Category Archives: Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

I hope you have all had a marvellous Christmas? I certainly have so far. Those of you who have been kind enough to pop by over the last seven years will know that today, Boxing Day, is my very favourite day of the festive season. I love it because the stress of Christmas is gone, you generally end up seeing another set of family and so have all the grub and present delight but it is more of a slobbing day where you can wear your pyjamas for 70% of it and read, catch up on some telly or both. I am actually making the following two days additional Boxing Day’s I love it so much. Where does this link in with Agatha Christie? Well, it is the perfect day to read a classic crime and invariably there is one on the telly, tonight being the night a whole new adaptation of And Then There Were None starts, so I thought I’d better read the book before I watched it.

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Harper Collins, 1939 (2011 USA edition), paperback, fiction, 247 pages, bought by myself for myself

Soldier Island! Why, there had been nothing else in the papers lately! All sorts of hints and interesting rumours. Though probably they were mostly untrue. But the house had certainly been built by a millionaire and was said to be absolutely the last word in luxury.

When eight strangers are separately invited to spend a weekend on Satin Island, they find their host missing with only the staff, Mr and Mrs Rogers, left to attend to them. After having settled in and having a pre-dinner drink they are all shocked to hear a message from an unknown voice telling them all of their complicity in various deaths. No sooner have they taken in the shock, one of their group suddenly dies and the poem ‘And Then There Were None’ hanging in their rooms along with the ten figurines in the dining room start to take on an even more sinister twist. Who is it who wants revenge on this party and why? More importantly with a murderer in their mist, who seems to be one of their own, will anyone survive?

From the very start of And Then There Were None I was hooked. As we travel with each member of the party by train, car and boat the tension is instantly racked up by the fact that we know from the off that they are being lied to. There’s also a wicked streak to it where  we know that doom is around the corner and the characters don’t, so we are ahead of them as the apprehension, tension and fear slowly dawns on the hapless guests and suspicions begins to mount. 

Mrs. Rogers had a flat monotonous voice. Vera looked at her curiously. What a white bloodless ghost of a woman! Very respectable-looking, with her hair dragged back from her face and her black dress. Queer light eyes that shifted the whole time from place to place.
Vera thought:
“She looks frightened of her own shadow.”
Yes, that was it – frightened!
She looked like a woman who walked in mortal fear.
A little shiver passed down Vera’s back. What on earth was the woman afraid of?

For me this novel is Agatha Christie at the most gothic and sinister that I have read her so far. She is also at her sharpest in terms of plotting. As I read on I had no idea who the victim might be (though thanks to the nursery rhyme I had the ability to guess how they might be bumped off) and certainly had no clue as to who the murderer was and if they were one of the group or not which is brilliantly puzzling. It seems impossible the more it goes on and then at the end I marvelled at Christie’s cleverness rather than feeling miffed I didn’t cotton on. Something only the best crime writers can achieve, especially as it does make sense (and there are some very clever clues left) by the end. She’s a genius.

It would be amiss of me not to mention this book without the history of the title which I think has somewhat unfairly labelled it as being a classic that is racist. Here me out… Firstly, language and times have changed thank goodness and the original title isn’t acceptable anymore, rightly so. I admit initially when one of the characters started saying some pretty anti-Semitic things I had a wobble until it clicked, Agatha Christie is pointing out how stupid and backward these attitudes and thoughts are. You are meant to flinch at the casual racism and sexism throughout.

“Ah, I understand you now. Well, there is that Mr. Lombard. He admits to having abandoned twenty men to their deaths.”
Vera said: “They were only natives…”
Emily Brent said sharply: “Black or white, they are our brothers.”
Vera thought: “Our black brothers – our black brothers. Oh, I’m going to laugh. I’m hysterical. I’m not myself…”

I actually think characters prejudices are all part of the plot, they certainly add to the flaws of all the characters and their unreliable nature. You might think ‘good on Emily Brent’  (above) one minute, before she launches a tirade about single mothers and women having children out of wedlock. None of these characters a lacking in prejudice, often it is this that has lead someone to the island and to their deaths. Christie is using a page turning novel to make a point and possibly educate a few people along the way about the ridiculous nature of some views, she does it without bashing them over the head (well, with the exception of some of the fates of her characters – is this symbolic?) or taking a moral high ground which turns any reader off frankly. We don’t want to be preached to and Agatha doesn’t, she just makes a point, with murder.

So there you have it, I can completely understand why And Then There Were None has gone on to become not only Agatha Christie’s best selling novel, but one of the bestselling thrillers/crime novels of all time. It certainly ties with Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (which is totally different but if you haven’t read you simply must) as my favourite of Christie’s novel and shows what an incredible master of plot she was. Highly recommended, if you aren’t one of the 100+ million people who have already read it!

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Books of 2015, Harper Collins, Review

The Floating Admiral – The Detection Club

One of the big talks in recent months on a certain social media platform that I got involved with was about bloggers and how much positivity they put out there in the ether, though hardly a bad thing right? Yet interestingly I can see if I don’t write about books I don’t like then how will people know the full extent of my tastes. The problem then lies in the fact that generally I don’t finish or get very far with books I don’t like and so then just bin them off and carry on with something else, after all reading is all about enjoyment, or should be. There is one exception to this rule, book group books! And as I would probably have never chosen The Floating Admiral unless Gavin hadn’t chosen it for the latest episode of Hear Read This I ended up reading a book I didn’t like very much. Well, I utterly loathed it, yet somehow finished it, so thought I would share a gloves off moment with you all…

Harper Collins, 1931 (2011 edition), paperback, fiction, 336 pages (in tiny print), sadly bought by my good self

The Floating Admiral is a crime novel like many of its ilk written in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This should come as no surprise when you see that Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dororthy L. Sayers and many more were part of The Detection Club who collaborated on novels such as this one, taking it in turns to write the chapters. In this tale the body of Admiral Penistone (try not to snigger as I did) is found having been stabbed and left in the vicar’s boat which has been set adrift, ideally to be undiscovered but of course getting found or there would be no mystery. Sure enough it is up to Inspector Rudge to solve the mystery, though with fourteen writers at the helm who can do what they want with the plot (as long as they have a solution to their twists, part of the Detection Club rules, more on later) good luck to him I say.

From the cover of the book, with a bloody boat on it (and you know how I feel about them), I have to say I was thinking of ways to murder Gavin for his choice. Saving grace though is that the boat is just a piece of evidence really and even the Admiral’s Navy past isn’t brought up to much. So I soon started to relax into the story and was reminded for a while of how much I enjoy the golden age of crime novels, I even smirked once or twice…

Everyone in Lingham knew old Neddy Ware, though he was not a native of the village, having only resided there for the last ten years; which, in the eyes of the older inhabitants who had spent the whole of your lives in that quiet spot, constituted him still a “stranger”.
Not that they really knew very much about him, for the old man was of a retiring disposition and had few cronies. What they did know was that he was a retired petty officer in the Royal Navy, subsisting his pension, that he was whole-heartedly devoted to the Waltonian craft, spending most of his time fishing in the River Whyn, and that, though he was of a peaceful disposition generally, he had a vocabulary of awful and blood-curdling, swear words if anyone upset him by interfering with his sport.

…Then I got so bored; so, so bored. This novel wasn’t even chundering along; it dragged itself rambling through several chapters. This was like a really bad/tedious/dull version of an Agatha Christie novel. Then thank heavens Agatha actually turns up for Chapter Four and it is like a breath of fresh air; it is wryly camp, she brings in a brilliant character which adds some gusto… and then she hurries away as fast as she can after 8 pages!

“Now,” he said with a twinkle; “I’m going to ask you a question.”
“Yes, sir?”
“Who is the biggest talker in Whynmouth?”
P.C Hempstead grinned in spite of himself.
“Mrs. Davis, sir who keeps the Lord Marshall. Nobody else can get a word in edgeways when she’s about.”
“One of that kind, is she?”
“Yes, indeed, sir.”
“ Well, that will just suit me. The Admiral was a new comer to the place. There’s always talk about a new comer. For ninety nine false rumours, there will be one true thing that somebody has noticed and observed. Attention had been focussed on Rundel Croft. I want to know just what has transpired in village gossip.”
“Then it’s Mrs Davis you want, sir.”

It then swiftly descends again and I found myself thinking ‘just hold out for Dorothy L Sayers, Simon, she is meant to be amazing.’ Amazing? Amazingly full of herself! Her chapter rambles on and on and on, compared to Agatha’s eight snappy pages Dorothy decides why go for eight when forty will do. It is relentless. I even tried to be charitable and say to myself ‘poor Dorothy, she’s been given some dross to work with and sort out’ still that dreary never ending chapter doesn’t read well. She’s a pro so I feared for what followed and I was right to.

The whole idea behind The Floating Admiral was supposedly a fun exercise for the authors involved to test themselves and just be creative, sworn over a skull or some such delightful gothic ritual. It becomes a case of showing off and one-upmanship. Take the chapters after Agatha; John Rhode decides that Inspector Rudge Begins to Form a Theory, then clearly not happy with this at all Milward Kennedy decides that in the following chapter Inspector Rudge Thinks Better Of It. And I almost wept as after Dororthy had finished her smug tirade Ronald A. Knox decides to go over the whole case again with Thirty-Nine Articles of Doubt where basically, possibly out of confusion or more likely one-upmanship, he decides to go over the whole case again from the beginning and see what can be worked out. By then there was so little left I felt I had to get to the final chapter, ironically called Clearing Up The Mess, where upon I wish I hadn’t bloody bothered. I can’t think why we have hardly heard of most of these authors can you?

There was one small glimmer of hope, though this shows how bad it got for me; the Appendices’ were quite good, sort of. You see as I mentioned before each author had to give their solution to explain why they had done what they had. As you read them you can see how the writers were writing and plotting and twisting and that is quite interesting. I say quite because one of two of them (yes you Dorothy) decide they need to show how clever they are by almost writing the rest of the book word for word. Here the star of the show shines through again, Agatha Christie’s solution is brilliant (it involves cross-dressing) and frankly should have been a book, and in fact I am hoping it is actually the plot of one of hers I have yet to read.

You could say that The Floating Admiral really just isn’t a book for me. I would go further and say it is possibly one of the most tedious crime novels I have ever read/endured. I will not be reading another; I may also now never read Dorothy L. Sayers unless someone does some serious convincing. I would rather just read Agatha; you can see why she was Queen of Crime at the time.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Harper Collins, Review, The Detection Club

Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days – Jared Cade

A few days ago I reminisced about, and shared with you, a trip that I had back in March with some of my closest chums to Harrogate and York. I mentioned that we had headed to Harrogate because of its literary history and that, in what has become some kind of tradition, we had chosen to all read Jared Cade’s Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days as it has some of its setting in Harrogate as that is where Agatha reappeared after vanishing. Well I have to say it was a reading revelation as never before have I found a book so enthralling and fascinating and then been made so cross by it and the author themselves.

Peter Owen Publishing, paperback, 2011, non-fiction, 340 pages, borrowed from the library

In Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days Jared Cade, who is clearly a huge fan of Agatha Christie, tries to explain with the help of some testimonials and documents from some of her closest friends what really happened when she disappeared and, even more fascinating, why she disappeared. Something which has been a puzzle to many over the years, her own disappearance becoming as fascinating as some of the mysteries that she wrote. Theories have been rife, including one featured in an episode of Dr Who where she gets abducted by aliens.

I would have found all this fascinating enough as it was but what thrilled me all the more was that as I discovered as I read this was also really a biography of the author herself and the life she lived before and after the disappearance. I should here admit that when I first started the book I was thinking ‘oh blimey, we are getting her whole life her’ as all I wanted was the mystery but Jared Cade does quickly draw you in and as you learn more about her childhood, teens and first marriage you become more and more interested in her and also soon see why it is all relevant.

You also learn all about her books, which for someone who has read and enjoyed a fair few of them again I found really interesting to learn where life had inspired her work. I also came away with a list of books (not Poirot ones, I still don’t have any desire to read any he features in and find it hilarious how much she came to hate her own character) which I am going to have to get my mitts on.

So before Agatha (who I feel I am firm friends with now) even goes missing you have a really good read, and Cade does write it in a thrilling way, you find yourself getting to the end of each chapter and saying to yourself ‘just one more’. The book then takes it up a notch once Agatha disappears and you get completely carried away with it while Cade teases you for a while as to what might have happened as the police investigate and then soon the journalists and then the public become utterly fascinated, you doing so to.

Publicity seekers continued to contact the newspapers claiming to have seen Agatha in places as diverse as Torquay, Plymouth and Rhyl, and this had led to the police in these districts being drawn into the search. An omnibus driver and conductor were both adamant that Agatha had travelled on their vehicle between Haslemere and Hindhead, and the manager of the Royal Huts Hotel in Hindhead also insisted she had lunched at his establishment on the weekend. The confusion arising from the suspected sightings was made worse because none of the women involved came forward to correct the cases of mistaken identity.

I had no idea who much it has captured peoples attention. I also had no idea just how bonkers some of the theories that journalists, the public, amateur detectives and even the police came up with, nor how far and wide the search went to find her, which interestingly then looks at the cost of the search which then outraged everyone and which soon started to turn interest and intrigue into anger and resentment.

On Monday the 13th many of the tabloids now indulged in their most fanciful theory to date: that Agatha might be living in London disguised as a man. While it seems extraordinary that the press could have advanced such a ludicrous suggestion, the public was not inclined to dismiss it. After all, had not Ethel Le Neve been dressed as a man when Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Walter Dew has arrested Dr Crippen?

Even one of the greatest of crime writers got involved in his own way…

Meanwhile, having obtained a glove of Agatha’s, Sherlock Holmes’s creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave it to a medium called Horace Leaf. ‘I gave him no clue at all as to what I wanted or to whom the article belonged,’ the famous writer later recalled. ‘He never saw it until I laid it out on the tableat the moment of consultation, and there was nothing to connect it or me to the Christie case… He at once got the name Agatha. “There is trouble connected with this article. The person who owns it is half dazed and half purposeful. She is not dead as many think. She is alive. You will hear of her, I think, next Wednesday.”’

It was the little facts like this which Cade weaves in and out of his biography, because that is what this is at its heart, that had me so enraptured throughout. That and the odd relationships Agatha had with her first husband and family, especially with her daughter. I was fascinated and didn’t want it to end, then things changed.

Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days was revised from its first edition from 2006 and updated in 2011. Well I wish I had picked up the unrevised issue, because I am assuming that left out the final few chapters where out of nowhere Cade suddenly twists the book to become a tale about the success of the book and himself and then how the Christie estate and other biographers (particularly Laura Thompson who wrote Agatha Christie: an English Mystery and who questioned his theory over a timetable and some other bits and bobs, and gets torn apart) turned against him. It suddenly becomes very personal and if I am honest really awkward to read. Yet, like all car crashes, I couldn’t help but look/read on as Cade goes into this huge defence of himself. Very, very odd. It seems a case of an author becoming too much a part of the work and airing their dirty laundry, but not in a good/intriguing/positive way. It very nearly ruined the book for me.

A shame really as overall I found Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days a thoroughly, and rather unexpectedly, fascinating biography which gives a wonderful insight into a truly fascinating woman, her life, her writing and her disappearance. I would suggest either find yourself a copy of the unrevised version of the book, or simply stop reading when you get past Agatha’s death. If I had this would have been one of my favourite non-fiction reads in some time.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Jared Cade, Peter Owen Publishing, Review

Murder & Mystery on the English Riviera!

On a recent trip to Torquay, today’s guest blogger (while Simon has a bit of a rest) Matthew Batten discovered that you should always judge an Agatha Christie book by its cover!

My love affair with Agatha Christie began many years ago with the wonderful Joan Hickson investigating a Sleeping Murder in the classic BBC Miss Marple series. As a nervy child, the image of the murderer’s gloved hands inching their way towards a young girl’s throat absolutely terrified me! And I loved it! Staff at my local library were delighted with my new found enthusiasm for Agatha Christie and set about introducing me to a back catalogue of crime delights.

I’ve always wanted to visit Torquay, Agatha Christie’s birthplace and the setting for many a classic murder mystery. So, my partner and I decided on a last minute seaside break in the English Riveria to discover more about our favourite crime author.

As a young boy, one of my favourite Agatha Christie books was At Bertram’s Hotel. Granted, it’s not considered a Christie classic but the paperback version I read had a deeply mysterious and haunting cover; the hand of a glamorous woman holding a bullet and a decorative object while a menacing figure looks on from the shadows of the hotel. I would stare at that cover and imagine all the untold secrets of Bertram’s Hotel.

Imagine my delight when a last minute weekend away to Torquay just happened to coincide with an exhibition of Agatha Christie book cover artwork by Tom Adams. And amongst the many book covers was my favourite –At Bertram’s Hotel – looking just as mysterious and enticing as I remembered it.

Tom Adams painted over 100 covers for Agatha Christie’s paperback editions. He would read the novels three times; quickly at first and then more in depth, making notes of characters, incidents and events. Adams avoided the more obvious crime imagery and instead created a macabre atmosphere through symbolism and often surrealist imagery.

The book covers are extraordinary pieces of art in their own right but they also fit perfectly well on the front of a juicy Agatha Christie novel. Take Death in the Clouds, for example. A surrealist image of a giant wasp looming over a soaring airplane hinting at the plot involving murder and an insect sting on a plane! Or, the deliciously macabre Hallowe’en Party, the dripping apple/skull, the murderous looking carved pumpkin and an innocent girl reflecting in a looking glass – images that are impossible to resist!

But not all of Adams’ covers were so dark. The simplicity of Sparkling Cyanide offers the reader clues of what to expect – a champagne glass, a stylish clutch purse and of course a sachet of deadly poison! Murder at a glamorous party, perhaps? How delicious!

This rather superb, but sadly temporary, exhibition was held at Torquay Museum. However, the museum also houses a permanent Agatha Christie exhibition and tells the story of the Queen of Crime at Torquay. Fans of Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple and John Suchet’s Poirot will enjoy the seeing their costumes from both TV series’. There are also early edition books on display and plenty of photos of Agatha Christie’s life.

The permanent exhibition takes up only one room but the rest of the museum tells the exciting story of past local explorers discovering the then uncharted continents and the exotic objects they brought back. Think Indiana Jones and you get the idea! It was absolutely fascinating and well worth a visit.

No trip to Torquay would be complete without a visit to Agatha Christie’s summer house, Greenway, now a National Trust property. Driving to Greenway house is discouraged as the property can only be accessed by a very narrow country road. But why drive, when you can hop on board a vintage Agatha Christie tour bus and hear about the life and times of Agatha Christie from a very friendly and knowledgeable driver. The bus certainly drew some bemused looks from other tourists as we drove 40 minutes from Torquay to Greenway House.

Entering Greenway House was like stepping back in time. It was a glimpse of another world. National Trust staff were also on hand to tell you more about the history of the house before and after Agatha lived there.

Each room told the personal story of Agatha Christie, her hobbies, her lifestyle and her penchant for collecting small decorative boxes. These boxes were in nearly all the rooms but perhaps my favourite were the commemorative boxes for The Mousetrap. Little did she know her play would still be running 60 years on!

There is a fully tuned piano in the living room, and National Trust staff encourage piano-playing visitors to tickle the ivories. I was so pleased when one visitor took up the offer as the music provided the perfect backdrop for exploring this elegant property.

 No visit would be complete without spending some time admiring the magnificent frieze running along the top of the library wall. Painted in 1943, while the house was occupied by the US coatguard, the frieze depicts key events of the Second World War. After the War an offer was made to paint over it but Agatha Christie insisted it remain. It is a striking image and quite breath-taking.

After a very pleasant couple of hours at Greenway house, it was all aboard the vintage bus to hear more about Agatha’s life in Torquay as we headed back to town. But our Agatha Christie adventure didn’t end at the bus stop! Oh no, we went on to watch an am-dram production of Cards on the Table which was showing at a converted church. There is no such thing as too much murder mystery on the English Riviera!

I absolutely loved exploring Agatha Christie’s Torquay and finding out more about her life and influences. I look forward to re-reading her Torquay based novels with a renewed passion for classic Christie crime.

There is even an annual Agatha Christie Festival each September – perhaps I’ll see you there next year?

I really fancy that Festival, I do love a good Agatha Christie after all. A big thank you to Matthew for doing this for me. I almost feel like I managed to go myself.

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The Moving Finger – Agatha Christie

There are some authors that as a reader I will grab off the shelf if a) I am in some kind of reading funk or b) I have just read rather a heavy, yet rewarding, tome and need something in between starting another novel I suspect will be similar. Agatha Christie is one author that fits the bill for both, though that said I do have a random particular demand with a Christie, it can’t be a Poirot, I don’t like him for some reason, whereas I love a Miss Marple or standalone tale. So after something rewarding but weighty reading I decided it was time to pick up ‘The Moving Finger’ the third (or fourth if you include ‘The Thirteen Problems’ short story collection) Marple novel, a series I am trying to read sparingly.

Fontand Books, paperback, 1942, fiction, 197 pages, from my personal TBR

Jerry Burton is sent from London to the sleepy village of Lymstock on doctors orders and brings his sister Joanna in tow. Initially they are utterly charmed with the idyllic surroundings and quaint people that they meet. Yet soon they receive an anonymous poison penned letter accusing them of being lovers not siblings and they soon discover that most people in the village are getting equally scandalous letters too. Things soon take an even darker twist when one of the receivers of these letters dies, at first people think it may be suicide until the facts start to point to murder and another soon follows.

Hopefully that hasn’t given too much of the plot away, however I am about to let you into a small secret which led me to being rather frustrated with this book. Miss Marple herself doesn’t actually appear in the book until three quarters of the way through the novel, and then she is barely on ten pages or more as the novel closes. I am sorry to mention a negative so soon but it was Miss Marple I was really reading this book for, and rather like with ‘At Bertram’s Hotel’ (which I read out of order) I found myself most annoyed that my favourite character was barely in the book.

That said, to be fairer to the book and its author, ‘The Moving Finger’ isn’t half bad. Interestingly though I would describe it rather as I have the village of Lymstock, it is a mystery which is quite sleepy with dark edges. It was entertaining, had me guessing and kept me reading but it bumbled a little, lots of characters were introduced but interestingly more for Christie to write about quirky characters I felt than to create more suspects, which is normally the opposite of what I say with a Christie novel.

‘It’s rather like Happy Families, isn’t it? Mrs Legal the lawyer’s wife, Miss Dose the doctor’s daughter, etc.’ She added with enthusiasm: ‘I do think this is a nice place, Jerry! So sweet and funny and old-world. You just can’t think of anything nasty happening here, can you?

What I did really enjoy though in ‘The Moving Finger’ and stopped me from giving up (well apart from reading on for Miss Marple to barely appear) was Agatha Christie’s sense of humour. I don’t know if I simply haven’t noticed it before, or if it’s particularly prevalent in this book but there seemed to be a wry smile in almost every other page. It could be the descriptions of a character, one of the towns’ effeminate men gets this a lot, or it could just be a dig at the social ways of the time, either way it is definitely always there.

‘In novels, I have noticed, anonymous letters of a foul and disgusting character are never shown to women. It is implied that women must at all cost be shielded from the shock it might give their delicate nervous systems.
I am sorry to say it never occurred to me not to show the letter to Joanna. I handed it her at once.”

All in all I would have to say that ‘The Moving Finger’ isn’t my favourite Christie novel, but I still really rather enjoyed it. I had no idea ‘whodunit’, I enjoyed the setting of the English countryside where no one ever really knows what is going on behind closed doors and I really liked the underlying humour. Is it odd to say that with this book I felt I knew Agatha Christie a little better, because it is strangely how I felt?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Fontana Books, Harper Collins, Miss Marple, Review

Parker Pyne Investigates – Agatha Christie

I don’t know if it’s the way I am feeling during my recovery period from operation one but crime has taken over again and is close to pushing all Orange longlist reading out of the window. I have discovered a few new crime novelists of late but every so often you need to go back to the joys of the long loved masters and so I thought that it was time to turn my attentions back to Agatha Christie, I do have a rather large amount of her books to hand, and so I opted for one I new nothing about ‘Parker Pyne Investigates’.

How people can sneer about Agatha Christie and her novels. Whenever I am in need of something that I can just get completely lost in or when I need something cleansing between other reads then she is just the ticket. As ‘Parker Pyne Investigates’ not only does Agatha Christie show that she truly is the master of plots and twists, she also makes short stories look effortless and in this collection, which I wasn’t expecting to be a collection at all, she also shows a slightly different side to her mysteries which I found rather interesting.

Parker Pyne is not a detective; in fact the balding, plump middle aged man calls himself a ‘specialist in matters of the heart’ and believes he is a man who can make people happy. Every day he runs an advert in The Times newspaper ‘Are You Happy? If Not, Consult Mr Parker Pyne’ and in the first half of these stories that’s just what we read. Unhappy husbands, worried wives, disillusioned rich heiresses, etc pass through Parker Pynes doors and in each case he manages, with his trusty sidekicks ‘Claude Luttrell was one of the handsomest specimens of lounge-lizard to be found in England. Madeline de Sara was the most seductive of vamps’ in the most bizarre ways to make them happy. These might involve sending a bored clerk on an invented adventure murder with Claude or Madeline playing a role, sometimes though accidental adventures take over too. My favourite of this half was ‘The Case of the Distressed Lady’ which saw a story (and at only ten pages I can’t say too much on the plot) but it involves three twists none of which I saw coming.

The second half of these tales takes a very different twist as instead of Parker Pyne having the mysteries come to him in his office, the mysteries seem to come to him when he is on random trips abroad. Possibly the most famous short stories of this half of the book is ‘Death on the Nile’ which I thought was a Poirot story, I had no idea it was Parker Pyne. ‘Death on the Nile’ is also one of the few tales in the book that involves murder, in fact if you are after a murder collection best be off with Miss Marple or Poirot really, but interestingly the fact the crimes and cases in this book weren’t murders made it really stand out. You have con-artists, cheating spouses, kidnappers and jewel thieves instead and in the second half as I mentioned in destinations such as Egypt, Greece and Bagdad.  

It’s also a book where you feel Agatha Christie is having fun with the storylines and characters such as the aforementioned Claude and Madeline and Miss Lemon, there’s almost a feeling that she had rather a delighted twinkle in the eye as she wrote these. I was very pleasantly surprised by ‘Parker Pyne Investigates’. I had expected to find a novel with a new detective of Christie’s that I had not happened upon before. Instead I got a very mixed array of short stories and crime filled capers that were half domestic mysteries and half mysteries of foreign foes and destinations. All in all this was, as all Christie books are, very enjoyable and yet really rather different from her other books.  8/10

I bought this book myself yonks ago when I was on an Agatha Christie Fontana edition spree.

Has anyone else read the Parker Pyne collection and been pleasantly surprised by how different it is, or did the difference put you off? Do you have a favourite Agatha Christie novel? Have any of you read any of her other short story collections you could recommend? Should I finally try a Poirot (I have actually become addicted to an Agatha Christie PC game while I have been recovering, ha) or is it time for another Marple next?

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The Big Four – Agatha Christie & Alain Paillou

From the title of today’s post you could be mistaken for thinking that Agatha Christie had co-written some novels in the vein of James Patterson with some of his thrillers, however this is not the case. In fact what we have here is an adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels ‘The Big Four’ which has been turned into a graphic novel by Alain Paillou. I am not sure if this was something that has been done to encourage a new readership to Christie or not? When I saw it at the library, with my new found appreciation for graphic novels, I thought it might be something interesting to try. I was also aware it could be a book that I either loved or loathed.

It appears that ‘The Big Four’ was something quite different for Agatha Christie, and not just because in this case it’s been adapted into a graphic novel. The premise is highly ambitious as this sees Hercule Poirot thrown into the world of an international spy thriller along the lines of a James Bond novel, in fact at once point there is a laser gun harnessing atomic energy in a secret mountain hideout that could leave its creator holding the world to ransom. But wait a minute I have gotten ahead of myself, what’s the story?

As the book opens Captain Hastings is returning to England (not being overly familiar with the Poirot novels I am assuming he is in few as Watson to Poirot’s Holmes?) to see his friend Hercule Poirot. Once at his friends flat a troubled man arrives clearly in fear of his life from ‘The Big Four’ a group, it would initially appear, of evil assassins with some dastardly plot to hand. The man of course is then found dead within hours. I am loathed to say anymore for fear of giving too much away and also in part because through this medium I never really got to grips with the whole set up like I think I would have in the book itself.

The thing that I love about Christie is her plotting, the red herrings she leaves and the quirks she pops into her characters, all of these seemed to be lost in a graphic version. This version, though I haven’t read the original and maybe that’s part of the problem, of ‘The Big Four’ seemed so focused on the action on a comic (and I don’t mean ha, ha) level that it lost everything else. Some people may say thats all there is to a graphic novel but having read another recently I know its not true. There wasn’t really any suspense it was just action, action, action and seemed to be missing out on the background. Maybe this isn’t in the novel of ‘The Big Four’ but with Christie I would find that very hard to believe considering all the other books that I have read by her.

I also need to mention the actual pictures, which whilst being far better than I could ever draw, they didn’t seem to fit the book. It looked more like Tintin than anything else (I like Tintin so that’s not a snipe) and Poirot isn’t Tintin. They were also all really dark by which I don’t mean graphic I mean brown. In fact maybe this was an added problem I threw in. I expect graphic novels to be quite colourful and this was a bit dull and murky, I wanted a splash of something to give it life and yet nothing ever did. I wonder what Agatha would think?

Weirdly I actually want to try another one of these graphic Christies. I don’t like to write something off until I have given it a chance or two and this wasn’t so bad it put me off them full stop. It has really made me want to read the novel version of ‘The Big Four’ (which of course, being sod’s law, I don’t own a copy of) and see just what I was missing, as even though I know the ending I want to see just how Agatha managed the scope of it’s premise.

A book that will: provide you with some escapism and may bring new fans to Christie. I have the feeling a true Christie fan will find too much missing in terms of motives, red herrings, twists and background to enjoy this thoroughly and some may even have visions of Christie spinning in her grave after they close the final page. 4/10

Have any other Christie fans read the original of ‘The Big Four’ and is it worth a read, have any of you tried graphic versions of Agatha’s other novels? Finally another question that I was actually discussing with a friend last week (we were discussing Scott Pilgrim which my friend loves and I then looked at in Foyles) and this book highlighted it again… Just what is the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, is it merely the length like a novella and a novel – or is there more to it than that?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Graphic Novels, Harper Collins, Review