe and still.

snowdropscrocusesPoppies

“It’s so beautiful!” she said, a little breathless with her speed. “You never saw anything so beautiful! It has come! I thought it had come that other morning, but it was only coming. It is here now! It has come, the Spring! Dickon says so!”

The Secret Garden is the perfect book to read in the spring, as it is full of descriptions of burgeoning life and youth. It’s enough to make me want to get outside and get some dirt under MY fingernails.

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