Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Links
Agatha Christie
1923, England
Hercule Poirot

Agatha Christie’s third published novel brings us the second outing with Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings. This time, we are taken to northern France, whence Poirot has been summed by a potential client, Paul Renauld, on a matter of some urgency. However, by the time they arrive, Renauld is dead, and the great detective must turn his attention to murder. This is complicated by the presence of the French police, specifically Monsieur Giraud of the Sûreté, who has little appreciation or patience for Poirot’s more thoughtful methods. Hastings for his part is dazzled by Giraud’s activity and on more than one occasion expects that Poirot is out-detected. Of course, Hastings isn’t always the most reliable of observers, and true to form proves easily distracted by a pretty face, further muddling his observational skills.

Unfortunately, I read Murder on the Links about a year ago and didn’t take any notes, so I don’t really remember my response to it all that well, although the general plot of the story has stuck with me surprisingly well. It is a mystery full of twists and turns, questionable identities, and hidden secrets from the past; secrets that once identified, begin to help Poirot’s unraveling of the case. Hastings is perhaps a bit annoying in his obtuseness, and the inclusion of history that Poirot knows but the reader has no access to can be frustrating to the armchair detective. Nonetheless, an enjoyable diversion.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

I’ve had a handful of posts drafted for weeks now that I just haven’t made the time to post. I seem to go in fits and bursts with blogging; though, I am happy to report that the reading is still going strong – so many good books already this year! I’ve resolved to start to play catch up, but before I start, I feel a compulsion to deviate a moment.

It’s a strange time. “Surreal” is the word I keep using, for it doesn’t seem real–for so much to be shut down, for the world to seemingly come to a virtual standstill. This is a thing of movies, not real life.

But COVID-19 IS real, and the precautions we are taking–trying to take–are necessary. Fortunately, I haven’t been too impacted yet; my work has yet to directly be influenced (though I anticipate a slow down in new projects while everyone just tries to keep up with things) and working remotely has long been an available option. I’m fortunate, I know, but when I see all the articles or lists of “things you can watch/listen to/read” during these times of “social distancing,” I confess my first thought is “how do you have time?” Of course, this is as much because I’ve never been one to be out and about as it is because I’m still working full time. But if I did want to fill some time–or if I were to make a recommendation–I think Agatha Christie is a good place to start. I find something so comforting–like “coming home” when I read an Agatha Christie, or watch one of the TV adaptations. (I’m particularly fond of the David Suchet Poirot series.) The formulaic nature, the knowledge that it all works out in the end, these are soothing in trying times.

The Secret Adversary
Agatha Christie
1922, England
Tommy and Tuppence

The second of Agatha Christie’s published novels, The Secret Adversary introduces us to the lively Tuppence Cowley and solid Tommy Beresford. Childhood friends, they meet by chance in post-war (1919 – post Spanish Flu, for that matter!) London, both down on their luck and in search of a job—and more importantly, the money that goes with one. Despairing of finding any, they impetuously decide to form The Young Adventures Ltd. and advertise to take on adventures on behalf of others. But before they get as far as submitting the ad copy, an adventure falls in their laps. However, when Tuppence cautiously tells the potential client, Mr. Whittington, that her name is “Jane Finn,” he grows agitated and sends her on her way with £50, thinking it a ploy and trying to buy silence. Curious, Tommy and Tuppence decide to investigate further and advertise for information on Jane Finn. What follows in response to their ad is a delightful romp across post-Great War London and adventure plenty, for the detectives and reader both.

Although there is mystery at the heart of the story—where is Jane Finn? And who is the illusive Mr. Brown who seems to be pulling so many strings and determined to overthrow the current government?—the story feels more like a thriller to me than a strict mystery novel. Perhaps this is because the adventures are so fast-paced, the detectives so green, and the dangers so present on-screen. But in the end, in honest detective-novel form, our heroes solve the crime, and in dramatic fashion. For a change of pace, I nearly had it solved as well! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, the wonderful 1920s English slang, and the utterly charming Tuppence and Tommy and look forward to more of their adventures.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Agatha Christie
1921, England
Hercule Poirot

Not only is The Mysterious Affair at Styles Christie’s first novel, it is the first Hercule Poirot mystery. Set in the countryside during the First World War, it is a wonderful coincidence–one that likely enables a terrible crime to be solved correctly–that Poirot happens to be a war refugee living in the neighborhood and that a friend from the pre-war days, Hastings, is staying at Styles House, where the crime occurs. Hastings will prove the Watson to Poirot’s Holmes – though I must say, he strikes me as quite the inferior Watson. He prides himself as an observer and yet he never quite seems to get it–not merely in the detection of crime (for which we could all be given fails, as clever as the mastermind is here), but he doesn’t even seem able to recognize the truth of ordinary interactions between people, including those involving himself. It can be a bit frustrating for the reader at times, although perhaps this is intentional, to allow us a little feeling of superiority even when we fail spectacularly at solving the crime (err…as I always do, at least!)

There are all the ingredients of a typical Poirot novel: a country house setting, a small cast of suspects, a difficult case that the police can’t get right, red herrings, even a set of locked doors posing difficulties. Poirot performs his typical work of genius in neatly uncovering the solution at the very end. And yet–it didn’t quite feel “right” to me. Somehow, I didn’t feel as at home at Styles as have with later Christie novels.  Perhaps this is the reflection of it being a “first” – Poirot didn’t feel quite fully “Poirot-like” to me, yet, though that may because I am not used to seeing him through the eyes of Hastings. But the novel also didn’t feel quite as tight in its execution, and although I am quite used to not actually solving the crime, usually there’s this feeling of “Oh, right…” that didn’t quite happen for me here. So not quite my favorite Christie, but it certainly does nothing to dissuade me from more!

[Read in early 2019….and just now finally posting! Part of my Agatha Christie reading project.]

A New Project: Reading Agatha Christie

Observing my reading over the past couple years, I really like mysteries. I suppose the same applies to my TV viewing as well. (And film – have you seen Knives Out!? My favorite movie of 2019.) True, they’re typically not  difficult (unless the subject matter is particularly unsettling or gory), but they are so much fun to read. To try to guess the end (if you don’t…oops…read it before you get there), to figure out the clues. So I’ve been reading a lot of them. Various authors. Robert Galbraith. Ann Cleeves. PD James. But mostly, Agatha Christie.

It really started, I suppose, when Kenneth Branagh remade Murder on the Orient Express (which I did enjoy, despite his unfortunate mustache). So I reread that. And then thought that some more Christie might be nice. Crooked House. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Now, I have a mysteries & thrillers project list (have I mentioned how much I like lists? 😉), but, inspired in part by Cleo’s embarkment on an Agatha Christie reading journey, I’ve decided to amend the list with ALL of Christie. And read them in order (although I might skip some of the ones I’ve read recently). I will skip the books she wrote under the name Mary Westmacott as those aren’t mysteries, and I may or may not read her autobiography (which, actually, I read in high school).

I’ve read the first couple (1, 3, and 2, in that order – an oops due to forgetting which book came second) and will be posting on those soonish.

For the deathly curious, the list I will be reading from, in order. Due to library availability (and since I prefer to read on paper), I’ll be reading from the short story collections as published in the US. (It’s possible that some of those will be read out of order since the stories would have been individually at earlier dates anyways. This is meant to be fun, not dogmatic.)

  1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 1921, Hercule Poirot
  2. The Secret Adversary, 1922, Tommy and Tuppence
  3. The Murder on the Links, 1923, Hercule Poirot
  4. Poirot Investigates, 1924, Hercule Poirot (Short Stories)
  5. The Man in the Brown Suit, 1924, Colonel Race
  6. The Secret of Chimneys, 1925, Superintendent Battle
  7. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926, Hercule Poirot
  8. The Big Four, 1927, Hercule Poirot
  9. The Mystery of the Blue Train, 1928, Hercule Poirot
  10. The Seven Dials Mystery, 1929, Superintendent Battle
  11. Partners in Crime, 1929, Tommy and Tuppence (Short Stories)
  12. The Mysterious Mr. Quin, 1930, Harley Quin (Short Stories)
  13. The Murder at the Vicarage, 1930, Miss Marple
  14. The Sittaford Mystery, 1931, Mystery (US: The Murder at Hazelmoor)
  15. Peril at End House, 1932, Hercule Poirot
  16. The Thirteen Problems, 1932, Various (US: The Tuesday Club Murders; short stories)
  17. Lord Edgware Dies, 1933, Hercule Poirot (US: Thirteen at Dinner)
  18. Murder on the Orient Express, 1934, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder in the Calais Coach)
  19. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, 1934, Mystery (US: The Boomerang Clue)
  20. Parker Pyne Investigates, 1934, Parkery Pyne (US: Mr.Parker Pyne, Detective)
  21. Three Act Tragedy, 1935, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder in Three Acts)
  22. Death in the Clouds, 1935, Hercule Poirot (US: i)
  23. The A.B.C. Murders, 1936, Hercule Poirot
  24. Murder in Mesopotamia, 1936, Hercule Poirot
  25. Cards on the Table, 1936, Hercule Poirot
  26. Murder in the Mews, 1937, Hercule Poirot (US: Dead Man’s Mirror; short stories)
  27. Dumb Witness, 1937, Hercule Poirot (US: Poirot Loses a Client)
  28. Death on the Nile, 1937, Hercule Poirot
  29. Appointment with Death, 1938, Hercule Poirot
  30. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, 1938, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder for Christmas or A Holiday for Murder)
  31. Murder is Easy, 1939, Superintendent Battle (US: Easy to Kill)
  32. And Then There Were None, 1939
  33. The Regatta Mystery, 1939, Various (Short Stories)
  34. Sad Cypress, 1940, Hercule Poirot
  35. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, 1940, Hercule Poirot (US: The Patriotic Murders or An Overdose of Death)
  36. Evil Under the Sun, 1941, Hercule Poirot
  37. N or M?, 1941, Tommy and Tuppence
  38. The Body in the Library, 1942, Miss Marple
  39. Five Little Pigs, 1942, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder in Retrospect)
  40. The Moving Finger, 1943, Miss Marple
  41. Towards Zero, 1944, Superintendent Battle
  42. Death Comes as the End, 1945
  43. Sparkling Cyanide, 1945, Colonel Race (US: Remembered Death)
  44. The Hollow, 1946, Hercule Poirot
  45. The Labours of Hercules, 1947, Hercule Poirot (Short Stories)
  46. Taken at the Flood, 1948, Hercule Poirot (US: There is a Tide…)
  47. The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories, 1948, Various (Short Stories)
  48. Crooked House, 1949
  49. A Murder is Announced, 1950, Miss Marple
  50. Three Blind Mice and Other Stories, 1950, Mystery (Short Stories)
  51. They Came to Baghdad, 1951
  52. The Under Dog and Other Stories, 1951, Hercule Poirot (Short Stories)
  53. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, 1952, Hercule Poirot
  54. They Do It with Mirrors, 1952, Miss Marple (US: Murder with Mirrors)
  55. After the Funeral, 1953, Hercule Poirot (US: Funerals are Fatal)
  56. A Pocket Full of Rye, 1953, Miss Marple
  57. Destination Unknown, 1954, Mystery (US: So Many Steps to Death)
  58. Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly, 2014, Hercule Poirot (written in 1954 to raise money for a church)
  59. Hickory Dickory Dock, 1955, Hercule Poirot
  60. Dead Man’s Folly, 1956, Hercule Poirot
  61. 50 from Paddington, 1957, Miss Marple (US: What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!)
  62. Ordeal by Innocence, 1958
  63. Cat Among the Pigeons, 1959, Hercule Poirot
  64. Double Sin and Other Stories, 1961, Various (Short Stories; US)
  65. The Pale Horse, 1961
  66. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, 1962, Miss Marple (US: The Mirror Crack’d)
  67. The Clocks, 1963, Hercule Poirot
  68. A Caribbean Mystery, 1964, Miss Marple
  69. At Bertram’s Hotel, 1965, Miss Marple
  70. Third Girl, 1966, Hercule Poirot
  71. Endless Night, 1967
  72. By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 1968, Tommy and Tuppence
  73. Hallowe’en Party, 1969, Hercule Poirot
  74. Passenger to Frankfurt, 1970
  75. Nemesis, 1971, Miss Marple
  76. The Golden Ball and Other Stories, 1971, Various (Short Stories)
  77. Elephants Can Remember, 1972, Hercule Poirot
  78. Postern of Fate, 1973, Tommy and Tuppence
  79. Curtain, 1975, Hercule Poirot (Poirot’s last case, written in the 1940s)
  80. Sleeping Murder, 1976, Miss Marple (Miss Marple’s last case, written in the 1940s)
  81. Miss Marple’s Final Cases and Two Other Stories, 1979, Miss Marple
  82. The Harlequin Tea Set, 1997, Various (Short Stories; US [stories published in other UK collections])

Completed: The Woman in White

Is anyone as shocked as I am to find out that it’s the end of April already? I’m really not sure where the past month went. And alas, my reading seems to have vanished with it–despite a readathon earlier this month, I haven’t finished a single book since mid-March. Guess what my plan is for May? But at least I still have a small pile of drafts to post here–it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, even if I also wrote these up over a month ago. Sigh.

Cover: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins
England, 1859

I was determined to finally read The Woman in White last autumn as a suitably seasonal read, and although I only write it up now, I did more or less succeed in reading it during the appropriate season.

I’ve long been a Collins fan, having found The Moonstone unputdownable when I read it in high school, but somehow or another I’d never managed to read his other famous mystery. While I didn’t fly through it the way I did The Moonstone (a fault, perhaps, of me as a reader), I found is surprisingly engaging considering that the mystery seemed slight, with much of the outcome well-foreshadowed.

It is a story told through the narration of several different pens, and it begins with a long section of narration by Walter Hartright, a drawing teacher who firsts meets the mysterious woman in white on his way home one night. In his recollections, he seems unexpectedly affected by the brief encounter, though perhaps this is to be expected when only days later he discovers a strong physical resemblance between the woman and one of his new pupils. The idea of a woman in white conjures up the idea of a ghost, and indeed, this flesh-and-blood woman proves to have a sort of ghostly presence throughout the rest of novel, turning up again and again, whether in person or in conversation. The mystery of her past and her present will prove to have unexpected ramifications for the remainder of our cast of characters.

And yet, it does not seem at first as if the existence of this mysterious woman should have any true impact. Walter is to teach Laura Fairlie and Marion Halcombe drawing in the months before Laura’s marriage to Sir Percival Glyde. The marriage was sanctioned by Laura’s father shortly before he died, and there seems nothing sinister in the arrangement, at least not at first. But time, money problems, and Laura’s unfortunate affection for Walter, will prove that all is perhaps not as it first seems with Sir Glyde or his friend Count Fosco.

No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace–they drag us away from our parents’ love and our sisters’ friendship–they take us, body and soul, to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel. And what does the best of them give us in return?

An early example of the mystery genre, The Woman in White remains a classic of the form. It is full of suspense and mystery and memorable characters, none of whom are extraneous to the plot. And although it sits well with the realm of Victorian sensationalist novels, I found it surprisingly feminist–it seems that Collins was not a fan of the institution of marriage, or at least the ways it could harm women. It is not merely that he gives us Marion, a strong, intelligent woman, but the undercurrent of criticism of the limitations which Laura faced as a married woman, unable to control her destiny. And although Laura may at first appear to be the prototypical Victorian lady, she has her own sort of inner strength as well, disturbed though it may be by her husband’s harsh treatment.

Suspenseful and full of great characters–Count Fosco is a fascinating study–it is no wonder that The Woman in White endures. I imagine I could read it again and get something yet different out of it. Now I’ve only to wonder why it took me so long to read it in the first place?