“Crudo” by Olivia Laing (2018)

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“Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married today.”

I did the rare thing this week of giving up on a book that I wasn’t enjoying, and instead plunged headfirst into this novella about the end of the world.

It’s 2017 and Kathy is about to get married. She is worried, however, by the state of the world, with right wing governments taking office, the UK paralysed by Brexit, climate change is out of control, and anyone can lose everything with one wayward tweet. Nonetheless, she is determined to make her marriage work. Olivia Laing constructs a snapshot of a fleeting moment, capturing one hot, horrific summer in the early 21st century, as she asks if there is any point in learning to love when everything’s about to end.

The book is entirely set in 2017, and frequently mentions news stories of the time, with Kathy feeling the world is ending with every new story she hears. It’s only three years later that I’m reading it, and yet it seems like an entirely different world already. As the story progresses we see the world come to terms with the election of Trump, the President’s firing Bannon and Comey, the early repercussions of the Brexit vote begin to get felt, Jeremy Hunt denying trying to sell the NHS off, and the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire. Each seemed an earth-shattering story at the time, and while the fallout from each trundles on today, it’s remarkable to think how many tragedies we’ve been through in the last few years.

Kathy’s story, laced through these events, is one of falling love. A survivor of breast cancer, she has finally found someone she loves enough to get married at the age of forty, although we learn later that her husband is twenty-nine years older than her. It is believed that narrator is based on Kathy Acker, who is not someone I knew so I probably missed a good deal. Acker, however, died in 1997, so while our author here shares the same name and published books of identical titles, it isn’t the real one. This is obviously some literary allusion that went far above my head, although I don’t think it’s necessarily any worse for not understanding. The writing is too charged with emotion, juxtaposing falling in love with the fall of civilisation in one of the most tumultuous periods of recent history. Some of it stings a bit too close to home as the world around us becomes messier and madder and it makes you ask fundamental questions about why and how we bother carrying on as if there is some future we’ll be save in. I guess we just have hope there is.

The perfect novel to consume on a hot day, and a stark reminder of how quickly the world can change.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Accidental Time Machine” by Joe Haldeman (2007)

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“The story would have been a lot different if Matt’s supervisor had been watching him when the machine first went away.”

The way things are right now, I wouldn’t mind a time machine. Forwards or backwards, I’m not really fussy, just somewhere other than here. If we ever do get around to inventing time travel, I would imagine 2020 will be a no-go area. But let’s not get bogged down in reality – we’re here for the fiction.

It’s the 2050s, and Matt Fuller is working with little to gain in the physics department at MIT. That is, he thinks he has nothing to gain until the calibrator he is using to measure quantum relationships between gravity and light disappears, only to reappear a second later. Indeed, every time Matt presses the button, the machine vanishes for twelve times longer. Matt, it seems, has become the world’s only owner of a functioning time machine. Deciding to test it further, he borrows a car from a friend and catapults himself into the following year, only to find that he’s wanted for the murder of his friend, who died of a heart attack upon seeing the car disappear.

With the police after him, Matt has little choice but to keep leaping forward into an unknown future, each time getting further and further away from the world he is comfortable with. He is desperate to find somewhere he can be safe, but as he leaps through a deeply conservative Christian future, another where everyone is rich from birth, and on to even stranger worlds, he wonders if there is in fact anywhere he will ever be safe again.

Although the pacing is somewhat uneven and some of the later events don’t feel like they’re explained enough, it’s an enjoyable romp anyway and that’s about all you can hope for from a time travel story. The first leaps don’t take him far into the future, so the world is recognisable, but then once he begins leaping hundreds or thousands of years at a time, some changes become more pronounced. I say “some” because even 4000 years into the future, language seems to have changed little. The people of that time say that that’s because they still watch 21st century films, but let’s be honest, if we leapt back 4000 years, language would be entirely different. This is pointed out by some of the characters but we never get a fully satisfactory answer.

Nonetheless, the characters are fun and some of the future technologies and scenarios are interesting, although sometimes feeling like alternate Earths rather than future ones. Two hundred years into the future, Matt meets Martha in a USA that has seen the Second Coming of Jesus, eradicated most science and now operates on mostly medieval technologies and belief systems. For a while, we may even be dragged along in believing that Jesus did return, but we soon see the truth. I also like the idea that wherever he goes, he ends up in trouble with the police, because some things never change. The final chapter, too, is more satisfying than I thought it might be, and brings the story to a decent conclusion. Not everything is tied up, but it works perfectly well enough for me.

A fun exploration of some potential futures for us, and a very pleasing escape.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Faulks On Fiction” by Sebastian Faulks (2011)

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“It’s a while now since anyone referred to the main character of a novel as the ‘hero’.”

The world of literary criticism can be a fun one to spend a little time in. Although it is not always wise to project realistic values, morals and behaviours onto fictional characters (the current fad for declaring every sitcom character from Basil Fawlty to Alan Partridge to having some kind of mental illness is a little tiresome), it can be interesting to think of them as they are beyond the page. We get to spend so little time with some of these people, it’s nice to dig a little deeper for a while. British literature is a great place to start, with some of the most famous fictional characters in the world nestled in its pages. Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know the names Sherlock Holmes or James Bond? In his book, written to accompany a 2011 TV series of the same name, author Sebastian Faulks analyses twenty-eight of the most famous characters in British literature via four archetypes: heroes, villains, lovers and snobs.

First up, he dives into the heroes, exploring the first hero of British literature, Robinson Crusoe, along with minx Becky Sharp, anti-hero John Self, and the hero who fails, Winston Smith. When he discusses lovers, the takes on – of course – Mr Darcy and Heathcliff, but also studies Constance Chatterley and Nick Guest. The snobs archetype is perhaps the most interesting, including such luminaries as the etiquette snob Jeeves, intellectual snob Chanu Ahmed, and brand snob James Bond. Finally, he ties things up with the villains, including Fagin, Steerpike and Barbara Covett.

I vaguely remember the show from the first time around, and it was nice to revisit the characters again – I’ve read a few more of these stories since then, too – with some interesting insights. There are indications, however, that time has moved on, and I wonder if we would see some of these characters in the same light now. One point that shows how we changed the culture we consume is when Faulks seems to believe it’s impossible to imagine a television series getting a budget for 14 episodes of an hour long. The Golden Age of Television has apparently yet to start.

The quality is variable, with some chapters going into intense and interesting detail on the character as a whole, with others focusing more on the whole plot, and in the James Bond section, most of the chapter is taken up with Faulks talking about how he came to write a Bond book of his own. Granted, it does tie up nicely and explains the character a little more, but it feels a touch self-indulgent. I suppose in 2020 people would complain about the lack of diversity (only seven of the characters discussed are women, and just one is explicitly a person of colour) but I don’t think you can actually hold that against him here. He has picked several of the most interesting and well-known characters in these four archetypes, and it so happens that most of them are men. Could he have selected Elizabeth Bennett instead of Mr Darcy? Perhaps, but truthfully it is Darcy that has permeated the culture more so than Elizabeth. Similarly, the central character picked from Oliver is Fagin, rather than the title character. The selection through the ages and genres is pretty good, although as ever there is a focus on the “canon” and more literary fiction, with a slightly begrudging dip into fantasy (Gormenghast) and dystopia (1984). If you wanted a better selection, I suppose you could have undone the fact that Dickens and Austen both get two characters selected, but then again they are perhaps the most influential novelists in English. The Jeeves chapter stands out above the rest for me, as Faulks adopts Wodehouse’s style to talk about him.

An interesting look at some of fiction’s finest. Of course it’s a little subjective, but then again all fiction is, so you can’t fault it for that.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

A Bookish Quiz!

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Hello, everyone! I think it’s fair to say that we could all do with a few more distractions these days, and that means there’s only one thing to do: a quiz! Here are fifty questions about the literary world for you to have a go at. Make a note of your answers than then check them at the bottom and see what you score! Good luck!

  1. Which novel opens with the line, “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen?”

    Question 3

  2. Which classic novel features the Dashwood family?
  3. What is the name of the girl that Adrian Mole was always in love with?
  4. Which Charles Dickens novel features the characters Noddy Boffin, Lizzie Hexam and Bradley Headstone?
  5. What is the name of Matilda Wormwood’s beloved teacher?
  6. Which comedian released his memoirs in 2014 entitled Only When I Laugh?
  7. Madeline Miller’s 2018 novel focused on which mythological character?
  8. Which country has produced the most writers to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature?
  9. Who wrote the 1984 novel The Wasp Factory?
  10. Basil Hallward is a painter in which 1890 novel?
  11. Which was the only Agatha Christie novel that was not set in the twentieth century?
  12. Which country serves as the primary setting for André Aciman’s novel Call Me By Your Name?
  13. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, what is the name of the youngest of the Baudelaire siblings?
  14. What is the occupation of the main character in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day?
  15. What is the name of the school of magic attended by Quentin Coldwater in Lev Grossman’s book The Magicians?
  16. Which novel features the line, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”?
  17. Wide Sargasso Sea was written as a feminist response to which novel?
  18. Which Kurt Vonnegut novel features the religion of Bokononism?
  19. Which novelist popularised the term “Generation X” when it was given to the title of his first novel?
  20. In Brave New World, what is the name of the drug that produces a soothing happiness to keep the population complacent?
  21. In the Jeeves & Wooster series, what is the first name of Jeeves?

    Question 21

  22. Which Nicholson Baker novella is set entirely during a single escalator ride?
  23. What is the name of the evil ventriloquist dummy who appeared in several Goosebumps books?
  24. What is the title of the only published novel by Zelda Fitzgerald?
  25. Which 1992 novel features the characters Richard Papen, Henry Winter and Francis Abernathy conspiring to commit murder?
  26. How many Famous Five novels did Enid Blyton write?
  27. Which journalist wrote the books Them and The Psychopath Test?
  28. The Hundred Acre Woods frequented by Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends is based on which real British location?
  29. Anna Burns won the 2018 Booker Prize for which novel?
  30. What was Ian Fleming’s debut novel?
  31. The panserbjørne are a race of creatures in which series of novels?
  32. In which novel are women categorised as, among others, Aunts, Marthas and Econowives?
  33. What is the name of the main character in American Psycho?
  34. Which London location features prominently in the Audrey Niffenegger novel Her Fearful Symmetry?
  35. Which Beatrix Potter character served as a washerwoman for the local animals?
  36. Theodor Geisel was a writer better known by what pen name?
  37. Which children’s book features the characters Humpy Rumpy, Trunky and Muggle-Wump?
  38. Which crime writer invented the detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn?
  39. Connell and Marianne are the main characters of which 2018 Irish novel?
  40. Which Japanese novel features cats called Otsuka, Mimi and Kawamura?
  41. The 1960 film The Village of the Damned is based on which John Wyndham novel?
  42. Which classic novel features the line, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same”?
  43. What is the name of the estate in Rebecca?
  44. Annie Wilkes is a central character in which Stephen King novel?
  45. Sir Toby Belch appears in which Shakespeare play?

    Question 48

  46. In which novel has much of the population been wiped out by a disease called Georgia Flu?
  47. Who holds the Guinness World Record for the most novels written in a single year?
  48. Which of the Mr Men lives in a house shaped like a teapot?
  49. What is the name of Thursday Next’s pet dodo?
  50. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which nation wins the Quidditch World Cup?

OK, finished? Click here to get the ANSWERS!

So, how did you do? Leave your score in the comments, or find me on Twitter (@fellfromfiction) to let me know! I hope you enjoyed the quiz and share it with fellow bookworms! Stay safe, friends. X

“The Remains Of The Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

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“It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.”

One of my favourite novels of all time – I could never pick an absolute favourite – is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. The story was magical, the prose beautiful, and I got swept up in it quite by accident, having judged the book by its cover originally and not really thinking it was me. It was perhaps the only book on my university reading list I came away loving. I since read a collection of Ishiguro’s short stories called Nocturnes, which I quite liked, but I thought it was time to finally turn to the novel that has, by all accounts, already settled itself among the literary classics.

It is 1956, and Stevens is the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, recently taken over by an American gentleman by the name of Mr Farraday. With the running of the household his primary concern, Stevens wonders if they aren’t a bit short-staffed and when he receives a letter from the former housekeeper Miss Kenton which suggests she is having marital difficulties, he decides to ask for a week off to travel down to the West Country and see if she would want to be employed at Darlington Hall once more.

Unused to free time, Stevens is nonetheless determined to make the most of it, and when Mr Farraday offers him the loan of his car, a short holiday is booked, which takes Stevens deep into the countryside and his past. As he travels to Miss Kenton, never quite sure what the outcome of the meeting will be, he reminisces on his career, thinking back to his time under the late Lord Darlington. Some of his memories perhaps he would rather not have played back, and his obsession with dignity and loyalty time and time again encroach on them. He begins to wonder if things may have turned out differently, and what really does make a good butler.

While quite funny in places – it’s a typical comedy-of-manners – overall I found the story really rather tragic. Stevens strikes me as a lonely figure, although I don’t think he even realises this extent of this himself. His primary goal is always to run a perfect household, regardless of whatever else might happen. He struggles with personal relationships and is seen at times practising witticisms, in case his employer expects him to be able to banter, and also reading romance novels where he can better learn how people talk in informal situations. It is upsetting that he has not learnt these skills organically. He is tonally deaf to so many situations, his employer always coming first. Even when his father dies, he is unable to attend his bedside because he is needed in the dining room, and when Miss Kenton is upset, he remains resolutely professional and would rather chastise her for a failing in her work rather than offer sympathy. He belongs in a past era, and Miss Kenton serves to explore how behind the times he has become, and is about the only person who has never dared question him. Although they call themselves friends, I do wonder if Stevens has ever had a true friend in his life.

Stevens is so obsessed with dignity that he loses his humanity, and towards the end seems almost surprised to learn that the nature of “bantering” is the “key to human warmth”. He and Miss Kenton could quite easily have fallen in love, I’m sure, but he won’t yield and therein lies the tragedy. He is so loyal to Lord Darlington that he forgets to have a personality and life of his own. I imagine this is true of many butlers of the time, and I find it impossible to imagine a life in service like this. In some ways, I admire his resolution and devotion to his job, but above all I just feel pity. He has been constrained by his role and doesn’t know how to escape these bonds he has made for himself, and perhaps isn’t even sure he wants to. At the very end, there’s a hint that he thinks he has missed out on life, but his final words go back to his concern for his employer. He will never change.

A heart-breaking and beautiful novel.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“A Ladder To The Sky” by John Boyne (2018)

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“From the moment I accepted the invitation, I was nervous about returning to Germany.”

I don’t often dabble in literary fiction, finding the snobbery surrounding it really off-putting. Nonetheless, some of it slips through the net when the story seems interesting enough, which is how I came to A Ladder to the Sky.

Erich Ackerman, once a celebrated author whose greatest work is behind him, has lived a long and lonely life, but upon meeting young waiter and would-be-novelist Maurice Swift, it seems that things are about to change. Taking Swift under his wing as his personal assistant, the two tour the world attending literary festivals, and as Ackerman gets closer to Swift, he begins to reveal things about his past that he’s never told anyone. He finds himself telling the story of his first love, and the time his actions led to the death of a Jewish family as the Second World War began. He comes to regret it though, when Swift takes his story and turns it into a novel, destroying Ackerman’s reputation.

Swift, however, is desperate. While he’s a capable writer, he cannot come up with his own ideas. Now he’s had one success, he has tasted fame and respect, and his ambition knows no limits. He knows that stories will make him famous, and he’s prepared to beg, borrow or steal to get them. And maybe not he won’t even stop there.

So, first up, Maurice Swift. Of the novel’s five parts, it is only in the final part that we experience things with him narrating. He is an unwavering shit, with very few redeeming features. His actions are, for me, unforgivable, and he becomes increasingly insane and obsessed with achieving his goals and is not bothered about who gets hurt along the way. He shows no remorse for his actions, particularly regarding Erich Ackerman, who is treats with complete disregard once he has stolen his life story for his own. Ackerman narrates the first section, one is full of pity for him, a man long past his prime who finds his head turned by the attentions of a handsome young man. The middle chapter gives us things from the point of view of Edith, Swift’s wife, another novelist who appears to be falling out of love with her erratic husband. Again, the pity one feels is palpable. Swift is a monster.

The book brings up several issues regarding ownership of stories, plagiarism, and whether it matters who tells a story, as long as the story is told. Personally, I believe that while anyone can tell a story, the ideas should belong to the people who come up with them, unless express permission is given by others to use them for their own purpose. I suppose as a writer myself Swift’s treachery hits harder than for others, but I don’t think anyone could really consider him on the winning side and really be championing him or his methods. It shows just how cut-throat the literary world can be. While the story’s ending also works very well, it’s a shame that we don’t see Swift ever get his comeuppance, not fully, and unlike the characters he’s presumably writing about, he neither changes or learns anything. On that front, he’s then not a very good character himself, but Boyne’s writing saves him. He’s not supposed to learn anything.

I enjoyed it all much more than I thought I would, to be honest – a fascinating cast of intelligent characters with skewed priorities.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Romeo And/Or Juliet” by Ryan North (2016)

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“As we now know, William Shakespeare (1564 AD-whenever he died) was well known for borrowing from existing literature when writing his plays.”

Who remembers “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from childhood? Goosebumps did a solid range, and I had one based on a Famous Five adventure – you failed if you run out of ginger beer rations. If both dot-to-dot and colouring books got adapted for adults, then I don’t see why these shouldn’t come back too. Fortunately, Ryan North is way ahead of me, turning the classic play Romeo and Juliet on its head and letting us decide how it all plays out in fair Verona.

I’ve read this six times now, and every time produced an entirely different story. We all know the original: Romeo meets Juliet, they fall in love but their families had one another, there’s some fighting, and both the heroes die. Tale as old as him. Here, however, I several times managed to end the feud between the Montague and Capulet families without killing anyone (once within fifteen minutes of starting), somehow turned into the Nurse and took on a side quest designed like a point-and-click game, was killed by Benvolio, and even have Juliet end up marrying Orlando, who isn’t even in this play. At one point I wished to be turned into the glove on Juliet’s hand, only for my wish to actually be granted. At the beginning, you pick to play as either Romeo or Juliet, and there are options to swap between the two. You can follow through the play was Shakespeare intended, but where’s the fun in that? I still haven’t.

The best of it is that, from bits I gleaned while finding my passages, there is still so much more to explore. You can unlock a secret character to play as someone else. There are further Choose Your Own Adventure stories laced inside this one, with versions of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to play. There are endings where Romeo and Rosaline end up together, Romeo and Juliet destroy Verona with robots, and at least one where Juliet doesn’t kill herself when she thinks Romeo is dead but instead kills everyone else. And yes, the original one is in here too. None of these are spoilers particularly, as I couldn’t tell you how to get to any of those endings, and there must be at least another forty or so.

While there are some mentions of the original text, either obliquely or in full, it’s mostly updated to modern slang with a very casual style, which is all the more hilarious. Romeo is a whiny teenage boy who is obsessed with love, and Juliet, wonderfully, is a muscular, weight-lifting, protein-shake-chugging bodybuilder who can totally take care of herself. From what I gathered, Romeo tends to get the gorier endings, whereas Juliet usually comes out of it alright and ends up doing something ridiculous.

It’s a really fun book, and I think you have to read it several times just to get the most out of it. What happens if Romeo doesn’t go to the party? What happens is Juliet tells Lady Capulet that she won’t marry Paris? What if the lovers abscond to Paris when Romeo is banished and entirely cut off contact with their families? It’s time to find out.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Black Coffee” by Charles Osborne / Agatha Christie (1998)

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“Hercule Poirot sat at breakfast in his small but agreeably cosy flat in Whitehall Mansions.”

Since lock down kicked in, I’ve realised I’m really missing the theatre. I’m not someone who goes particularly regularly – a few times of year at most – but I love it. Musicals, plays, comedies, dramas – what’s not to love? Theatre is second only to books for me as a way to tell a story. It’s there and vivid and right in front of you. If you’ve been on my blog before, you almost certainly know that I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan, and while people may know her for her novels and be aware that she is responsible for the longest-running play in history – The Mousetrap has only been halted by this bloody lock down – she wrote many other plays. In fact, she is the only female playwright to have three plays on at the same time in London, and she was so revered that when she died, all the theatres in the West End dimmed their lights for an hour in her memory.

Anyway, this is all a meandering way to say that in the 1990s, three of her plays were adapted into novels by Charles Osborne. The other two, Spider’s Web and The Unexpected Guest are already on the blog, so it’s time to complete the set. It’s time to enter her first play, Black Coffee.

Notable inventor Sir Claud Amory calls his family into the library after dinner with an announcement. In his safe he had a formula for a powerful new explosive that would change the face of war forever, but now it has gone. The thief, he knows, is in the room. He has already called Hercule Poirot in who will be arriving imminently. Amory offers up a simple option. He will turn the lights off in the room for a short while, the thief can place the stolen formula on the table, and no further questions will be asked. However, once the lights come back up again, the formula – or at least the envelope it was in – has appeared on the table, but the darkness brought death, and now more questions arise, just as Poirot and Hastings turn up on the doorstep. Now there are two puzzles to solve, and a lot of tangled familial relationships to unwind before the answers can be found.

So, it’s a Christie story at her peak. Obviously it’s good. But like with the others, it still lacks something. Reading an adaptation makes you realise quite how much difference there is between prose and scripted story. Most of the action here takes place in a single room, as it would on stage, but here that seems a little unnatural. Quite often you feel like you’re simply reading stage directions, and the mind’s eye can’t help but envision the whole drama unfolding on a stage. In those terms, it still works. The mystery is also particularly engaging, and I only remembered the solution as it drew closer. Christie uses Poirot’s obsession with neatness to assist him once more in solving the plot, but it’s done remarkably well. Unfortunately, because of the stage direction elements of it, some actions are deliberately pointed out to us whereas, in the theatre, we might not have seen them.

The characters are perhaps not quite as fully rounded as some of hers, but with a play you have more limited time to get things across. There’s a deft touch of humour throughout the story, too, as there is in all the best Christie’s. It’s a satisfying solution, with Poirot proven his talents once more. A quick, charming read.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!