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Found 5 results

  1. A Catholic priest is murdered on his way home, after hearing the confession of a dying woman. Mark Easterbrook witnesses a cat-fight between two young women in a Chelsea coffee bar, one woman pulling the other woman’s hair out by the roots. Later, he finds out that woman has died. Later still, he learns that his godmother’s name is on a list of dead people found on the murdered priest’s body, but she died from natural causes. Mark Easterbrook gets drawn into a world of spells, curses and murder for hire, where three witches live in a house that was once a pub called The Pale Horse. This novel is much more of an adventure mystery, rather than her usual murder mystery novels, the style of novel Christie developed at the beginning of her career and returned to periodically throughout it. Here the adventure centres around black magic and the supernatural, which was popular at the time in other novels, and a murder-for-hire scheme for people to “dispose” of unwanted relatives. This should be a great Christie novel, the murder-for-hire scheme is truly ingenious and her use of poison shows her old knowledge and skill for getting her details right where poison is concerned. Christie also captures the changing world of the early 1960s, it was published in 1961. She effectively captures the atmosphere of the beginnings of swinging London, especially in the description of a late-night coffee shop in Chelsea. She captures the changing nature of country life too. Unfortunately, the sum of this novel’s parts does not make up for its structural faults. The biggest problem is at the heart of this novel. Mark Easterbrook, the narrator for most of it, is too dull a character. He reacts to events around him, rather than initiating the action. He is supposed to be investigating a series of murders and yet so many of his leads come to him by accident or coincidence. The plot itself relies too much on coincidence, things coming together by accident. Easterbrook discovers The Pale Horse house, and the three witches who inhabit it, completely by accident. There are also detours away from the novel’s plot that seem to add nothing to it. A prime example of this is where Easterbrook and Mrs Dane Calthrop (a vicar’s wife who first appeared in the Christie novel The Moving Finger) discuss the nature of evil. This may have been fascinating for Christie to write but added so little to the actual story. Christie is to be applauded for trying something different this late in her career. She could have just churned out more Poirot and Marple novels, but she chose to write a different style of mystery story. The premise is certainly ingenious, it is just a shame that the plot isn’t tighter and the narrator more engaging. Find it here on Amazon
  2. It is 1979 and Alan Groombridge, the manager of a small, provincial town bank, has a fantasy. One day, he’ll steal all the money from the bank’s safe and run away from his suffocating life. A life with a wife and children he no longer loves and doesn’t even like. But he only gets as far as taking the money out of the safe, when he is alone in the bank, putting the money in his pocket, fantasying about where that money will take him, before putting the money back. Then one day, as he holds the money from the safe, the bank is robbed at gunpoint. But these robbers, Marty and Nigel, are almost comically inept; they end up taking the bank’s cashier Joyce and one other employee hostage and leaving with a fraction of the bank’s money. On a wild impulse, Alan runs away with the rest of the money to fulfil his own fantasy. This is only the premise of this novel. This is no comic story of a failed bank robbery but instead a downward spiral of four characters swept up in a moment’s bad decision. Ruth Rendell charts these characters’ lives and bad decisions with spot-on physiological skill; her plot comes out of her characters’ psychology rather than forcing them into her plot. She unnervingly captures the changing dynamics in her characters’ relationships, the shifting power dynamics. An illegally acquired gun becomes a lightning rod for the power between three of the characters, corrupting and ultimately destroying them. This isn’t a conventional crime novel, where a crime is committed and a detective must solve it. This is a novel about the effects of a crime, the effects it has on all the lives touched by that crime, the guilty and the innocent. Rendell wrote these psychological crime novels alongside her Chief Inspector Wexford detective novels and later alongside her Barbara Vine novels. At their best, and this novel is her at her best, these psychological novels are refreshingly interesting and darkly original, and several of them were her best novels. Make Death Love Me is an uncomfortably original novel and, if you have never read one, a good place to start reading Rendell’s psychological crime novels. Find it here on Amazon
  3. “A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.” So reads the announcement in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette that morning. That evening, the local neighbours all dutifully turn up at Little Paddocks, all with their different excuses for being there. At 6.30 p.m., without warning, all the lights go out and… This is the beginning of one of Agatha Christie’s most intriguing novels that is firmly rooted in post-war Britain. She chose to set it in the classic, golden age of crime setting of an English country village. But this is a place very changed by the Second World War. No longer is it a place where everyone knows everyone else. This is a place of strangers. The war caused such upheaval; many people left the village, many never to return, and newcomers have moved in, people whom everyone else has to accept are who they claim to be without “knowing their people”. Christie uses this as a strong thread to her plot, are these people even who they say they are? Her intriguing plot is served well by the tone Christie creates in this novel. At first it is light-hearted and almost comic, the surprise and speculation in the characters’ reactions to the announcement of a murder, none of them believing it is anything sinister. Even after the first murder, she maintains this light tone; the victim is a stranger and certainly not a “good type” of person. But slowly the novel darkens; the second murder is too close to home and casts a dark shadow over the story. Christie handles this well; the grief of some of the characters is uncomfortable to read. This novel uses several plots trails that will be familiar to Christie readers, but here she certainly plays around with them. The village setting but with a cast of characters very different from her pre-war novels, her use of sexism to aid her plot and having the detective gather all the suspects together in one place to announce who the murderer is. Christie created this convention with her first novel, though she used it sparingly in her subsequent works nowhere near as much as the film adaptions of her works would lead us to believe. Here, though, it is the police inspector who gathers together the suspects, not Miss Marple, and it is not to unmask the killer but to lay a trap for them. This novel also benefits from having Miss Marple as its detective, rather than Poirot. Poirot was always the star of the novels featuring him, while Miss Marple was so often one of the supporting characters, watching the events from the sidelines. Here Christie uses her to her best, aiding the plot but also giving the other characters chance to breathe by not being in every scene. In the centre of all this is a portrait of a lesbian couple, whom all the other characters except without question. Only at the end, after tragedy has struck, do we see the depth of their love. Agatha Christie might not have been the greatest of literary writers, but what she did do she did so well. She knew how to plot her novels; she created twists that never left the reader feeling cheated. She laid just enough clues so that once the twist occurs you can feel, “Oh that makes sense now.” She also knew the characters she wrote about, the upper middle-class English, though her novels also chronicle the changes in English society. She might not have been the finest descriptive writer but she knew how to create characters with dialog and used that effectively. This certainly is a classic Christie, plot, characters and setting all come together to make a fascinating read. I challenge you to work out who the murderer is, until they are revealed and then it all makes horrible sense. Happy reading Find it here on Amazon
  4. Its 1964 and the beginning of summer in the English market town of Kingsmarkham. Margaret Parsons, a shrewish and quiet housewife, disappears from her home. Days later, her murdered body is found in a copse of trees outside of the town. Chief Inspector Wexford leads the enquiry into her death, criss-crossing the almost quintessential Home Counties town to do so. From Doon with Death is not only the first Wexford novel by Ruth Rendell, it is very much a novel of its time. It isn’t just that the characters pay for everything in pounds, shillings and pence, but it is also a world of sexism and social inequality. The murdered woman and her husband live a sparse life with no mod cons, while two rich couples still have servants in their homes, and few women here have jobs other than “housewife”. Rendell herself, in her afterword, says this novel should now be viewed as a historical novel; our world has changed so much since 1964. Unfortunately, this novel also reads very much like a first novel, by a writer still obviously learning their craft. There isn’t the character insight that was such a pleasure of her later novels. The only characterisation here that stood out was that of the murdered woman’s husband as he slowly drowned in grief. The plot also felt slow, with an almost join-the-dots feel to it, and the revelation of the secret passion at the heart of this story might have been daring and shocking in 1964 but I spotted it long before it was revealed. This didn’t have the character-driven twists that made her later novels. What I am grateful for is that this novel was published because it introduced us to the great writer Ruth Rendell would become. She certainly learnt from this novel, the things I found disappointing here are absent from her later novels. I do not know if this is a good place to start reading Rendell’s Wexford novels, maybe Shake Hands Forever, A Sleeping Life or Put On By Cunning would be better places to start. These novels have all the traits that made her a great crime writer and a great writer.
  5. Hi everyone. When thinking about private detectives, most would think of the eternal Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or the brilliant Hercule Poirot, by Agatha Agatha Christie. I want to share with you one of my favourite detectives. Again, this suggestion is not a book, but a whole series of novellas and short stories. This time the character is not LGBT, but it’s an odd character indeed. What’s not to like in a misogynist man that thinks most women are hysterical, lives by a very strict schedule that has him spending 4 hours a day with is orchids (2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon), drinks beer religiously every day, and behaves as if high quality food was the only reason for living? Did I say that he hates to work and almost never leaves his brownstone house in New York, that he shares with 3 other males, his assistant investigator (that actually do the leg work), his gardener and his chef? He is Nero Wolfe, first published in 1934 by Rex Stout. There are more than 30 books, so today I am not recommending a particular on since I haven’t read them all, but I found delicious the several stories I read, in that half-depressed, half-stunning environment of the 30s. If you like XX century detective’s stories, you should try. PS: There are some movies, old radio, and TV shows as well, and after Rex Stout’s death, he authorized the continuation of the Nero Wolfe series. Can’t recommend though, since I have not read any yet.
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