The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Pages: 317
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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—–

All hail, Holmes!

The Stories.

A Scandal in Bohemia. The King of Bohemia has come to Holmes in great distress. Unless Holmes is able to recover a compromising portrait from one, Irene Adler, not only will the King’s marriage be jeopardized, but all of Europe will suffer from the repercussions. Will Mr. Holmes take the case?

The Red-Headed League. Mr. Jabez Wilson is in some distress. He was accepted into the League of Red-Headed men and appointed a job in the club – with a tidy remuneration – only to receive word this morning that the club has been dissolved without a trace. What is this league all about, anyway?

A Case of Identity. Miss Mary Sutherland is entirely confused. Against her domineering step-father’s will she has become engaged to marry a Mr. Hosmer Angel. But on the morning on which they were to be married, Mr. Angel disappeared and has not been seen since. Where can he have got to?

The Boscombe Valley Mystery. A man, Charles McCarthy, has been found lying in a pool of his own blood. The obvious suspect – indeed the man the police have arrested – is McCarthy’s own son, James, who was engaged in a savage argument just minutes before McCarthy was killed. But Miss Turner, who has known James since he was a boy, is convinced that he could never commit murder. So Holmes is called in to sift the clues, to weigh the facts, to name the murderer…

The Five Orange Pips. John Openshaw is scared. Scared out of his wits. And the horror of it is, he doesn’t know exactly what he scared of. All he knows is that it exacts death – mysterious death – of its victims. See, his uncle died shortly after receiving an envelope containing five orange pips. The experience was repeated with his father. And now, he has received five orange pips of his own…

The Man With the Twisted Lip. Several days ago, Neville St Clair disappeared. His wife is frantic to find him and is certain that she saw him in the upper story of a shady business. But when she entered there, fully expecting to see him and demand an explanation from him, he wasn’t there. Instead, an old, decrepit beggar greeted her. Has St Clair been murdered? Or is he still alive?

The Blue Carbuncle. ‘Tis Christmas – the season of happiness and goodwill. But it’s also the season of mystery and robbery. For a shabby hat and goose have thrust upon Mr. Holmes – complimentary of a squirmish in which the owner of both took to his heels – and a priceless blue carbuncle has been stole from the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Will Holmes be able to draw any connection between the two?

The Speckled Band. Two years ago, Julia Stoner stumbled out of her bedroom and collapsed upon the floor writhing in pain. The only words she managed to utter before dying were these – “the speckled band!” All of her doors and windows had been locked from the inside at the time that she was seized, and the only clue to her mysterious death was her previous mention her hearing whistles in the night. Imagine then, her twin sister, Helen’s, horror when, after being moved to Julia’s now vacant room so that repairs may be done in her own room, she hears whistles in the night. What does it mean, Mr. Holmes?

The Engineer’s Thumb. It is not often that Watson is able to bring an interesting case to Holmes’ attention. But in this instance, the case is not only interesting, it is unforgettable! It involves a mysterious mansion, a gang of very clever forgers, and an engineer with a missing thumb…

The Noble Bachelor. Holmes never bothers to read the society papers. But this case comes straight out of society gossip. It seems that Lord Robert St. Simon has been deserted – jilted – by his wife just hours after their wedding ceremony was completed. She has completely disappeared! Can Mr. Holmes track her down?

The Beryl Coronet. Mr. Alexander Holder of the banking firm, Holder & Stevenson, is distraught. He was entrusted by an illustrious client with the invaluable beryl coronet as security for a loan. But several of the gems have been stolen from the coronet while in Mr. Holder’s possession – and the only suspect is his own son!

The Copper Beeches. A young lady, Miss Violet Hunter, wants to consult Mr. Holmes on a very important matter. She wants to know if she should accept a position as governess at the Copper Beeches. Although Holmes is initially disdainful – considering such a problem to be below him – he changes his mind when he hears what is troubling her. It seems that amongst her employer’s requirements are that she would cut her beautiful hair quite short and occasionally wear a dress of electric blue. Holmes foresees danger in Miss Hunter’s future!

Discussion.

I love Holmes. I love his world. I love his art. I love his cold calculation, his indefatigable spirit, and his mysterious languid spells. I love his sometimes snobbish but ever companionable relationship with Watson. And, of course, I love 221b Baker Street.

It was so good getting back into the Holmes canon. I’ve watched so many adaptions of his character in the past few years that I’d somehow lost sight of the real Holmes. Because every adaption only presents a facet of the true Holmes – the full complexity of his character somehow eludes the screen.

This particular collection of short stories – one of five – is, I think, the happiest of them all. It occurs before Conan Doyle kills Holmes, and presumably while he still likes him. Holmes isn’t quite as light-hearted as he was in A Study in Scarlet, but neither is he so brooding as in the later stories (His Last Bow, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes). And the stories themselves are fine.

I don’t mean fine as in ‘okay’. I mean fine as one means ‘fine china’. These stories are finely crafted and populated with believable characters. One thing that I love about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon is that it proves that a mystery need not be based around a murder to be intensely fascinating. Of the twelve mysteries contained in The Adventures, only three deal directly with murder.

In fact, the whole book is remarkably clean. Really the only story of the lot which parents need be concerned with is the first, which concerns the indiscretions of a king. But even here, the word mistress is used only once – the relationship is referred to as an ‘entanglement’, not an affair. It is, considering the topic itself, clean.

Various forms of God’s name are used a total of eighteen times, most in serious situations which could be considered forms of prayer.

Conclusion. Excellent! Buy it – read it.

Cards on the Table

Title: Cards on the Table
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 213
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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—–

The little Belgian with the mustachios returns.

The Story.

An interesting man, Monsieur Shaitana. A man most enamored of himself – a man who derives an obsessive delight from his bizarre collections. He is an eccentric – not a benevolent one, but a dangerous one. A scheming one…

His newest collection, he informs Monsieur Poirot, is a collection of murderers. He now has four of them who frequent his home for parties and dinners. They are not professing murderers, no, no nothing so obvious as that. But he, Shaitana, great perceiver of the sins of others, he can tell. And he has an idea for a little game.

He invites Monsieur Poirot and three other detective friends – Ariadne Oliver, Colonel Race, and Superintendent Battle – to join him for a dinner. His four murderers – Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Larrimer, Major Despard, and Miss Meredith – will be there as well. Together they can enjoy an exciting evening together.

All eight guests duly arrive at Shaitana’s mansion. As they visit over dinner, it is hard to imagine that half of the guests are murderers. But it is not until the guests are divided to play bridge that the real adventure of the night begins. Because when the games are over, Monsieur Shaitana is found – murdered.

All of Shaitana’s pet murderers – and no one else – were present in the room from the moment that Shaitana seated himself near the fire to the time that his corpse was discovered. But which of these murderers has returned to the game of murder?

Discussion.        

As Christie herself says in the Foreword to Cards on the Table, it is easy to approach a mystery novel from the perspective that the ‘least likely’ person to have committed the murder is probably the murderer. I admit to having operated that way myself – Who is the author trying to keep in the background of this scene? Who hasn’t been mentioned in a while? So-and-so hasn’t appeared for several scenes. I bet SHE’S the murderer!

But Cards on the Table rebelled against such a simplistic reading. It is a story which boasts four suspects – suspects who have each murdered before, who each had opportunity to commit the murder, and who each had a desperate motive for killing the victim. The solution of this case lies, not in the discovery of clues, but in the background and psychology of each of the suspects. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so uncertain when trying to pin down the murderer. But Poirot managed to. Magnificent little man!

I really enjoyed meeting Mrs. Oliver. She’s hilarious. She is reputed to be a tongue-in-cheek portrait of Christie herself, and I can easily believe it. I have included a quote from Mrs. Oliver later in my review, which I am sure is straight from the heart from Christie. Now, Mrs. Oliver is an interesting character. She is reputed to be a “hot-headed” feminist, and she does occasionally vociferate upon the superiorities of women. But her character – a combination of down-to-earth bluntness and dunder-headed oblivion – almost mocked at her position. While she occasionally blunders upon an important piece of evidence or a freakishly accurate character assessment, she usually is far wide on her predictions.

The question of justifiable murder pops up several times in this story. Mr. Shaitana, the early victim of the story, calls murder “an art” and says that he believes that a “really successful murderer” should be celebrated. Monsieur Poirot, although agreeing that there are some people who deserve to be murdered, nevertheless, disapproves of all murder because of the effect that it has on the murderer. He believes that it is dangerous for a man to “exercise the right of private judgment” in the punishment of a crime because then one has “usurped the functions of le bon Dieu.” [pg. 134]

Quotes.

What I love about Poirot is that although he is a proud little man of great brain, he behaves and speaks exactly like a child on some occasions.

“We all make mistakes, Monsieur Poirot.”

“Some of us,” said Poirot with a certain coldness possibly due to the pronoun the other had used, “make less than others.”

Despard looked at him, smiled slightly and said:

“Don’t you ever have a failure, Monsieur Poirot?”

“The last time was twenty-eight years ago,” said Poirot with dignity. “And even then, there were circumstances – but no matter.” [pg. 106]

: ) Quite. Others are less impressed with Poirot’s skills. This after Poirot summons Anne to an interview.

“I don’t see why he wants to see me.” Anne was obstinate.

“To put one over on the official police, of course,” said Rhoda impatiently. “They make out that Scotland Yard are all boots and brainlessness.”

“Do you think this man Poirot is clever?”

“He doesn’t look a Sherlock,” said Rhoda. “I expect he has been quite good in his day. He’s gaga now, of course. He must be at least sixty. [pg. 160]

When Superintendent Battle points out a few inaccuracies in Mrs. Oliver’s latest novel, Mrs. Oliver responds thus.

“As a matter of fact I don’t care two pins about accuracy. Who is accurate? Nobody nowadays. If a reporter writes that a beautiful girl of twenty-two dies by turning on the gas after looking out over the sea and kissing her favourite Labrador, Bob, goodbye, does anybody make a fuss because the girl was twenty-six, the room faced inland, and the dog was a Sealyham terrier called Bonnie? If a journalist can do that sort of thing I don’t see that it matters if I mix up police ranks and say a revolver when I mean an automatic and a dictograph when I mean a phonograph, and use a poison that just allows you to gasp one dying sentence and no more. What really matters is plenty of bodies! If the thing’s getting a little dull, some more blood cheers it up. Somebody is going to tell something – and then they’re killed first! That always goes down well. It comes in all my books – camouflaged different ways of course. And people like untraceable poisons, and idiotic police inspectors and girls tied up in cellars with sewer gas or water pouring in (such a troublesome way of killing anyone really) and a hero who can dispose of anything from three to seven villains singlehanded. I’ve written thirty-two books by now – and of course they’re all exactly the same really, as Monsieur Poirot seems to have noticed – but nobody else has; and I only regret one thing, making my detective a Finn. I don’t really know anything about Finns and I’m always getting letters from Finland pointing out something impossible that he’s said or done. They seem to read detective stories a good deal in Finland. I suppose it’s the long winters with no daylight. In Bulgaria and Roumania they don’t seem to read at all. I’d have done better to have made him a Bulgar.” [pg. 55-56]

Cautions.

Mild innuendo – several of the previous murders committed by the suspects were related to romantic situations, but nothing along those lines happens within the story.

‘Damn’ is used seven times, ‘hell’ twice. Several versions of God’s name are used a total of four times.

Conclusion. Fun, fun, fun, and (I thought) cleaner than most of Christie’s stories.

Six Against the Yard

Title: Six Against the Yard
Author: Various
Pages: 218
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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So, the tagline for this book is ‘Who Better to Commit the Perfect Murders than the World’s Greatest Mystery Writers?’ but from the description on the back, I couldn’t tell if these stories were written by the ‘world’s greatest mystery writers’, or were about them. I bought it anyway. Turns out they were by. ; )

Before I dive into the stories I ought to explain the concept behind the book. The idea was for six great detective writers – Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Father Ronald Knox, Dorothy Sayers, and Russell Thorndike – to write mysteries which they considered to record the perfect murder.  These mysteries would then be turned over to Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Cornish who would try to prove why and how the murderer could be captured. An intriguing idea…

The Stories.

So there are six stories in this collection.

It Didn’t Work Out – by Margery Allingham. Polly Oliver never was a top-liner in the show business, at least not like her friend Louie Lester, who the crowds adore. But Polly isn’t jealous of Louie; on the contrary, she considers Louie to be her best friend. That’s why she is horrified when Louie marries a conceited little peacock who does nothing but mooch off of her fame and borrow her wealth. But Polly will not just stand by and watch this horrid little man ruin Louie’s life. She will stop him – even if it means murder…

The Fallen Idol – by Father Ronald Knox. It is the night of a grand celebration. Enrique Gamba the most powerful man in the Magnolian Commonwealth and the idol of his people has just erected a statue of himself so that he may be celebrated in stone as well as in person. After a glorious speech, he retires to his bedroom. He is never again seen alive.

But how could the murder have been done? There were guards on duty everywhere! And how did the mysterious fire break out in Gamba’s chapel? Could it have been started by the murderer?

The Policeman Only Taps Once – by Anthony Berkely. The only reason Eddie married the old woman is because he is short of cash and, being hunted by policemen on both sides of the Atlantic, he can think of no quicker way to collect funds than to marry some rich old corker. Imagine Eddie’s horror when he discovers that the ugly woman he married has no money after all! Still, if she had not been such a pesky old bird, he might not have decided to do her in…

Strange Death of Major Scallion – by Russell Thorndike. Major Scallion must die. His disgusting, hedonistic life style has caused an unquenchable hatred to arise in the man that Scallion has been blackmailing for years. And not only will Scallion die, he will die a horrible death, a death at the hands of his most disgusting indulgences…

Blood Sacrifice – by Dorothy Sayers. Playwright John Scales hates Garrick Drury, the main actor in his new play, with as much passion as he can muster. Not only has the man destroyed Scales’ play by changing its cynical theme to a sentimental one, but he has the gall to think that Scales should be grateful to him for it. Still, Scales would have never dreamed of murdering Drury – not until an unexpected but perfect opportunity is offered up to him…

The Parcel – by Freeman Wills Crofts. For three years, Henry Blunt has blackmailed Stewart Haslar for a crime committed in his youth. At first, when the demands were small, Haslar was able to cope with them. But now, as the demands escalate, he is afraid that he will no longer be able to meet Blunt’s demands – and, even worse, that his wife will discover his conduct. So Haslar decides that it is time to do away with Blunt.

But how can he do it in such a way that he is completely free from suspicion? What is the perfect murder?

Praises.

I loved the concept of this collection – first-rate detective novelists going head-to-head with a genuine inspector from Scotland Yard. I enjoyed the mysteries- I thought parts of them were ingenious – but I found Superintendent Cornish’s ruminations to be far more interesting. This paragraph was an especial favorite of mine.

There are certain sentimental people who always feel sorry for the convicted murderer- so much so that they have no pity to spare for his, or her, victim. There are others who, while horrified by certain murders, find excuses for others. But there is no excuse – there can be no excuse for murder. Human life is sacred, unless it has been forfeited to the law and is taken, after due legal process, for the protection of society. But no private individual can be allowed to assume the functions of judge and executioner. That way lies anarchy. [pg. 37]

I was a little annoyed by the fact that the Superintendent refused to admit that any of these crimes may have been committed and gotten away with. But I suppose he felt it his job to reassure the public of the Yard’s abilities. ;)

I also found this statement from ‘actor’ Garrick Drury to be insightful.

“When all’s said and done,” he remarked, “the box-office is the real test. I don’t say that in a commercial spirit. I’d always be ready to put on a play I believed in – as an artist – even if I lost money by it. But when the box-office is happy, it means the public is happy. The box-office is the pulse of the public. Get that and you know you’ve got the heart of the audience.” [pg. 157] (emphasis mine)

Discussion.

As is obvious from the above synopses, several of these stories was told in the first person – from the perspective of the murderer. Now, this made the stories very interesting, I’ll grant you. But they also presented a moral dilemma.

It is the natural tendency of a reader to identify with the protagonist – to glory with him in his triumphs, to experience despair in his failures. When the protagonist is a murderer, this can be dangerous, because it encourages the reader to think along the same lines as the murderer – “This man is a blackmailer – he doesn’t deserve to live!” I admit that I fell into this trap several times myself. I would catch myself agreeing with the murderer about how much the victim deserved what was coming to him (often the victim was a vicious, evil man). Usually the man did deserve punishment, but by judgment of a jury, not a private affair.

As a collection of murder mysteries, Six Against the Yard naturally dealt with some violence. But only one out of the six murders – Strange Death of Major Scallion – went too far with its descriptions. And that one went way too far. It was so disgusting that I do not feel equal to outlining its particulars. Sufficient to say, I found it appalling and gross. Yuck.

The very first story involved an unhappy marriage situation in which the husband treated the wife with cruelty. The murderer tries to separate the two out of pity for the wife, but when she refuses to leave, kills the husband instead.

In one story *SPOILER* a man marries a woman for her money and then plots to kill her. In the end, she discovers his plan and kills him instead.

In a different story, a man hits a woman who has been taunting him. She admires him for his pluck to hit her. (?!?)

Conclusion. I loved the concept behind this book, but would have been better pleased had it been differently executed.

Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

Title: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 238
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Monsieur Poirot has already retired, but perhaps he can be tempted out of his solitude…

The Story.

Superintendent Spence has just popped round to Poirot’s apartment. He wishes to consult with Poirot on a matter – a matter of murder. Poirot is only too pleased to help.

See, there’s been a murder down in Broadhinny – a charwoman it was, knocked on the head by her lodger and her money stolen. Or at least, that’s what Spence thought when he first reviewed the case. But now, he’s not so sure…

Bentley, the lodger, just doesn’t seem the right type. All the evidence points to him, it is true, but he doesn’t have the right attitude, the right presence. Spence is being trundled off to Scotland and can no longer investigate the case, but would M. Poirot mind…?

Poirot graciously accepts and begins poking around in Broadhinny without delay. The villagers there have accepted the official story and moved on – there is no suspicion in their mind who the murderer is! But Poirot drops hints – insinuations that the official story is not true and that he, Hercule Poirot, will catch the real murderer. He expected a reaction from at least one person. And he got it.

When a second murder shatters the calm of Broadhinny, even the dullest of citizens awake to the knowledge that there is a murderer in their midst. But which of them is it?

Discussion.

Just one Mrs. Oliver quote before we get on with the cautions. This when she is introducing Poirot to a friend of hers.

“That’s very nice of you,” said Mrs. Oliver, looking uncomfortable and twisting her hands in a schoolgirlish way. “Oh, this is M. Poirot, an old friend of mine. We met by chance just outside here. Actually I hit him with an apple core. Like William Tell – only the other way about.” [pgs. 96-97]

: )

We learn of several romantic indiscretions – that is to say, affairs. They’re mostly mentioned, not really discussed. The term ‘sex appeal’ is used a couple of times, and one woman is described as being “sexy”.

Mrs. Oliver is working wth Robin Upward to write a play about her detective, Sven Hjerson. Robin insists on including a “sex antagonism” theme, much to Mrs. Oliver’s chagrin. They have a few conversations on the subject, arguing the pros and cons of such an inclusion.

A variety of beliefs are briefly mentioned including environmental determinism, Mrs. Oliver’s peculiar brand of feminism, and a belief in ghosts.

Poirot lies to ferret out information.

‘Damn’ is used ten times, ‘hell’ five, and ‘bitch’ once. Variations of God’s name are used a total of ten times.

Conclusion. Interesting, exciting, and more comedic than the typical Poirot case.

Elephants Can Remember

Title: Elephants Can Remember
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 160
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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It is the little man himself that returns in these pages. And what is this? Mrs. Oliver as well? C’est magnifique!

The Story.

It really is a nuisance the way these people just come up gushing about one’s books. It really makes a person feel uncomfortable. Just because she’s written gobs of books doesn’t make accepting compliments any easier for Mrs. Oliver. But it’s something that must be borne. And Mrs. Oliver was prepared for the gushing. But she was not prepared for what actually happened.

A Mrs. Burton-Cox approached her. Asked if she had a god-daughter named Celia Ravenscroft. Which, as it happened, she did. But then the woman asked the most amazing question. She asked, “Can you tell me if her father murdered her mother or if it was the other way around?”

Mrs. Oliver knew, of course, that the Ravencrofts had died in what was considered to be a double suicide. But what a thing to ask the first time you meet a person! Still, it’s got her thinking…

Will Monsier Poirot consent to aid Mrs. Oliver in her attempt to solve a mystery that has long been cold?

Discussion.

Alright. So, I hate to say it, but this one was easy. I was able to guess the correct solution to the mystery in the first third of the book and build my hypothesis from there with the obvious clues which were provided. Now, on one hand, I liked this. It was fun to be rightly interpreting the clues as they happen. Also, I sometimes feel that Christie’s clues are equivocal – they could go any way she chose to swing them – but such was not the case with Elephants Can Remember. They pointed in one direction and one direction only. So I liked the honesty of Elephants, but I disliked its simplicity. There was such scope for how it could have ended.

The story is named Elephants Can Remember to refer to the long standing memories of the witnesses Mrs. Oliver questions. But Elephants Can Remember has an entire theme of remembrance – various of Poirot’s earlier cases are mentioned and discussed. Because I had read a majority of these cases, I was able to enjoy the memories that were evoked in my own mind.

I loved Mrs. Oliver’s presence in the case. She’s such a hoot – her good natured, blunt eccentricities provide great humor to offset Poirot’s conflated opinion of himself. Here are a few quotes to round off this section.

“Yes, I shall be at home all this evening. Does that mean that I may have the pleasure of a visit from you?”

“It’s very nice of you to put it that way,” said Mrs. Oliver. “I don’t know that it will be such a pleasure.”

“It is always a pleasure to see you, chere Madame.”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Oliver. “I might be going to – well, bother you rather. Ask things. I want to know what you think about something.”

“That I am always ready to tell anyone,” said Poirot. [pg. 19]

This section reminded me of Dickens’ writing style.

“Mr. Goby came into the room and sat, as indicated by Poirot, in his usual chair. He glanced around him before choosing what particular piece of furniture or part of the room he was about to address. He settled, as often before, for the electric fire, not turned on at this time of year. Mr. Goby had never been known to address the human being he was working for directly. He selected always the cornice, a radiator, a television set, a clock, sometimes a carpet, or a mat.” [pg. 128]

This passage effectively demonstrates the vagueness with which we often communicate. It occurs when Mrs. Oliver is striking up a friendly conversation with Mrs. Carstairs, one of the elephants.

“She enquired after Mrs. Carstairs’s daughter and about the two grandchildren, and she asked about the other daughter, what she was doing. She appeared to be doing it in New Zealand. Mrs. Carstairs did not seem to know quite sure what it was. Some kind of social research.” [pg. 57]

Cautions.

Because there are no apparent reasons for the deaths of Major and Mrs. Ravenscroft, Poirot and Mrs. Oliver attempt to uncover any love affairs. Several possible romantic attractions are mentioned, but none actually occurred.

Illegitimacy and boyfriends are mentioned several times.

An insane woman’s actions are blamed entirely upon her genetic inheritance.

‘Nigger’, ‘darn’, and ‘dieu’ are each used once.

Conclusion. A fun story with lots of interaction between Poirot and Mrs. Oliver.

The Mystery of the Blue Train

Title: The Mystery of the Blue Train
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 248
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Grey cells at attention!

The Story.        

The Blue Train. Ah, but it is magnifique! All of the luxury, all of the wealth – all of the wealthy people…

But when one of those wealthy people is found lying in her compartment with her head bashed in and her famous ruby necklace stolen, the case, it is not so pretty. Who could have killed Ruth Kettering? Was the murder done as revenge? Or was it for the beautiful Heart of Fire ruby?

Thankfully, Poirot, the funny little detective man was on the train. He saw. He knows!

Discussion.

There is nothing so typically or wonderfully Christie as a train mystery. There is something about a train that gives a mystery twice the fun, twice the adventure, and twice the suspense. The Mystery of the Blue Train, although it does not take place entirely on a train, is no exception to this rule. Here are a few of the wonderfully Poirot-ish quotes.

“Voila,” said the stranger, and sank into a wooden arm-chair; “I am Hercule Poirot.”

“Yes, Monsieur?”

“You do not know the name?”

“I have never heard it,” said Hippolyte.

“Permit me to say that you have been badly educated. It is the name of one of the great ones of this world.” [pg. 210]

=)

“I never prophesy he [Poirot] declared pompously. “It is true that I have the habit of being always right – but I do not boast of it. Good-night, Mademoisell, and may you sleep well.” [pg. 71]

Ah, the beautiful arrogance of Hercule Poirot.

Cautions.

The basis of The Mystery of the Blue Train is the failing marriage of Derek and Ruth Kettering. Both are engaged in extra-marital affairs, one with an exotic dancer, the other with a phony count. There are no scenes, but the affairs are considered as motives for murder.

It is mentioned after we learn who the murderer was that Katherine believes that Ruth’s spirit returned to tell her who the murderer was. She was right in who she believed was the murderer.

‘Damn’ is used eleven times, ‘darn’ eleven, and ‘hell’ four times. Variations of God’s name are used a total of nineteen times. ‘Ass’ is used twice to refer to unintelligent people.

Conclusion. A very fun though not perfect story.

A Study in Scarlet

Title: A Study in Scarlet
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Pages: 131
Reading Level: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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The first of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Story.          

Dr. John Watson, on leave from his post as doctor to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, is in need of comfortable rooms at a reasonable price. The only practical way to achieve this combination is to find a flat mate. So, when someone mentions Sherlock Holmes, a fellow interested in chemistry, as a man also in search of rooms, Dr. Watson doesn’t waste any time. He secures Holmes and their rooms, relieved that he can now settle down.

But it isn’t as simple as that. Holmes is an unusual fellow – he keeps odd hours, receives a plethora of uninvited guests, and is mysterious about his profession. This puzzles Dr. Watson until the day that he learns that Holmes’ profession is the mysterious. Then, he is plunged into a murder mystery that involves an empty house, a woman’s wedding ring, and the word ‘RACHE’ written on a wall… in blood…

Will Holmes be able to solve this fantastic mystery and catch the elusive murderer?

Discussion.

I read the complete Sherlock Holmes back in 2009. Since then, I’ve re-read most of the short stories, some more than others. But I hadn’t re-read any of the novels. It was time.

There is something so special about re-reading the early days of the Holmes/Watson association. It’s easy to grow accustomed to the trust and collaboration between them and forget that in the earliest days, Watson wasn’t quite sure what to think of Holmes (he’s never heard of a heliocentric universe. Really!) and Holmes did not include Watson in his adventures. They were outsiders to each other. And then, slowly, the bond began to grow.

Also of interest to me was the portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in this first story. I have long been aware that his character changed over the course of the stories, but I hadn’t realized just how much. Oh, sure, he’s still the same old lover-of-the-puzzle-for-the-puzzle’s-sake Holmes, but he’s different. He’s more ambitious with his trade – he chafes at the fact that Lestrade and Gregson will reap the benefits of his deductions, whereas in later stories, he accepted and sometimes preferred the fact that the Yard detectives were credited. In the later stories he’s more moody, more inaccessible. In A Study he is boyish, susceptible to praise, and ready to laugh at a joke.

So the question is, which way do I prefer him? The answer – both. I like him both ways. I like Holmes as the moody genius as well as the good-natured blood hound. As one he’s more legendary, the other more human. Both are good. Both are Holmes.

Now for the actual story, or rather stories. The first time I read A Study in Scarlet, I was irritated that nearly a half of the novel was spent explaining the motive / personal history of the murderer. It felt anti-climactic, as though Doyle was just trying to create a certain number of words rather than an actual story. This time through, since I already knew how the story ended, I didn’t feel so impatient. I still don’t think that it was the best way to write a story (interrupting an English mystery to insert a bit of American western), but it doesn’t destroy the story.

Cautions.

Holmes expresses an opinion in one scene which explicitly references Darwinism. It is incidental and does not affect the story.

The second half of the story involves a Mormon settlement – it is properly (harshly) represented.

‘Damn’ is used once, ‘darn’ twice. Variations of God’s name are used a total of three times.

Conclusion. A Study in Scarlet is the introduction to one of the most fascinating characters of literature. Read it, then read The Adventures and The Return.

The Hollow

Title: The Hollow
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 190
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Poirot.

The Story.

It seemed too obvious, this murder, too picturesque, too stagey. In fact, when Poirot first chanced upon the body, he thought it was a joke – thought that his hostess was playing a pretty little game with him. It was only when he obligingly knelt to ‘examine’ the body that he discovered that the red fluid sopping up the shirt was not red paint, was indeed blood, and that the man was dying.

Poirot glanced up. The woman standing near the body, standing over him, was the man’s wife. And she was holding a gun. Holding a gun and protesting her own innocence…

As clues point every which way, can Poirot battle the overwhelming tide of evidence and pin down his murderer?

Cautions.

The Hollow is a about the Angkatell family and their friends, the Christows. John Christow, the man who is eventually murdered, is not a man of strong character. Fifteen years before the start of this book, he broke off his engagement to Veronica Cray, a beautiful actress that he was dippy about, but who was too controlling. Now, he is a doctor who is consumed with his work, discontent with his family, and entangled with love affairs. He is a very impatient man who treats his wife, Gerda, like a toddler (she is, admittedly, an unintelligent woman, but with nurturing could have improved), and pours most of his emotional energy into Henrietta Savernake, his current mistress.

But then, during a visit to the Angkatells, Christow meets up with Veronica. They have a one night stand (we are told this in vague terms – no actual scene), after which Veronica urges him to divorce his wife and marry her. John refuses, and later that day is shot.

Unavoidably, his affairs are probed and discussed as they inform the murder and would provide several suspects with motives.

A little girl tells her father’s fortune at the beginning of the story. Everything she says comes true.

Henrietta says that she believes it is more important to please people than to tell the truth.

‘Damn’ is used twenty-six times, ‘God’ eighteen, ‘hell’ six, and ‘bitch’ once. Also, a particular chocolate and cream dessert is called ‘nigger in his shirt’. (?!?)

Conclusion. Interesting, but not as clean as Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot Investigates, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Murder in Mesopotamia

Title: Murder in Mesopotamia
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 228
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Poirot ventures into the world of archaeology.

The Story.

Mrs. Leidner is a frightened woman. She believes that a person is following her – stalking her. She claims to have received notes from this person to the effect that he intends to kill her. She is certain that if she is not protected, she will soon fall victim to a murderous killer. But others aren’t so sure…

Her husband and all of her friends at the archaeology dig believe that she is in no real danger – that it is only her nerves at work. Still, Dr. Leidner hires Nurse Leatheran to look after his wife in the hopes that a constant companion will soothe her nerves. And it works – Nurse Leatheran comforts and assures Mrs. Leidner; makes her feel more secure. But none of them are prepared for the day when Mrs. Leidner is murdered…

But who killed Mrs. Leidner? Was it the mysterious stalker? Or was it someone nearer to home… Only Poirot can unravel this case!

Cautions.

The narrator attempts to solve the mystery by relieving the murdered woman’s last few hours. The narrator does this in the hopes that she might be mediumistic. Her method is to “hypnotize” herself – telling herself over and over that she is Mrs. Leidner, that it is half-past one, that the door is opening, etc. She succeeds in very thoroughly spooking herself and feeling like a fool.

We learn towards the end of the story that Mrs. Leidner was conducting an affair with Mr. Carey. There are a few comments made which indicate this fact prior to Poirot’s final revelation of it. This fact plays a part in the motive for murder.

Poirot begins his final revelation “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” [pg. 195]

Pottery is said to be 7,000 years old.

‘Damn’ is used eight times, ‘hell’ four, and variations of God’s name seven times.

Conclusion. An interesting story with a twistastic ending!

The Moving Finger

Title: The Moving Finger
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 160
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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The world’s most famous spinster detective is at it again!

The Story.

Jerry Burton is not tickled at the prospect of living in Lymstock with his sister, Joanna. Small country villages hold no attractions for him, whatsoever, but his doctor advised that he should spend several months living quietly if he wished to recover from his plane crash. So, Jerry decides to accept his fate and be bored out of his mind in the hopes that the tedium of country living will quicken his recovery.

He is shocked, however, to discover that Lymstock is not as quiet as he had anticipated. Poison pen letters full of the most awful accusations are being sent to various villagers. Although upsetting in the extreme, they all seem to be fictitious.

Who could have sent these letters? What are their cause? And what will be their aftermath?

Discussion.

I GOT IT RIGHT!!!! Yahoo! I’m truly pleased with myself – mind you, I chose the murder as soon as I met him/her/it/acombinationofallthree, but I was still able to interpret the facts to suit my choice.

My only complaint, stylistically, about The Moving Finger is that Miss Marple was brought in at all. Whenever I read a detective story, I like the detective to be in the hunt from the beginning, nostrils quivering. But Miss Marple didn’t even appear in The Moving Finger until the last forty pages when, deus ex machina, she appeared, made a few arrangements, and easily solved the whole case when most the detective work had been done without her. Her appearance felt like a cheap attempt to add to the Miss Marple canon, instead of letting the story progress in its own path.

Cautions.

Most of the poison pen letters accuse their receivers of sexual indiscretions (e.g. that Joanna isn’t Jerry’s sister, that Symmington is having an affair with his secretary, etc.). Jerry finds the Symmington’s governess physically attractive, and he and Joanna discuss her attractiveness. Joanna is a flirt who finds pleasure in attaching the local doctor to herself. A few other suggestive statements.

A variety of philosophical opinions are expressed.

‘Damn’ is used twelve times, ‘God’ eleven, ‘hell’ four, ‘good Lord’ and ‘gosh’ twice.

Conclusion. Fascinating – a true study in psychology.