Tag: detective fiction

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

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!

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!

British Library Crime Classics – Death on the Riviera by John Bude

British Library Crime Classics – Death on the Riviera by John BudeDeath on the Riviera by John Bude
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on January 1, 1952
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 250
Goodreads
three-half-stars

When a counterfeit currency racket comes to light on the French Riviera, Detective Inspector Meredith is sent speeding southwards out of the London murk to the warmth and glitter of the Mediterranean. Along with Inspector Blampignon, an amiable policeman from Nice, Meredith must trace the whereabouts of Chalky Cobbett, crook and forger. Soon their interest centres on the Villa Paloma, the residence of Nesta Hedderwick, an eccentric Englishwoman, and her bohemian house guests among them her niece, an artist, and a playboy. Before long, it becomes evident that more than one of the occupants of the Villa Paloma has something to hide, and the stage is set for murder.

This classic crime novel from 1952 evokes all the sunlit glamour of life on the Riviera, and combines deft plotting with a dash of humour. This is the first edition to have been published in more than sixty years and follows the rediscovery of Bude s long-neglected detective writing by the British Library."

I discovered the British Library Crime Classics about a year ago and fell in love with the covers as well as with the concept of reprinting classic mysteries for new generations of readers. I recently read Christie’s entire canon of full length Poirot mysteries, and had a blast doing it, so I planned to dip into this new book list.

This is the fourth that I’ve read. Previously, I read:

I read these during the time that I was ignoring blogging, and I’m not sure if I will go back and post about them in more detail. However, suffice to say that Thirteen Guests & The Secret of High Eldersham were my least favorite, I enjoyed the Mystery in White but felt that it sort of collapsed near the end, and I really liked Death in the Tunnel, which is a classic locked room mystery.

Back to Death on the Riviera, though. This is the first I’ve read by John Bude, who seems to have been quite prolific, since BLCC has reprinted 5 of his books. Death on the Riviera was delightful – set in the south of France, Superintendent Meredith is dispatched to find and arrest a counterfeiter. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper golden age detective story without murder most foul, and in a surprising fashion, the murder in this book doesn’t take place into well into the story.

I liked Superintendent Meredith, and really enjoyed the supporting character, his subordinate, Freddie Strang, who manages to fall in love while on vacation. Their tale is intertwined with the inhabitants of the Villa Paloma, a sort of a Villa Americain style home where American heiress Nesta lives with her family and assorted hangers-on, including a fraudulent artist (no Pablo Picasso here), a wife in flight from her boring marriage, her caddish boyfriend, and Nesta’s pretty and down-to-earth Dilys, who ends up as Freddie’s love interest, and who is pretty clearly the best of a rather unsavory bunch.

Next up in this series for me is The Santa Klaus Mystery, by Mavis Hay. I already own The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude and Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne, so those likely won’t be far behind!

three-half-stars

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