Category Archives: Miss Marple

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

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

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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4.50 From Paddington – Agatha Christie

After my previous read I was reminded how much I love a good Agatha Christie. I am not the biggest fan of Poirot however I absolutely love a good Miss Marple, so I went to the TBR pile and the 4.50 From Paddington beamed out at me – how could I resist? I don’t think I need to tell people what the premise of a Miss Marple novel is but I should anyway, just in case. Miss Marple is a lovely retired lady living in the delightful small village of St Mary Mead, she unfathomably ends up embroiled in murders, and decides she should go out and solve the cases in a slightly nosey busybody kind of way. I think she’s great.

The tale starts as Mrs McGillicuddy takes the 4.50 from Paddington to visit her friend Miss Marple. ON her journey and being slightly nosey herself she is looking at another trains carriages when she sees a woman being throttled by a man. She naturally reports this and no one believes her, no one of course except Miss Marple. After no body is found and nothing is reported in the papers Miss Marple hires her friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow (some of the names are corking) to become a cleaner in a house near where the murder seems to have happened and where a body might just have been hidden. Lucy then has to report back to Miss Marple on regular occasions as she figures it all out coming to the correct conclusion of course.

Agatha Christie sometimes gets unfairly criticized for her prose. No it isn’t flowery and never ending, she is blunt and gets to the chase whilst chucking in a few good red herrings which is what all good crime fiction should do. Also she looks at society and the human mind which has become incredibly fashionable again in crime fiction as it merges into popular literature. I had forgotten though how well she can weave a plot, after putting down the book having finished it you cannot help but marvel at how she came up with the idea in the first place, sent on so many wrong turns and then got you to a thrilling conclusion.

Sadly like with ‘At Bertram’s Hotel’ Miss Marple isn’t in the book as much as I would have liked. I simply love the character of Miss Marple and though Lucy seemed a younger Miss Marple in her own way it was slightly like an understudy and with the secondary characters sometimes Agatha makes them slightly one dimensional but that’s me being really, really picky. You actually cannot fault Agatha’s work, she was ahead of her time I believe and now she is still one of the best selling authors every year, despite people saying she’s no longer fashionable.

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