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!

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.

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

This month ‘Maidens of Murder’ book club choice is ‘Murder is Easy’. This is one of Agatha Christie’s novels which does not include one of out literary national treasures Poirot or Miss Marple. This does have Superintendent Battle pop up, but he has very little to do with story as a whole.

I was pretty hooked at the beginning as a mysterious encounter between Luke Fitzwilliam and Lavinia Pinkerton, on the train to London, means he becomes aware of strange goings-on in Wychwood Under Ashe. When Mr Fitzwilliam realises that Miss Pinkerton’s suspicions will never be followed up, he takes himself to the seemingly sleepy village to carry out his own investigations.

I am sure it is not a spoiler to share that a series of suspicious murders take place. However, the investigations into the mystery slow the pace a little. Despite, of course, there being quite a collection of colourful characters, and even some suggestions of witchcraft, these chapters seem a little drawn out.

However, the conclusion of the tale picks up the pace again. There is quite some excitement as the culprit is revealed. It is very well engineered in Christie’s usual style.

I enjoyed this book – although I do not think it is one I would return to, as I feel that now I know the outcome it would not offer the same drama to read it again.

Have you read any of the Christie stand alone tales? What did you think?

Murder at The Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

This was another title that I received through one of ‘The Reading Residence‘ bookswaps. It has been on the ‘To Be Read’ pile for a while because, simply, I have no discipline when it comes to the order I read books. I am rather magpie-ish and flittish when I pick reads and go with what I fancy.

‘Murder at The Brightwell’ appealed to me as a summer holiday read. It has a fabulous cover which oozes Art Deco galmour – especially Summer beach Art Deco glamour.

This is a wonderful classic-style crime. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie then you will be a fan of Ashley Weaver’s novel. From the moment you start reading you are immersed in the world of the glamourous Amory Ames. As this novel is told from her point of view, you really do feel you are on her sleuthing adventure. It is nice in this style of classic crime to have a slightly younger amateur sleuth – meaning it is not just about that but also the complex relationship she has with her dashing playboy husband, Milo and her former fiance Gil Trent. Especially as it is Gil who is the reason that Amory is at The Brightwell on the day of the murder.

The story unfolds as you would expect; secrets are revealed (not always happily), suspects are numerous and there are red herrings galore. You simply can not stop yourself from wanting to know the solution to the puzzle. And I, for one, was a little surprised by the resolution.

This is the sort of novel that makes reading feel like a luxurious pursuit: you should be reading it in the Sun, with a glass of your favourite tipple and wearing a lovely summer dress and hat – just as Amory Ames would be if she could avoid the drama.

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

So, as many of you know, I am an Agatha Christie fan. However, usually I pick up a Poirot, so Miss Marple is a little bit of a change. I have always been a fan of Joan Hickson’s Marple, as it was something that I used to watch with my Mum. However, I actually think that my favourite Miss Marple is June Whitfield in the fabulous BBC Radio adaptations.

Anyway, back on track, A Caribbean Mystery is ‘Maidens of Murder’ July pick, which encouraged me to pick it up. I am glad I did as, usually, Poirot tempts me more. This tale was of course classic Christie. There was a collection of colourful characters with all sorts of skeletons in their cupboards. A wonderfully exotic location, that you really can’t imagine Miss Marple enjoying but somehow it works. And, last but of course by no means least, a collection of suspicious deaths that set Miss Marple and Mr Rafiel sleuthing. (Great to discover how Jane Marple met her Nemesis).

I found this novel a real page turner and did notice a difference in Christie’s style. For me, in the Poirot novels the detective work comes from his interviews with characters. However, with Miss Marple, in this novel at least, the sleuthing is more amongst the action and the observation. You really can see her sitting in the sunshine with her knitting, working out the finer details, and – let’s be honest – we all love a bit of people watching.

So, it is fair to say that I will be giving Miss Marple novels a little bit more of a chance because, although they are different, they really do prove that Agatha Christie is the Queen of Crime.

Do you have a favourite Marple story?

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

So, thanks to the power of Instagram I discovered the account @maidensofmurder – an Agatha Christie book club! Oh my, the excitement! This is simply my idea of a perfect account – it includes pictures of beautiful Agatha Christie novels, and encourages people to read them for a discussion. Ideal!

So the month of discovery could not be more exciting for me because June’s title is ‘Evil Under the Sun’. This is a novel that, I am ashamed to admit, I have never read, but it is a story I have adored since first seeing the Peter Ustinov film version. With great excitement I have picked up this novel and enjoyed every single page of it. I always feel that I can not give Agatha Christie novels the review that they deserve. They are such a classic in the crime fiction world with so many fans that the pressure on a bookblogger is intense.

However, I am going to offer my humble opinion of ‘Evil Under the Sun’ – it is a classic. For me, it contains everything that makes Agatha Christie the Queen of Crime. I have always been a little more Team Poirot and there immediately, is why I love this, because it is one of his many adventures (although I miss Hastings, but he does make an appearance in the much loved ITV version). Along with that, it has a cast of colourful characters with all sorts of backgrounds and dark secrets – who offer a few red herrings. And, of course, a murder that seems to not have a solution until Poirot and his little grey cells become involved. However, you would think Poirot deserves a holiday some time.

I was also pleased that the Ustinov version was not too far from the original story. Now, maybe, I need to seek it out for yet another viewing.

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

So, I am pretty sure I have mentioned that I am a fan of Poirot. After all, I did do ‘A Murder on the Orient Express’ post last year. (Go and check it out if you haven’t already)

Sometimes I am just keen to read a good old-fashioned crime novel and, based on that I picked ‘Sad Cypress’ from my to-be-read pile. And, let’s be honest, I was not going to be disappointed by some quality time with Poirot and his little grey cells.

I enjoyed this novel because this is a crime that Poirot needs to solve to save Elinor Carlisle from the gallows. Her guilt has been decided by many before Poirot takes on the case with jealousy being given as the main motive, especially, by those who like a little bit of gossip. It is always fun to follow Poirot on his journey to solving the crime. There is always a charm to Christie’s novels which almost makes you wish you were part of the tale. And ‘Sad Cypress’ was no different.

So, if you are a fan of Christie Crime Classics (and if not, why not?) this is the novel for you.

The Final Festive Read of 2017

Welcome to 2018 – I hope that it is a very happy reading year for you all.

I am starting this year just rounding off the final two festive reads that made it into the end of 2017. (I am still reading a festive-themed book at the moment, but it is not finished, so I can not quite sneak it in there just yet).

The Mistletoe Murders by PD James 

I have not read many PD James novels, but I have listened to radio adaptations and watched TV versions, so I decided that I wanted to give some of her works a go. After enjoying a collection of short stories earlier in the year from Jojo Moyes and being attracted by the festive title, I decided on this one. I do have admiration for authors who can tell a story in such a short space of time, especially a crime story (I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, after all), and PD James does this in these stories in such style. What really impressed me was that they had some dramatic twists in such a short space of time. Those that are big fans of her detective, Dalgliesh, will not be disappointed as he does make an appearance in some of the tales employing his critical thinking skills to find the solution. For a festive read (or at any time of year if you are crime fiction fan), I would certainly recommend this book.

Christmas Pudding (A Novel) by Nancy Mitford

I remember being introduced to the work of Nancy Mitford by my mum in my early teens. I had always been fascinated by the Mitford sisters, as there is so much drama surrounding that name that they engage the imagination of so many of us. Nancy’s novels are so full of social observation and gentle humour that they are simply a joy to read, and this book was no exception. All based around the festive season in the countryside, and all the pomp and ceremony that comes from that, but of course the complex and sometimes ridiculous love lives (or not) of all the characters that are involved. It has you giggling (and even possibly slightly cringing) from the very beginning, and you can not put it down as you are simply too intrigued about what is going to happen to each of the characters. For a full-blown 1920s Christmas experience, this is the book to read.

Any festive read recommendations out there to get me ready for this year?

Crime at Christmas by C H B Kitchin

December means festive reading; however, I have had this title on the shelf for two years and finally picked it up this year. I was drawn to this book because, on the cover, it had the lovely words ‘A Classic Festive Mystery’. I think there is something very romantic about the crime novels of the early 20th century. They are not, necessarily, written to shock but to tell a crime story for the enjoyment of the readers.

This novel did not disappoint. An out-of-town house (not quite country), an unusual collection of house guests for the festive season and cold, dark weather – seriously, what else do you need? Oh, of course, the injured gentleman detective (Mr Warren), just to ensure that a crime really will happen.

Now, I do not write spoilers because I want people to go out and pick the books up themselves. So all I will say is that this is a wonderful classic crime, with different strands running through to keep your brain working. One thing I liked the most about this book was it had the traditional gathering at the end for the big reveal. Although, even that had a mini cliffhanger which made the book so thrilling.

This book was published in 1935 and is still a novel that can be picked up and enjoyed today, especially on these cold winter nights.