Agatha Christie Reviews

Five Little Pigs

Poirot always tells his audience that it is understanding the psychology of the murderer that leads him to the culprit of any crime. No case is more geared towards the psychology of a killer than ‘Five Little Pigs’ which has always been one of my favourites of Christie’s even if not one of her ‘big’ titles. Poirot is commissioned to investigate the death of Amyas Crale sixteen years ago. Why? His wife was found guilty and died into her life sentence. Their daughter has come back from Canada and does not believe her mother committed the crime. On that fatal day, there were five others at the large house, five little pigs who also could have done the crime.

Was it the wife, Caroline Crale who poisoned her husband after years of numerous affairs? Or was it someone else who had a grudge against the volatile artist? To say more would spoil the book. Here, on evidence at the time and present day memories of that day and the days leading up to it, Poirot has to sift through the lies and false memories and Christie delivers a truly jaw-dropping portrait of a murderer. For me, this is one of her finest novels. 5/5












A Murder is Announced

On Friday 29th October the residents of Chipping Cleghorn look through the Gazette advertisements and find an unusual advert that a murder will take place that evening at Little Paddocks at 6.30pm. Is it a practical joke or a spiteful hoax? Needless to say, some of the villagers turn up for the ‘murder’ to happen. What they expected was a silly game. What they get is something more frightening and deadly than any of them could have anticipated.

This was my very first Miss Marple case I read way back as a teen and it has stayed as one of my firm favourites since. This was Christie’s fiftieth book and there was great fanfare when it was released. The solution is so clever and audacious, that even now when I have read this book so often, I am still amazed that Christie had this wonderful mind for plots. This is one I go back to time and again and confirms for me why Christie is, and always will be the one true Queen of Crime. 5/5











Cards on the Table

Mr Shaitana had a habit of collecting things, art, pottery, people… in particular murderers. He also enjoyed collecting detectives, which is how Poirot finds himself in Shaitana’s apartment with Ariadne Oliver, Colonel Race and Superintendent Battle playing Bridge. The other table of four is in a room where Shaitana sat out of the game, only to be found dead in his chair, stabbed by one of his own collected artefacts. All four had the motive and opportunity, but which one went so far to commit murder… for a second time…

I read this about thirty years ago as a teen and it didn’t make that much of an impression on me. Fast forward and I can see that this is a very clever little puzzle and delves in-depth into the characters and psychological make-up of each of the four sat at the Bridge table. Thankfully, Christie realised that not all her readers were Bridge players, and so has simplified the explanation of the game so that her solution still revolves around the game without confusing her reader. This is one of her books that seems to be overlooked in all the kerfuffle to venture down the Nile or on a certain train, but I have a new-found respect for this book and second time around breezed my way through it in very quick time. Unlike, ‘They Do It With Mirrors’, this is how Christie excels when she doesn’t rush her plot and brings it to a natural, yet thrilling conclusion. Definitely worth investigating! 4/5








A Caribbean Mystery

This was the second Marple I read after ‘A Murder is Announced’ which I love to this day. This is also a highly enjoyable mystery in a colourful setting with Marple appearing from the beginning. Major Palgrave loves to spin a good yarn, unfortunately his fellow guests at The Golden Palm Hotel avoid the Major after being caught with him once, or only half listen to his stories. Miss Marple was quite happy lending Major Palgrave half an ear as he spun out his stories and then he was going to show Miss Marple a photo of a murderer. Unexpectedly, the Major looks across the busy patio and back to the photo in his hand. He then suddenly makes his excuses and leaves. The next morning the Major is found dead in his room…

First published in 1964, this is a brilliant little mystery with Christie still at her shining best. I remember the plot totally wrong footing me and it has remained one of my favourite Marple books. Here the pink, fluffy old pussy is at full flow and straight away knows there is something fishy about the Major’s sudden demise. There are not quite so many comparisons of the current suspects to those back in St Mary Mead, but what Christie delivers is one of her most memorable characters, Mr Rafiel who laughs at the vision in pink who claims herself as Nemesis! As with all Christie’s, some of the language is out of date, but she certainly knew how to grip her reader with some of the most sublime plots, and ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ is one of the finest of her later novels. 5/5







Nemesis

Christie’s output in the early 70s has been questioned in the past. Some have unfairly treated ‘Elephants Can Remember’, her last Poirot, and while the plot is not as unfathomable, I don’t think it is the worse she has written. That award should go to ‘Postern of Fate’. However, one book that does shine for me and that is ‘Nemesis’, the last Marple the author wrote during her lifetime and published in 1971. I have read this Marple several times now and I still love it.

Building on ‘A Caribbean Mystery’, Mr Rafiel has now died, but he leaves a sizeable bequest to Miss Marple on one condition… she can solve a crime. What that crime is, Miss Marple is not told. It is all smoke and mirrors, but Christie perfectly shows that even in death, Mr Rafiel enjoyed being the puppet master and making several people do his bidding. Miss Marple must again become Nemesis in pink scarves. I believe this is an image many of us see when thinking about Miss Marple! Slowly, Miss Marple sees the Chess board as set out by Mr Rafiel and all the players who are involved in the drama. This really shows that even in her later years, Christie had moments of brilliance and ‘Nemesis’ to my mind, is proof of that. This is not just a crime novel, but a meditation on age, the decrepitude of people and buildings, how some cling to the past even when it turns to dust in front of their very eyes. The solution is satisfying, sad and quite profound with Christie proving that love can be as destructive as hate. 5/5








They Do It With Mirrors

Miss Marple remembers her youth with sisters, Ruth and Carrie Louise. Ruth who lives in the US Miss Marple sees every year, although she has not seen Carrie Louise for years despite living in the UK. But now Ruth has concerns about what is happening at Stonygates, the home of Carrie Louise and her husband, Lewis Serrocold who operates his college for juvenile delinquents on the large grounds. But Ruth only has the sense of an ‘atmosphere’, a feeling of something not being ‘quite right’ for Miss Marple to go on. Soon after her arrival events come to a dramatic and deadly outcome.

I have to say this is one of my least favourite Miss Marple, although I have read this book several times (possibly in the vain hope that it will improve with my aged eyes)! Although the crime and the solution is pure Christie and quite ingenious, it all seems to end so abruptly which Christie did have a penchant for doing now and again. The ending doesn’t always necessarily give the mystery it’s due. However, this is enjoyable and Christie does assemble a marvellous cast of suspects here, I just wish she had made more use of them and the college of delinquents scenario. 3/5









Towards Zero

Audrey Strange has always stayed at Gull’s Point during September. The occasion should have been joyful, but her ex-husband, Neville has brought his new wife, Kay to stay at the same time with a bizarre notion that his ex and present wives should be friends. Is he trying to make himself feel better about his treatment towards Audrey? It all adds to a strained atmosphere, one not enjoyed by the bed-ridden Lady Tressilian whose home it is. Then murder happens and all the clues point to one certain person.

Christie did not hit the bullseye with every book. This one which features Superintendent Battle in his last outing, is a slow affair. Two-thirds of the book is about the relationship between the Gull’s Point household which although interesting, does not quite sustain the suspense. By the time the murder is committed quite late in the book, I felt Christie couldn’t energise her plot enough to give it that certain frisson and the whole thing feels rushed and quite fantastical when explained and is only really brought to light by a witness. Not her best, but certainly shows that Christie could do characterisation and was fascinated by people, what made them tick and the consequences of their actions. 3/5










Death on the Nile
Poirot takes a cruise down the Nile on the small steamer, The Karnak. Before, at the hotel Poirot had been privy to the game played by Jacqueline de Bellefort towards Simon and Linnet Doyle. Poirot had warned Jacqueline to ‘Bury your dead’, to stop her persecution of the newly married couple, even if Simon had once been hers. Little did Poirot know that Linnet Doyle had made so many enemies and that many of them of were now onboard The Karnak. It isn’t long before murder stalks the steamer and will resemble a floating morgue by the time it finishes its journey.

There are certain Christie novels that stand head and shoulders from the others, and ‘Death on the Nile’ is such a classic. Here Christie delivers the whole shebang in spades. Forget the movie which we have all seen numerous times, read the book which delivers great characterisation as well as simmering grievances and a solution that I remember blew me out of the water when I first read this book back in my teens. It is one of the best, full-rounded book Christie ever wrote. You can tell from her writing that Christie was in love with Egypt, but also frustrated at its antiquated ways. Definitely one to re-visit or one of the best to start for any new Christie fan. 5/5







Murder Is Easy

Luke Fitzwilliam has come back to the UK after years away aborad. He doesn’t get off to a good start by leaving his luggage on a train and then being stranded at the small countryside station. However, if he hadn’t then he wouldn’t have shared a carriage with Miss Lavinia Pinkerton, a fluffy old maid who was on her way to Scotland Yard. Miss Pinkerton then embarks on a fantastic tale of several accidents in the village of Wychwood-Under-Ashe. She evens names who she believes will be the next victim. They part, but soon Luke hears that Miss Pinkerton herself died on the way to her destination as well as the potential victim she named. Next, Luke is in Wychwood on the hunt for a killer.

Anybody who believes the serial killer is a new phenomenon should read this standalone by Christie. It is one of those which is never given as much credit as it should, despite being filmed twice, in the 80s and later parachuting Miss Marple into the plot, which really did the book no justice. Christie really brings Wychwood to life, in fact it is a character of the book. Christie portrays Wychwood as some English Garden of Eden… but with the proverbial serpent in its midst. Cleverly, what appear to be ‘accidents’, according to Miss Pinkerton are really murders. Luke has to prove this is the case and not the fantasy of some old lady. Little does Luke realise that while he has a plethora of potential suspects, the serpent is closer than he could imagine. While not one of her most popular, this is a entrancing and addictive little read with all the usual Christie traits. 4/5







At Bertram’s Hotel

Miss Marple, thanks again to her rich nephew, the novelist Raymond West, has paid for his aunt to stay at Bertram’s. It was an hotel that held much magic for the younger Jane Marple, but now she feels uncomfortable that the hotel is exactly as she remembers it. But is that right? Should the hotel not be flowing with the times? Is it right that a place like Bertram’s should try to stay solidly in the past? Is it all a façade? It all seems too good to be true to the ever suspicious Miss Marple. Soon events start to unfurl and maybe something more sinister loiters behind the scenes at Bertram’s.

When I read this back in my teens (when I read most of Christie’s books like many a crime reader), I was underwhelmed by this Marple. Miss Marple is there from the beginning, so at least she isn’t parachuted in near the end as with ‘The Moving Finger’(and I’m sorry if I upset you, but, despite reading it now four times I still can’t get on with it. Marple only arrives sixty pages from the end and I feel Christie should have kept it as a standalone, but that is my opinion). Anyway, back to Bertram’s… However, with thirty years under my belt I could see the nuances of Christie’s story. As I have re-read many of her titles recently I have seen that she was a great social documenter, writing about new conurbations in ‘The Mirror Crack’d’ and how in Bertrams people and places should move with the times and that progress needs to be made and while we may hanker after things from our past, it doesn’t do us good to stay there and stagnate. Even in her late seventies, Christie brought in this sentiment and gave it a wicked twist. I have a new-found appreciation for this later Marple and would say with my older eyes I can now empathise where Christie was coming from and appreciate this book more. 4/5




Problem at Pollensa Bay

This collection of short stories, first published in 1991, brings together a number of Christie’s short stories never collected in book form before. I remember getting this edition for Christmas and knowing for the first time how it felt having a brand new ‘Christie for Christmas’, which was Christie’s by-line for years! Collected are two Quin and Satterthwaite stories, two Poirot shorts (both of which were expanded later by Christie), two Parker Pyne’s and two standalones.

The Poirot’s are here for completion only, but it is good to read ‘Yellow Iris’ as Christie used the clever plot here in ‘Sparkling Cyanide’ whilst removing Poirot from the proceedings. My favourites are the Quin stories as the collection of short stories in his only outing are outstanding. ‘While ‘The Love Detectives’ is enjoyable whilst being predictable, ‘The Harlequin Tea Set’ is highly enjoyable, even if Quin doesn’t play much of a role here, but simply guides Satterthwaite at the beginning. The title story continues the feel of the Pyne stories and is a real hoot, showing Christie could display a wicked sense of humour when the mood caught her! This is a smart little collection of stories and shows Christie was as adept with the short story as she was with novels. A light-hearted, enjoyable little collection. 4/5









Destination Unknown

Hilary Craven has an appointment with death… by her own hand. Fed up with life, she decides to commit suicide. But she is saved at the last moment when she is asked to take the place of Mrs Betterton, the wife of a missing scientist. She died in a plane crash and those working for the government believe she was travelling to a secret location to meet her husband… and now they want Hilary to complete that journey.

Even with an author like Agatha Christie who I have been reading since my early teens, there are always, for some reason, a few books not read despite the decades flying by. Not long ago I read for the first time, ‘They Came To Baghdad’ which was quite enjoyable. ‘Destination Unknown’, which I had also never read before, is in the same category of the spy thriller, which I am not convinced is Christie’s strong genre. Her plots always seem to have a missing scientist, as is such the case in ‘Destination Unknown’. However, if this hadn’t had Christie’s name on the cover, I would never have placed it as one of hers. Why? Firstly, very little actually happens! It is a tough critic who says Christie bored her, however, despite being an ardent fan she managed it with me with this book. A hundred pages in and I was waiting for something to happen. Having read different sources since reading this book, it appears that Christie was trying to emulate Fleming with the whole ‘taking over the world from a base hidden in the middle of nowhere’ scenario. Unfortunately, she fails terribly. My other aggrievance with this book is how Christie insists throughout her story to go on about how men’s brains are bigger than women, therefore they are cleverer and therefore, women really should just stay in the kitchen and make sure their husband’s dinner is ready immediately after giving him his pipe and slippers! There is no hint of irony, so this kind of rhetoric from Christie is a little bizarre, to say the least. Whereas many of her books attract young readers, ‘Destination Unknown’ is one that definitely hasn’t aged well. Not one I will be re-reading. 2/5

 

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