Christie-fest 2010

Agatha Christie is my go-to author when I just need a random book from the library which I know I’ll like and which will probably be checked in. Which, on the face of it, is pretty silly, since I already own every single one of her novels.

The ABC Murders
After playing the DS game of the same name, I had to cleanse my palate by reading through the actual book. This story opens with Poirot and the visiting Hastings contemplating a very new sort of murderer — a serial killer with no apparent motive beyond the name and location of his victims. That all is not as it seems is pretty much a given, but I think this is one of Christie’s more inventive methods for hiding the killer’s true identity.

The Problem at Pollensa Bay
This collection of short stories was for the most part also published in other books and places — a continual problem with Christie short stories, as trying to collect them all means you get multiple repeats of some of them. The stories themselves are a mixture of some of her less well-known figures along with some featuring Hercule Poirot. A couple of them were later cannibalized by Christie and made into novels. Christie, unlike some of her contemporaries, is just as comfortable with the short story mystery as with a novel, and while these may not be among her most famous, they are all quite good and worth reading.

Crooked House
Charles Hayward, son of an Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, finds himself drawn in to the family drama surrounding the sudden death of Aristide Leonides, an elderly, wealthy businessman who happens to be the grandfather of the woman Charles hopes to marry. It becomes clear almost immediately that Leonides’ death was no accident, and the family are tense – the only ones with access are they themselves, so one of them is clearly a murderer. Charles, at the request of both his intended, Sophia, and his father, does some unofficial investigating in the hopes of discovering who the real culprit is – even if it turns out to be impossible to prosecute due to lack of evidence. Christie here uses a number of her favorite stock characters – the useless sons, the elderly magnate, the foolish second wife – but the family members feel well-developed for all that, and they all appear to have a legitimate motive for the murder.

Passenger to Frankfurt
I have heard this described as one of Christie’s worst books, and when I read it before, I recalled wondering why. Upon this most recent reread, I can only ask myself what I was thinking to have considered it okay! This spy thriller, written toward the end of Christie’s career, is a spectacular mish-mash of different plots, but the bulk of the book consists of various groups of old white men sitting in rooms fretting about the awful things that ‘youth’ are doing in the world. The problem? Even in the short segments of the book where we are actually out with our supposed protaganist, Stafford Nye, doing things, we never really see any of this supposed anarchy actually taking place. I find it hard to believe that JFK airport would still be operating on schedule if the US had descended into madness, for instance. Throw in Christie’s apparent confusion in thinking that the term ‘third world’ and ‘third reich’ are somehow related and we eventually arrive at an incredibly improbable and vaguely explained conclusion.

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