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.

Six Against the Yard

Title: Six Against the Yard
Author: Various
Pages: 218
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!

—–

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: ★★★★

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.

A Study in Scarlet

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

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.

Why Pro-Life?

Title: Why Pro-Life?
Author: Randy Alcorn
Pages: 136
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!

—–

Every issue has its ‘one-liners’ that cause your heart to stop, mind to race, and basically make you feel inadequate and unintelligent. Until three seconds go past and you suddenly remember the answer that you memorized several years ago. From ‘we’re under grace, not law’ to ‘but God would never make anybody love Him!’ these cliché phrases can be super hard to answer, because they’re packed with misconceptions – and the teeniest bit of truth.

The abortion issue is no exception to this rule – ‘I can do whatever I want with my body’, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if every child was a wanted child?’ ‘They’re not really humans’, and gobs of other such phrases are used as firecrackers against the pro-life position; they spark and sputter like the real thing, but they haven’t got the explosion to back it up.

In Why Pro-Life? Randy Alcorn does a superb job setting forth the pro-life position and answering these pro-abortion diatribes. Why Pro-Life? is divided into five sections – The Basics, The Child, The Woman, Other Important Issues, and Spiritual Perspectives and Opportunities.

The Basics. Abortion is America’s most frequently performed surgery on women.” [pg. 15] The practice of abortion is anything but new; records show abortions being practiced by women in the earliest Egyptian and Chinese civilization. But it is only since the 20th century that abortion has become a culturally acceptable, widespread, and practiced by Christians (43% of women obtaining abortions identify themselves as Protestant, and 27 percent identify themselves as Catholic [pg. 17]). It is time for Christians to return to Biblical thinking on this issue and to fight against the murder of babies now legally practiced in America. But often abortionists argue that abortion isn’t murder because the ‘fetus’ isn’t a real baby.

So, the first question is this – Is the fetus a human?

The Child.

The irony is that ‘fetus’ is simply the Latin word for ‘child’ or ‘offspring’. So, although the word helps to remove the emotional aspect from the discussion, it means the exact same thing – baby.

Mr. Alcorn begins this section by citing and quoting several of the highest medical authorities who asserted that life does indeed begin at conception. He even quotes the owner of Oregon’s largest abortion clinic as saying, “Of course human life begins at conception”. So, if life has begun, what makes it morally right to take that life? Its lack of development? If that were the case, then we would be justified in killing 10 year olds because they are ‘less developed’ – not as strong mentally or physically – as 30 year olds. As Mr. Alcorn says,

“At conception the unborn doesn’t appear human to us who are used to judging humanity by appearance. Nevertheless, in the objective scientific sense he is every bit as human as any older child or adult. He looks like a human being ought to at his stage of development.” [pg. 28]

If a person is less of a person because he lacks certain organs or appendages, then what do we say about tetraplegics whose limbs cannot function or soldiers whose legs have been amputated? Does anybody really believe that a person who’s 4’9” is less human than someone who is 6’6” simply because there’s less of him? Does anyone think that if you’ve had your tonsils removed or heart replaced that you’re ‘not really human’? The amount of matter or development present does not define a human being.

Another reason that is often pointed to is the baby’s entire dependency upon its mother, its inability to survive without its mother. But if this is what defines human life, then postnatal babies are no more human than prenatal ‘fetuses’; they are still entirely dependent upon others to take care of them and would die if neglected. Also, any person with a debilitating disease – paralysis, Alzheimer’s, etc. – would be considered ‘not really human’.

Another argument is that the fetus is a part of the woman’s body, so she should be able to do whatever she wants with it. But just because one object is contained by another doesn’t mean that they are the same. A car is parked in a garage, but no one claims that the car IS the garage. Babies aren’t just a part of their mother – they have their own genetic structure, and often have a different blood type. Think of how absurd it is to claim that the baby is just a part of the mother; that would mean that the mother has two brains, two hearts, four legs, and so on. And that when expecting a male child she is both male and female!

The Woman.

Abortionists have declared that it is only when women have the right to kill their babies that they can “participate fully in the social and political life of society” [Kate Michelman, quoted in The New York Times] But this position is really an insult to women because it claims that only when a woman fights her natural biological processes (that of pregnancy) is she a full citizen. Is encouraging women to kill their children really the best way to train them for societal interaction? If a baby can be killed because it is unwanted, how does this train women to think about co-workers, waiters, or any other person who gets in the way?

Also in this line of thought is that women should have ‘the right to choose’.  Those who are pro-life are called ‘anti-choice’ because they believe that women should not legally allowed to abort their children. But pro-life supporters are not anti-choice. They believe that women should be able to choose what they eat, what they wear, what movies they watch, who they marry, etc. We just don’t believe that they should have the right to commit murder any more than a man has the right to commit murder. See, it’s really quite silly to defend abortion on the ground that women should make choices. Just because a choice can be made (to rape, burglarize, etc.) does not make it a moral or lawful choice.

Abortion was finally legalized because people felt that it was cruel to make a rape victim bear the child of her assaulter. But in reality, abortion accomplishes the same thing that rape does – a stronger person forcing its will upon a weaker person and devastating (or destroying) its life. Far from remedying the situation, it compounds it; the child is forced to suffer for the sins of its father. Two wrongs do not make a right. Murdering an innocent does not punish the evil-doer.

And even the idea that abortions are most used in cases of rape is incorrect. Statistics show that only one percent of all abortions are due to rape or incest. The vast, overwhelming majority result from voluntary decisions made by consenting adults.

Other Important Issues.

What abortion has done is dealt a sickening blow to our perspective of children as a blessing. Pro-abortionists have polemicized that abortion will bring forth a better world for children because ‘every child is a wanted child’. Therefore each of these ‘wanted’ children will be treated with more love and kindness because it was specifically chosen to live. But the opposite is true. Abortion has taught our culture to hate children because it has removed the specialty of each life. Instead of viewing babies as precious gifts, we view them as optional inconveniences. This translates beyond the womb; now children are treated less as humans, and more as toys, pets, or pests – things that are petted and kicked alternately and sometimes downright abused.

We have been taught that people’s futures should be evaluated by their ‘quality of life’; that if their life will be hard or be tainted by mental or physical underdevelopment, then they should not be forced to live it. But who are we to judge whether another’s life is worth living? And why not give them the chance to decide for themselves? Once we allow the worth of a human being to be subject to the judgment of another human being, we’ve lost any objective standard. My life may be less ‘enjoyable’ or ‘valuable’ than the man down the streets, but it is at least my [God’s really, I know] life. A mother deciding that her baby’s life is not worth living is one step away from doctors and politicians deciding which of their citizens’ lives are worth living. ‘Quality of life’ can be no consideration; the question is, is it a human life? If so, then it is for God to kill or let live.

Spiritual Perspectives and Opportunities.

Abortion is a terrible sin – it is the murder of another human being who is crafted after the image of God. But, like other sins, it does not place the sinner irrevocably outside of Christ’s redemption. Christ can save the baby-murderer as assuredly as he can save the thief or adult-murderer – but this cannot be used as an excuse to continue in the sin. Repentance must be made.

Many of the women who get abortions aren’t hardened criminals who are deliberately shaking their fist in God’s face. In fact many of them are misled, misinformed or desperate; they should be treated firmly, but with tenderness and love. They should be shown the great anger and love of God through our interaction with them.

One of the ways that we can best show God’s love is by adopting the children who have not been aborted. Many women have reported that if they had known how to put their child up for adoption, they would’ve done so eagerly. We must do our best to make this option available to them.

Some Christians have argued that it is wrong for us to focus on the abortion issue, that instead we should preach only Christ and ‘win people to Him’. But this view mistakes the nature of the Great Commission. By preaching Christ, we do not merely preach His name; we preach what His name represents, what it stands for, how He defined it. This means we preach orthodoxy and orthopraxy – we preach what men must believe and how that belief should affect his actions. We preach what God requires of man, part of which is to

Rescue those being led away to death.” [Proverbs 24:11]

And

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” [Psalms 82:3]

It is precisely because we believe in the Great Commission that we must take seriously the sin of abortion.

Conclusion. Why Pro-Life? is a slim book, but it’s worth its weight in gold for those seeking to prep themselves on the abortion controversy. While far from exhaustive, it is a thoroughly helpful and practical read. Purchase your own copy here.

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.

The Sackett Brand

Title: The Sackett Brand
Author: Louis L’Amour
Pages: 151
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!

—–

More L’Amour…

The Story.

If Tell Sackett hadn’t moved when he did, he’d be a dead man. For as he turned, a bullet grazed his head, knocking him off balance and causing him to plummet down a cliff side. When he finally regained consciousness, his brain was fuzzy, but his thoughts were clear – who just shot at him? And why?

Apparently, whoever aimed at Sackett wasn’t taking a pot shot. He was purposely trying to kill him. Sackett can’t figure out why – he has no enemies in this part of the country, and there’s no reason… Ange!

When Sackett drags himself back to his campsite, he finds everything he had once called his own vanished – wagon, mules… and wife. They’ve disappeared without a trace! But traces or no, Sackett is determined to track down his would-be murderer and recover what is rightfully his!

Discussion.

Okay, a quick revelation of everything that happened after my synopsis (not quite everything, you understand…). Sackett quickly discovers his wagon, burned to a crisp with all of his belongings. All of his mules have been slaughtered and dumped over a cliff. Sackett learns that the reason for this destruction is his wife – while Sackett was out scouting, a man rode into camp and, when Ange repudiated his advances, this man murdered her. He immediately realized the consequence of what he had done, and sets out to remove all traces of his evil deed. This means that he must also kill Sackett, and most of the novel recounts the man’s desperate hunt for Sackett.

There was one thing that I loved about The Sackett Brand. And that was, as the news spread across the country that Tell Sackett was in trouble, Sacketts began pouring in from all across the country to help out their fellow family member. I especially liked this because often, westerns depict a main character who is cut from all family ties – he rides for himself and is uncomfortable in a family setting. But this story was all about family – the reason Sackett is in so much trouble is because he wishes to bring those who murdered his wife to justice. In the end, it is his family that rescues him. It was kinda sweet the way they all showed up with their six-guns. :’)

And then there’s the revenge factor. Immediately after being attacked, Sackett decides that he will find the person who arranged it and will make him pay. Once he discovers that his wife has been murdered, this resolve is doubled and reinforced with venom.

Sackett’s first move is to travel to Camp Verde where he implores the soldiers stationed there to help him in his pursuit of justice. They refuse. But Sackett will not let his wife’s death go unpunished, and decides to execute justice himself. His quest is definitely a mixture of justice and revenge.

There was the taste of anger in my mouth, the taste of a deep abiding hate within me. I didn’t like the feeling, but it was there, and these were days when the land where I rode had no law beyond what each man could deliver with his own had. [pg. 89]

He justifies his vengeful desires thus:

There’s some, I’m told, who frown upon revenge, and perhaps it is better so, but I was a mountain boy, reared in a feudal land, living my life through by the feaudal code, and our law was the Mosaic law of an eye for an eye. [pg. 142-143]

Because Ange’s murderer wishes to destroy all traces of his crime, he employs his band of hired hands to murder Sackett, too. They try to kill him on numerous occasions, but Sackett usually succeeds in killing them first. I felt that he could have had a degree or two more respect for the lives that he took (many of those chasing him had been deceived into thinking that Sackett deserved to die), but I also understood that had he hesitated on the draw, they would have killed him without hesitation.

The inciting incident of the story is, of course, the murder of Ange, Sackett’s wife. She was murdered by a man who first attempted to seduce her (this scene really isn’t described and the word ‘seduce’ isn’t actually used). However, the incident is mentioned several times and Sackett thinks of his wife’s murder often.

On one occasion, Sackett is hiding out in a cave when a young woman seeks refuge with him from an oncoming storm. Because she seems so comfortable alone with him, Sackett quickly comes to the conclusion that she is bait being used by his pursuers who hope to hang him (hurting or molesting a woman was a hanging crime). He quickly clears out. Nothing inappropriate occurs, but older readers will know the woman’s obvious profession.

Sackett mentions that there is a Mormon settlement a few miles away, and says that “from all I’d heard they were God-fearing folk” [pg. 38].

There are a few violent scenes. The action is intense, but by no means sickening.

‘Hell’ is used eleven times, ‘damn’ ten, and ‘by God’ once.

Conclusion. Due to the familial theme, I enjoyed The Sackett Brand. However, it is not what I would call ‘edifying’ reading.

Taken at the Flood

Title: Taken at the Flood
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 192
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 self-professed greatest of all detectives graces the pages once again!

The Story.

No one in the family could have possibly foreseen it – or dreamt it. Yet here it is, a patent nightmare for all of them. Because Gordon Cloade, the only real money holder of the family – the man who promised to leave all of his money to his siblings and cousins – has married. And what’s worse, before he could make a new will, he died. By law, all of his estate is passed on to his new wife, Rosaleen.

They all hate Rosaleen. Lynn Marchmont and her mother Adela; Rowley Cloade; Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Cloade; Mr. and Mrs. Jeremy Cloade – all of them. The only person who doesn’t hate Rosaleen is her brother, David who lives with her and directs her affairs. A dark one, he is – never lets the girl think for herself and governs her money with a strict hand. And so arrogant the way he sneers at the Cloade clan. The two of them are just asking to be killed…

But oddly enough, it’s a stranger who’s found murdered one morning at the Stag. Who was he? Why was he in Warmsley Vale? And why would anyone want to kill him?

Cautions.

Lynn Marchmont (the sort-of main character) is a young woman just returned from war. Although initially delighted to be back at home where “everything is the same”, she becomes restless and irritated by her relations – mostly her mother. Although engaged to marry Rowley Cloade, a steady, reliable farmer, she is attracted by the dangerous David Hunter. For most of the novel, she is trying to decide which of them she will marry. There is only one scene that could be termed ‘romantic’ – one of the men kisses her and then rushes off, leaving her confused.

Kathie Cloade, Lynn’s aunt, believes in spiritualism and often consults with Ouija boards, mediums, and the like. There are no scenes in which these consultations take place, only references to them. Kathie is portrayed as a fluttery, distractable woman – not someone to be taken seriously – but she often offers occult explanations for occurrences. Poirot takes advantage of her beliefs in one scene, pretending that he too is being directed by a spirit (this is a patent falsehood).

A reference is made to an illegitimate child.

‘Damn’ is used eighteen times, ‘God’ nine, ‘hell’ seven, ‘Lord’ six, and ‘by Jove’ twice. One woman who is portrayed as being small-minded and having distinct racial prejudices speaks of ‘niggers’.

Conclusion. Interesting and engaging. I put all of my little gray cells to the problem to no avail. Score for Poirot.