Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

This month’s ‘Maidens of Murder’ is ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’. I was excited to read this title as it is not a story that I know well.

I really enjoyed this book. It is such a clever mystery tale, you always know that a murder that appears to have no motive will lead to quite an adventure. And – as you expect – the Queen of Crime does indeed take the characters and readers on quite a journey. The ‘twist’ really does make the story a classic of Christie’s work and does also feel a little like she has been teasing Bobby and Frankie as they carry out their investigation. This, although clearly in the style of Agatha Christie’s work, is a little bit of a timeless tale. You could imagine this plot being created now; it is not tied to the past.

However, something that really struck me about this story is how well Agatha Christie created strong female characters. Lady Francis is to be admired as she takes quite the lead in finding out exactly ‘why didn’t they ask Evans?’ but her foe in the tale is also quite a formidable lady (although some may say only until the going gets tough).

Ultimately, however, I think what is good about this book is that as much as it is a classic Christie, it is a little bit of a romance novel dressed up as a crime novel. After all, who does not love a happy ending?

Everything I know about Love by Dolly Alderton

This book is an autobiography for the modern age, and I could almost end my blog post there, but clearly that would not be enough.

I knew nothing about this book when I started it. I simply found it as a little half-price bargain and happened to pick up a copy.

When I started I was not sure I would enjoy it. I can not put my finger on what in those opening pages did not completely grip me. However, once I got right into the book, I was hooked. Dolly Alderton is simply telling an ordinary tale of a girl finding herself. A true coming-of-age tale. Alderton does not try to dress anything up – she’s honest, almost brutally, about the journey she has taken in life. She tells tales that will make you laugh (Rod Stewart), she recounts events that will make you cry (Florence), but most importantly she makes you reflect on your on journey to thirty (wherever you may be on that journey).

Dolly Alderton has a natural writing style (I know I said a the start of the book I was not sure) once you fall into it. The chapters where she parodies those emails that so many of us will have had about ‘Hen Dos’, ‘Weddings’ and ‘Baby Showers’ that are just a little bit ‘extra’ had me laughing like a hyena on my daily commute.

However, I think the most important lesson in this book is the realisation that the most important thing we need to know about love is to love ourselves. It is certainly the most important lesson that Dolly Alderton herself appears to learn.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

One of the best things about books is the chance to share (I know, I have said it before). So it was a joy when a little book collection sent my way from my Auntie included ‘Force of Nature’ by Jane Harper.

I really enjoyed meeting Aaron Falk in ‘The Dry‘, so was keen to see where the story would take us next.

This novel is a great crime theory. The events that take place in the wilds of Australia are told simultaneously alongside Falk’s investigation. I really enjoyed this method of telling the story. It added to building the tension as the chapters alternate, as you were always keen to see if the investigation was accurately reaching the same points as the real events.

I am not sure this novel is as atmospheric as ‘The Dry’. However, it does not take away from the enjoyment because this books develops Falk as a character, reveals a little more about him as a character and builds an empathy between him and the reader.

Again, it can be difficult to review stories with a twist so this is more my personal opinion. I would love to see how else Aaron Falk’s story develops, as I think he will become a much-loved character of the fiction world.

The Age-Old Question…

So, since joining in with ‘Maidens of Murder’ Agatha Christie Bookclub I have found myself reading more of a range of her work. While doing this, it has brought me to the age-old question – Who is the best sleuth, Miss Marple or Poirot?

Now, I am sure that many will be thinking why do I have to make such a decision? I suppose I don’t have to – but I have been pondering it for a while.

When reading the novels I find, as a rule, I prefer Poirot. There is a charm and quirk to him as sleuth which I adore. His relationship with Hastings and Japp are some of the best fictional friendships. It reminds me of my favourite: Holmes, Watson and Lestrade. And even when Poirot is thrown out into the world without his allies, he has a great manner with all of those that he encounters. His eccentricities are also part of his lasting charm.

Also, having grown up with David Suchet as TV’s Poirot, I have many fond memories of watching the sleuth at work. ‘Poirot and Me’, by David Suchet is a memoir that sealed my view that he is Poirot and he has the same love for the Belgian sleuth as we all do as fans.

But then I pause and reflect for a moment – Miss Marple is a marvellous female lead and inspiration. I mean, if I have the determination to take on challenges the way she does at her age, I would be one happy lady. She is sometimes unfairly presented as a nosy parker but, to me, she is quite a hero.

Equally, I have such happy memories of watching Miss Marple portrayed on TV by Joan Hickson, as well as my love for June Whitfield on the radio version of the sleuth.

However, I am never sure Miss Marple’s cases are quite as engaging in novel form. They are enjoyable (as all of Christie’s work is) but Poirot just always seems to pip Jane Marple to the post.

So, my answer to the age-old question is Poirot. What about you?

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M McManus

I was excited when I realised that this novel was hitting the bookshops this year. I had really enjoyed ‘One of Us is Lying’, so could not wait to see what thrilling intrigue there was going to be amongst the pages of this tale.

Stories like this can be difficult to write blog posts about as I do not want to spoil this book for anybody, so I will do my best to share my thoughts.

The small town of Echo Ridge has been the scene of two crimes involving the disappearance of teenage girls, although the crimes have been several years apart. When Ellery and Ezra end up with their grandmother, another disappearance occurs and Ellery’s true crime-loving side leads her to carry out her own investigation – although some mysteries she solves are not the ones she expects.

The is edge-of-your-seat stuff right up until the final line. McManus weaves the tale with mystery and intrigue. You are drawn into it all and you really do want to know what will happen next. Especially as the cast of characters are almost a collection of red herrings in themselves. One minute, like Ellery, you may have one suspect in mind only to be completely thrown off. As with ‘One of Us is Lying’, it is a gripping read; a great one for thriller fans.

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

I have two confessions:

  1. I do not really like historical fiction, pre 1900 settings.
  2. I have never read Bernard Cornwell before.

So, ‘Fools and Mortals’ was a bit of a breakaway choice for me this month. It had been an impulse buy last year as I was attracted by the reference to Shakespeare (as many of you know, I am a huge Shakespeare fan).

This was a little bit of a slow burn for me, for the very reason I do not usually pick an historical novel, there is a lot of scene setting. I, of course, appreciate the need for this as we have to be transported to the era but I often find it causes my attention to wander (or that could be reading on the commute).

However, the idea of the story did grab my attention. The complex politics of being a ‘player’ in Elizabethan England. An England of quite diverse beliefs and power and, indeed, the pressure that Shakespeare and his contemporaries may have faced to be successful in their field. However, this tale also has a hint of crime fiction: when a valuable manuscript goes missing and Shakespeare’s own brother comes under suspicion, he must work to attempt to clear his name.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, especially all the nods to the work of Shakespeare. But I do think I need to give Bernard Cornwell another go with a different book to really form an opinion.

Any suggestions from you lovely readers about other Cornwell books I could try?

No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Books are such a magical thing because not only do they allow you to escape, but they also bring people together. I read my first novel by Linwood Barclay last year and made sure I passed it straight on to my sister-in-law when she was looking for some reading inspiration because I knew she would love it. And so, she returned the favour with ‘No Time For Goodbye’ this year.

This was a bit of a slow burn for me; I was not sure it was going to grab my attention in the same way. However, I was so wrong. Barclay takes his time to really establish the scene, which of course is necessary if you want to build a good thriller. And this is a good thriller: the tension builds throughout the tale and what appears to be the big reveal is gripping. However, that is not where the story ends, and you actually face another twist, just when you think not much else can surprise you. The slow burn is certainly worth it, for the thrilling pace you face once it picks up is pretty edge of your seat.

So, this may be a short but sweet review, as I do not want to spoil the read for anybody else, but if you like a good thriller that builds to quite a page turner, then ‘No Time For Goodbye’ is worth seeking out.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

My second Collins was just as wonderful as my first – I often wonder why it has taken me so long to take the plunge to read his work.

This novel is a slow burn to begin with as Collins introduces his colourful characters and sets his haunting scene. ‘The Woman in White’ sets Walter Hartright on quite an adventure. There are many twists and turns as Hartright and Marian try to ensure that Laura is safe from Sir Percival Glyde and the literally larger-than-life Count Fosco. How can they ensure that her fate does not mirror that of ‘The Woman in White’?

It is one of the best classic mystery novels. However, there are those that have described it as a ‘ghost’ story. Now, I know for some that does not seem to make sense. Collins had not written your traditional ghostly tale, however I think there are ghosts in this tale. This is about the ghosts of past lives, not the ghost of dead souls. This tale, for me, is one that warns about the risks of the past catching up with you and the lengths to which some people will go to keep those ghosts buried. And, let’s be honest, for the rather Mr Fairie – he is eventually made to feel like he is seeing a ghost…

This is, on some levels, a novel of its time – women being manipulated by men (appearing not to have the character not to be), however, there are moments when that is challenged slightly. Yet one of the things about the classics is that they are written in the past and that should not ever taint our view of a good story. Collins may have had some views we would not always agree with now, but he was a master storyteller and deserves his classic author status.

A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

The book-buying ban I have chosen to follow for the start of 2019 has been a blessing in disguise because it is making me pick up books that I really should have read sooner.

The is one of those discovered gems ‘The History of Britain in 21 Women’ is a book I bought last year but which then sat on my ‘to-be-read’ pile, not seeing the light of day. I am now wondering why I did not pick it up sooner. As a History teacher for the day job, I am always keen to keep learning and improve my knowledge. This book educated me and provided me with excellent nuggets of information to share with my classes. It could even be said that it enthused me even more for a subject that I already love.

I am not sure how Jenni Murray managed to whittle down her list to only 21, as Britain is a country with such a rich history and culture. However, what is clear is that she genuinely believes in every single choice that she has made. There are some that may appear obvious choices to some of us, but there are some that may surprise us in equal measure.

I was pleased to see the recognition of Jane Austen and her work, and those who fought to ensure that women had a political voice. However, for me, the moment that struck a chord (especially as I teach the History of Medicine) was the inclusion of Mary Seacole. Her significance has been an issue that we regularly debate in the classroom, so it was joy to find her on this exclusive list.

This book is an entertainingly written joy to bring history to life. I hope everyone is inspired to pick up this book and find out about the wonderful women of Britain. It is certainly making me think about who I would add to the list.

Any ideas about who your women of British history would be?

‘You’re Such a Purist!’

On my Second Blog Birthday I decided to think about the phrase ‘You’re such a purist!’. Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse has been known to repeat this many a time as we watch various adaptations of much-loved novels. Do not get me wrong, I understand that a novel can not be transported directly to the screen, but there are some things in some novels which are just not to be messed with!

There whole term ‘Purist’ was often thrown at me during ‘Sherlock’. A much-loved show, but can something that has been so changed really have characters called Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson? By all means, writers can be inspired by other writers and even characters, but the final straw for me was the day a friend turned to me and uttered the words ‘I love Sherlock Holmes’ and when questioned had never read a story but had a crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. If the show had encouraged her to pick up the original books and discover those glorious original tales, I could maybe have forgiven the statement – but sadly it did not!

More recently, I had a little rant after watching ‘The ABC Murders’ over the festive season. Unfortunately, it simply was not a Christie tale that we sat down to watch. There is something wrong about adding such violence to the gentle escapism of the original story. And why transform Poirot’s character and side step Captain Hastings? Can modern audiences simply not be entertained without so much extreme drama? If they were to pick up the novel, I am not sure it would be anything like they expect.

Do not get me wrong, it does not mean that any adaptation should not be allowed. The Joan Hickson Marple’s are beautifully done and, although more recently Miss Marple may have appeared in cases that weren’t hers, at least if you pick up the book the tale is not changed beyond real recognition.

If TV and film encourage people to pick up books then I agree that is not a bad thing – after all I read ‘Brideshead Revisited’ after the great TV production with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews – but should we find novel to hardly resemble the production?

Have you been left cold by any adaptations of much-loved novels? Or am I really the only ‘Purist’?