The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

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The Moving Finger is a Miss Marple mystery. Well, almost. Miss Marple does appear, mostly drinking tea and knitting and mumbling on about this person and that she is reminded of. To be honest, it would have worked as a plot without her.

The true stars of the book are Jerry and Joanna Burton, a brother sister who have moved to the small town of Lymstock. Jerry was a pilot in the war and is recovering from serious injury, and the pair thought that the quiet life in a small town would help his recovery. Anyone who has lived in a village or small town knows full well there is no such thing as the quiet life in these places, and that’s certainly true of Christie’s fictional world.

No sooner have they got rid of the last packing case and found the kettle, they start to receive poison pen letters accusing them of not being brother and sister, but lovers living in sin. Being Londoners and therefore far more sophisticated than the locals, as far as they are concerned, they burn it and think no more about it. The trouble really starts when it transpires everyone is receiving this nasty letters, and Mrs Symmington, the solicitor’s wife commits suicide after receiving one. Not long after their maid is found dead too.

The murders seem to put a metaphorical spring back in Jerry’s step, and he sets out to uncover the wrongdoer.  It truly is a tangled web, and the culprit isn’t that easy to spot. I liked Jerry and Joanna very much, far more than I liked Tommy and Tuppance, and as with all Christie’s best works it has that juxtaposition of comfy English country life and cold blooded murder.

I remember this story from the marvellous BBC adaptations with Joan Hickson, but not sure how many will have heard of it otherwise. It’s a hidden gem.

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

This is one of my favourite Poirot novels. It shows Poirot and his little grey cells solving a crime years after it was committed. 

Caroline Crale was convicted of murdering her artist husband, Amyas Crale 16 years ago. Their little daughter was sent to Canada to live with relatives, but now she is an adult and wants to get married. She is concerned that having a murderer as a mother might put off her betrothed, and so comes to Poirot asking for him to uncover the truth about what happened. She is convinced her mother was innocent. So, Poirot sets off to talk with each of the people who were present when the poisoning occurred and to uncover the truth. 

Each chapter tells the story from a different character’s point of view. We discover unrequited love, illicit affairs, violence and passion, all set against the genteel backdrop of an English summer. It’s marvellous stuff. If you are feeling particularly alert you can compare the evidence of each character and it should allow you to piece together what happened to Amyas Crale. If, like me, you just wanted to enjoy the journey with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, that’s OK too. 

The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie

So here we are at another full length Miss Marple story, and one of my favourites from the BBC adaptations starring Joan Hickson.

Colonel and Dolly Bantry are woken one morning by their maid screaming because she has tripped over the body of a strangled woman in the library. The Colonel phones the police and Mrs Bantry calls her old pal Miss Marple. 

The Bantrys have no idea who the dead woman is, although village gossip soon ramps up to wonder whether the Colonel might have been up to no good behind Dolly’s back. It transpires that the girl is a pro-dancer at a local hotel, and from there the trail leads into a web of family lies and deceit. 

Miss Marple is delicious in this, nudging the ever grumpy Inspector Slack and rather upright Chief Inspector, Colonel Melchett,in the right direction.  The solution is ingenious, and with your eyes open, you can solve this one on your own. You may find tea and knitting help sharpen your mind. 

Christie is at her best when she does these sorts of plots. A closed cast of characters, each one rather shady and with a secret, all bound up with a British stiff upper lip. Marvellous autumnal reading. 

N or M by Agatha Christie

So here’s the thing. I am absolutely positive that I have posted a review of this book. I’d bet my last Hotel Chocolat Rose & Violet Creme on it*. The fact of the matter however, is that it’s not on the site, well, not this one anyway. I know I am well behind on reviews, but I was so sure… It’s a mystery worthy of Christie herself**. 

Back to the book. It is another Tommy and Tuppence story, and long time readers will know my views on these tales. They aren’t my favourite. They tend to be a touch too jolly hockey sticks and to include daft espionage plots. This particular book had a rather unfortunate adaptation last Christmas on the BBC, which could have been so much better if only David Williams hadn’t played Tommy for laughs.

We start with Tommy and Tuppence feeling at rather a loose end. The Second World War has broken out and they are no longer working for the British Intelligence Service and so feel rather helpless. Tommy receives a visitor, asking him to go undercover, but not to tell his wife. Tuppence, due to a rather slick bit of eavesdropping, finds out what’s a foot, and heads off undercover herself. The pair find themselves on the trail of German Fifth Columnists, using a seaside B&B as a base. What follows is some mild peril and some derring do. 

Perhaps I  am getting soft in my old age, but this is nowhere near as bad as I feared. In fact, I would go as far as to say it’s quite a good romp. It’s not of the standard of her classic murders,  but, it will pass an afternoon very nicely. I don’t mean to damn it with feint praise, but it’s better than the other Partner in Crime books, but not a patch on Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express. The problem for Mrs Christie is that she wrote some corking books, so the others pale next to them. My advice, if you want to read a Tommy and Tuppence book, this is probably the one to read. 

 

*Strong words indeed. 

** To be fair, it’s nothing of the sort is it? It’s more likely that I thought about writing the review, put it on my to-do list and then did something else instead. 

Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie

The weather has turned from grey and gloomy to the other extreme. It hit 31C at Fennell Towers this week, which frankly,  is too much for my English rose complexion to cope with. It was Factor 50 all the way. It did however lend a lovely backdrop to reading Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. I know this story well, having seen the film multiple times and read the book at least twice. Nevertheless I still enjoyed it. 

Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie
Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Poirot is on his holidays at a hotel on an island off the coast of Devon, the Jolly Roger. His fellow guests include Arlena Marshall, a beautiful actress and notorious flirt. She soon sinks her claws into Patrick Redfern, much to the annoyance of his mousey and quiet wife Christine. The rest of the guests, including a retired Major*, a fashion designer, Arlena Marshall’s husband and step daughter, and Mr and Mrs Gardener a couple of American tourists watch as the flirting escalates and the humiliation of Christine accumulates. Sat on the terrace Poirot spots a sequence of events that he fears will lead to murder**. Poirot of course is right, and it isn’t long before the body of Arlena Marshall is found on a beach in a cove. It is a tough and confusing case, everyone seems to have a rock solid alibi, and Poirot supports the police in trying to work out what happened. 

This is a hugely satisfying mystery. The characters are great, and I was particularly fond of the very talkative Mrs Gardener and her very quiet husband Odell. You will know people like Mr and Mrs Gardener, and it’s hard not to smile as Poirot becomes verbally pinned to his seat as Mrs Gardener repeatedly assaults him with hour upon hour for chit chat. The set-up for the unmasking of the murdered is very clever, Poirot setting a trap, and the actual mechanism of how the crime was committed is complex and as perfect as anything of Christie’s I have read. Add to it the summer holiday tinged with murder feel and it’s a winner. 

 

*Obligatory in a Christie

** I have to say that if I ever found myself on holiday in the same place as Poirot, I’d pack and go home sharpish.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

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We are back with Poirot once more, alas, Hastings is not with him this time. Poor old Poirot is not having a good day. He has to visit the dentist, which is something he does not relish. Having survived the encounter, he is rather surprised when his old chum Chief Inspector Japp calls and tells him that his dentist is dead. At some point between Poirot leaving the surgery and a couple more patients Mr Morley becomes so disillusioned with dentistry he decides enough is enough and shoots himself.

It all looks very clear cut when it transpires that one of the patients that morning was given an overdose of anaesthetic and the conclusion is that in a fit of remorse Mr Morley decided to take himself off to the great waiting room in the sky. Poirot, of course isn’t so sure, and as always he was right. Morley was murdered, but why, and how? It’s a very tricky problem, and one of Christie’s more complex plots. There is espionage, a wealthy millionaire, and a rather do-gooding woman. The actual number of suspects is quite small, but I was guessing up until the end. Actually, to be fair I was still trying to work out exactly what had happened even after Poirot’s summing up. I got there in the end, but I had to mull it over for a while. There are great number of bluffs and double bluffs. It might be as well to have a pen and paper to hand for the final couple of chapters to keep up with what is going on.

It is the first novel which starts to reflect the Second World War with the themes of doing something for the greater good of the country coming through.  I admire Chrsite in trying to reflect the real concerns faced by society in 1940, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – she doesn’t do thriller very well at all. Poirot is wonderful in this, but the plot is hard work. She is much more successful when she sets plots in a more traditional classic crime settingsuch as big houses and English villages and lets the impact of war take their toll at that level rather than worrying about state secrets. The impact of war is no less pronounced, but her handling of it is much, much better.

So, not one of my favourites, but it is Evil Under the Sun next, which I am very much looking forward to.

 

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

So here we are, we have arrived at one of Christie’s most famous and arguably best mysteries. There was a marvellous adaptation on the BBC at Christmas, which if you haven’t seen, is well worth the watch.

The set-up for this book is ingenious. 12 people are invited, for various reasons, to an island off the coast of Devon. On arrival, their host is nowhere to be seen, and the weather closes in, leaving them stranded. At dinner on the first evening a disembodied voice, which turns out to be a record playing in the next room, accuses them all of getting away with murder.  One by one, each of them is murdered… until then there none.

As the bodies pile up, the remaining guests  search for the killer on the island, until they come to the conclusion that it must be one of the party. Then the paranoia, accusations and fear really kick in. All semblance of good manners, and standards go out the window as they refuse to eat food the others have prepared and lock their doors at night.  The unravelling of the English ladies and gentlemen, normally so formal, is fabulous.

The resolution is fantastic too, the reasons the killer had for murdering all these people strike me as rather contemporary, and ahead of its time. It is all rather marvellous as a crime story goes. Great characters, atmospheric weather, a high body count, and a cold, clever and calculating murderer.