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)”

Final Proof (1898) by Rodrigues Ottolengui

Final Proof by Rodrigues Ottolengui

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“I am afraid this is a serious case. What has been done has been so thoroughly well accomplished that I believe we have no fool to deal with. His is a master hand.”

Final Proof is a group of linked novellas and short stories that seem to show the fair-play mystery developing before the reader’s eyes. These tales pit two detectives against one another in friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly) rivalry. John Barnes is a professional private detective, while his friend Robert Leroy Mitchel is a gifted amateur with Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction. Mr. Mitchel will stop at absolutely nothing in pursuit of a case, and even tries to prevent crimes before they happen, often leaving Mr. Barnes gently bewildered in his wake. Continue reading “Final Proof (1898) by Rodrigues Ottolengui”

The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G Eberhart (1934)

The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G Eberhart

6 stars (6/10 stars)

So this was murder. This was murder, and it happened to people one knew, and it did indescribable and horrible things to them. Frightened them first, perhaps. Fear of murder itself came first—simple, primitive fear of the unleashing of the beast. And then on its heels came more civilized fear, and that was fear of the law, and a scramble for safety.”

The Cases of Susan Dare collects the adventures of a young author who writes “murders…lovely, grisly ones with sensible solutions,” but doesn’t see why her fictional sleuths should have all the fun. Aside from her series detective, Nurse Sarah Keate, Mignon G. Eberhart’s work usually focuses more on romantic suspense than crime-solving, so it’s a nice change of pace to see both elements combined in these stories. Continue reading “The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G Eberhart (1934)”

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.

I See You (1956) by Charlotte Armstrong

I See You - Charlotte Armstrong cover

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

There was a little story. I knew there had to be.

Charlotte Armstrong’s most distinctive quality as an author is her clear-eyed but unshakable faith in humanity—certainly a rare perspective in crime fiction. Though she was capable of terrible darkness, the quintessential Armstrong plot involves the prevention of wrongdoing rather than its investigation and ends with the characters learning that they can be better people with just a little effort.

Continue reading “I See You (1956) by Charlotte Armstrong”