Tag: golden age mysteries (page 1 of 2)

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!

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.

Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Death in the Tunnel by Miles BurtonDeath in the Tunnel by Miles Burton
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on January 1, 1936
Pages: 232
Source: Purchased: ebook
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet. Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no reason can be found. Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard thinks again when he learns that a mysterious red light in the tunnel caused the train to slow down. Finding himself stumped by the puzzle, Arnold consults his friend Desmond Merrion, a wealthy amateur expert in criminology. To Merrion it seems that the dead man fell victim to a complex conspiracy but the investigators are puzzled about the conspirators motives, as well as their identities. Can there be a connection with Sir Wilfred s seemingly untroubled family life, his highly successful business, or his high-handed and unforgiving personality? And what is the significance of the wallet found on the corpse, and the bank notes that it contained?"

Have I mentioned I love train mysteries? I’m pretty sure that I have! This is a locked room mystery, and those are often the most difficult and interesting to solve. I had some ideas about how the murder was accomplished, which turned out to be correct, but I didn’t figure out the culprit until the reveal.

And, ha! I love it when the author fools me, and that big smile when all is revealed is why! This was a very complicated murder with lots of moving parts. Desmond Merrion, Inspector Arnold’s brainy friend, reminded me a little bit of Nero Wolfe for some reason, and this book is very puzzle-oriented. It is full of “If A did this, then B must be so-and-so.” There aren’t a lot of frills on the narrative, but I find myself liking Inspector Arnold nonetheless. He’s one of those laconic British police officers that so often appear in Golden Age Mysteries.

Miles Burton only has one additional mysteries in the British Library Crime Classics series at this point, The Secret of High Eldersham, which I didn’t really like very much – it has an odd, supernatural element that jarred for me. But this is the thirteenth Desmond Merrion mystery, so perhaps a few more will be published down the road a bit.

four-stars

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!

Death In . . . the Andamans by M.M. Kaye

Death In . . . the Andamans by M.M. KayeDeath in the Andamans by M.M. Kaye
Published by Minotaur on 1960
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 272
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

Death in the Andamans is a masterpiece of mystery and romance from one of our most beloved authors. When a violent storm lashes the tiny Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, Copper Randal barely manages a safe return to Government House. She does get back in one piece with her hostess, Valerie Masson, Val's fiance, and handsome naval officer Nick Tarrent, but one of the islanders is unaccounted for when the boats return to harbor. Cut off from the mainland and confined to the shadowy, haunted guest quarters, Copper and the other visitors conclude that one of their number is a murderer. The killer must be found before the storm destroys all trace of any possible clues.

M.M. Kaye is best known for her best selling epic The Far Pavilions, a novel set in British Raj India and published in 1978. I was 12 when The Far Pavilions was published, and read it when I was maybe 14. It was an incredibly formative novel for me, igniting a love of door-stop-sized books and historical fiction.

As it happens, Kaye had published six mystery novels with romantic subplots prior to publishing The Far Pavilions, which I found when I went looking for more books by her, after polishing off her second major work, The Shadow of the Moon. Each of her mysteries is set in an exotic location that was part of the British Empire, except for her second, Death in Berlin. Death in the Andamans was the last of them, published in 1960. They are billed as a series, although each of them contains different characters and different settings, so the only commonality is in the theme.

Each book centers around a young, innocent, and attractive woman who is travelling to an interesting locale. The Andamans, apparently, are an archipelago of islands between India and Myanmar. I only know this because I googled it, having never heard of the Andamans prior to reading this book. The British established a penal colony there in the 1840’s, and the islands were occupied by the Japanese during WWII. They also figure prominently in the second full length Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four.

andaman

Death in the Andamans is set over Christmas and is a classic closed circle mystery. Copper Randall, the heroine, has inherited a small legacy, which she used to promptly throw up her job and accept her friend Val’s invitation to come out to the Andamans, where Val’s father is the British official in charge, living in Government House. Once she arrives, she meets Nick Tarrant, handsome naval officer and erstwhile swain.

On Christmas eve, a great storm severs contact between Government House, where our characters are trapped over the holiday, and the outside world. When one of the characters, an unappealing fellow with a whole raft full of enemies, turns up having been murdered, Copper, Val, Nick, and Val’s fiance, must solve the mystery and stay alive.

M.M. Kaye’s romance subplots are always extremely chaste, with absolutely no premarital hanky panky, excepting a possible kiss or two, in spite of the fact that we have four lusty young people running through corridors in their night clothes and otherwise behaving like they are at a slumber party. It’s refreshingly simple. The setting is wonderfully exotic, and M.M. Kaye’s descriptions are evocative of time and place.

This is the third of her Death In books that I’ve read this year. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Death in Kashmir, which was the first I read. I’ve not yet reviewed that one, or the other, Death in Cyprus – which is my least favorite of the three, although it is still plenty entertaining. I, somewhat sadly, only have three left – Death in Zanzibar, Death in Berlin (the one I have queued up right now) and Death in Kenya.

four-stars

Unnatural Death (Peter Wimsey #3) by Dorothy Sayers

Unnatural Death (Peter Wimsey #3) by Dorothy SayersUnnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #3
on 1927
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 324
Goodreads
three-half-stars

When a terminally ill woman dies much earlier than expected, Lord Peter suspects murder...

Though never quick-witted, Agatha Dawson had an iron constitution and a will to fight that never abated in her old age. Even after three operations failed to rid her of her cancer, she refused to give in. But as her body began to weaken, she accused lawyers, nurses, and doctors of trying to kill her and snatch her fortune. The town physician, an expert in cancer, gives her six months to live. Three days later, she is dead.

Though the autopsy reveals nothing surprising, the doctor suspects that Agatha’s niece had some hand in the old woman’s death. When Lord Peter Wimsey, the dashing gentleman detective, looks into the matter, he finds that death stalks all those who might testify. How can he continue his investigation when every question marks another innocent for murder?

This was a very enjoyable installment of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Peter’s relationship with Parker becomes more collegial, and we are introduced to a new character by the name of Mrs. Climpson. I hope Mrs. Climpson sticks around, because she is wonderful.

The book begins with Parker and Wimsey having dinner at a club on a pleasant April evening. They are talking of murder, of course, and a young doctor interrupts their pleasant discussion to tell them a tale of a suspected murder most foul: an elderly woman who was quite ill, but who died so suddenly that the young doctor suspects foul play.

Unnatural Death is a lot of fun. Before Lord Peter can solve the murder, he must prove that a murder has been committed.

“This is the real sleuth—my friend Detective-Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard. He’s the one who really does the work. I make imbecile suggestions and he does the work of elaborately disproving them. Then, by a process of elimination, we find the right explanation, and the world says, ‘My god, what intuition that young man has!’ Well, look here—if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a go at this. If you’ll entrust me with your name and address and the names of the parties concerned, I’d like very much to have a shot at looking into it.”

And he does, and of course, he discovers that the murderer has committed a near perfect crime, and for the basest of motives. The murderer in this book is quite a nasty piece of work, and before long, bodies are piling up like cord wood.

Lord Peter’s Daimler Twin-Six makes its first appearance in this book as well. For those of you not familiar with the Daimler, it looks something like this:

daimler

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Overall, this is probably my favorite of the Lord Peter mysteries so far. I love the legal twist to the motive, the murderer is both clever and exceptionally cold-blooded.

blackboard comment

three-half-stars

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy SayersClouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #2
on 1926
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Goodreads
four-stars

” my love swears that she is made of truth
I will believe her, though I know she lies”

The second Peter Wimsey novel begins with Peter on an extended holiday in Corsica, enjoying the sights and recovering from the events of “Whose Body.” His trip is cut short when Bunter informs him that his brother, the Duke of Denver, has been arrested for murder.

You may remember the quote I put in my post about Whose Body, (and I swear that I did not know what was coming in this book), where Peter tells Gerald that someday he will be happy to have a sleuth in the family, saying cheerfully, “You may come to want me yourself, you never know.”

Now we know.

Clouds of Witness relies heavily on the coincidence, and a series of illicit nighttime encounters. I always love these English Country House murders where everyone is rambling about all night long, practically tripping over one another. That’s what we have here. Gerald literally trips over the body of Cathcart, our victim, at the same moment that Lady Mary, his now estranged fiancee, is coming out the door. Things look bad for the Duke of Denver.

Fortunately for him, Lord Peter is on the case.

There is a lot going on in this book. While the Duke awaits trial, Peter is questing about the country, the continent, and eventually, the world, looking for clues to explain who killed Denis Cathcart. He meets a miserable farmer named Grimethorpe whose long-suffering wife is indeed long-suffering. He discovers that his sister, Lady Mary, has been secretly engaged to a socialist named Goyle. An engagement that has been brutally broken-up by the Duke, who threatened to cut them both off without a shilling if the marriage went through:

“Monstrous!” said Miss Tarrant, shaking her head so angrily that she looked like shock-headed Peter. “Barbarous! Simply feudal, you know. But, after all, what’s money?”

“Nothing, of course,” said Peter. “But if you’ve been brought up to havin’ it it’s a bit awkward to drop it suddenly. Like baths, you know.”

(I love this quote. It made me laugh).

There is also a lovely courtroom scene, where Sir Impey Biggs stands for the defence:

The Dowager Duchess had once remarked: “Sir Impey Biggs is the handsomest man in England, and no woman will ever care twopence for him.” He was, in fact, thirty-eight, and a bachelor, and was celebrated for his rhetoric and his suave but pitiless dissection of hostile witnesses. The breeding of canaries was his unexpected hobby, and besides their song he could appreciate no music but revue airs.”

On the other side of the table, we have Sir Wigmore Wrinching, the Attorney-General, for the crown. That name is pure awesome.

There is a lot of humor in this book, and a bit of silliness Sir Peter, ultimately, finds the necessary witness to determine what really happened to Denis Cathcart. I am not going to tell you here, so if you want to know, you will have to read for yourself.

In the words of Sir Impey Briggs:

“Since, however, by a series of unheard-of coincidences, the threads of Denis Cathcart’s story became entangled with so many others, I will venture to tell it once again from the beginning, lest, in the confusion of so great a cloud of witnesses, any point should still remain obscure.”

four-stars
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