Sunday, 7 February 2010

Comfort reading - Agatha Christie: 2010

I've read Agatha Christie's detective/mystery books so often - they are the reading equivalent of comfort eating for me. Most stand the test of time remarkably well, although there are a few duds in there. So far this year I've re-read:
  1. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (shortish slightly self-indulgent stories) 8/10
  2. The Mysterious Mr Quin (short stories with common theme - a supernatural element running through them that is somehow connected with the mysterious appearances and disappearances of the enigmatic Mr Harley Quin.) 8/10
  3. The Sittaford Mystery 8/10 (classic detective story from the 1930s)
  4. Ten Little Niggers (the original non-PC version of Then There were None - brilliant thriller and murder mystery) 10/10
  5. The Seven Dials Mystery (a thriller set in the upper classes of the 1930s - not one of the best) 6.5/10
  6. Evil Under the Sun (brilliant murder mystery set on island off Devon) 10/10
  7. Miss Marple's Final Cases (short stories) 8/10
  8. Cards on the Table (OK Hercule Poirot detective) 7/10
  9. Destination Unknown (thriller, doesn't stand the test of time but not bad either) 7/10
  10. Parker Pyne Investigates (short stories that start out by being more about love and romance but gradually take on a more serious detective note) 7/10
  11. Murder in Mesopotamia (very good HP detective novel set on archaeological dig in the 1930s) 9/10
  12. Poirot Investigates (short stories) 8/10
  13. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (which established Christie as a detective story genius. Although it has lost a little of its lustre over time, her characters and descriptions are masterful) 9.5/10
  14. Three Act Tragedy (Hercule Poirot detective novel from the 1930s, set amongst the theatrical crowd of the times) 8.5/10
  15. The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot novel first published in 1928. OK detective story but reflects the ingrained British xenophobia and anti-Semitism of the times, making it interesting in terms of understanding the cultural context of Europe in the years leading up to WW2.) 7.5/10
  16. Hickory Dickory Dock (Hercule Poirot detective published 1955. Agatha Christie's Golden Age was the 1930s-1940s. Here she was trying to reflect the London student life of the 1950s but the setting is far from convincing. Stereotyped characters do not help although as usual the actual detective story is OK.) 7/10
  17. The Labours of Hercules (short stories first published as a collection in 1947 with some stories dating back as far as 1939. Cute idea of Hercule Poirot completing a final 12 cases for his career, each reflecting an intellectual equivalent of the original Labours of his namesake, a the brawny hero of ancient Greece. An amusing if not brilliant collection.) 8/10.
  18. Murder in the Mews (four Poirot cases first published in 1937. Christie is trying out ideas, some of which are used in later - the most obvious being 'Triangle at Rhodes' which evolved into 'Evil Under the Sun'.) 8/10
  19. The Pale Horse (Do the occupants of The Pale Horse really use witchcraft to convince others to die by natural causes or is it a new form of technology hidden in a wooden box? Or something far more traditional and prosaic? With a central character inspired by one of her former colleagues and claims that a real-life would-be killer used information from this book in his deadly plans, implausible as it might seem, this novel may be the closest Christie ever comes to a true-crime read.) 8/10
  20. Sparkling Cyanide (a beautiful, wealthy but vacuous socialite wife dies after drinking a glass of poisoned champagne at her birthday dinner in the heart of a fashionable restaurant. Was it really suicide due to depression after influenza? Suicide due to an unhappy love affair? Or murder?) 8/10
  21. N or M? (rather silly Tommy & Tuppance WWII spy thriller.) 6/10
  22. They Do it with Mirrors (At the behest of an old friend concerned there is something wrong, Miss Marple goes to stay with the idealistic Carrie Louise who along with her husband is running a rehabilitation program for 200 juvenile delinquents. But is Carrie Louise really in danger - or is someone else?) 8/10
  23. The Body in the Library (When a young blonde girl in cheap finery is found strangled in the library of Gossington Hall, its owners Colonel and Mrs Bantry claim they have no knowledge of who she is. As rumours begin to circulate Mrs Bantry calls in her friend Miss Marple to track down what really happened.) 8/10
  24. Towards Zero (When Neville Strange proposes visiting his childhood home with his new wife at the same time that his former wife will be staying, eyebrows are raised and disaster predicted. But no-one could have predicted the vicious murder of their hostess, the elderly Lady Tressalin. Christie at her best.) 10/10
  25. After the Funeral (No-one considers the death of Richard Lansquenet suspicious until his sister, Cora, makes a comment after the funeral "He was murdered, wasn't he?" While disconcerted, no-one appears to take her statement too seriously - until Cora herslef is murdered the next day.) 8/10
  26. Passenger to Frankfurt (implausible thriller published in 1970. British diplomat Sir Stafford Nye en-route home after yet another meaningless boring conference is persuaded by a compelling young woman to allow himself to be drugged and robbed of his passport. Safely hoe he endeavours to meet her again and is drawn into a complex international intrigue that sees the pair travelling all over Europe.) 6/10
  27. The Moving Finger (Recuperating from a flying accident, Jerry Barton and his sister Joanna move to the village of Lymstock determined to immerse themselves in small town country life. But they soon discover the village is awash with nasty anonymous letters and even as strangers they are not immune. Following the death of a recipient in possession of one of the letters, the police and others are determined to track down the writer. Then another body is found. Classic, high quality mystery with a touch of romance.) 9.5/10
  28. Third Girl (A young girl visits Poirot at breakfast one morning and announces that she might have committed a murder. Is she a murderess, mentally disturbed, a victim or what? Poirot and his friend novelist Adrienne Oliver are determined to find out. Written and set in the 1960s, this is not one of Christie's best in terms of setting but the underlying detective story is quite satisfying.) 8/10
  29. Postern of Fate (Agatha Christie's final book and the wanderings of an elderly mind are clearly evident. Another very silly Tommy and Tuppance espionage thriller with less relevance than even N or M? Very hard to follow, let alone see the point of.) 4/10
  30. Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories (collection of short stories published in 1991 including four that were written for newspapers/magazines in the 1920s & 30s and hadn't previously been published in a book.) 8/10
  31. The Secret of Chimneys (Adventurer Anthony Cade agrees to help a friend in delivering a manuscript to London and returning some incriminating letters to a lady. But the tasks turn out to be more complex than they first appeared with multiple players interested in both and dead bodies accumulating. Readable nonsense which, like many of Christie's early books, contains a disturbing amount of background xenophobia and anti-Semitism which was clearly both rampant and accepted in England in the 1920s and 1930s.) 7/10
  32. Endless Night (Mike Rogers tells the story of his fateful meeting with American heiress Ellie Guteman at Gypsies' Acre, where an underlying threat of doom haunts their fairytale romance and home. One of her better offerings from the 1960s.) 7.5/10
  33. Cat Among the Pigeons (A coup in the Middle East, missing jewels, a kidnapping and the murder of three teachers at an exclusive English school all feature in this 1959 offering.) 7/10.
  34. A Caribbean Mystery (A long-winded Colonel tells Miss Marple a story about a murder and offers to show her a photograph of a murderer. He is interrupted before he can show Miss Marple the photo - and the next day he is dead. A fairly silly and implausible story - Miss Marple does not fit comfortably into the island background.) 6/10
  35. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (Shortly after a routine visit, Hercule Poirot's dentist dies of a gun shot wound, apparently self-inflicted. That afternoon one of his patients dies of a massive overdose of a medication used in dental injections. A few days later another patient disappears. Suicide, accident and coincidence? Or murder? ) 7/10