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Posts Tagged ‘agatha christie’

herculepoirotschristmas
This is surely just the perfect kind of book to curl up with on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I last read this about five years ago – and I am pretty sure I had read it before then. However I soon found that I had remembered virtually nothing about it.

In this novel old Poirot takes a bit of a back seat – the other characters featuring much more prominently, in fact he doesn’t even appear until page 73 but of course Poirot does have the most important bit at the end – the bit I always love – whether I have worked out whodunit or not. In this one the family of old Simeon Lee gather for Christmas at the family mansion. These include the son and daughter in law who live with old man, rather slavishly and dutifully, two more sons who have been invited, another daughter in law, one of the sons Harry is something of a returning prodigal. Also staying for the season are Simeon Lee’s granddaughter; Pilar and the son of Simeon Lee’s former South African business partner who turns up unexpectedly. Agatha Christie is particularly good at portraying the strains and petty jealousies of a dysfunctional family Christmas. Simeon Lee – is of a course a tyrant, so many Christie victims seem almost deserving of their grizzly fate – and Simeon Lee is wonderfully awful. Typically there is of course an elderly butler and a slightly sinister valet who slides in and out of rooms with the stealth of a cat.

“It is the quietest and meekest people who are often capable of the most sudden and unexpected violences for the reason that when their control does snap, it goes entirely”

Meanwhile Poirot has come to stay nearby with his friend the chief constable, and so is therefore on hand when a couple of days before Christmas Simeon Lee is found behind a locked door with his throat cut. Of course several people have a motive, and more than one person is harbouring a secret. All good Christie stuff, locked rooms, piercing screams, missing uncut diamonds as well as a body, and yes Christie does cheat a bit (this is what people often accuse her of), sometimes, things and people turn out to be not as you thought them, and so the reader never has all the facts – but so what – they still make for a good old read.

Agathachristie3

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thesecretadversary

The Secret Adversary was Agatha Christie’s second novel, first published in 1922. It is also the first novel to feature the duo Tommy and Tuppence. Tommy and Tuppence are no doubt the least successful of Agatha Christie’s fictional sleuths –as they feature in only four novels and a collection of short stories. The secret Adversary is an engaging little story – full of 1920’s silliness it I suppose of its time and it is an early Christie novel, written long before those novels which really made her name. I read this while away on holiday in Devon, and it was when I was about halfway through the book that I paid a visit to Greenway – the beautiful riverside holiday home of Agatha Christie which is now managed by the National Trust. Greenway of course was bought by Agatha Christie many years after she had written The Secret Adversary – but it seemed appropriate to be reading her when I was paying a visit there.

“Money, money, money! I think about money morning, noon and night! I dare say it’s mercenary of me, but there it is”

In 1919 Tommy and Tuppence are reunited after the end of the war, old friends Tommy is a demobilised soldier, Tuppence a former VAD nurse. They are both out of money and decide to fall back on to their friendship and Tuppence’s brains by becoming private enquiry agents. They are immediately (and somewhat unbelievably) drawn into a mystery involving a missing girl Jane Finn who was a survivor of the Lusitania in 1915. Jane Finn, a young American, was handed a packet of secret documents just moments before she boarded a life boat – by a man who feared he wouldn’t make it off the ship – but was relying on the tradition of “women and children first” to save the girl and with her the documents he so desperately wanted to get out. However Jane Finn then disappeared, her name on the list of survivors the only proof of that she made it off the stricken vessel. In 1919 in London Tommy and Tuppence are soon surrounded by people who are also on the trail of Jane Finn and the missing documents that have the potential to bring down the government. A cold ageing beauty in whose home Tuppence manages to wangle herself a job as a maid – a sinister Russian, an American millionaire and an intelligence officer among others. Both Tommy and Tuppence face dangers as they delve further into the mystery of Jane Finn.
The mystery is really rather improbable – but although a little silly it is readable and Tommy and Tuppence are really rather delightful in their silly old way. By the time the mystery is settled (and I was pleased that I guessed who “the secret adversary” was) Tommy and Tuppence have woken up to their feeling for one another and their partnership is sealed.

“Marriage is called all sorts of things, a haven, and a refuge, and a crowning glory, and a state of bondage, and lots more. But do you know what I think it is?’

‘What?’

‘A sport!’

‘And a damned good sport too,’ said Tommy.”

2013-08-13 13.40.19A quick word about Greenway – it was probably the nicest day of my week in Devon. Agatha Christie apparently called it “the loveliest place in the world” and I can see why. Only taken over by The National Trust a few years ago – it still has the feel of a family home. There are bookcases filled with Agatha’s books – Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Ellory Queen, Conon Doyle, PG Wodehouse among others, photo frames filled with family pictures, and cases and cases of the china and other things that she and her husband Max Mallowan collected in the years they had together including some of their archaeological finds. There are even a few examples of Agatha’s clothing hanging in an upstairs cupboard. I was reminded strongly of the setting for Dead Man’s Folly while I was there – and following a conversation on Facebook later I discovered that Greenway was indeed the inspiration for the house in that book. If you love Agatha Christie and you haven’t been to Greenway – then if you find yourself in the area make sure you take time out of your day to visit, the grounds alone with views over the river are worth it.

Agathachristie2

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mousetrap-60

I have been an Agatha Christie fan ever since I first picked up one of her novels when I was 11. Since then I cannot remember a time when I have not been aware of the play The Mousetrap, which has been playing to packed houses in London’s West End since 25th November 1952. That is quite a record. I have always wanted to see it – yet somehow, ridiculously never getting around to it. Agathachristie

However the Mousetrap is on tour for its 60th anniversary. I hadn’t actually heard about the tour, recently I saw a poster advertising the week long staging in my home city, I was beyond excited. Originally, I had wanted to go with two friends (impossible all tickets for seats together had gone). I managed to secure a single seat. I find that it is often possible to get concert and theatre tickets when the show is all but sold out that way – there is usually one or two odd seats dotted about. In the end I had a very good seat – the seventh row of the stalls – a marvellously clear view of the stage and the actors.
I’m not going to say too much about the story of the play – it is of course traditional to keep “whodunit” a secret – and I’ll certainly be doing that. As a period piece The Mousetrap is wonderfully atmospheric. There are jokes about rationing and references that would have been very much of the time, raising a big laugh. The Mousetrap is in parts, very funny. It is also brilliantly clever – and so entertaining, I just loved it. Did I guess? Yes I did – I was rather surprised at myself, I don’t often manage to do that. IMAG0161
grahamseedIn the run up to my exciting night out I hadn’t really thought much about who might be in it. It was only on opening my programme that I saw that there were several recognisable actors from British tv among the cast. karl Howman

brunolangleyFans of Coronation Street may remember Bruno Langley who played Todd Grimshaw in the show for three years. There were also brilliant performances from Karl Howman, Clare Wilkie and Graham Seed who were all very recognisable to me, and I’m sure they will be to other people. clarewilkie

The entire cast though, were first class and made for a brilliant evening’s entertainment.

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caribbeanmystery

With all the snow and ice around I felt in need of some cosy comfort reading with an added ingredient – sunshine. I may have been sitting in snowy Birmingham feeling very chilled indeed, but my mind at least was transported to the much pleasanter surroundings of a Caribbean island.

As so often is the case with these old Agatha Christie novels – I was fairly sure I had forgotten “whodunit” however as the book progressed I did guess who the culprit was – so I wasn’t sure if I had just been clever or whether I was remembering something. It might seem strange to choose to re-read a mystery story – but I think there is something about the nostalgic and cosy nature of Agatha Christie that is perfect for re-reading. Curling up with favourite characters is always comforting – after all you know where you are with Miss Marple.
In ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ Miss Marple is enjoying a well-earned rest on the Caribbean island of St. Honore – although finding things maybe just a little too quiet. One day Miss Marple is sat talking to another guest at the hotel Major Palgrave. Poor old Major Palgrave is something of a bore – rattling on endlessly he tells the same stories over and over to anyone who has his attention for a short time. As Major Palgrave talks about his years in India, Miss Marple finds her attention wandering; she’s not really listening, as the Major switches stories to talk about murder. The Major reaches into his wallet to show Miss Marple a picture of a murderer but is interrupted. Suddenly the Major has changed the subject – and the following day he is dead.
Good old Miss Marple – she is soon on the case – she knows when something isn’t right. More deaths occur – one is rarely enough for Mrs Christie – and the redoubtable Miss Marple in cahoots with the wealthy Mr Rafiel sets out to discover the truth about her fellow hotel guests.

caribbeanmystery2There have been over the years many differing TV adaptations of Miss Marple stories. I have to say I have enjoyed them all very much, the more recent Miss Marple incarnations played by Gereldine Mcewan and Julia Mackenzie were great. Each of those excellent actresses brought something different to the role, however neither of them were the real Miss Marple for me. There can only be one real Miss Marple on the screen – the marvellous Joan Hickson. Thinking about Joan Hickson – who played Miss Marple in an adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery on TV – reminds me of my Dad strangely enough. He hated Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple – she drove him to distraction, actually driving him from the room while we watched. He found her irritatingly simpering and nosey. Of course that irritating old lady routine was what made her such a genius.

I have to admit that I have always been slightly more of a Poirot fan than a Marple fan – but I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with her again – and the setting of this particular novel was an added attraction. Written in the 1960’s and set on a Caribbean island there are, maybe unsurprisingly, a few wincey un-pc moments – some of the language is unfortunate rather than very offensive. I try to accept these things in novels as being true to the times in which they were written and of the people who were writing them. Still ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ is a good old fashioned cosy mystery – probably not among Agatha Christie’s best – the plot is fairly thin and the culprit easily guessed at – still for me even a poor Agatha Christie novel is a good read.

Agathachristie2

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My sixth re-read in my month of re-reading. I needed something of a comfort read, and for me Agatha Christie hits the spot. Why it should be that murder mysteries should and often are considered comfort reading – is something I have often wondered about. Last night I was so tired – and just a tiny bit grumpy – and yet as I snuggled down against my pillows, a mug of low fat hot chocolate nearby, I read the first few pages of A Dead Man’s Folly and everything seemed suddenly much better.

I first read Agatha Christie when I was about 11 – I have loved her stories ever since. I love both Poirot and Marple, though Poirot is definitely my favourite of the two. It may seem that a whodunit is an odd choice for a re-read – but luckily I usually forget. I can’t even remember for sure which Agatha Christie novels I have read – I just know it’s probably most of them, several of them twice. I watch the TV adaptations too – and those too I forget – so can watch again – it’s very useful at times.
Dead Man’s Folly I think I have read twice before – and have seen a TV adaptation too – so maybe it was no real surprise that I began to remember key points after about 60 pages. It all remained very muddled in my head though and so I had to read on to see what I had remembered correctly.

   In Dead Man’s Folly, Hercule Poirot is summoned to Devon by Ariadne Oliver – a character of Agatha Christie’s that is quite obviously a thinly disguised self-portrait. I’ve always really rather liked Ariadne Oliver, she is an eccentric, and like Poirot, something of a stereotype – still Agatha Christie novels are not the kind of novels to take too seriously. Ariadne Oliver is involved in the preparations of a fete in the grounds of Nasse House – as part of the preparations Ariadne is designing a muder hunt – like a treasure hunt with clues hidden around the grounds. Ariadne tells everyone at Nasse House that Poirot is there to present the prize however her real motive in getting Poirot to Devon is because she is convinced that “something is wrong” There are the usual collection of Christie types scattered around Nasse house and the immediate surroundings, a young married couple, a cynical young architect, the former owner of Nasse house living in the lodge, Sir George Stubbs the wealthy new owner and his much younger wife, who is apparently rather suggestible and the bitter secretary come housekeeper. The day following Poirot’s arrival the fete gets underway – a local girl guide is to play the part of the body in Mrs Oliver’s murder hunt – only Ariadne’s belief that something was wrong proves all too accurate when she and Poirot find the poor girl dead in the boathouse. Within a couple of hours it is also obvious that the beautiful Hattie Stubbs is missing.
One of the criticisms often levelled against Agatha Christie – is that she cheats. Well – yes she does – in that Fred Bloggs will later turn out to be Joe Brown who disappeared down the Amazon seventeen years earlier and hasn’t been heard of since. Some people don’t like the fact that the reader therefore doesn’t have all the information – and so can’t solve the mystery themselves. That has never bothered me. The reader can make a shrewd guess to the who without knowing the why and how after all. I think I always prefer to have everything revealed to me at the end anyway, and so I don’t try to work it out – that’s the job of the detective. This was perfect easy reading for me – as I never tire of dear old Poirot.

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A seance in a snowbound Dartmoor house predicts a grisly murder…In a remote house in the middle of Dartmoor, six shadowy figures huddle around a small table for a seance. Tension rises as the spirits spell out a chilling message: ‘Captain Trevelyan! dead! murder.’ Is this black magic or simply a macabre joke? The only way to be certain is to locate Captain Trevelyan. Unfortunately, his home is six miles away and, with snow drifts blocking the roads, someone will have to make the journey on foot!

I usually like the Poirot and Marple books the best, but this one with neither of the great Christie detectives on duty – is a marvelous read. I was happily curled up under a blanket most of the afternoon with this one.
In The Sittaford Mystery we have the ingredients of a truly atmospheric old whodunit. A fabulous setting – a wintry Dartmoor just before Christmas. Mysterious characters who are obviously not telling the whole truth, an escaped convict from Princetown, a feisty young woman fighting for her man, a seance and lots of seemingly unbreakable alibis. I certainly didn’t guess the culprit – it came as a huge surprise – which is somehow always far more satisfying than working it out. Great stuff, and perfect weekend reading.

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Read on my kindle

Agatha Christie’s most audacious crime mystery.  Roger Ackroyd knew too much. He knew that the woman he loved had poisoned her brutal first husband. He suspected also that someone had been blackmailing her. Now, tragically, came the news that she had taken her own life with a drug overdose. But the evening post brought Roger one last fatal scrap of information. Unfortunately, before he could finish the letter, he was stabbed to death! This is one of Agatha Christie’s better known novels, many people who have never read it – probably know “whodunnit” it’s a famous denouement  . I probably read this when I was a teenager – but knowing who the murderer was didn’t spoil it for me. I like settling down with an Agatha Christie, it’s like pulling on an old favorite cardi on a chilly evening. I was also interested to see – if knowing the end right from the start – it holds togther – it does – Agatha Christie tidies up any loose ends nicely.  There are many historical mysteries out there – some of them are very authentic – but there is nothing like those mysteries actually written in the period that other modern writers try  so hard to reproduce. 

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