Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie (1934)

Mr Parker Pyne Detective by Agatha Christie

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne.”

This eye-catching advertisement brings countless troubles, both large and small, to Parker Pyne’s doorstep. The retired statistician claims to have a scientific solution to any kind of unhappiness. The cases collected in this volume certainly run the gamut, from simple boredom all the way to murder. The first six stories are more lightweight and do not typically involve crime, though it is interesting over the course of the stories to learn more about Pyne’s methods and his unorthodox office procedures. The rest are more unified, following Pyne as he journeys throughout Europe and the Middle East, encountering serious crimes as he goes. These last six stories are uniformly high in quality and double as a fascinating vintage travelogue. Continue reading “Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie (1934)”

Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie

(10/10 stars)

“At half an hour after midnight, we ran into the snowdrift. No one can have left the train since then.” Monsieur Bouc said solemnly, “The murderer is with us–on the train now…”

A snowbound train. A man lying dead in his compartment. Thirteen suspects, thirteen alibis, and clues that each seem to point to a different killer. Hercule Poirot has never been so close to murder before. As he faces the most baffling case of his career, Poirot must decide what it really means for justice to be served.

Continue reading “Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie”

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“Beware! Peril to the detective who says: ‘It is so small—it does not matter. It will not agree. I will forget it.’ That way lies confusion! Everything matters.”

Captain Hastings can’t think of a more peaceful spot to recover from his war injuries than Styles Hall, the country home of his old friend John Cavendish. He soon learns, however, that life at Styles is now very different than it was before the war. John’s marriage is in turmoil. He and his brother have grown apart from their stepmother Emily, who controls the entire estate. Worst of all, Emily has remarried to the horrible Alfred Inglethorpe. Even the normally stolid Hastings is uneasy about this volatile situation. He is soon proven right. Continue reading “The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie”

Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie (1937)

Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

It is like the mirror smashed on the wall. The dead man’s mirror. Every new fact we come across shows us some different angle of the dead man. He is reflected from every conceivable point of view. We shall have soon a complete picture. . . .”

Murder in the Mews contains three excellent short works by Agatha Christie (including one of her very best stories, Triangle at Rhodes) and a middling one, The Incredible Theft.

Murder in the Mews (7/10)

As fireworks light up the sky for Guy Fawkes Day, Hercule Poirot’s thoughts turn to murder. How easy it would be to kill with so much noise in the streets. The next morning, he’s proven right, as young widow Barbara Allen is found dead in her chic Chelsea flat. Poirot’s instincts tell him this is not a suicide, but a locked-room murder.

Dead Man's Mirror by Agatha ChristieThis one is a lot of fun due to the setting—I’m sure I’m not the only reader who first encountered a mews by way of this novella (nor the only one who was still left a little confused as to what one actually was. It’s a street of stables/garages with servants’ housing above). Mrs. Allen’s flat in a converted stable is the height of 1930s fashion, with silver walls, emerald green ceilings, and chromium chairs for corpses to loll about on. The mews is still home to many servants who work for the mansions nearby, and it has retained its close-knit character, with artists, chauffeurs, and charladies alike chatting cheerfully in the street as they gawk at the crime scene.

Poirot’s banter with Inspector Japp is quite enjoyable, as they spar good-naturedly over the case. Their nicely honed double act gets quite a workout on this investigation, as the victim’s roommate, Jane Plenderleith, is a clever young woman who seems to know more than she’s telling. There are also a few mysteries in the victim’s past and some puzzling physical evidence, leading to a solution that is as poignant as it is unusual.

The Incredible Theft (4/10)

What seems like a pleasant dinner party at the home of Lord Mayfield becomes an occasion for espionage when a classified document goes missing after dinner. Even stranger, not one, but two supernatural figures were seen at the time of the robbery. Of course the document could not have been stolen by a ghost, but some of the other suspects seem equally unlikely. The possible culprits include an American adventuress, a member of Parliament, a family of hard-up aristocrats, and a man who might be the next Prime Minister.

Poirot is dragged out of bed to deal with the situation, with less than satisfying results. Too much of the “evidence” simply involves someone saying, “Well, so-and-so is above suspicion!” The physical clues aren’t any better. Poirot insists, for example, that footprints always show on wet grass—not on any wet grass I’ve ever seen. This was written early in Christie’s career, and it shows.

Dead Man’s Mirror (8/10)

Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore is known as much for his daring as for his family pride. A man like the “mad baron” would not easily ask for help, yet he has reached out to Hercule Poirot, who instantly grasps the seriousness of the situation.

Such a one is encased, is he not, in an armor—such an armor! The armor of the crusaders was nothing to it—an armor of arrogance, of pride, of complete self-esteem. This armor, it is in some ways a protection, the arrows, the everyday arrows of life glance off it. But there is this danger; Sometimes a man in armor might not even know he was being attacked. He will be slow to see, slow to hear—slower still to feel.

But Sir Gervase won’t be feeling anything for long. No sooner does Poirot arrive at the Chevenix-Gore estate than his host is found dead in his locked study. The only clue is a broken mirror.

Dead Man’s Mirror is a splendid country-house mystery that could easily have made a full-length novel. It’s already fairly long as is, which gives plenty of room for the investigation to unfold. Some of the characters are shortchanged in the process, however—there are a few suspects Poirot never even speaks to, and I would have loved more time with the dotty Lady Chevenix-Gore.

“You knew I was coming, madame?”

“Oh—oh, yes . . .” Her manner was not convincing. “I think—I mean I suppose so, but I am so terribly impractical, M. Poirot. I forget everything.” Her tone held a melancholy pleasure in the fact. “I am told things. I appear to take them in—but they just pass through my brain and are gone! Vanished! As though they had never been.”

Then, with a slight air of performing a duty long overdue, she glanced round her vaguely and murmured: “I expect you know everybody.”

Though this was patently not the case, the phrase was clearly a well-worn formula by means of which Lady Chevenix-Gore spared herself the trouble of introduction and the strain of remembering people’s right names.

Poirot is all too familiar with the crimes of the upper classes, but the Chevenix-Gores are on another level. The older a family is, however, the more secrets it has. This particular crime seems intimately bound up with Sir Gervase’s family pride, an egoism which in recent years may have crossed the line into actual insanity. Such a man might take his own life rather than allow his name to be tarnished. Then again, his famously high standards for his family might provide a motive for murder.

Within the limits of its novella length, Dead Man’s Mirror manages to say a lot about family pride, family love, and family responsibility. The mystery is ingenious (though one of the clues, while clever in itself, would require remarkable foolhardiness on the part of the killer). I only wish there had been more of it.

Triangle at Rhodes (10/10)

Death takes no holiday, as a love triangle plays out beneath the Aegean sun. Poirot and other hotel guests can only watch as Douglas Gold and the seductive Valentine Chantry seem to be carrying on an affair in plain sight of their long-suffering spouses. Despite Poirot’s attempt to intervene, the situation seems destined for tragedy.

“Couldn’t you go to someone—to the police—?”

“And say what? What is there to say—before the event? That someone has murder in their heart? I tell you, mon enfant, if one human being is determined to kill another human being—”

“You could warn the victim,” insisted Pamela.

“Sometimes,” said Hercule Poirot, “warnings are useless.”

This setup is so good Christie repurposed it for one of her best novels, but even those who have read that work will still find surprises here. Though the crime is simple, it is no less effective for that and the atmosphere of a beachfront resort out of season is perfectly evoked. Nothing is wasted here, and nothing more is wanted. “Triangle at Rhodes” is a perfect little gem sparkling beside the sea.

Second Opinion

Christie in a Year (please note, review includes spoilers at the end)

What I like most from those four short stories are their remarkable sub-plots, much as they mean to deviate readers from guessing the murderers. Christie’s dropping of red herring is fantastic and it seems to be an easy thing when she does it.  

Availability

Murder in the Mews (also published as Dead Man’s Mirror) is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook editions from HarperCollins.

Third Girl (1966) by Agatha Christie

Third Girl by Agatha Christie

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“I really can’t think what more you want,” said Mrs. Oliver.

“I want a murder,” said Hercule Poirot.

Nothing gets between Hercule Poirot and his breakfast, but he is willing to make an exception for a damsel in distress—especially one who claims to have committed a murder. His would-be client is horrified by the sight of the great detective, however. She runs off, declaring, “You’re too old. Nobody told me you were so old.”

Poirot can’t stop thinking about the encounter, and not just because of the affront to his vanity. He’s worried. This young woman needs help. And she’s going to get it…even if Poirot has no idea who she is.

Third Girl by Agatha ChristieThird Girl is billed as Agatha Christie’s foray into the swinging sixties. And it is certainly portrayal of the 1960s, as seen by an older generation who cannot understand why these young people won’t take a bath and get the hair out of their eyes. Taken purely as a mystery novel, however, Third Girl is enormously satisfying, a twisty puzzler that, for all its surface modernity, proves that nothing is more timeless than murder.

Poirot gets a break early on, thanks to his old friend, the mystery writer Ariadne Oliver. She remembers discussing Poirot with a dreary girl she met at a party named Norma Restarick. That should have been the hard part; surely it will now be easy to locate Norma and figure out what murder she may be involved with. This proves to be much more difficult, however. The more involved the case becomes, the more Poirot worries about his client.

“She is not competent,” said Poirot. “That is how I see her. She is not one who can cope with difficulties. She is not one of those who can see beforehand the dangers that must come. She is one of whom others will look round and say ‘we want a victim. That one will do.'”

There are certainly some suspicious circumstances in Norma’s life. Her father Andrew Restarick has recently returned after years away in South Africa with a young second wife in tow. The reunion of father and daughter is not helped by the presence of Mary, who develops a tense relationship with her stepdaughter.

Like many young women of the 1960s, Norma prefers life on her own in London. She is “third girl” in a flat shared with the highly efficient Claudia Reece-Holland and party girl Frances Cary. The idea of the third girl at first seems like nothing more than an up-to-date hook on which to hang the story, but it turns out to be an apt description of Norma’s life. She’s never a real part of the central group, the pair who wanted to be together in the first place. She’s the afterthought, the latecomer who gives the least (because that is all that’s wanted from her) and gets the least in return. Norma could never be a first or second girl because she simply doesn’t have any friends, aside from David Baker, an artist with a flamboyant personal style. “Velvets and satins and long curly hair,” is how Mrs. Oliver describes him. “He struts. That’s why I nicknamed him a peacock. Shows off, you know. Vain, I should think. Proud of his looks. Perhaps a lot of other things as well.” 

Third Girl by Agatha Christie“The Peacock” is the most striking character in the novel. David Baker’s easygoing charm can turn rough at a moment’s notice, yet Poirot finds it difficult to determine exactly what the younger man is up to. Is he sincere in his feelings for Norma, a simple gold-digger, or something far more dangerous? His bright feathers dazzle the eye, making it impossible to tell.

Christie knows that Carnaby Street is not her natural habitat and mostly steers clear of anything too embarrassing. (Mostly: “I’d say she’s been taking purple hearts, and dream-bombs, and probably LSD. She’s been all hopped-up for some time.”) Norma is right, however, that Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are too old to appreciate this particular scene. Neither of them care for the sloppy, androgynous styles of the “beatniks” and “mods.” Still, Poirot is quick to point out that the long hair and elaborate fashions sported by David Baker are hardly new, citing Van Dyke and Beau Brummel. “In a gold frame, wearing a lace collar, you would not then say he was effeminate or exotic.”

Though Poirot is quite active early on, he eventually passes most of the detection to his investigator Mr. Goby and to Mrs. Oliver. She is thrilled to don disguises and trail suspects, scattering hairpieces wherever she goes. She must also deal with real dangers, however, including a genuinely menacing encounter in the streets of Chelsea. I also enjoyed an odd, but totally in-character, recurring bit in which Mrs. Oliver struggles to accept her new wallpaper. She has recently changed out her old jungle-themed decor in favor of cherries—a mistake, she now feels.

I wish I had those tropical birds and things back on the wall instead of these idiotic cherries. I used to feel like something in a tropical wood. A lion or a tiger or a leopard or a cheetah! What could I possibly feel like in a cherry orchard except a bird-scarer?

Sadly, this plot thread remains unresolved, so the outcome can only be imagined. Many of Mrs. Oliver’s musings on the vagaries of the era’s pop culture, fashion, and home decor seem like nothing more than comic digressions, but Christie stashes clues everywhere. Third Girl is no exception. While it’s tempting to concentrate on Christie’s awkward handling of youth culture, the way she weaves other aspects of 1960s society into the mystery is extremely clever.

Third Girl is a strong late book for Christie, a page-turner built around a truly diabolical crime. Poirot has no idea what’s going on early in the book, forcing his investigation to cast a wide net. This may test some readers’ patience, but I loved every minute of it. My favorite part of any mystery is the early bit where it isn’t yet clear what is going on and it seems that anything could happen. Third Girl stretches this about as far as it can possibly go (which admittedly will not be to everyone’s taste). Only later does it become apparent how relevant some of these seemingly aimless scenes are to solving the crime. And once again, Christie’s cluing is second to none, as she brings together a staggering array of evidence, much of it dropped in the most nonchalant manner, to form a solution that seems both surprising and inevitable.

Second Opinions

ahsweetmysteryblog

Unfortunately, Third Girl is one of the novels that demonstrates the waning of Christie’s own grey cells. It isn’t unusual for her to re-use old tricks, but the ones she pulls out of her hat here are reconstituted in shabby fashion. Worst of all, the novel meanders endlessly, stretching a minor tale to nearly interminable length. 

A Crime Is Afoot

I must admit that the story is quite loose and, at the end, I was rather disappointed, despite some much more favourable views of some reviewers whose opinions I have in high regard. I feel really sorry it didn’t work for me.

The Passing Tramp

I think one can appreciate why critics were positive: it’s nice to have Poirot back in a truly active capacity, even if he does rely extensively on subordinate investigations by a Mr. Goby, who appears on occasion in Poirot novels.  The brilliant Belgian sleuth is in his environment, with manservant George, the ever-efficient Miss Lemon, endearingly scatty Mrs. Oliver, his magnificent vanity and moral force, his tisane, his sirop de cassis, his chocolate, etc.–it’s a warm bath of authentic Christie nostalgia, something I most definitely missed in Sophie Hannah’s ballyhooed Poirot continuation novel, The Monogram Murders.

In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

But dig below the surface, and you get a surprisingly effective mystery, with a killer who completely wrong-footed me. It’s got a bit of a bad rep amongst Christie readers but I was very pleasantly surprised by this one.

Availability

Third Girl is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats from HarperCollins.

Murder Is Easy (1939) by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“It’s very easy to kill, so long as no one suspects you. And, you see, the person in question is just the last person anyone would suspect.”

Luke Fitzwilliam is amused that the sweet old lady sharing his train compartment believes that a serial killer is operating in her village. “A vivid imagination, that’s all,” he thinks indulgently. “Rather an old dear.” It becomes much less funny the next morning, when he reads that she was killed by a hit-and-run driver on her way to Scotland Yard. Could Miss Fullerton’s suspicions have been correct?

To find out, Luke must infiltrate a quiet village and probe its deepest secrets, without rousing the suspicions of a murderer who finds it all too easy to kill. Continue reading “Murder Is Easy (1939) by Agatha Christie”

The Hollow (1946) by Agatha Christie

The Hollow by Agatha Christie

10 Stars (10/10 stars)

“Blood and blue water—like the jacket of a detective story. Fantastic, unreal. The sort of thing that doesn’t happen to oneself.”

All the usual guests are confirmed for Lucy Angkatell’s house party. Her cousins, Midge and Edward, will be there. So will the brilliant doctor John Christow and his dull, plodding wife Gerda. And so will Lucy’s other cousin, Henrietta Savernake, a sculptor whose beauty and intelligence have placed her at the center of two separate love triangles.

There’s no reason to expect this weekend to be different from countless others, but an uninvited guest is about to crash the party: murder. The stage is set for a crime of passion quite unlike anything else in Agatha Christie’s ouevre. Continue reading “The Hollow (1946) by Agatha Christie”

Postern of Fate (1973) by Agatha Christie

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie

3 Stars (3/10 stars)

“It’s a crime we’ve got to solve. Go back to the past to solve it—to where it happened and why it happened. That’s a thing we’ve never tried to do before.”

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford may be over seventy, but it’s never too late for adventure. Much to Tuppence’s delight, their new house comes complete with a collection of vintage children’s books. More than nostalgia lurks within these pages, however. One of these seemingly innocent volumes contains a hidden message: “Mary Jordan did not die naturally. It was one of us. I think I know which.”

Who is Mary Jordan? How did she really die? The solution to this decades-old mystery may be very close to home. Yet, even after all these years, someone wants the fate of Mary Jordan to remain a secret. Continue reading “Postern of Fate (1973) by Agatha Christie”

Evil Under the Sun (1941) by Agatha Christie

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

9 Stars (9/10 stars)

“It is romantic, yes,” agreed Hercule Poirot. “It is peaceful. The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun.”

Once, long ago, pirates and smugglers roamed this section of the Devon coast. Today, the island is home to the Jolly Roger Hotel, where a very different sort of piracy seems to be taking place. The hotel is abuzz over the apparent romance between former actress Arlena Marshall and Patrick Redfern, a handsome younger man. Three guests are especially worried by the gossip. Two of them are the lovers’ spouses, Kenneth Marshall and Christine Redfern. The third is Hercule Poirot.

Such an explosive situation is bound to ignite. One morning, Arlena is found sunbathing on an isolated beach, her usual habit. The only difference is that this time, Arlena is dead. Continue reading “Evil Under the Sun (1941) by Agatha Christie”

Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

10 Stars (10/10 stars)

“I am afraid,” he said simply. “Yes, I Hercule Poirot, am afraid.”

Heiress Linnet Ridgeway has everything. She’s beautiful, rich, and completely independent. When she meets handsome Simon Doyle, her happiness is complete. The fact that Simon is engaged to her friend Jacqueline de Bellefort is surely just a technicality. Jackie doesn’t see it that way, however. She devotes herself to making the couple miserable, trailing them wherever they go.

As Linnet confides to Hercule Poirot, the newlyweds hope that a Nile cruise will help them escape Jacqueline. But Jacqueline isn’t the only one who might be dangerous to them. Someone like Linnet, who has so much of everything and takes it all for granted, provokes strong reactions. In the shadow of ancient temples, death has never been nearer, leading to a shocking crime. It won’t be easy for even the great Poirot to uncover a shipload of deadly secrets. Continue reading “Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie”