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

The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

I am beginning to think that Agatha Christie, in particular with her Miss Marple stories are actually some of the best crime novels for me. Invariably they are set in the 1930’s or 40’s when they were written which is a period that I love. They also seem to be the perfect match of an initial cosy crime caper that soon becomes something far much darker and as Miss Marple would say herself ‘full of wickedness’. ‘The Thirteen Problems’ seemed like a perfect read between everything else as being short stories of around ten pages each you can read them on the go, between another read, or just when you have ten minutes that need filling with a book.

The opening story of ‘The Thirteen Problems’ called ‘The Tuesday Night Club’ was originally the first published outing for Miss Marple and featured in The Royal Magazine in 1927 (the first Marple novel ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ wasn’t published till 1930) and introduced a collection of characters, including this slightly demure older lady, setting up a regular night when they can share tales of mystery that only they know the answer of and leaving the other members to solve the riddle. Well I think you might be able to guess who does the solving by simply applying human nature she has observed in the village of St Mary Mead. Agatha Christie then used ‘The Tuesday Night Club’ to create a further twelve stories that all interlink, though could easily be read separately and so this collection, which is more like an episodic novel (‘The Tuesday Club Murders’ in America) was formed and what a collection it is.

There are some straight forward murders in this novel, a few of your good old ‘manor house murders’ but what surprised me with this ‘The Thirteen Problems’ was that there is a rather supernatural streak through them. I am sure this was due to spirituality still gripping the nation when Agatha was writing. In fact Marple uses superstition to help someone she believes is going to be murdered at one point. None of them are ridiculous ghostly parodies, but because mysteries are just that people look for other explanations. Mediums appear a few times and the way Christie builds the plot and especially in the suspense creates the atmosphere we all know and love in a good ghostly tale. ‘The Bloodstained Pavement’ is a tale set by the idyllic seaside yet when a woman sees blood on the street no one else can local legend tells a murder will occur, and guess what it does and the missing blood is rather important. Yes, not easy to figure out I can assure you.

I loved every tale in this collection but my two favourites were the spookiest. ‘The Idol House of Astarte’ initially centres around a big house and then moves to the grounds where is it believed a shrine has been made for the goddess who it soon becomes apparent can possess people and make them do despicable things, or is something far more malevolent at work? ‘The Blue Geranium’ might be my very favourite though as a medium tells Mrs Pritchard that blue flowers will be the death of her. Strangely enough within weeks the flowers on her wall paper start to turn blue and yet she is the only one in the room over night and the only one with the key to get in, yet is this ghosts or is someone trying to kill her with fear?

I can’t remember where I saw the quote but someone somewhere has said that all the plots and short tales are so good that they could each have easily made a full novel and honestly that’s the truth. The fact Agatha Christie manages to grab you, hook you in, confuse you and then very easily explain what has baffled you in around twelve pages a time is quite something and the more I read of her the more I truly think that, bar Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, no one can better her for crime plotting. Many people mumble that she simply retells the same story over and over and yet having read quite a few of her stories I wouldn’t agree. There are a couple of tales in this collection where a husband bumps off a wife but the circumstances and indeed the murders are all completely different and the stories told in varying ways, with ‘A Christmas Tragedy’ you think you know who only Christie turns it all on its head, and again and again leaving you guessing.

A book that will: entertain and have you guessing either in greedy gulps or sneaky snippets. A perfect collection of short stories that anyone who loves a good mystery or thirteen should get there hands on. I think this shows just how much of a genius Agatha Christie really is. 10/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – Miss Marple might be my very favourite of Agatha’s series of books but this stand alone novel  is another firm favourite and sees a slightly different style from Christie’s other books.
Agatha Christies Secret Notebooks by John Curran – reading this collection has made me want to reach for John Curran’s superb book on Agatha which collates her notebooks and plotting and really gets you into the mind of Christie.

I am still tempted by the Secret Notebooks but I have more than enough reading to be getting on with, maybe I could have an ‘Agatha April’ or something in 2011? So who else has read this collection? I am hoping there is someone else out there? If you haven’t then please do! Oh and on a slightly different tangent… this book has made me want to read some classic Victorian and early half of the 1900’s ghost stories, any recommendations?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Books of 2010, Harper Collins, Miss Marple, Review, Short Stories

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? – Agatha Christie

When I mentioned I was having somewhat of a rough time reading wise recently Claire suggested that I either turn to Mitford or Christie (wise words indeed) I actually went for ‘The Graveyard Book’ but then when another slump hit almost instantly after I pulled down on of Dame Agatha’s lesser known novels ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’. It amazes me that people can be rather snobbish about Agatha Christie’s writing because she always, well so far, comes up trumps… even with her lesser known works it now appears. (Oh and mini-fact for you I collect these old Fontana editions of Christies books, I just love the covers.)

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I specifically chose ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’ as my latest Christie read, and I have a fair few, because it was one I know I have never seen on the telly (though I have heard that it became a Marple TV show despite her not being in the book at all?!?) and so as I opened the book I genuinely had no idea what I was going to be greeted by. When I started reading about golf I thought ‘oh no Agatha’ (I should have guessed from the cover – I know!) but four pages later, or a chapter in Christie terms, Bobby the golfer in question has discovered a body at the bottom of the cliff when his ball goes AWOL. As he waits with the body, his friend having gone to get the police, the man who is not quite dead mutters ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ before taking his last breath.

This is dismissed as a tragic accident however after Bobby’s friend Lady Frances Derwent (or ‘Frankie’) reminds him of the words he lets the deceased’s family know. Soon after strange things start to happen such as mysterious job offers in Buenos Aires and even Bobby being poisoned and so Frankie and Bobby decide to play sleuths leading them into a dark mystery involving the 1930’s upper classes, dark Granges and sinister nursing homes. I will say no more as I don’t want to spoil the utter pleasure this book is to read to get to the final solution (which I didn’t guess). I will say it’s absolutely brilliant stuff; I could barely put it down.

Some people have said this was a ‘light hearted romp’ in Christie’s career and there is a feeling of an adult ‘Famous Five adventure’ about it, well more a slightly hapless duo in this case. Don’t let that stop you reading it though because the characters are superb (especially the wonderful head strong Frankie who calls someone a b*tch within seconds of being gracing a page with her presence) the plot has lots of twists and there are more red herrings that you could find at a fishmongers. Oh and Christie very cleverly and wryly shows you just how easy it was to work it out, even though it’s unlikely you will – seriously, in the final chapters as the lead characters discuss it. This could be my favourite Christie yet! I am quite disappointed that this isn’t the first in a series as I could read much, much more of Frankie and Bobby. 9/10 (And I don’t care if you judge me on giving a Christie a 9, with this book she deserves it!)

Has anyone else read this, or have you never heard of it? Where do you stand on Christie? Is she a cosy writer or a plotting mastermind in your opinion? Which is your favourite (no spoilers though please) of her works?

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Wish Lists, Whims and Sympathy Supplies

I thought the first week would be tough in truth I am not finding not buying books a struggle so far. For those of you wondering what on earth I am on about then do go here. Then again how many bookshops have I actually been in so far, erm, none. I haven’t been avoiding them either I just haven’t had the time so maybe it’s simply that. I will have to drop of a lot of books at the legendary charity shop this week so that will be hard going, I will report back on that one. It could be a bit of a mammoth challenge. Maybe I should call these posts Book Buying Ban Reports or just BBB Reports?

I have found it interesting though seeing how fickle my mind is. I am using the wish list and updating it as I go and already one book has slipped off the radar. Apologies H.G. Wells, I think the addition of ‘War of the Worlds’ was a fickle manoeuvre after seeing the film on TV at Christmas. I also decided that I didn’t really want to have Tom Cruise in my head as the lead character either and that would be the case after seeing the film so very recently. I was feeling proud there were only two books now on the wish list and then realised techincally wanting everything you don’t own by Murakami is more than one book. Even if it was just the technical two after a week it means I will still want over 100 in a year! Moving swiftly on…

Fickleness seems to have applied itself to the mixture and changes everyday on the bedside table. ‘The Day of the Triffids’ was a definite as I wanted to read it before I watched the TV show; the TV show expired on iPlayer and I simply moved on. I did then hear a glowing report about it at book group and so it’s wavering on and off there again. I am really enjoying ‘whim reading’ (I am wondering if I should trademark that) so far. I just potter over have a look at what I own that’s out, coming out or I just fancy and off I go. It feels so liberating and I am already nearly finished with book number six of 2010 already. This I think is what reading should be like.

I would be lying though if I said that books weren’t making their way into the house, which of course makes things a little easier. There have been one or two publishers parcels as well as two ‘sympathy supplies’ which contained some Agatha Christie and an Ivy Compton Burnett.

My big sister Holly came to stay last week (poor thing as it was when the boiler was bust – I felt embarrassed beyond the beyond) and with her she brought me three wonderful Miss Marple novels. ‘The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side’, ‘A Pocketful of Rye’ and ‘They Do It With Mirrors’ are all now in my company. Actually Holly managed quite a feat she bought me three books I didn’t own, and Miss Marple ones at that! They were delivered with the line ‘I know you normally tell us not to buy you books but this year is an exception’ and I was thrilled.

I also had a visit from the lovely Simon T of Stuck-in-a-Book last week who came for tea, biscuits and book chatter. He is doing ‘Project 24’ and only buying 24 books for himself this year however he seems to be buying lots of bookish gifts for others and I was once such lucky person. I now have ‘The Present and the Past’ by Ivy Compton Burnett on the bedside table (a wonderful old copy too). We also had a wonderful chat about all things books, blogs, blogging etiquette and other delightful gubbins such as how much we quite like being ‘the two Simon’s’. I gave him a copy of ‘An Expert in Murder’ by Nicola Upson which I had two copies of for some reason though I forgot to give him the sequel too, have it stored, and Novel Insights is getting some more of my extra’s this week when she pops round, not that she knows how many ha, so I feel I am doing my bit too whilst whittling my own piles and piles of books down.

So far really it’s all rather lovely. How long do you think that will last? What lovely books have you received recently?

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Books of 2009

As the end of the year draws in I find that I become quite reflective. I have actually had a bit of an issue with reading this week and wonder if that is an end of year thing, more on that at some other point. 2009 has been a big year for this blog; it’s also been a big year for my reading. It seems a delightful coincidence that today as I wrap up my best reads of 2009 it is also my 500th post which I think deserves some fireworks…

My original idea of doing my ‘best of’ like I did last year with The Savidge Dozen just wasn’t working. I have read too many brilliant books and so I thought I would instead do two separate top ten’s. The first being my favourite books published or re-issued in 2009 itself which was hard and actually I got down to a final twelve but I had to cut the delightful books Notwithstanding and ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ and be tough to make the ten which are (click on each title for full review)…

10. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann – One of the most emotionally raw novels I have ever read. Fictional accounts of a father’s suicide, the events leading up to it and the effects of this tragedy on his son and others around him, based in parts on the authors own fathers suicide. Moving and masterfully written.  

9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – The first of two Atwood novels that truly made my year. This dark (and often darkly funny) tale of the future of humanity starts off sounding like something out of a sci-fi novel yet disturbingly slowly reads as a not too distant possibility.  

8. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – Without question the debut novel of the year for me. A book many are labelling as being a ‘War book’, I wouldn’t 100% agree with that as its so much more. The author calls it a ‘romantic thriller about men who don’t speak’ I would call it ‘a book about the dark truths behind the faces of those we love’ a compelling and moving read.

7. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill – Some loved it some hated it, I revelled in it. Susan Hill’s thoughts on some of her books and the people she met who wrote them. And she popped by and made a comment or two.

6. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan – A fictional account of those famous Bronte Sisters which sadly didn’t get the Man Booker notice it should have. This brings the Bronte’s to life and you will think of them slightly differently. Made me want to read every Bronte book I could… as yet I haven’t started but a possible resolution for 2010, that or read all of Morgan’s prior works.

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – The deserved winner from the Man Booker Shortlist and the one I guessed (though I was hoping a certain other book would win, see below). I thought that there had been Tudor fiction overload, I was wrong just as I was wrong that reading a book about Thomas Cromwell that was huge would bore me to death, I was enthralled and enwrapped.

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The only way I can think of to describe this book which skips such a huge expanse of time is ‘a war torn epic’. I thought this was marvellous and was thrilled I got to hear her speak about it and even ask her a question; I was a bit in awe.

3. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – Definitely the non fiction book of 2009, well published in 2009. Getting a glimpse into the private world of such a marvellous author and how her criminal mastermind brain worked and plotted was utterly fascinating.

2. Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Technically not actually released originally in 2009, but thankfully brought back from the past thanks to the wonderful Bloomsbury Group. The tale of Henrietta and the villagers she lives with during the war had me laughing out loud all over the place.

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – A book I fell wholly in love with from start to finish. It might not have the biggest plot or be brimming with a huge cast of characters but its simplicity is what makes it so stunning. An interesting look at the life of a woman who is sent to be saved from the poverty in Ireland by being shipped to America, only not everyone wants to be saved. Utterly stunning and quietly intense.

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Then I had the ridiculous task of finding the ten ‘best of the rest’ which in a year where I read such delights as The Secret Scripture (which lost a point or two for the ending I won’t lie) and the joy Miss Garnett’s Angel and had a Sensation Season was going to be tough. OK, so it’s not quite ten but it’s as close as I could get. The final ten (cough, eleven) are…

10. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I wasn’t convinced that a thriller based on a child murderer in the time of Stalinist Russia would work for me. I was utterly wrong as I think for me it’s been the thriller of the year. Also thrilling was getting to go to Tom’s house for coffee and questions.

9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – Proof that sometimes books can be hard work but all that hard work is definitely worth it. Opening with the suicide of the narrator’s sister, this becomes an epic novel of the lives of the Chase sisters and the effects of the Second World War. Also comes with an intriguing novel inside the novel and a sci-fi-ish novel inside that one, are you keeping up?

8. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy – I am a big admirer of Stella and her work and this to me is her best fiction yet (oh but wait for the next one in 2010) despite loving her latest book The Room of Lost Things in 2008. This is a tale about love and ultimately death and it broke my heart and made me cry quite a lot. If you are up for an emotional journey and wonderful writing you simply cannot miss this book.

7. Lady into Fox by David Garnett – Wonderful surreal and touching fable of a husband and how he deals with his wife randomly turning into a fox one day. This is may only be 96 pages long but each page is perfection.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Most of the planet with have read this novel so I will simply say a modern classic masterpiece about a dystopian future where we are all under the watchful all seeing eye of Big Brother and should ever be fearful of Room 101.  

5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – My first year of reading Persephone books and this one just took me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting. A sensational tale of rich American heiresses, one whom meekly marries an Englishman for a title and vanishes, the other a forthright woman who wishes to seek her sister out and solve the mystery of what has befallen her.

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A total surprise hit of 2009 for me. I never thought that a ‘sci-fi’ book about a mentally handicapped man and a genius mouse would grab me let alone move me to tears and yet this frankly marvellous book did exactly that.

3. Small Island by Andrea Levy – Really this is a modern masterpiece. A tale of two completely different women brought together through war and adversity. Also a tale of forbidden love, war, racism and hope, a remarkable book I was glad Granny Savidge Reads recommended so strongly and so often.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book is what I may now consider the greatest nonfiction book I have ever read (so far – though unlikely to be beaten). A true tale of the ruthless killing of a family in America, and a thought provoking quite often disturbing study of their murderers. In parts bleak and horrific, it’s also emotional (I cried at this one too) and yet a darkly fascinating insight into the minds of killers.  

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood/Armadale by Wilkie Collins – Technically I am cheating but I really couldn’t decide between these two. The epic scope, characters and thrilling plots of each of these was utterly remarkable. In a year where I rediscovered my loved of all things sensational I found these two new favourite books. Both of these are genuine gems of sensation novels and couldn’t have more mystery, twists, dramas or thrills if they tried.

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I have to say I don’t think that minimal short snappy reviews are my fortes so do visit the full reviews, they are much better. Should you be really tough and ask me which out of this final twenty one would be my favourite of the year I would have to go with… Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I know some people will be surprised after my sensation fiction love in and some of you won’t agree and that’s fine, though don’t push your negative comments below this post (ha, ha, ha), for me it was just wonderful and a true surprise delight in this years Man Booker Longlist read-a-thon. There will be much more Toibin to come in 2010 I promise you. Now I must dash as I have a party to prepare for (attending not hosting) and some resolutions to make… What have been your best books of 2009?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Daniel Keyes, David Garnett, David Vann, Ellen Wood, Evie Wyld, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, Hilary Mantel, John Curran, Jude Morgan, Kamila Shamsie, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote, Wilkie Collins

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding – Agatha Christie

I don’t think that for a Christmas read you could do better than a title ‘The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding’ especially when it’s followed by the tag line ‘and a selection of Entrée’s’ the fact it is written by Agatha Christie only adds to its appeal and charm. It was also slightly ironic that after cooking a huge, and rather lovely, Christmas dinner the pudding was the problem. More on that some other time as really this is a post about a rather marvellous Christmas read, rather than my shoddy pudding debacle.

I had never heard of the regular event in publishing called the ‘Christmas Christie’ until I read the wonderful ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran earlier in the year but indeed she did write many. Naturally hankering for some perfect Christmas this book with its fabulous title had to be high up on my list. What could be better than some murder under the mistletoe whilst munching on chocolates and mulled wine?

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is actually a collection of some of Agatha Christie’s short stories. Five of them are tales of Poirot ‘The Mystery of the Spanish Chest’, ‘The Underdog’, ‘Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds’, ‘The Dream’ and the title tale itself. The last one ‘Greenshaw’s Folly’ stars Miss Marple, my favourite Christie character, herself. The title tale is indeed very Christmas filled and is murder meets great theft containing three brilliant plot twists within 60 pages which I think is remarkable. ‘The Mystery of the Spanish Chest’ had be baffled as to how six guests could eat dinner with one of their spouses murdered in a chest in the same room, again so, so clever. ‘The Underdog’ is a very interesting tale of women’s intuition and how having it cannot prove a thing, even if it might (note I say might not it is) be right.

The latter three were interesting clever, highly readable and slightly annoying in one. As though it was very interesting to see Christie use one specific plot device (which I cant say or you wont need to read them and they are charming) and change it so much in three ways I did feel it was a shame to have them be the last three tales as it could have been mixed up more. It did show what a genius of murderous mayhem she could be and how many ways one thing could be reworked; I would have just placed a few different methods in between. It’s a small critique though as I didn’t guess any of the endings in any of these three and they all kept me reading until the small hours of this very Boxing Day. All in all it was a truly delightful classic Christmas Christie collection (loving that alliteration) and I couldn’t have asked for more.

How were all your Christmases, did you all have a delightful day? I do hope so, do report back please with your Xmas tales. I had a marvellous day, bar the Christmas pudding nightmare (don’t ask). Dinner was a delight and I had wonderful presents but oddly only one book, though I do know another has been ordered. Apparently I am a nightmare to book buy for, as if. I mean really that’s so untrue.

Isn’t it interesting that though I love Christmas Day it is actually Boxing Day that’s my favourite since I started hosting Christmas myself? I think because everything is done and we now simply have those delicious parsnip and turkey sandwiches, left over chocolates and wine etc and can all relax from the hype. It is also tradition that we go to the cinema on Boxing Day which I love. Tonight we are off to see a film with a bookish twist that shaped my reading in a rather major way. I shall be discussing it in more detail tomorrow. I wonder if you can guess, its quite elementary my dears…

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Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks – John Curran

A theme seems to be occurring when it comes to my reading habits. I always say that I am not the biggest fan of non fiction and then I read one each year and it completely takes my breath away (well almost) with its brilliance and soon becomes on of my favourites if not my favourite book of the year. This happened last year with ‘The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters’ by Charlotte Mosley, I utterly adored it couldn’t put it down and yet at the same time didn’t want it to end. This has happened again this year with ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran.

I heard about Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks on one of the many book podcasts that I download each week. These notebooks were a recent discovery when Christie’s family allowed Greenway, Christie’s holiday home, to be taken over by the National Trust. They had never been on display, they were a mix up of several plots, daily to do’s, shopping lists, character ideas, lists of books (made me love Agatha even more) she wanted and other thoughts with no chronological order. That is where John Curran, an Agatha expert and friend of Christie’s grandson, came in and this book is the results of four years work trying to decipher some of Christie’s handwriting “often like short hand” and working out what notes related to what books and when.

The discoveries are really very interesting. It seems that Curran’s (and probably most readers of her work) image of Agatha sat endlessly typing murder after murder, book after book with the killer planned at the start isn’t quite so. In fact as you get to read her notes, which John has painstakingly transcribed, you find she would often chop and change the killer as she went. The idea for a book might ruminate for years and start from a simple observation as ‘a stamp’ the notes then look at how such an everyday item could cause someone to commit murder. Who knew that a certain famous Poirot scene was originally meant for Miss Marple? Which books didn’t have the endings you and I might have read? Which short stories then with new characters and a subtle plot twist or motive change became a play or a novel? You can find all these things out and much, much more.

The book isn’t just John’s transcriptions, there are some wonderful pictures (as you can see above)  of the notes she had written with crossings out (which actually meant she had used the notes not that they were rubbish. This book isn’t just about her notebooks, though naturally they are predominantly the subject of the book. He also interweaves her personal life from making hair appointments to having her grandchildren to say and being part of ‘The Detection Club’ a group of the finest detective fiction writers with a secret initiation ceremony. Her disappearance isn’t much mentioned but this is more about the process behind the books and what went on in Agatha’s head.

I have to say I don’t think you have to be a huge Agatha fan in order to read this, though if you are this book is pure gold. If you are interested in how the minds of authors work and in particular one of the great British authors (who has sold over two billion copies of her books worldwide) ever then this is also fascinating. There are a couple of glitches in the book. One, which you can overcome, is that it does give a lot of the books endings away. My thoughts on that are just leave those books a while before you read or re-read them as she has so many ‘you could read one a month for seven years’. The other small glitch for me is Curran’s slight case of repetition; I think in the first hundred pages I had read the same quote three times which seemed to be hammering a point home a little too much. This is minor though as I found Curran a really interesting and enjoyable guide through these notebooks, he was never too clever or condescending just very enthusiastic which we all know is highly contagious.

Ooh, I must mention, well show you, the delightful end papers which are a selection of the notebooks and look gorgeous (my Gran could remember lots of them) I think…

This is a wonderful book that I adored, and I freely admit that I am quite a hard person to please with non fiction yet this won me over almost instantly. This is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of the year It has also made my previous desire to read all Agatha Christie that I can a much bigger desire. I am quite tempted to read The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding next week! Oh, which brings me to the point that this book has finally won me over to Poirot and not just because of the notes, but also the two previously unpublished short stories he features in. A must read in my humble opinion.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Books of 2009, Harper Collins, John Curran, Review

The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie

I realised that actually The Body in the library isn’t the second Miss Marple written by Agatha Christie after I picked it up from my Christie post the other day. I also realised I have completely broken my ‘read things in order’ rule I like for a series of books as I had already read At Bertram’s Hotel (actually the eleventh), 4.50 From Paddington (which I always think is the first but is actually the eighth) and then the actual first Marple novel The Murder at The Vicarage. I was slightly narked at myself but I needed a Marple and Christie fest and didn’t have The Thirteen Problems so I just went with it.

The title ‘The Body in the Library’ kind of gives away just what is coming in the opening pages. Yes that’s right, the Bantry household awakes to find that there is indeed a body of an unknown platinum blonde in their library. No one in the household has seen the young girl before and it takes some time for the police to track her down. However it doesn’t take that long for Miss Jane Marple to appear on the scene as Mrs Bantry, a close friend, sends a chauffeur round for her pronto phoning ahead before ‘the recognised time to make friendly calls to neighbours’.

The police having met Miss Marple and her amateur sleuthing naturally want her gone as soon as possible. She doesn’t leave until she overhears that the victim was a dancer at the Hotel Majestic in Danemouth and before long Mrs Bantry and Miss Marple just so happen to take a small holiday there. So who was this girl, how did she end up in a strangers library in St Mary’s Mead and who took her there and killed her? Well you will have to read this joyous romp to find out.

Reading Agatha Christie this time round and taking slightly longer than the normal one sitting I noticed the wry humour she has that I spotted after seeing ‘The Spiders Web’ on stage the other week. Even from the wonderful opening paragraph there it is “Mrs Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a first at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in a cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing-suit, but as is the blessed habit of dreams this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life…

Those of you who read regularly will know I love village life and old ladies who are either a bit doolally or gossip and in the book we have both. Again the rye wit comes through in lines such as when we meet one of the villagers “Miss Wetherby, a long nosed, acidulated spinster, was the first to spread the intoxicating information”. Or when one woman in the village defends another to Miss Marple “Selena Blake is the nicest woman imaginable. Her herbaceous borders are simply marvellous – they make me green with envy. And she’s frightfully generous with her cuttings.’

I really took stock of Agatha Christie’s writing this time whilst try to hunt the killer and motives and it added immensely to my latest Christie reading. There was only one draw back and that was about half way in I suddenly remembered the TV version and so didn’t need to guess the killer as I remembered. If it hadn’t been for the great writing I wouldn’t have carried on but I found myself wanting to continue observing Christie’s characterization, red herring and clue dropping and scene setting. A truly wonderful read, I shall have to have a Christie moment much more often.

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