Cards on the Table

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

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

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.

Whopping on Goodwills

This past week, my mother and I visited my grandmother, who lives in Louisiana. Along the way we stopped at four different Goodwills – one had the horridly steep prices of forty-nine cents for children’s books and ninety-nine cents for adults, but the other three were much more reasonable. 4 hardcovers / $1 and 8 softcovers / $1!

When We Were Very Young – $ .49 I love, love, love A. A. Milne’s darling British style. Thus far I have only read a few of his Winnie-the-Pooh stories, but I am eager to read this collection of his poetry.

And on the Eighth Day – $ .99
The Player on the Other Day – $ .99
I’ve read books by other authors from the Golden Age of mystery fiction – Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, & Margery Allingham – but never Ellery Queen. These two books are from later in the Ellery Queen series, but I hope are nevertheless indicative of Queen’s work.

Saturnalia – $ .49 Set in 17th century Boston, Saturnalia is the story of William, a printer’s apprentice, who is searching for his lost brother.

Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego – $ .49 This installment in the Carmen Sandiego series actually has the collectible cards intact. Yay! This will make reading the book WAY more interesting…

Maigret and the Loner – $ .99 I recently purchased Maigret and the Apparition at a book sale, and, although it contained a few indiscretions, I enjoyed it. Hopefully this volume will maintain the intriguing story-line without the romance.

Encyclopedia Brown Collection – $ .25
Encylopedia #15: Sets the Pace – $ .49
The boy detective returns. The first book, Collection, is a snazzy hardcover with four different Encyclopedia Brown books buried inside.

Peak – $ .25 This is the story of Peak, a fourteen year old who loves climbing and is given the opportunity to climb Mount Everest with his father.

The Untamed West – $ .12 ½ This book contains three stories by Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, & Max Brand. I’ve read L’Amour before, but never Grey or Brand.

McDuff Comes Home – $ .12 ½
Sleddings – $ .12 ½
Two picture books. McDuff Comes Home, the story of a little terrier, looks especially cute.

Christmas Tidings – $ .25 Quotes by classic and other famous authors on the subject of Christmas.

The Wizard of Oz – $ .12 ½ I never watched the movie as a kid, but I know the basics of the story. This will be an interesting experience…

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – $ .12 ½
The Golden Fleece – $ .49
Two Newbery Medalists. The rats one seems to be about an advanced race of rats. The fleece one is a collection of stories about Greek heroes.

The Tenth Man – $ .12 ½ This story, written by Graham Greene (author of numerous espionage novels), is set during World War II. It concerns a group of men who is held hostage by the Germans.              

Anne of Green Gables # 4: Anne’s House of Dreams – $ .12 ½
Anne of Green Gables # 5: Anne of Windy Poplars – $ .12 ½
I’ve read these online, but did not own copies of them myself.

The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael # 2: One Corpse Too Many – $ .12 ½ The second installment from the Brother Cadfael series. It appears to be set during a medieval war and concerns the appearance of an extra body after the public hanging of a gang of men.

The A.B.C. Murders – $ .25
Murder on the Orient Express – $ .25
These two volumes are from the beautiful Bantam black padded-hardcover set. I would love to own the complete set!

The Treasure Principle – $ .25 I’ve read Randy Alcorn’s book Why Pro-Life?, and found it entirely satisfactory. This slim volume is on the subject of joyful giving.

The Elements of Style – $ .25 A hardcover version of the classic by E. B. White and William Strunk, Jr.

Turn Homeward, Hannalee – $ .12 ½ Remember Who Comes With Cannons? Written by the same author, Turn Homeward, Hannalee is also set during the same era – the War Between the States.

Sense and Sensibility – $ .25
My Antonia – $ .25
Treasure Island – $ .25
Nice hardcover copies of books I already owned. My Antonia is a Barnes and Nobles hardcover. Sense and Sensibility is from the darling Barnes and Nobles miniature hardcovers collection.

Unsolved II: More Famous Real-Life Mysteries – $ .12 ½ CANNOT WAIT to read this book. It contains brief histories of nine ‘unsolved’ real-life mysteries. How fun!

Thunder from the Sea – $ .12 ½ Ever since reading about Seaman, I’ve had a soft spot for Newfies. In this story, thirteen year old orphan Tom Campbell feels less lonely after adopting Thunder, the Newfoundland, whom he rescued from a thunderstorm.

Hamlet – $ .12 ½
The Dialogues of Plato – $ .12 ½
Black Beauty – $ .12 ½
Robinson Crusoe – $ .12 ½
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – $ .12 ½
The Scarlet Letter – $ .12 ½
The Hound of the Baskervilles – $ .12 ½
Pragmatism – $ .12 ½
All of these softcovers were in amazingly good condition. Among their numbers are Bantam, Puffin, Signet, and Barnes and Nobles Classics. I was super-excited to find The Hound of the Baskervilles, as I did not yet own a copy of that outside of a collection. Also, I decided that if I were to ever to pay good money for The Scarlet Letter, twelve cents was the route to go.

On the Way – $ .12 ½ Remember 26 Fairmount Avenue? Well, this is one of Tomie DePaola’s sequels to that book and contains more humorous anecdotes from his life.

Nancy Drew # 4: The Mystery at Lilac Inn – $ .25 I lived on the Boxcar Children series as a kid, but never actually read any of the Nancy Drew stories. This will be my first. :O

The Littles and the Lost Children – $ .12 ½ Remember The Littles Go to School? Same series. Hopefully this one will be more interesting.

Aircraft – $ .25 A pictorial history of aircraft from the Wright brothers’ experiments through the most up-to-date models of the 1990s.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor – $ .12 ½
The Attacks of September 11, 2001 – $ .12 ½
Two children’s history books. Pearl Harbor is from the same series as The Titanic, and is also ‘An Interactive History Adventure’.

William Carey – $ .12 ½ This biography of the great missionary is from the Heroes of the Faith series. I look forward to learning more about ‘The Father of Modern Missions’.

The Truth about Mormonism – $ .12 ½ A slim book which discusses the more bizarre beliefs of the Mormon sect. It looks really interesting.

Muggie Maggie – $ .12 ½ Written by Beverly Cleary, author of Dear Mr. Henshaw and the Ralph S. Mouse series, Muggie Maggie is about a little girl trying to learn how to read cursive.

Peter Rabbit and Eleven other Favorite Tales – $ .12 ½
The Tale of Little Pig Robinson – $ .25
A few stories by Beatrix Potter. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson the original color illustrations, while Peter Rabbit has black and white sketches based upon the original illustrations.

Paddington at Work – $ .12 ½  Paddington Bear, the precocious teddy from Peru, returns to his friends, the Browns, and gets into more mischief than ever!

Who Was Abraham Lincoln? – $ .12 ½ A children’s biography of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve recently read Who Was Ronald Reagan? from the same series and found it thorough, considering its audience.

Pride of the Green Mountains – $ .12 ½
Spirit of the West – $ .12 ½
The Island Stallion’s Fury – $ .12 ½
Unbroken – $ .12 ½
Four random horse stories.

Stephen of Philadelphia – $ .12 ½ This Abeka book is set in Philadelphia during its earliest days. It describes the lifestyle and history of that city and its inhabitants through the story of Stephen, an immigrant to America.   

How I Came to Be a Writer – $ .12 ½ Written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the author of Shiloh and The Fear Place, this volume outlines how she pursued her writing career.

Total Spent = $ 13.17

Total Value = $ 268.50

Next Book Sale = September 14, 2013

Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

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

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

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: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

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: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

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.

The Hollow

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

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

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: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

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: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

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.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Title: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 255
Recommended Ages: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

Hercule Poirot once again engages the little grey cells…

The Story.              

I was most disturbed when I learned that Mrs. Ferrars, one of my patients, had passed away in the night. My sister Caroline was determined to believe that she had died at her own hand – driven to it by the remorse of killing her own husband. Of the latter, there had been no proof, and of the former, well, I am a doctor. However much I may suspect untoward business, I must respect and protect my patients. I am not allowed to indulge in or spread gossip.

Later in the day, Roger Ackroyd appeared before me shaken and distressed. For this, too I had a professional interpretation –  Ackroyd had not attempted to hide his growing affection for Mrs. Ferrars. The local gossips expected an upcoming marriage between the two of them and had likewise deplored the possibility. But Ackroyd did not want to discuss his distress in the street. I understood that. He asked me to dine with him that evening. I agreed.

That night, after dinner, Ackroyd confided in me. He told me that Mrs. Ferrars had indeed murdered her husband. He described the horror that he had first felt on hearing this confession yesterday afternoon, the instant knowledge that he could never marry a murderess, however much he loved her. And she had seen the change. She had killed herself over that change. And over the fact that she was being blackmailed.

Yes. A dirty scoundrel had discovered her secret and stripped her coffers in exchange for silence. At dinner, a letter had arrived, written in her hand. In that letter was the name of the blackmailer. Ackroyd desired that I would depart before he read the letter, but assured me that he would consult with me in how to prosecute this blackmailer. I agreed and left him there by the fire.

A few hours later, I received a telephone call telling me that Ackroyd had been murdered. I rushed down to the hall, but no one there admitted to having made the call. Confused but worried, I decided to check on Ackroyd, just in case. But he gave no answer. It was not until we broke down the door to his study that we learned the truth. Ackroyd had indeed been murdered…

But by whom? And for what purpose? Can Monsieur Poirot successfully solve this horrid crime?

Discussion.

If there is one thing that Agatha Christie is known for, it’s her twists. They always bound upon you, right when you’re least expecting it. Your favorite character (or at least, the one you thought most harmless) turns out to be the sordid perpetuator of the violence. These twists are Agatha Christie’s signature. They mark her work as being distinct among the annals of crime.

Some of these twists have become celebrated for their ingenuity. They are the topic of discussions – “I won’t tell you which one, so I don’t ruin the story, but one of Christie’s books ends this way.” *gasps of shock and appreciation erupt*

Unfortunately, although I had not learned the name of the book, I knew that one of her books ended with a particular twist. And as I progressed in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I realized that if ever there was a plot for that twist, this was it. In short, I was able to see it coming, able to piece together the clues, able to name the murderer before Poirot announced the conclusion of his little grey cells. Am I proud of myself? Not really. I would have much preferred to read Roger Ackroyd without that knowledge. I would have liked to try to figure out this twist on my own. Would the clues – the obvious clues – have been so obvious to an uninformed mind? I don’t know.

I realize that I have titled this section as Discussion, but I can’t help but bring a few short Quotes in. I just love the way that Poirot, in all of his magnificence, sometimes ruins the English language.

“Is there anything else that I can tell you?” inquired Mr. Hammond.

“I thank you, no,” said Poirot, rising. “All my excuses for having deranged you.”

“Not at all, not at all.”

“The word derange,” I remarked, when we were outside again, “is applicable to mental disorder only.”

“Ah!” cried Poirot, “never will my English be quite perfect. A curious language. I should then have said dis-arranged, n’est ce pas?”

“Disturbed is the word you had in mind.”

“I thank you, my friend. The word exact, you are zealous for it.” [pg. 180]

: ) He’s so cute. And this.

Poirot’s gaze took on an admiring quality. “You have been of a marvelous promptness,” he observed. “How exactly did you go to work, if I may ask?”

“Certainly,” said the inspector. “To begin with – method. That’s what I always say – method!”

“Ah!” cried the other. “That, too, is my watchword. Method, order, and the little gray cells.”

“The cells?” said the inspector, staring.

“The little gray cells of the brain,” explained the Belgian.

“Oh, of course; well, we all use them, I suppose.”

“In a greater or lesser degree,” murmured Poirot. “And there are, too, differences in quality. Then there is the psychology of a crime. One must study that.”

“Ah!” said the inspector, “you’ve been bitten with all this psychoanalysis stuff? Now, I’m a plain man –“

“Mrs. Raglan would not agree, I am sure, to that,” said Poirot, making him a little bow.

Inspector Raglan, a little taken aback, bowed. “You don’t understand,” he said, grinning broadly. “Lord what a lot of difference language makes. I’m telling you how I set to work.” [pgs. 90-91]

Cautions.

A few mild references are made to romantic situations – we learn that one of the suspects had an illegitimate son over twenty years ago, that a woman poisoned her abusive husband because she wanted to marry another man, and that Ralph Paton has been “out” with a girl.

The stuffiest woman in the novel declares that she has a “devout belief in Providence”. She is lightly rejoined by a young man who says, “Surely you don’t make the Almighty directly responsible for thick ankles, do you?” [pg. 133]

‘Hell’ is used five times, ‘damn’ four, and ‘dang’ once. Also, ‘my God’ is used four times (in very serious circumstances) and ‘Lord’ twice. ‘Ass’ is used once to refer to an unintelligent person.

Conclusion. Not the fastest-paced of Christie’s novels, but significant entry from the Poirot canon. Recommended.

Hickory, Dickory, Dock

Title: Hickory, Dickory, Dock
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 191
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

Mon ami! The great Poirot returns!

The Story.

It is inconceivable to Hercule Poirot. But it is the truth. Miss Lemon, his efficient secretary, has made three mistakes in one letter. Three mistakes in three years, he might understand, but this? Ce n’est pas. Even more monstrous is the cause of this irregularity. Miss Lemon has received a letter from her sister. Her sister? Can Miss Lemon really belong to a family? Has she not been born of a machine?

But it is true. And this sister of Miss Lemon, one Mrs. Hubbard by name, has written of a set of trivial disappearances. Mrs. Hubbard is the matron of a student hostel where students from the nearby university lodge. Random items have disappeared – electric light bulbs, a silk scarf, a cookery book – nothing important. And yet, Monsieur Poirot is worried. There seems to be no pattern to the disappearances. What can they mean?

When a girl is found dead in her room at the hostel, Poirot’s worst suspicions seem to have come true. Was it a suicide? Was it murder? If suicide, why? If murder, who?

Cautions.

There was actually far less romance than I expected in Hickory, Dickory, Dock considering that it took place in a university hostel. One couple gets engaged, but there are no romantic scenes. Romantic entanglements are speculated as the cause of different deaths. One student is said to possess pornographic postcards.

The main characters of Hickory, Dickory, Dock are students from the university. As such, they represent a wild diversity of philosophical positions. Many of these are quite modern. Poirot is not amused.

‘Lord’ and ‘Dieu’ are each used five times, ‘God’ three. ‘Hell’ is used twelve times, ‘damn’ three, and ‘ass’ twice (as an label for idiots).

Conclusion. Engaging. Hickory, Dickory, Dock actually reminded me of Cat Among the Pigeons which was also set amongst a group students, only I think I found Hickory, Dickory, Dock more interesting.