Mondays with Marple: They Do It With Mirrors…

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Welcome to the final Mondays with Marple post for 2014.  I’ve enjoyed Marpling along with you all this year and it’s been fun to explore the world of Jane Marple to such an extent.  This final offering for the year was quite a satisfying puzzle, which is a relief since the last few Marples I picked were less than stellar.  Today we will explore Christie’s misdirection and sleight of hand in They Do It With Mirrors.

they do it with mirrors

Plot Summary:

Miss Marple is coerced into visiting an old school friend at her home, Stonygates – a Victorian mansion that has been repurposed to include a boarding school for delinquent boys – after a mutual friend’s insistence that something isn’t right with Carrie Louise Serrocold.  On her arrival, Miss Marple can find nothing obviously amiss, but traces the threads of a few patterns that give her cause for disquiet.  When Carrie Louise’s stepson (from her first marriage) – Christian Gulbrandsen – arrives unexpectedly, Miss Marple manages to overhear a conversation that leads her to believe that something important is being kept from her dear friend.  An alarming incident involving Carrie Louise’s current husband – Lewis Serrocold – and one of the young delinquents draws all eyes in the mansion, and shortly after this Christian Gulbrandsen is found murdered.  The murder sends the occupants of the house into a flurry of suspicion.  Any one of them could have been responsible for the shooting of Gulbrandsen, and as they are all intimately connected, nobody knows who to trust.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of a convoluted story where characters are concerned – there’s grande olde dame, the quiet, sweet-hearted, trusting Carrie Louise, her third (and current) husband, Lewis, her daughter Mildred, her granddaughter (from her adopted eldest deceased child) Gina; Gina’s American husband Wally; the two grown-up sons of Carrie Louise’s second husband, Steven and Alex; Carrie Louise’s elderly stepson (from her first marriage) Gulbrandsen, Carrie Louise’s brisk and competent companion, Jolly; Edgar Lawson, a troubled young man from the boarding school, and a few assorted psychiatrists and juveniles.

Level of Carnage:

Low for most of the book.  There are a few secondary murders that take place in a rather violent fashion, and a few extra deaths to round out the reveal.

Level of Wiley-Tricksiness:

High.  Obviously the title hints that there will be a bit of misdirection going on here, but as even Miss Marple gets tricked by this initially I don’t feel too bad about falling for certain red herrings.

Overall Rating:

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Four knitting needles for the tangled family relationships involved

It was a relief, after a few hit-and-miss Marples, to pick up a standard, old-fashioned pyschological puzzle.  This is Christie at her typical high quality.  The action happens in one place, there’s plenty of opportunity for readers to make a stab (pun intended) at the murderer/s and the eventual reveal is pretty satisfying.  It’s not a “blow you away with it’s brilliance” novel, but it’s a lot better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  A lot less painful too.  Not to mention less messy.

Next year I will be moving on to a broader review program that encompasses the works of more writers of murder mystery.  Christie’s work will, of course, be included in this program, but I will also branch out to include others such as Dorothy L. Sayers and …. others, who I haven’t discovered yet.  Feel free to suggest some good murdery tales and you may find them featured in my 2015 review series: Monday is for Murder!

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays with Marple: The Moving Finger…

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Greetings Marplophiles! The next instalment of my quest to immerse myself in the life work of Jane Marple continues with The Moving Finger….

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Plot Summary:

Jerry Burton is under strict relaxation orders as he recovers from an accident and he and his sister Joanna decide to rent a house in the entirely forgettable village of Lymstock to facilitate this end.  Shortly after their arrival Joanna receives a poison pen letter containing some entirely unsavoury (and completely unfounded) accusations.  While the siblings laugh the letter off as the work of a bored or religiously zealous resident, other poison pen letters begin making their way around the village causing great upset to their recipients.  When one resident is found dead after receiving a letter, with a handwritten note stating, “I can’t go on” beside her corpse, police begin to take the poison pen epidemic more seriously.  As suspicions are raised and neighbour turns against neighbour, Jerry becomes more convinced that the poison pen letter writer must be apprehended before another life is taken.  Miss Marple makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance towards the end of the book when the investigation stalls and then returns at the climax to apprehend the murderer and explain her methods.

The Usual Suspects:

The handsome gentleman and his equally handsome sister, interlopers in a quiet village, the owner of the house the siblings rent (a delightful elderly spinster fallen on hard times), the overprotective maidservant, the honest, noble village doctor and his energetic, loud-mouthed sister, the well-respected family with a past (including the black sheep adult daughter) and the slightly odd bachelor with a distinctly feminine mind. Plus assorted servants, maids and hangers on.

Level of Carnage:

Low.

Level of Wiley-Tricksiness:

Fair to middling.  I wasn’t able to guess the killer or the poison pen writer, falling as I did for the red herrings that Christie left lying about to trick to slow of wit.  I didn’t feel that the eventual reveal was overly ingenious or satisfying though.

Overall Rating:

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Two knitting needles.

I’m not entirely sure why Christie made this a Marple novel because she’s in it for such an insignificant amount of time and has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot.  The book would have been just as good without her and I actually felt a bit cheated that I had to wade through a pretty standard mystery for such a small dose of Marple.  I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one if you’re new to Marple, or indeed finishing with it….it was all a bit mediocre and forgettable unfortunately.

Ah well. Better luck next time I suppose.

Until then,

Bruce

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Mondays with Marple: A break in transmission…

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Welcome once again to the reasonably self-explanatory Mondays with Marple, in which we discuss Agatha Christie’s works featuring the delightful Jane Marple.  Today I’m doing things a bit differently, because I’m going to present to you a book that doesn’t feature Miss Marple, and of which Agatha Christie has only written a chapter.  The reason I’ve chosen this one is because I immediately became enamoured of the premise under which it was written and couldn’t wait to dive in and see how it all turned out.

The Floating Admiral is today’s book and it is a collaborative murder mystery written, chapter by chapter, by the members of The Detection Club, circa 1931.  What is the Detection Club? Well, it was a club comprised of a whole host of authors of crime fiction who met regularly to eat, drink and be merry.  Essentially, in the creation of The Floating Admiral, they decided to collaboratively write a murder mystery – but with a twist.  Here’s how it went down:

* Each author got to write one chapter of the mystery, which they then passed on to the next person in line to continue

* One author was chosen to tie all the loose ends together and reveal the murderer/s in the final chapter

* The authors, along with their chapter, had to include their solution to the mystery in a sealed envelope.  These were printed as an appendix at the end of the novel

* The authors had to “play fair” by the reader – that is, they couldn’t use any twee tropes such as “it was all a dream” to get out of solving the mystery, and they had to assume that any clues or characters included in the chapters before theirs was included for a reason and therefore needed to feature in some way in their proposed solution

Isn’t this a GREAT IDEA??! Well, I thought it was, and that’s why I’m reviewing it today.  All up there were 14 contributors,, including (in writing order): G. K. Chesterton, Canon Victor Whitechurch, G. D. H. Cole and Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane and Anthony Berkeley.

floating admiralPlot Summary:

When the vicar’s boat is found floating aimlessly down the river, no one expects it to contain the body of the his neighbour, the retired Admiral Penistone, featuring a nasty stab wound.  Inspector Rudge is called to take the case and immediately finds himself stymied when the Admiral’s niece and mysterious fiance leave town before they can be adequately questioned.  But this isn’t going to be Rudge’s only trouble – with the vicar clearly behaving in a slightly shady fashion, and some very odd stipulations in the Admiral’s will, it’s going to take all of Rudge’s wits (and some local knowledge of the tidal river currents) to unravel this mystery.

The Usual Suspects:

The slightly-unhelpful-while-appearing-to-be-helpful vicar, the niece of the victim (complete with attitude), the somewhat-shady fiance of said niece, the local old sea dog, a collection of house staff with secrets, a retired acquaintance of the deceased, and a number of absent relatives and hangers-on that may or may not have anything to do with the current circumstances.

Level of Carnage:

Reasonably low for most of the book, although towards the end there is a bit more reasonably graphic carnage to liven things up.

Level-of-Wiley-Tricksiness:

High.  Given that there’s 12 people adding to the story, the level of tricksiness is cumulative.  There are red herrings all over the place here and more arrive with every chapter.

Overall Rating:

 

Boat without mast Boat without mast  Boat without mast

Three Abandoned Punts

While the premise for the mystery excited me to begin with, it did take a long time to play out and the plot was pretty convoluted by the end.  The narrative ended up being not so much dialogue driven, as is the case with many Christie novels, but featured a lot of introspection on the part of Inspector Rudge as he works through the case.  I felt that an extra detective or assistant would have helped in this regard to avoid slowing the narrative too much – one of the chapters features 39 articles of doubt, in which Rudge postulates on 39 of the most puzzling bits of the case. At great length.  Which was good for getting everyone up to speed on what was happening and where the investigation might go next, but also became quite tedious after about article 20 or so.

The best thing about this book for me was the opportunity to sample the work of a whole lot of mystery writers who were contemporaries of Christie, and whose work I might like to try in the future.  Also, reading all the solutions at the end and the comments from the authors in the vein of “I’ve got no idea where such-and-such comes into it!” really brought home the idea that for the people that wrote it, mystery writing really was like a game of intellect that was fun to unravel.

Definitely give this one a go if you’re a fan of mystery writing from this era, but keep in mind that the end result was more a game for the writers than an exemplary piece of crime fiction for the readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Mondays with Marple: The Thirteen Problems…

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Morning Marple fans! Today’s Mondays with Marple pick is The Thirteen Problems. This book is a collection of short stories, so it’s a bit different from Christie’s usual fare, but let’s plunge right in anyway, shall we?  Knitting needles ready everyone?

Thirteen Problems

Plot Summary:

The Thirteen Problems centres around the exploits of the Tuesday Night Club, a group of St Mary Mead locals and others who, on a whim, decide to regale each other with true tales of murder and the macabre to see if anyone present is able to unravel the mystery.  The stories run the gamut from your standard, quite-easy-to-guess puzzle, to the complex, “well-I-never-saw-that-coming”, in-depth examination of motives and opportunities.

The Usual Suspects:

As there are so many stories here, every usual suspect you could ever hope to find graces the pages, from the retired military man, to the nurse/household help/elderly companion enveigling their way into polite society after a well-hidden stint in prison, to the jealous sister-in-law/wife/lover/next door neighbour….and then of course there’s Miss Marple’s odious and smug nephew, the famous writer Raymond West.

Level of Carnage:

High.  There are plenty of murders, obviously, given the fact that there are multiple stories.

Level-of-Wiley-Tricksiness:

Variable.  Some of the stories are typical of Christie’s ability to seamlessly weave in complex character backstories in the face of baffling events, whereas some others follow a slightly more predictable route.  As I was reading a few of the stories I had the sense that I knew where things were going and I eventually figured out that I had actually watched a few of the stories as full-length telemovies and so I already knew the ending.  Bizarrely, I am almost certain that in one case, the telemovie I had seen for one particular story featured Poirot, so that was disorienting to say the least.

Overall Rating:

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Three knitting needles.  I read this in the manner of a novel but I suspect it would best be savoured in parts.  I recommend popping it on your nightstand (or other book receptacle) and dipping into it whenever you feel like pitting your wits against the spinster who knits.

99 problems

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Mondays with Marple: The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side…

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Afternoon mystery lovers!  It’s time for another Monday with Marple, a time to sit back, relax and find out what’s going on in the world of Jane Marple – knitter, spinster, murder-solver.  Today’s pick is The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.  I selected this one to be second in the MwM review series for the simple reason that it happened to be on the shelf at a second-hand bookstore I happened to wander into.   And I quite liked the title.  So join me as I delve into the world of …

mirror coverPlot Summary:

Marina Gregg, famous actress and possessor of a nervous temperament, buys the big house at St Mary Mead hoping that it will be her “forever” home.  At a fete for the St John Ambulance hosted at the house, Heather Badcock – local chatterbox and ardent fan of Marina Gregg – dies suddenly after drinking a cocktail offered at an exclusive soiree in the house.  After initial inquiries from the police, it appears unlikely that anyone would intentionally wish to do away with Mrs Badcock and the hottest tip is that the poisoned cocktail was actually meant for Marina.  Miss Marple, although largely housebound and under the ever-watchful eye of housekeeper Mrs Knight, nevertheless has some suspicions of her own.  But will she be able to unravel the mystery before others meet an untimely end??  Well, no she won’t.  But that’s part of the fun really, isn’t it?

The Usual Suspects:

The charming and unstable actress, her ugly but nice-personality-ed fourth husband, the gossipy fan, the henpecked husband of the gossipy fan, the dark, brooding American and famous actress number two, the foreign butler, the previous owner of the big house, the servants, the producer, the fussy and efficient social secretary….there’s thousands and thousands….Well, not quite that many.  But there’s no elderly, blustering military man retired from service in India, which I thought was a bit of a shame.

Level of Carnage:

There are multiple murders. Satisfying.

Level of Wiley-Tricksy-ness of the Plot:

This was a landmark book for me.  I actually picked the important elements of the ending very early on in the book.  This is the first time that has ever happened, which indicates to me that either I have suddenly become significantly more intelligent, or that Agatha didn’t really try her hardest in this one.  Nevertheless, the plot twist and reveal is pretty tricky. *smug expression*

Overall Rating:

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Three out of five knitting needles. It was a fun read, but I really felt the lack of a Colonel. Or a Major.  Or a Captain.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Mondays with Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage…

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imageWelcome one and all to the inaugural go-around of my new feature, Mondays with Marple.  It’s a bit self-explanatory really.  I read a book featuring Agatha Christie’s gardening, knitting, amateur sleuth extraordinairre, then tell you about it. On a Monday.

I decided to begin Mondays with Marple as I really hadn’t got into any of Christie’s Marple mysteries, being, as I am, more of a Poirot fan. So this is only the second Marple I’ve read, the first being A Murder is Announced, for the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge in which I participated last year.

So, to start at the beginning, with Miss Marple’s first case, I present to you my thoughts on The Murder at the Vicarage.

murder at the vicarage

Plot summary:

After uttering the supposedly throw-away remark that “anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world a large service”, St Mary Mead vicar Len Clement is chagrined to discover that in a matter of days, someone has done just that. In Len’s own study, no less.  Now there’s a turn up for the books!  Now it’s up to Len, the local constabulary, and one elderly neighbourhood spinster to put their heads together to uncover which of the many worthy suspects could have commited such a dastardly deed – human nature being what it is, of course.

The Usual Suspects: (basically, who’s in the book…)

The unassuming and well-intentioned vicar (our narrator), his younger, attractive wife, the vague, head-in-the-clouds (or is she?) daughter of the deceased, the handsome, man-about-town artist, the wife of the deceased (wife number two), the village doctor with humanitarian ideals, the collection of gossipy old ducks, the visiting archaeologist and his delightful young secretary…and of course, the obstinate, overbearing Inspector and his foil.

Level of Carnage:

Only one murder in this book.  Shame really. I quite enjoy the Christie’s that have multiple murders.

Level 0f Wiley-Tricksy-ness of the Plot:

As usual, I fell for all the red herrings.  Honestly, you’d think I’d be able to pick the ending at least once, but nope.  She’s too good.  This one is satisfyingly complex, with enough clues dropped out to make you think you might have it before the final reveal….but you’ll probably be wrong!

Overall Rating:

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4 out of 5 knitting needles…mainly because I enjoyed the voice of Len Clements as the narrator.  I would have liked to have seen Miss Marple make more of an appearance, but I’m sure that will happen more within the later books.

In closing, here is a picture that I found on the interwebs that I think is both highly amusing and appropriate to this post. Enjoy.

keith richards

Until next time,

Bruce

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