There exists in Rochester, Kent, a shop called Baggins Book Bazaar, which is England’s largest secondhand and rare bookshop. I have been to it just once, with one very bookish friend and two less-bookish friends, and found the place absolutely mesmerising. It’s a bit out of my way so I have yet to return, but I will do eventually. While there, I bought very little as it happens, rather more enjoying the maze-like layout of the building and the constant twists and turns to find new stock, but one of the books I did buy while there was a collection of three Agatha Christie books in one hardback book – and it’s forty-one years old.

As such, the following post might be longer than usual as I am reviewing the three books within this one book. If you’re not much for Agatha Christie, then skip on and I’ll have something else for you next time. If you are, then settle in and get ready for something a bit different.

agatha 2Partners In Crime (1929)

The first book in the collection is Partners In Crime, the second of the Tommy and Tuppence novels. I read the first one earlier this year and found it to be much more adventure based than her other novels. However, this one holds up. Tommy and Tuppence are more unique among her characters in that they age in real time, allowing us to share in their lives with them. In this one, it is six years since we last saw them and their marriage, while still happy, has stagnated and Tuppence wishes that something would happen.

No sooner than the begins to think it out loud than it indeed becomes far more interesting than she ever thought possible. The two take over a private detective agency under the guidance of a friend of theirs and, adopting fake names and refusing to deal with divorce cases, they begin to explore various small challenges. They take their lead from various detectives of fiction – Sherlock Holmes, Thornley Colton, Tommy McCarty and Denis Riordan, Joseph French and, yes, even Hercule Poirot himself. However, while enjoying the task of solving murders and proving alibis, the two find themselves mixed up in something much more sinister indeed.

The stories (it is more accurate to describe these as a series of short stories) are parodies of previous detective novels, with Christie showing her brilliance in mimicking others. Tommy, Tuppence and their faithful secretary Albert are lively, interesting characters and the underlying plot of the big mystery involving the man who wishes them dead is well played out, escalating gradually throughout the stories and tying them all together by the end.

At Bertram’s Hotel (1965)agatha 1

The most modern of the three books, this is a Miss Marple novel that has her in London, holidaying Bertram’s Hotel, a curious olde-worlde England sort of place, full of stuffy old clergymen and admirals, as well as rich Americans enjoying their time across the Atlantic. Miss Marple stayed there many years before, some fifty or sixty years previously, and upon returning finds that the place is much as she remembered it. Catering to those who love the past, and run under the unwavering eyes of Mr Humphries, Miss Gorringe and the impeccably skilled Henry, the place is a lost paradise, and above all suspicion.

However, strange things have begun to happen. Notable daredevil Bess Sedgwick is staying in the hotel, unbeknownst to her estranged daughter Elvria Blake who is also there for a couple of days. There’s also Canon Pennyfather, the notoriously absent-minded clergyman who would forget his own head if it wasn’t screwed on. He takes off one night for a conference but upon arriving at the airport, finds that he is a day late and has missed not only his flight but the entire conference. He returns, sadly, to the hotel only to be greeted by a bump on the head and a loss of memory. Add to this the fact that a racing car belonging to a famous driver who may or may not be the lover of Lady Sedgwick, and Miss Marple begins to piece together the idea that something is not quite right about the apparently perfect Bertram’s Hotel.

This is probably my favourite of the three, but that’s mostly down to Miss Marple, who seems considerably older here. Once again she is, quite against her will, drawn into a murder and finds that no one really wants to listen to the ramblings of a dotty old woman. That is, until Chief Inspector Davy realises that there is more to her than meets the eye, and she, like him, has noticed that not everything is as it seems. It’s a proper whodunnit, although the actual murder comes quite late into the narrative, but the way the viewpoint changes rapidly between almost everyone in the hotel leaves you guessing throughout as to what is actually going on and who is on who’s side.

Enjoy your stay, and do try the muffins.

agatha 3The Hound Of Death (1933)

Finally, we have this book which is actually a collection of twelve short stories, each with more of a supernatural flavour. Although Christie is more known for writing books that are based solely in scientific fact and not allowing the answers to her mysteries to be paranormal, here she seems to let that slide a little. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Most of the stories here do have perfectly rational explanations, but a couple … well, let’s just say that maybe there is more to this world than any of us realise.

The stories are about hallucinations (The Hound Of Death), premonition (The Red Signal), mediums (The Last Seance), hypnosis (The Strange Case Of Sir Arthur Carmichael) and ghosts (The Lamp). As I say, most of the time Christie proves that what seems bizarre and impossible is actually the product of human nature and there is always a sensible explanation to every possible bump in the night or chill in the air. However, some, in particular The Last Seance, are far less clear about what is actually going on and seem to allow the paranormal to take over and manifest itself as real.

Probably my favourites in the collection are The Witness For The Prosecution, which I saw adapted for stage a few years ago and really enjoyed, and The Fourth Man, which is about a woman with severely disparate multiple personalities. The stories are not the usual Christie fare at all, but they’re definitely worth a look. They are some of her earlier works, and there is a sense of creepiness about them all that I didn’t know she was capable of.

Three very different stories, each of them brilliant in their own way.

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