BooksOfTheMoon

Peril at End House (Hercule Poirot #8)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 3 stars

A retired Hercule Poirot is on holiday with his faithful friend Captain Hastings when he makes the acquaintance of a young lady whose accidents around the town seem to be more than just accidents.

It seems to me that Christie was having some fun at the expense of M. Poirot in this novel. She pokes sly fun at his vanity and arrogance, but with a fondness that I found quite endearing. Despite his high opinion of himself, he’s often confused and stumped, and more than once is set on the right track by his faithful Hastings.

It was an interesting choice at the end to have Poirot guess that Nick intends to kill herself but to make no move to stop it. He plays fast and loose like this in other books too and it’s a reminder that he’s definitely not the police but a private individual with his own moral code. I sort of hope that the young Mr Vyse who leaves in a hurry at the end is off to go and stop her.

I always gamely try to figure out whodunnit and I rarely get it. This time was no exception. Right up to the end, I had no clue, although once it’s revealed, the clues were all there. There’s a lot of clever misdirection going on that totally threw me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006138938
Publisher: Fontana
Year of publication: 1932

Murder On The Orient Express

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 5 stars

Although I count myself as a fan of Agatha Christie, I must confess to not having read this, possibly the most famous (due to the various media adaptations, none of which I have seen either) of her Poirot novels, before. This has now, finally, been rectified. After some business out in the middle east, M. Poirot is returning to London on the Orient Express. One night, as the train is caught in a snowdrift, one of the passengers is murdered, and it’s up to Poirot to investigate which of the other passengers on the sleeper was responsible.

Like Poirot himself, this is a very neat book. It has a nice structure, with the build-up, the murder, interviews with each of the suspects, all presenting the evidence to the reader at the same time as it is revealed to the detective, and inviting the reader to play along. As usual, I failed miserably to spot whodunnit, but enjoyed the ride, and the company of the master detective and his “little grey cells”.

A great book, and one that I’d like to re-read, which is unusual for me with a whodunnit. I’d also like to see the film (the 1974 one with Albert Finney) to see how well it was adapted.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006137122
Publisher: Fontana
Year of publication: 1934

At Bertram’s Hotel

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

Bertram’s Hotel is an old-fashioned place, full of old fashioned people. Miss Marple takes a holiday down there and is disconcerted to find that even in this most respectable of institutions evil lurks.

Like with The Clocks, I was somewhat disconcerted in this book by the limited presence of the detective whose name is on the spine, in this case Miss Marple. The real hero of the book, who has most of the insights and does the footwork is chief inspector Davy, commonly known as Father. He has the flashes of inspiration, puts in the legwork that goes with them and pieces everything together, with Miss Marple just there to provide some serendipitous clues when required.

The inhabitants of Bertram’s are all intriguing people, from Lady Sedgewick, an adventuress with an estranged daughter who also happens to be staying there, to Cannon Pennyfeather, an absent-minded cleric who forgets what day the conference he’s supposed to be attending is on. These are fun characters even if they are somewhat stereotyped.

The central mystery was strong enough to engage my attention the whole way through, although that may have at least partially been my perpetual inability to spot whodunnit before the Big Reveal.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007716913
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of publication: 1965

Postern of Fate (Tommy and Tuppence, #5)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 2 stars

Having moved into a new house in a country village to enjoy their retirement, Tuppence is sorting through some bric-a-brac they inherited with the house. In a book she finds underlined letters that spell out a sentence to the effect that Mary Jordan was murdered. Intrigued and unable to let it go, she ropes her husband into one final adventure.

Although I’ve enjoyed the other ‘Tommy and Tuppence’ novels I’ve read, I really didn’t like this one at all. It felt turgid, plodding and I still really don’t particularly know what it was about. Something about Evil Forces that recur from generation to generation and a warning about fascism I think. Maybe this was Christie trying to get to grips with the times (the book was written in the early 1970s) but it was an odd mix of the modern(ish) and old-fashioned that failed to come off for me.

Maybe Tommy and Tuppence should have been left to enjoy their retirement without being called back to active service for one final (poor) job.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007111480
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of publication: 1973

N or M?

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are having a hard time sitting out the Second World War, as they aren’t wanted. But into their gloom comes an opportunity to hunt out enemies from within. An agent has been murdered while on the track of two German master spies, known only by the code names ‘N’ and ‘M’. Tommy and Tuppence are sent off to the least likely of spots, a guest house in a sleepy town on the English south coast to try and root out the fifth columnists.

This was a pretty gripping story made even more interesting for me knowing that it was written just when it was set. At that point, Britain was in the nadir of its war, everything really did look bleak, so this was part propaganda and part encouragement to keep a stiff upper lip. That it has these agendas and still manages to be a great read is testament to Christie’s skill as a writer.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006163015
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of publication: 1941

The Clocks

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 3 stars

This is as much a Hardcastle and Lamb mystery as a Poirot one, with the little Belgian not even showing up until half way through the book. It reminded me of 4.50 from Paddington in that regard, with police Detective Hardcastle and his friend (and spy) Colin Lamb doing the hard work and presenting their findings to M. Poirot for analysis, getting back only cryptic rhymes until the Big Reveal at the end.

For me, the book definitely suffered for the lack of Poirot’s charm and eccentricity, since although Hardcastle and Lamb had their charms, they were very much just the usual bumbling policemen who don’t have the flair of the private detective, as is traditional in these sorts of stories.

One nice touch about M. Poirot in this novel is that he’s currently fending off boredom by cataloguing the works of fictional detectives and their authors, lending the whole thing a somewhat post-modern feel.

The central mystery itself is intriguing enough, but I don’t feel that this is one of Ms Christie’s better efforts.

Book details

Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of publication: 1963

4.50 From Paddington

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

This was my first Miss Marple story, although I am a firm fan of Ms Christie’s other famous creation, Hercule Poirot. This is a very different kind of book, with Miss Marple herself staying very much in the shadows: being an old lady, she can’t really get around, so she relies on the thoroughly competent Lucy Eyelesbarrow to be her eyes and ears. Lucy is an intriguing character in her own right, and I liked the idea of this very intelligent, well-educated young woman deciding to turn domestic service into a Profession, and charging outrageous amounts of money to come in and ‘look after’ people for a few weeks or months, before moving on.

The central mystery of the story concerns Mrs Elspeth McGillicuddy witnessing a murder as another train pulls up alongside her own for a few minutes. Nobody really believes her, except her old friend Miss Marple, who makes it her business to find out who the murderer is, not to mention the identity of the victim.

I tried yet again to read along and try and figure out who the murderer was in this, and I failed yet again. I was astounded at the end when the reveal happened, as Christie had laid a marvellous false trail. But I wonder if it was too well laid, and there weren’t enough clues to determine the real identity of the killer. But it was a fun novel to read anyway and I enjoyed it.

I did spent the whole novel hearing Miss Marple’s voice as that of Peggy from The Archers though.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330238915
Publisher: Pan; New Impression edition
Year of publication: 1957

The Secret Adversary

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

Tommy Beresford and Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley are old childhood friends who meet up again in the aftermath of the Great War and, almost penniless, agree to form a joint venture: the Young Adventurers Ltd, willing to go anywhere and do anything. Their first assignment ends up leading them into much more danger than anyone imagined and they have to fight for their lives against the mysterious Mr Brown while searching for the one document that could save Britain from civil war.

This book feels very much of its time, with a gently paternalistic government that Knows Best and poor, misled British unions who don’t really want to strike, but those darned Bolsheviks are leading them astray. This makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy this novel. That’s not true, I did, but you certainly need to be aware of the context that it was written in to enjoy it. But that’s something that I’m quite good at, doing it regularly with the Golden Age SF novels that I enjoy so much, so it was easy enough to do the same thing here.

The book kept me guessing as to the identity of the mysterious Mr Brown right to the end, laying several false trails. I warmed to the two protagonists very early and became invested in them (so I’ll definitely look out for the other books in the series). Despite that, this book was written very early in Christie’s career and doesn’t feel as polished as some of her later work. As an indicator of things to come it’s marvellous, and it holds up well enough to be an enjoyable work on its own merits, so long as you’re able to place it in its historical context and not judge it too much.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007111466
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of publication: 1922

Curtain (Hercule Poirot, #42)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 3 stars

At the twilight of his years, Hercule Poirot returns to the country house where he solved his first case and summons his old friend Hastings to help him solve one final crime.

I was a bit wary about this, since it was apparently published after her death, and posthumously published work is sometime not published for a reason. However, according to Wiki, it was written in the ’40s during the war when Christie was afraid for her life and she wanted to ensure that her most famous creation got a decent sendoff. When it became clear that she would be okay, she had the manuscript sealed away for 30 years and it was opened and published in the mid ’70s. As a result, this was written when Christie was at the height of her powers, with an excellent mystery that kept me guessing right to the end. The misdirection was very well done, with me smugly thinking that I had figured out who it was only to be completely wrong. A great whodunnit and a very appropriate final adventure for Hercule Poirot.

Book details

ISBN: 9780425173749
Publisher: Berkley
Year of publication: 1975

Taken at the Flood (Hercule Poirot, #28)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 2 stars

A young bride is suddenly left fabulous wealth when her new husband dies in an air-raid, causing his relatives to lose out on money that had been promised to them; a stranger is murdered and a whole sequence of other events bring Hercule Poirot to investigate, but can he untangle the knots?

I felt that the writing in this book wasn’t particularly sophisticated, and it felt clunky at times. Poirot himself wasn’t introduced until the second half of the book (apart from a cameo in the prologue), the first half being used to set the stage and perhaps the book suffered a bit because of that.

But through it all, Christie is still good at what she does, and I was kept guessing as to the identity of the murderer right to end. She’s good at misdirection and setting pins up only to knock them down (either that or I’m rubbish at whodunnits, or both). So not great writing but a good whodunnit.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007121014
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Year of publication: 1948

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