BooksOfTheMoon

The Man in the Brown Suit (Colonel Race #1)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

Anne Beddingfeld is a newly orphaned, but adventurous young Englishwoman, who witnesses a man falling to his death in the London underground. This leads to somewhat more adventure than Anne bargained for and a trail that leads to South Africa and maybe even true love.

I hadn’t realised that this book didn’t star one of Christie’s famous detectives, but Anne was an awful lot of fun. The story is told in the first person as her memoir of the affair, with some chapters being “extracted” from the diary of an MP that Anne happens to encounter.

Anne’s fellow travellers on the ship that takes her to Africa are a varied bunch, each well drawn and with their own characterisation, letting the reader put them into their own mental map of the plot. I especially liked Mrs Suzanne Blair, the society lady that Anne takes into her confidence; and Guy Pagett, the rather prim secretary of MP Sir Eustace Pedlar – he reminds me of that wonderful PG Wodehouse creation, The Efficient Baxter.

The identity of the mastermind behind the whole thing caught me entirely by surprise, the whole thing was deftly put together, with all the clues and red herrings that you’d expect from the Queen of Crime. While I was a bit disappointed not have Hercule Poirot solving the mystery, Anne is a delightful character and I couldn’t stay mad at her for long.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007151660
Publisher: HarperCollinspublishers
Year of publication: 2002

The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot, #2)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 3 stars

The second Poirot novel starts with Hastings on his way back to England to meet up with his friend when he runs into a young lady on the train. In what will become a theme throughout the book, he’s arrogant and chauvinistic towards her before she escapes at Paris. The main plot involves Poirot being asked to come to a village in France to help protect a client, but by the time he arrives, the client is already dead.

Much of the fun of an Agatha Christie for me is in following along with the clues and seeing if I could figure it out myself (narrator: he never can), but with this one, I’m not sure that we were given enough clues to figure it out. That takes a bit of the fun away, but it’s always great seeing Hercule Poirot at work, disdaining the Holmesian method of physical investigation, here propounded by the police inspector Giraud. Poirot relies on psychology and using his famous Little Grey Cells and, of course, they don’t let him down.

So the mystery part of it was fun and I enjoyed it, but Hastings was pretty unbearable in this one. Maybe I’m too used to Hugh Fraser’s loveable bumbling sidekick in the TV series, but between chasing anything in a skirt and the chauvinism, I wanted to shake some sense into him.

So a good murder mystery, but beware the creepy sidekick.

Book details

ISBN: 9780061749940
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Year of publication: 2004

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

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