“Lord Edgware Dies” by Agatha Christie (1933)

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“The memory of the public is short.”

What I find when it comes to re-reading all the Christie novels is that I often think I remember the solutions. Lord Edgware Dies, it turns out, I haven’t read since 2012, so it’s one of the handful that aren’t on the blog yet. I thought I remembered it really well, and was content to settle down and see how it was done, rather than worrying about who the killer was. Unfortunately, it turns out my memory was not quite as good as I thought it was.

After a night at the theatre seeing the latest show by celebrated comic Carlotta Adams, Poirot and Hastings run in to Jane Wilkinson, the air-headed and selfish Lady Edgware. She accosts Poirot after the performance and asks him to go and visit her husband, Lord Edgware, and try and convince him to divorce her so she is free to marry a Duke she has been courting. Curious, Poirot follows through with the request but is surprised to learn that Lord Edgware wrote to Jane months ago to say he was willing to allow the divorce. Later that night, Lord Edgware is found dead in his study, stabbed in the neck.

The case at first seems easily solved. Jane Wilkinson was seen entering the house just before the murder occurred, and the police are ready to arrest her for murder. The difficulty is, there are twelve people who were at a dinner party elsewhere in London which was happening at the same time as the murder – and Jane was in attendance. Besides, why should she want to kill her husband when he’s already given her the one thing she wants? As Poirot uncovers more and more deceptions, he begins to unravel how one woman could be in two places at once, and who really did the murder.

Still one of the smartest, in my opinion, Lord Edgware Dies plays with the concept by having the solution appear immediately obvious. All the while you’re dancing around it wondering why Poirot can’t see it too (even though you know he would do), the truth is hiding behind a series of increasingly devilish red herrings, misdirections and bluffs. Hastings and Japp are both on good form, and Poirot is constantly having to change his theories. Even he seems a little more stumped than usual here, and it is in fact an idle comment he hears on the street that directs him to the correct solution.

The killer is a fascinating character, and even after being caught, they still insist on writing to Poirot to explain exactly how it was done, being proud of their actions rather than showing any remorse. Indeed, their final words are to wonder whether they will be immortalised in Madame Tussauds. The suspects are all a slightly unpleasant bunch, with a number of them being egotistical performers, the story being set against a backdrop of actors and the theatre. Unfortunately, this seems to be one of the Christie novels that never saw an editor’s pen in later years, with several references to Jewish people being greedy and one use of a swear word that feels especially inflammatory given the news this week. Oh dear. We can only mutter “of it’s time” and not dwell. No one’s claiming Christie was perfect, but as times and attitudes moved on, she did go back to some of her earlier works and change details like this, having learnt better. It’s jarring when they remain.

Nonetheless, a fun and interesting puzzle.

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!

“Agatha Raisin And The Deadly Dance” by M. C. Beaton (2004)

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“The thing that finally nudged Agatha Raisin into opening her own detective agency was what she always thought of as the Paris Incident.”

Any prolific writer is bought to have a few stinkers. Stephen King gave us The Tommyknockers. Toni Morrison gave us Jazz. Even my beloved Agatha Christie managed to write Passenger to Frankfurt. M. C. Beaton has never been one of the world’s finest writers, unlike the other three, but her stories are entertaining enough to keep your interest up. As I’ve said on others from her though, she does have a habit of cramming a few too many plots into a single book, which comes into full force here.

Agatha Raisin has had some success in solving crimes in and around her village of Carsely, so has finally decided to take the plunge and open her own detective agency. Taking on her new neighbour, Emma Comfrey, as a secretary, the two do not rub along together quite as nicely as either would hope, perhaps because of differences or maybe because they’re a bit too similar. The detective agency deals for a while with missing cats and divorces, before Catherine Laggat-Brown gives them their first real case.

Catherine’s daughter has been threatened with murder, but the family are determined to go ahead with their family party. Agatha attends, and soon discovers that there was a sniper at a window of the house, managing to save the lives of Catherine and her daughter. Now the hunt is on for who wanted her dead, and why. Things become even more complicated by Agatha’s feelings for a number of the men in her life, and the fact that someone seems very desperate to have her removed from the picture entirely. Maybe the killer is closer to home than she thought.

First up, the title. There’s absolutely no reference to this in the plot. Yes, the key murder plot takes place at a party, but there’s no dancing in particular, so one must assume that the title is meant metaphorically to describe the actions the myriad characters perform around one another. If so, everyone’s got two left feet. The characterisation is thin, and people appear with simple descriptions and then vanish again as quickly, still somewhere in the background but with little justification for their existence. This is most strongly shown with Agatha’s detective agency. She originally hires Emma to be her secretary, but when she discovers that she’s a good detective (although how this can be proved from finding one cat and one teenager, neither of which required much brainpower), she is promoted and another secretary is drafted in. This one, Mrs Simms, too shows her skills with one case and so becomes another detective, with a temp filling in as secretary from then on. By the end of the novel, neither of these detectives are working for Agatha anymore, and we’re left wondering almost what the point of them was. Everyone also has a strange tendency to fall in love – and obsessive love at that – at the drop of a hat.

I also wonder that by this point in her career if editors are scared of questioning Beaton too heavily. There are so many places where superfluous sentences linger, dodgy descriptions and bad dialogue haunt the sloppy paragraphs, and the point of view jumps around with dizzying frequency. There’s also an epilogue tacked on that is clearly only there for light relief, but adds absolutely nothing to the story, simply shows Agatha as being a bit ridiculous once more. While I’ve read more of the Hamish Macbeth novels and this is only my second time with Agatha Raisin, I’ve already tired of her as a character somewhat. A middle-aged Bridget Jones, with a venomous personality.

The plot is shaky at best, and it wouldn’t really be possible to solve this one yourself. Yes, I can see where the clues are being clumsily dropped, but they come together in such an unusual shape, and definitely with some things that we should have been told sooner. The reason for the crime is somewhat flimsy, and there are far too many coincidences for anything to be entirely satisfactory.

Don’t write off Beaton entirely, but this is not a good one to start with.

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 Thirteen Problems” by Agatha Christie (1932)

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“Unsolved mysteries.”

I keep thinking I’ve reviewed every Agatha Christie on here by this point, but given I started reading her four years before I started the blog, some have definitely slipped through the net. The second Miss Marple, The Thirteen Problems, is one of them. Time to rectify that.

On Tuesday evening, a group of acquaintances have come together and before long the conversation, as it so often seems to, turns to unsolved crimes. The group is diverse – a lawyer, a retired police officer, an artist, a writer, a priest, and a village gossip – and they ponder which of them has the better background for solving crime. Thus forms the Tuesday Night Club, where each member must share a mystery that they know of and the rest must try and solve it.

The thirteen riddles are certainly challenging. There’s the story of the woman who was told that a blue geranium would mean death, the girl poisoned by foxglove leaves accidentally mixed in with the sage stuffing, a case of disappearing bloodstains, and the case of the missing bullion from a shipwreck. With every puzzle, the armchair detectives are stumped. There is however one exception. Miss Marple, dismissed by the others at first for being a slow old woman who has rarely left her village, is the only person to correctly solve every single crime, always able to relate each case back to an incident of village life. Thus her capability is proven time and time again, in a couple of places even bringing justice herself.

Although the second Marple book, this is the one where we see what she is really capable of. She is a little cattier in the first, and readers could have been led to assume that her solving of the case was just a fluke. As with Poirot’s Early Cases, this establishes our hero as being a rank above everyone else when it comes to detection. Whereas Poirot is more interested in psychology, with Marple we see that she just has a good memory and that humans are, broadly speaking, more alike than they care to acknowledge. As she herself says, perhaps it’s better that people don’t realise this. While there is an underlying arc of the characters telling one another stories, they can each be read individually and don’t necessarily follow on.

Christie’s real skill here is in having the narrators all have their own way of telling the tale. One is very conscious to go into detail on the atmosphere of the crime’s location. Another is not a natural storyteller at all and, after giving the basics, answers questions from her companions instead. One tries to tell a tale about a friend that is actually about herself, and Marple herself is prone to going off on tangents that seem to serve no purpose at all.

Most of the stories would have worked as an extended novel, if you threw in more detail, but by condensing them, Christie once again shows that length isn’t everything, and you can have a perfectly serviceable mystery set up, deconstructed, twisted and solved within twenty pages. Few are capable of doing this well, and none better than she. A genius collection.

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 Last” by Hannah Jameson (2019)

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“Nadia once told me that she was kept awake at night by the idea that she would read about the end of the world on a phone notification.”

I never learn. Why did I think it was a good idea to read another dystopia during the rise of an international virus that the media are touting as the scariest thing ever? And why did I think that the same book would be a sensible thing to read while staying in a hotel alone all weekend, when it’s also a thriller set in a hotel? Suffice to say, my imagination ran away with me and I did very little actual reading in the hotel, although my podcast consumption shot up. It’s over now, so it’s time to review The Last.

While Jon Keller is staying in a remote hotel in Switzerland, the world ends. Major cities across the planet are hit by nuclear weapons and the Internet quickly goes down. Many people flee from the hotel, hoping to make it somewhere safe, but a handful stay behind. Jon is one of twenty survivors now holed up in the hotel. As a history professor in his previous life, he takes it upon himself to make a record of the end of the world. Fifty days after the bombs dropped, he finds a body.

Convinced that one of the group is a murderer, Jon sets about interviewing the other survivors, not all of whom want to join in with his theorising. As the days pass, suspicion grows and Jon finds that the vital clues he needs are going missing. He doesn’t know who he can trust, and tensions flare as the final pocket of survivors work out how they’re going to stay alive in the long term. But things get worse when they get evidence that they might not be the last people after all. They might not even be the only people in the hotel…

This is one of the tensest books I have read in a very long time. The end of the world is tragically believable, although we never find out exactly who began the bombings, it never seems to matter. The stakes are high and feel real, and you are wrapped up in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the hotel, with no idea what is happening outside. The events of the first day of the end of the world are revisited a few times, as Jon and others remember more and more about it. It’s almost funny when one of the fleeing guests deadpans, “Scotland’s gone”. Is this how we’ll be if it ever happens? The use of social media comes into play as well, from the opening line. For most of the novel, the characters don’t have Internet access, but when they do get some they learn that some people did indeed live-tweet the apocalypse.

The characters are a rich and varied bunch, with some getting a lot of page time and others just shining for a cameo, based on how much Jon speaks to them. He is, however, an unreliable narrator, consumed with toothache and a sense of self-importance. You can’t fault his drive regarding his desire to solve the murder, but there’s another part of you that wonders if he’s just going mad. There’s a sense of insanity about him and an obsession that sees him doing anything to distract from thinking about his wife and children. At first you believe him, but even as a reader you begin to doubt him as a narrator – is all of this just in his head? The others, particularly student Tomi, doctor Tania and head of hotel security Dylan, are shown only through Jon’s eyes, so we don’t know what prejudices he’s putting on to them. We see them as he interprets them, so we can’t know for sure if they really are acting in the way he says, or if it’s just paranoia. From what we do see, however, many of them do seem to be acting suspiciously, but the suspense keeps on ratcheting up and characters motivations seem to change day by day.

I’ve said this before, but I think I need to say it again. Until the news perks up and it doesn’t feel like we’re living in the end days, I really need to stop reading dystopian fiction, especially when it’s this visceral and real. An amazing book, but consumed by a bruised mind. I don’t want to put anyone off, because it’s a brilliant read, but take care.

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 a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Diabolical Club” by Stevyn Colgan (2019)

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“Joan Bultitude’s poodles were noisy, prone to biting and indiscriminate in their toilet habits, which meant that they were disliked by almost everyone who had ever had the misfortune of encountering them.”

If there are two things the English seem to manage better than anyone else (in my humble, and hyperbolic, opinion) it’s comedy and murder mysteries. Fortunately, the universe gifted us Stevyn Colgan, the love-child of Ngaio Marsh and Douglas Adams. The Diabolical Club is his second novel, and it’s as much of a riot as the first. Come with me to South Herewardshire.

As the novel opens, we find several disparate threads to deal with. First up, headmistress Joan Bultitude has just uncovered a skeleton on the grounds of Harpax Grange School, an exclusive girls’ school in the village of Nasely. Her new secretary, Phoebe Kingshaw, is actually working for Sir Giles Luscott-Whorne, an MP with whom she is also having an affair. Giles has sent her there to find any dirt she can on Bultitude, as Harpax Grange is his family’s old home and he wants it back. This is complicated enough, but there’s also been a resurgence lately in sightings of the Shaggy Beast, a wolf-like creature with an engorged penis that is said to stalk Black Dog Woods.

When Phoebe does find something at Harpax Grange that she considers to be “dynamite”, she begs Giles to come and meet her, but before she can pass on what she’s found, she is murdered for her knowledge. The police are called in and with Giles the prime suspect, his standing in society plummets. He recalls a retired detective, Frank Shunter, who solved the crime the last time Nasely had a murder, and hires him to prove his innocence. As the village works itself up into a frenzy, secrets are bound to come spilling out. It seems that village life isn’t as quiet and parochial as one would expect. Some of the locals are also planning on finding the Shaggy Beast once and for all, but will have to contend with the other residents of the woods – namely the doggers and the animal rights activists currently plotting to save Gertie’s Plash, a local pond, from being drained.

Colgan is a master of witticisms, almost rivalling his hero Douglas Adams in the way he slips in perfectly formed jokes at rapid fire speeds. He has a beautiful and effective way with words and metaphor, and isn’t afraid to give something a long set up for a killer punchline. He’s also a master at naming characters. In these pages we meet Oberon Tremblett, Janus Gugge, Gerry Waxleigh, Len Youlden, Raif Clyst and Charlie Barnfather. I’m not sure how many of them are real surnames, but if they’re not they all sound like they could be. The characters are complex and vibrant, and each name suits them perfectly. I don’t know how he does it, but in the same way that Trunchbull is the perfect name for a stern headmistress, so is Bultitude.

The murder mystery element of the story is also fun, although I admit I’d taken a guess early on and was proven to be right, so my journey was one of just waiting to find out how the murderer was caught, rather than who it was. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, however, as there are other things here that I could never have begun to guess would have happened, and it’s a rich tapestry of a world. It also feeds back into the first novel about reclusive crime writer Agnes Crabbe, but never entirely lets her dominate, meaning the story is clearly set in the same universe, and some elements will mean more to the reader if they’ve already read the first in the series, but is just as enjoyable without.

As a fun bonus, too, if you take a look at the page at the front of the book that showcases praise for Colgan’s previous novel, you might come across a quote taken from a very familiar blog, right there beneath quotes from Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig. I found it quite the honour.

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 a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Agatha Raisin And The Busy Body” by M. C. Beaton (2010)

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“Having found that her love for her ex-husband, James Lacey, had more or less disappeared, Agatha Raisin, middle-aged owner of a detective agency in the English Cotswolds, decided to hit another obsession on the head.”

The rise in M. C. Beaton novels on the list this year is entirely down to my grandfather. Having discovered a few of her early ones on my shelf, he became obsessed and started buying up others he found and then passing them on to me when he’d finished. The Hamish Macbeth ones I’d got used to, so I decided to try an Agatha Raisin.

It’s Christmas in the little village of Carsely, but not everything is merry and bright thanks to health and safety inspector George Sunday. Zealous and tediously officious, he seems to have a grudge against everyone in the area having any fun. He bans the vicar from putting the tree on the church roof as ever, forbids the putting up of Christmas lights without a proper cherry picker, and even disallows people to put decorations up around their own homes.

A meeting is called to decide what to do about him, but it gets interrupted by George himself when he falls against the window, stabbed. Any number of people have a motive, but few seem to have had the opportunity. Agatha Raisin decides she must bring the killer to justice and give herself a PR boost. Elsewhere, one of the key witnesses thinks she’s remembered something fishy about the night Sunday died, but she too is killed before she has a chance to tell anyone. As the villagers turn on one another, Agatha must work out who hated Sunday most – and it’s a very long list.

These books have much the same flavour has the Hamish Macbeth ones, just moving the action from the Highlands to the Cotswolds and having the main character be a private detective instead of a policeman. One of the issues here is entirely on my side, in that I’ve thrown myself down in the middle of the series, and while the crimes appear to be independent, there is evidently a through-line with the secondary characters that I need to know about. Hell, one of them actually dies in this one, and I didn’t feel the emotional impact one presumably does if they’ve got to know the people.

As ever with Beaton though, and this is surprising given how prolific she is, there is an awful lot going on in this novel. The main murder gets overshadowed fairly quickly by another that (no real spoiler) turns out to be entirely unrelated. It’s like the novel got invaded by a second one and only when that’s been cleared up can we return to the main story line. The whole novel takes place over the course of a year which, in fairness, does add realism to the police work and doesn’t see everything wrapped up in a week (trials and DNA tests don’t work like that), but it means there is a lot of time to kill. During the time, Agatha has major surgery and develops swine flu, and neither of these seem to affect the story at all, instead being glossed over in a few short paragraphs. Heaven knows, there are stories to tell here. Agatha Christie one had Poirot solve a murder while he was in bed with a cold – surely giving Agatha Raisin one of these handicaps to battle against adds further jeopardy?

All in all, the titular mystery itself is good, but it feels like three novels’ worth of stuff trying to happen all at the same time and it ends up all being a bit cluttered. Sure, I’ll return, but I may have to head back into the series for some earlier stuff to work out a few of the motivations. Still a good example of what happens to people when they get a little bit of power or fame and it all goes to their head. People will stop at nothing to get the happiness they think they deserve.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

“The Murder At The Vicarage” by Agatha Christie (1930)

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“It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage.”

With absolutely no surprise, here comes the twelfth Agatha Christie of the year to round off the twelfth month. That’s made a dent, but it’ll still be 2025 before I’ve finished the whole re-read at this rate. Plenty of time to savour them. Anyway, we end the year with the introduction of one of her most famous characters – please take to the stage, Miss Marple.

In the quiet village of St Mary Mead, the vicar, Leonard Clement, has made an offhand and very uncharitable comment regarding local magistrate Colonel Protheroe. He says that anyone who killed the man would be doing a great service to the whole village, but his wife and nephew sweep the comment aside. It comes back to bite him, however, when just a few days later, Protheroe is dead. And not only that, he has a bullet wound in his head and his body is sprawled out in the study of the vicarage!

Before long, Lawrence Redding, a local artist who, prior to an argument, had been painting Protheroe’s daughter Lettice, admits to the murder, walking into the police station with the gun. The village is shocked, but things are complicated further when Protheroe’s own wife also admits to the murder. However, according to local gossip, neither of them could possibly have done it, so what are they playing at? Who are they protecting? The village spinsters set to work rumour-mongering, and at the top of the tree sits Miss Marple, the shrewdest old woman you’ll ever meet, who can see that everything is not as it seems. But will the police listen to a nosy old woman?

So, first up – Miss Marple. She’s not fully-formed yet, and slightly less saccharine than she becomes later. In many ways, I prefer that. She’s prudish, but aware of her failings and nosiness, and villagers are torn over whether or not they like her. All the spinster women of the village are gossiping busybodies, but Marple seems to mean to harm in hers, she is just interested in people and not necessarily going to spread any news that might be incriminating or personally damaging, unless there is a higher necessity. She isn’t really even the focus of the novel, and while she provides the solution, most of the detective work is done on-page by the vicar himself, joined by Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack from the local police.

There’s a wide cast of characters here, and they’re all quite fun, from Len’s young, beautiful wife Griselda who is everything a vicar’s wife shouldn’t be, to the flighty and purposely-vague Lettice Protheroe and even modern Dr Haydock, the local physician. It seems that everyone in the village had a decent motive to kill Protheroe, but there is a distinct lack of broken alibis. My only quarrel with it is that a gunshot would certainly be heard at such close quarters, and this is explained rather weakly towards the end. It works, but not enough attention is paid to it.

Christie herself became dissatisfied with the novel, feeling it had too many characters and sub-plots, but I’m inclined to disagree with her on this occasion. Yes, the cast is fairly substantial and they all have secrets, but this merely serves to provide us with a stack of red herrings that threw even me. Remember, I’ve read all these before, and I’m still getting them wrong. It’s been a very long time since I read this one, however, but I thought I could see what she was doing. In a couple of places I could – always take note of conversations that have no bearing on the current point in the plot – but the rug was still pulled from under me as she plays with tropes, cliches and notions of justice.

While not regarded warmly at the time, I think it’s a fine introduction to one of literature’s greatest amateur detectives.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

“Death Of A Dreamer” by M. C. Beaton (2006)

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“It had been a particularly savage winter in the county of Sutherland at the very north of Scotland.”

For the fourth time this year, I return to the village of Lochdubh. In the real world, life in small villages in remote corners of the country is quiet and peaceful, where the most exciting thing to happen is the annual village fete. Fiction, however, has a different idea about villages and, like St Mary Mead and Midsomer before it, Lochdubh turns out to be quite a haven for murderers.

Artist Effie Garrard moved into the village when the weather was good, but the locals didn’t expect her to stay around once she learnt how harsh Highland winters were. When everything thaws, however, not only is PC Hamish Macbeth surprised to see that she’s still there – but not without having spent some of the winter in Brighton – but she seems determined to stay. Regarded as a talented artist, she becomes affronted when another painter, Jock Fleming, moves to the village as well. She cools towards him, however, and finds herself in love with him. Indeed, she’s so certain that this is the man of her dreams that she begins to imagine they’re in love already, and he’s even proposed to her.

Effie’s infatuation and delirious visions cause problems, however when Jock’s ex-wife Dora turns up, followed by his agent Betty. By now, the whole village knows that Effie’s story about her engagement and pregnancy are completely fabricated, and so it is Jock who is the prime suspect when Effie’s body is found in the hills. She had been drinking from a bottle of antifreeze-tainted wine and died of a combination of poison and exposure. As Hamish Macbeth begins to suss out who had the strongest motive to get her out of the way, more secrets and another body emerge, and it seems that these newcomers are all causing trouble. Hamish is also struggling with the fact that two of his ex-girlfriends are back in the village, and one of the suspects in the murder case seems to have her sights set on him too.

Often in these books, there is a very limited number of suspects and it sometimes feels like the solution has been pulled out of thin air. The trouble with setting a murder mystery series in a small village means that the locals reoccur each time and therefore by their very nature are unlikely to be suspected of anything. One must wonder, though, if they get annoyed by Hamish questioning them every six months. Here, though, Beaton has provided us with a good number of new people to suspect, and it works much better. Even more staggeringly, I actually got the solution right!

The other thing I find to be a recurring issue in these books is that inclusion of smaller crimes and tiny subplots that get solved in the space of three pages. Beaton is clearly full of ideas, and in many ways it builds up the world by showing Hamish and the villagers have other things to deal with other than just the central crime, but sometimes these smaller vignettes can detract from the main story and feels a bit like padding. Nonetheless, like I said, they bring the world to life.

Another darkly funny and interesting novel from Beaton showing how dangerous our fantasies can be.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

“The Mystery Of The Blue Train” by Agatha Christie (1928)

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“It was close on midnight when a man crossed the Place de la Concorde.”

In December 1926, Agatha Christie went missing for eleven days before turning up at a hotel miles away from where her car had been abandoned and with, supposedly, no memory of any of it happening. When she returned, her life was in turmoil. Her first husband, Archie, had filed for divorce and Agatha was struggling to cope with this burden (remember, at the time this would have been quite shameful) and having to restart her life with her daughter. She did, however, keep writing, although even she admitted it was a struggle. The result was this book.

All over Europe, things are falling into place. A set of priceless rubies, with the infamous and supposedly cursed “Heart of Fire” at their centre have just been bought and sold in shady and probably illegal circumstances. They make their way from the millionaire Van Aldin to his daughter, Ruth Kettering. He tells her to keep them safe and that it probably wouldn’t be wise to take them with her on her upcoming journey on the luxurious Blue Train. Elsewhere, Ruth’s husband Derek wants a divorce so he can be with his mistress, the beautiful dancer Mirelle, but if they divorce, he’ll be penniless and she might leave him.

In a small village in England, Katherine Grey finds herself without work after the woman she looks after dies and leaves Katherine an enormous fortune. Deciding to experience the world at last, she takes the Blue Train across France to meet her society cousins, but while aboard encounters Ruth Kettering, who is only to happy to talk about her failing marriage and the real reason she’s on board – she’s going to meet another man. Before the train reaches its destination, however, Ruth is dead and the rubies have gone missing. Her husband is the prime suspect, but Hercule Poirot also happens to be a passenger at the time of the murder and he has reservations. Taking Katherine under his wing, he sets about trying to save an innocent man and see if he can’t bring down a crooked member of the aristocracy or two while he does it.

As ever, the clues are all there, and while Christie directs the reader to focus on just two suspects, it is useful to remember that the cast is bigger than that, and everyone has secrets. The use of a cigarette box embossed with a “K” is also a great clue and most readers at this point might start thinking, “Excellent, that’ll nail this down immediately!” until you realise that the cast includes two people called Kettering, a Knighton, a Katherine and even a Kitty Kidd. You thought she was going to make this easy for you? Never.

Like any old steam train of the era, the story takes a good long while to get going. No one dies until we’re 115 pages in, with Poirot showing up for the first time just before, and for the first few chapters we simply leap around a collection of apparently unrelated characters, most of whom seem to be shady in one way or another, and it’s not until the Blue Train begins its journey that the stories begin to properly tie together. Nonetheless, despite the slow start the journey is eventually one worth taking. Christie herself never particularly rated this one in her later years, and it has certainly been overshadowed by her other novel which focuses on a murder on a luxury train, and I can’t say it’s one of my absolute favourites, but it still has a certain charm. Poirot is on form, and the cast of characters is laced with interesting people. They include many of the staples Christie would use again and again, such as the demanding millionaire, the status-hungry aristocrat, and the warring couple, but many of them have more depths than you may imagine.

All aboard!

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

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