Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie

July’s pick for ‘Maidens of Murder’ bookclub was ‘Destination Unknown’; one of the only works by Christie not to have been brought to life on the screen – big or small.

This has more the feel of a thriller than Christie’s usual works. A standalone novel set against the early days of the Iron Curtain it is a tale of secrets, science and suspicion. There is, of course, a hint of murder, but it is not quite as central to the tale as it would be with some of Christie’s more well-known works. However, it is enjoyable to read something that is not traditional for Agatha Christie, and that really reflects the post-war era she was writing in.

However, it is a little worrying that a novel that is 65 years old is still relevant today or seems to be as we live through some turbulant times. Certainly thought-provoking.

So, thank you again ‘Maidens of Murder’ for encouraging me to read a Christie I would never have picked up otherwise. As always, looking forward to next month’s pick.

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie

This novel was ‘Maidens of Murder’ May book club choice. I am so pleased that it was because I have had a little bit of a slow reading month (I blame the day job) and this book seemed to pull me out of the slow slump.

Anyone who regularly reads the blog will know that I am a Poirot fan, so I am always happy to discover a book where he takes the lead. This one was slightly different to the usual books, as it was a full novel, but each chapter was like a self-contained story as Poirot embarked on his self-motivated challenge ‘The Labours of Hercules’.

I usually do not like short stories, but this I did enjoy. There was a level of satisfaction as Poirot solved a mystery by the end of each chapter. Of course, Poirot also finds satisfaction as he manages to solve a crime in the vain of the labours of Hercules (his namesake also).

I also find it interesting how this novel compared to the David Suchet TV adaptation. It was clever how they incorporated the tales for the TV and which tale they selected to make centre stage. Now I have read the book, I would quite like to watch the TV adaptation with a little bit of a critical eye. Although, I am pretty sure the book was better.

Have you read any novels in May which were not quite what you expected?

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?

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?

‘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’?

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

Reading a novel by Agatha Christie at this time of year is like a hug. Although this is not a festive read, it has been selected by ‘The Maidens of Murder’, as the BBC has an adaptation of this classic in its festive TV schedules.

One reason why this novel makes me happy is that our dear friend Hastings provides us with the narrative (well, the parts that they can). Returning to a novel with one of my favourite fictional teams already means I will enjoy the story. And I did…

I found this to be one of Christie’s most clever tales. You really do fall for the huge red herring that is marked for you from the start – even though you know you probably should not. Our murderer really does go out of their way to try and get away with murder.

Of course, you know that Poirot will always get his target. However, this also reminded me of Sherlock and his foe Moriarty, as this is more of a case of puppet and a puppet master as many of their classic encounters can be.

As a bold statement, I think this could be one of Poirot’s most wonderful cases – especially as the big reveal was as much of a surprise to me as the characters in the room with man himself.

I would like to thank ‘The Maidens of Murder’ for encouraging me to read of a scope of Christie’s work – I look forward to more in 2019!

Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I was excited when ‘Maidens of Murder’ picked ‘Nemesis’ (a Miss Marple mystery) as the November book club choice. This was a story that, although I had never read, I loved from the days of the BBC adaptations of the novels with the wonderful Joan Hickson in the role of our elderly sleuth. So, when I picked up the book, I had high hopes…

However, I was left a little deflated when I started. The pace of the novel was slow – and I think I had been so spoiled from being familiar with the story that I wanted action to happen almost immediately. This is not a bad novel at all, I just found it a struggle to get into. Although, once we did reach a little bit more of the action and the tension began to build, I found myself more engrossed. There was possibly a little too much scene-setting, as a cold case rather than a current investigation is the main focus.

There is, however, all the way through, the charm we are all used to when we join a Miss Marple investigation. There is great characterisation as Miss Marple meets her cast of characters on her coach holiday paid for by her ‘Nemesis’ – our dear friend Mr Rafiel.

Yet the one big question I had by the end (other than why the ITV versions always strayed from the novels) is why, in the TV adaptations, does she always take a nephew with her on this trip – when, in the novel, she is such a tough, independent lady? Let’s give Miss Marple all the credit she deserves.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

My reading habits have changed slightly since becoming a book blogger. Never before did I consider which month to read certain books, but now it seems to be one of the key considerations when deciding what to read. Therefore, I was really excited when it was revealed that this month’s ‘Maidens of Murder’ book was ‘The Pale Horse’, one I knew had a slightly spooky undercurrent.

Again, we were not taken on this adventure by Poirot or Miss Marple but Mark Easterbrook is our narrative provider. (Even the most recent ITV adaptation did add Miss Marple to the tale). A number of mysterious deaths have taken place, but when a priest is murdered after visiting one of the ‘victims’ it seems that there could be more to this than meets the eye. Mark Easterbrook becomes intrigued by this mystery, which seems to lead to a slightly strange public house called ‘The Pale Horse’. It appears that the ladies who inhabit it may have some connections to practicing the ‘dark arts’.

I really enjoyed this novel. If you read this little blog on a regular basis, you will know that I am an Agatha Christie fan but there are still a few novels that do not quite hit the spot, but this was not one of them. I just wanted to know what was happening next; there is a well-built-up tension – and the twist – well I did not spot that coming! (Although, as always, it seems so obvious when it is fully revealed).

So, October has got off to a suitably spooky start – A classic Christie!

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

This months ‘Maidens of Murder’ book club choice is ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’. This was not a title that I was aware of but, as regular readers of the blog will know, I am always happy to give a Christie novel a go. It also seems fitting that I finished it on Agatha Christie’s birthday, which is a fitting tribute to the ‘Queen of Crime’s’ memory.

I found this novel an absolute joy to read. It really reminded me of the novels of PG Wodehouse, as there was a humour and charm to this novel that resonated with me from the first page.

This is not a novel that involves Poirot or Miss Marple, but instead Superintendent Battle (who appears in five of Christie’s novels). However, for me, other than his part in the big reveal that we¬† all associate with Christie’s work, he is not the star of the story. This novel in fact has a wonderfully strong female lead in ‘Bundle’. A young (and fairly wealthy) lady who sees herself as a little bit of an amateur sleuth and ends up embroiled in the ‘Seven Dials Mystery’ when two young men from her social circle wind up dead.

It is a beautifully crafted novel, as you would expect, but does read in a slightly different style to the Marples and Poirots I am used to. This made it even more appealing to me as it demonstrated that Christie is a consistently skilled writer but can make small adjustments to her style to keep the stories fresh.

I absolutely can not wait to see what next month’s offering is as so far each title has reignited my love of Agatha Christie’s work.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

I have been a fan of Anthony Horowitz since I was a child. My sister discovered his comic children’s novels and I used to read them too. Also, being a huge fan of murder mysteries, I have watched many episodes of ‘Foyle’s War’ and ‘Midsomer Murders’ with Horowitz’s screenplays.

I am ashamed to say that ‘Magpie Murders’ has been on my ‘to be read’ pile for a long time, but I finally picked it up this month. It just seemed like a great novel for autumn, as it has so many hints of classic crime fiction.

This novel is a clever concept, like a novel within a novel. You start off reading the final Atticus Pund story by the author Alan Conway. You are reading it as his editor reads it, realising alongside her that the novel is not completed. However, the problem is Alan Conway appears to have killed himself and nobody seems to know where the end of the novel is. There also seems to be something odd about the death of its author. So, Susan Ryeland, a fan of crime fiction, finds herself not only on the hunt for the final chapter of ‘Magpie Murders’ but also for the truth about Conway’s death.

It is incredibly clever how Horowitz intertwines the two stories, as well as all the little nods to so many of the fictional detectives we know and love. It is certainly a book for crime fiction lovers, especially fans of Agatha Christie classics.

For me, the setting of Suffolk, especially little towns like Woodbridge, was an added joy, as I have so many happy memories of spending time with my extended family there.

This is quite a long read but it is certainly an enjoyable one especially as the nights draw in.