BooksOfTheMoon

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

Unnatural Causes (Adam Dalgliesh #3)

By P.D. James

Rating: 3 stars

This is an oddly meta-fictional whodunnit, with the victim being a writer of detective fiction, whose corpse is seen in the first chapter floating on a boat off the Sussex coast in exactly the same manner (and words) as a character later says she mentioned to the victim as a good opening chapter for a detective novel…

I enjoyed this novel where Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh takes a holiday to visit his aunt in a small coastal village in Sussex, and being unable to get away from his day job. It described small-town mentality rather well, and showed how different British life was, even fifty years ago, not to mention the lack of empathy shown to the disabled, with one character constantly being referred to (both in the narrative and within the story) as a cripple, for being in a wheelchair.

As usual, I completely failed to figure out whodunnit, but I don’t feel so bad this time, since a major clue was hidden until the very end.

Book details

ISBN: 9780571204106
Publisher: Penguin Books in association with Faber & Faber
Year of publication: 1967

The Robots of Dawn (Robot, #3)

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 3 stars

Plainclothesman Elijah Baley is back in space, sent by Earth at the request of Aurora, the oldest and most powerful of the Spacer worlds, to investigate the ‘murder’ of a humanoid robot. At stake is not just his own career, but the entire future of Earth and the future Galactic Empire.

It was in this book that Asimov starts sowing the seeds to start connecting his Galactic Empire/Foundation books with his Robot series, with one of the characters explicitly talking about psychohistory in a chain that would end with Foundation and Earth. However, I don’t think that the story itself was particularly satisfying. Like the other Elijah Baley books, this is a whodunnit, the twist this time being that the victim is a robot rather than a human, but it didn’t feel like it had the self-assuredness of the earlier books and the writing felt a bit clunkier too. It didn’t help that sex was an important part of the plot but I’m not sure how comfortable Dr Asimov was with writing about it, since he did so in a fairly clunky, clinical manner, although this may have been more reflecting the society that he was describing than any flaw in the writing.

Nevertheless, while it was an interesting book, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as some of the other Baley books or of Asimov’s other prodigious output.

Book details

Publisher: Granada
Year of publication: 1983

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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