Tag: published in the 1930’s

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!

Merry Mayhem and Murder for Christmas!

Mini-reviews: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, Anne Perry's Merry Mysteries, The Santa Klaus Murder by Anne Perry, Mavis Doriel Hay, Otto Penzler
Genres: Mystery
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads


Every year I track down at least a few Christmas or holiday themed books to read, and this year, my obsession with crime fiction took to the forefront! Now that we are less than a week from Christmas, I thought that I would share a few of the holiday mysteries I read this year! They are all available in ebook format, if you want to grab one, pour yourself a cup of cinnamon tea or egg nog, and hunker down by the fire for some merry mayhem!

All plot summaries are courtesy of Goodreads, and are reprinted subject to the fair use doctrine.

Edgar Award-winning editor Otto Penzler collects sixty of his all-time favorite holiday crime stories–many of which are difficult or nearly impossible to find anywhere else. From classic Victorian tales by Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Hardy, to contemporary stories by Sara Paretsky and Ed McBain, this collection touches on all aspects of the holiday season, and all types of mysteries. They are suspenseful, funny, frightening, and poignant.

So, this book is 654 pages long, with a total of 60 stories! I have only dipped into it at this point, but I like what I’ve read so far. I own it on kindle, but I can see the attraction of owning it in print, to mark up and dog ear and thump around. In a pinch, it could probably double as a weapon with which to bludgeon an unpleasant person to death (if one were at one’s country house and one had an inconvenient relative who was in the way of one’s inheritance or title, for example) should that become necessary!

So far, my favorite story is the Hercule Poirot short – The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. I also quite enjoyed the Ngaio Marsh story, featuring Inspector Alleyn and the Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael story entitled The Price of Light. At some point, I will finish this thing and do a full-on review of the entire collection!

A classic country-house murder mystery, ‘The Santa Klaus Murder’ begins with Aunt Mildred declaring that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gathering at their country residence Flaxmere. So when Sir Osmond Melbury, the family patriarch, is discovered — by a guest dressed as Santa Klaus —with a bullet in his head on Christmas Day, the festivities are plunged into chaos.

Nearly every member of the party stands to reap some sort of benefit from Sir Osmond’s death, but Santa Klaus, the one person who seems to have every opportunity to fire the shot, has no apparent motive. Various members of the family have their private suspicions about the identity of the murderer, but in the midst of mistrust, suspicion, and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus but two.

This new addition to the British Library Crime Classics series is a must-have for all fans of classic murder mystery and will delight anyone looking for a thrilling read during the holidays.

This is a gem from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction that was first published in 1936, and reprinted as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. It is a classic British country house murder, with a closed circle of possible suspects. The author used sort of a unique narrative technique, where she gave various characters first person chapters in the style of written “depositions”, as well as using the primary investigator, Colonel Halstock, to provide the backbone of the story. Everyone in the house had a reason to want Sir Osmond dead, not in the least because he is a singularly repellent victim, controlling and mean, who keeps close rein on the family purse strings. It isn’t as good as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, frankly, but if you’ve already enjoyed that one, give this one a go!

CHRISTMAS COMES TWICE THIS YEAR WITH A PAIR OF DELICIOUS VICTORIAN MYSTERIES SET ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC.

A Christmas Hope

Claudine Burroughs dreads the holiday season. She feels she has nothing in common with her circle of wealthy, status-minded friends, and the only time she’s remotely happy is when she is volunteering at a women’s clinic, a job her husband strongly disapproves of. When Claudine meets a charming poet at a Yuletide gala, her spirits are finally lifted—until he is accused of killing a fellow guest. Believing in his innocence, Claudine vows to do her utmost to help. But it seems that hypocritical London society would rather send an innocent man to the gallows than expose the shocking truth about one of their own.

A New York Christmas

Jemima Pitt, the daughter of Thomas Pitt, head of Britain’s Special Branch, is crossing the Atlantic for the first time. Her companion, Delphinia Cardew, is to marry in a grand Manhattan affair that will join together two fabulously wealthy families. But a shadow darkens the occasion: Missing from the festivities is Delphinia’s disgraced mother—and the groom’s charismatic brother has asked Jemima to help him find her and forestall the scandal that will surely follow if the prodigal parent turns up at the wedding. From Hell’s Kitchen to Fifth Avenue, from the Lower East Side to Central Park, Jemima trudges through snowy streets, asking questions but getting few answers—and never suspecting that she is walking into mortal danger.

I love reading about the Victorian era, and combining the Victorian era, crime, and Christmas is cat nip to me. Anne Perry publishes a Christmas novella every year, and then every two years, they are published for the kindle in a bundle of two novellas. I can’t stomach spending $10.00 on one novella, but when they are bundled, and I get two for the tenner, I’m okay with it!

Of the two, I preferred the second, A New York Christmas. I haven’t kept up on the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels, but I was delighted to see that their now grown daughter, Jemima, was the main character of this novella. I learned, as well, that Thomas Pitt has prospered mightily in his career, which has made me want to go back and pick up that series where I left it! This one was a 4 star read for me!

The first novella was fine as well. One of the things that Perry does in her holiday stories is to take a supporting character and develop a story around him or her. She dives deep into characterizations and relationships, which is often the strength of these stories. Claudine, the focus of this story, was unfamiliar to me, but I liked her a lot. She is a woman who is very much struggling with the traditional role of women in her Victorian society. I’d probably give this one a 3.5!

Do you read Christmas stories? What’s your jam – Christmas romance, mystery or something else?

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.

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