Archive for the Agatha Christie Category

Curtain (1975) – Agatha Christie

Posted in Agatha Christie, Classic Mystery Reviews, Golden Age Mysteries, History of Mystery, Mysteries with tags , , , , on February 4, 2013 by cshmurak

Curtain2Curtain is Hercule Poirot’s last case. Agatha Christie wrote it during World War II, not sure she would survive the war. She had it locked away, to be published after her death, but in fact, she had it released in 1975, the year before she died. In Curtain, she reunites Poirot with Captain Hastings, now widowed and with a grown daughter. They return to Styles, the site of their first case (in The Mysterious Affair at Styles). Here Poirot tells Hastings about a serial murderer whom he refers to only as X. Poirot has a bad heart and is crippled with arthritis, but he is determined to bring X to justice.

Is it a fitting end to the Poirot series? In some ways, yes. Despite old age and illness, Poirot is his usual smug self, still withholding information from Hastings and from the reader; here he justifies himself that he is protecting Hastings from dangerous knowledge. Poirot succeeds of course, though at great cost to himself. And in many ways, Christie plays fair in presenting many clues while still surprising her readers. There is also one very clever bit of irony near the end, in which Hastings himself is the unwitting perpetrator of a crime.

But there is also a sloppiness here that is not characteristic of Christie at the top of her form. A five letter word in a Times crossword, which feels like it must be a clue, turns out to be “IAGO” — a four letter word. Poirot leads Hasting to what he says is a “logical inference,” but in fact, it’s not really logical at all. And the writing is sometimes repetitive or opaque. Was the editor afraid to change a word of the sacred text?  What’s more, I’m not at all convinced that the murderer’s usual method was feasible in the first place.

But there is  a certain satisfaction in seeing Poirot bring the criminal to justice in his final case.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) – Agatha Christie

Posted in Agatha Christie, Classic Mystery Reviews, Mysteries with tags , , on September 16, 2008 by cshmurak

Before 1926, Agatha Christie had published several books about her detective, Hercule Poirot, but they weren’t selling spectacularly. Then came the publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. In the same year, Christie went missing for 10 days, finally turning up at a hotel in Harrogate, an apparent victim of amnesia. These two events coming so close upon each other made her famous. Since then, she’s been a household name.

It’s difficult to review Roger Ackroyd without giving the ending away. It’s a classic “country house murder” with a small circle of suspects, lots of red herrings, and a few well-placed clues. The ending will leave the reader either in awe of Christie’s ingenuity or absolutely furious at her.

Christie’s sense of humor is apparent in some very funny scenes between Dr. Sheppard and his spinster sister Caroline (who may have been the prototype for Miss Marple) and in a riotous Mah Jongg game. A few other colorful figures inhabit the book too: Colonel Blunt, who appears always to be looking at something far away (and who makes the book occasionally sound like a game of Clue), and a willful housemaid named Ursula Bourne.

Hercule Poirot is, of course, brought in to solve the murder mystery and notices the things that no one else does, but he is not quite as annoyingly smug here as he is in some of Christie’s books. Poirot’s mishandling of the English language and Sheppard’s mistaking him for a hairdresser add some amusing moments.

Ackroyd is perhaps not the best mystery Christie ever wrote, but it is a “must read” for any lover of classic mysteries.

Since I have avoided spoilers in this article, PLEASE don’t add any! I’ve removed a few comments that had spoilers.

Here’s a link to Amazon if you want to buy this book: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Note: If you make a purchase using this link, I receive no payment; however, at no cost to you, my daughter’s green living blog, HealthyGreenSavvy.com, will receive a small commission.

Sparkling Cyanide (1945) – Agatha Christie

Posted in Agatha Christie, Classic Mystery Reviews, Mysteries with tags , , on August 26, 2008 by cshmurak

Of the Golden Age grand dames, Agatha Christie has always been my least favorite. Though her plots are ingenious, I’ve often felt that Christie’s characters were two-dimensional stereotypes, chessmen to be moved around as the plot twists dictated. Her detective Poirot has frequently irritated me too, with his smug hints as to how much more he knows than I do. (I enjoy David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot nonetheless.)
But I was really drawn into Sparkling Cyanide (also published as Remembered Death), the story of the murder of Rosemary Barton and the memories of each of the people present at her death, and I found it difficult to put down. I ended up really liking the characters of Iris and Sandra, and was taken by surprise by more than one of the plot twists.
The parallel structure of all the different characters’ narratives was nicely done. And as the detective, Colonel Race was a pleasant low-key alternative to Poirot. Though the final explanation of how the murder was accomplished was far-fetched and the actual modus operandi not clearly explained, the identity of the villain was convincing. I suspected him/her all along!
Christie’s books have sold billions of copies; for many, hers is a brand name synonymous with mystery. Published near the end of the second World War, Sparkling Cyanide has no allusions to the war or the deprivations it caused the British people, and was undoubtedly a welcome escape for the readers of that time. It still works that way for me.