“Death In The Clouds” by Agatha Christie (1935)

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“The September sun beat down hotly on Le Bourget aerodrome as the passengers crossed the ground and climbed into the air lined Prometheus, due to depart for Croydon in a few minutes’ time.”

Given how much I talk about Agatha Christie and my fondness for her work, many people seem to think I was raised on her and have been a fan since I could read. This isn’t actually true. It was an episode of Doctor Who and a university class that really introduced me to her, although I’d had a little knowledge of her more famous books before this and had definitely watched Marple and Poirot. And so it wasn’t until 2009 that I read her for the first time. That first book was Death in the Clouds, re-read now for the first time since then, and the book responsible for changing my literary life.

Hercule Poirot doesn’t like flying, so spends much of the Croydon to Paris flight distracting himself by observing his passengers. What he fails to notice, however, is that the woman behind him is dead. Upon landing, the stewards discover the death and when a blowpipe and a fallen dart are discovered, it seems that there was nothing natural about this death at all. Everyone is interviewed and Poirot, along with Japp and French police officer Fournier, begin investigating who could possibly have fired a blowpipe on a small plane without anyone noticing.

The French archaeologists had some ancient pipes with them, but they didn’t move from their seats. Mr Clancy, the famous writer of detective stories, however moved around a bit and admits to having a blowpipe of his own at home. Dr Bryant carries a flute, certainly, but what did he have to gain from the murder? There’s a desperate countess with a cocaine habit, a dentist who doesn’t want to get mixed up in murder lest it hurt his business, and then there’s Jane Grey, a young hairdresser’s assistant who wanted adventure but not like this. And what does any of this have to do with the wasp that some of the passengers noted flying around just before the murder was discovered? Poirot will not rest until he has the answers.

What can one say? Artfully crafted as ever, it isn’t the only one of her stories to take place during a journey, but it’s the only one to take place in the air. Poirot is at his most dogged and, as ever, the clues are there but you have to be a genius to spot them. At one point, we get a list of the possessions every passenger had with them, with Poirot’s only comment being that the “right clue” is on the “wrong person”. What exactly that clue is, we must decide for ourselves. Although not a particularly pleasant group of suspects, there’s a wide selection to choose from here, and the red herrings come thick and fast. Her real genius comes from the fact that when you get to the end, you realise it’s all been staring you in the face the whole time. Christie was superb at misdirection and one must remember to take note of every single detail.

Famously, the mystery here involves a blowpipe and a poison dart, but only after publication did Christie realise that traditional blowpipes were much larger than she anticipated and there was no way the plot was really feasible. It was perhaps because of this more than anything that she would go on to introduce the character of Ariadne Oliver, a writer who served as a vessel for Christie to mock herself. Oliver, too, had written a novel about a blowpipe and been mocked. Christie was, at least, able to laugh at her own mistakes. Other aspects of the story are perhaps of their time, with the plane being unlike any I think one would encounter these days – although I’ve never been in first class, so perhaps this isn’t the case – and some characters have different morals and standards. There’s one quite unfortunately racist bit that turned me against the lead female, even though we’re meant to be sympathising with her. At the time her views were obviously more acceptable, but it’s quite jarring now. The mystery, however, is what really pulls one in.

If you’re going to start somewhere with Christie, there are worse places than this. It might just change your life too.

Looking for something to do while you wait for the world to return to normal? My new book, Questioning Your Sanity, is a quiz book containing over seven hundred questions and extra trivia on every page. It’s ideal for anyone missing their regular pub quiz, or anyone who wants to brush up on their general knowledge and check their mind hasn’t entirely gone during lockdown. It would also make a great gift for the trivia junkie in your life. Available in paperback or for Kindle now.

“The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie” by Alan Bradley (2009)

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“It was as black in the closet as old blood.”

A new year breaks, and my TBR pile seems bigger than ever, so let’s crack on with a novel that I found myself lusting after based on the title alone. Time to fall back into fiction.

It’s 1950 and at the country seat of the ancient de Luce family, ten-year-old Flavia is using her knowledge of poisons and chemistry to take revenge on her older sister. Nothing fatal, merely meddling with her lipstick to induce a reaction that will cause her lips to blister. This is pretty much how things go at Buckshaw, but then something happens that is definitely not usual. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp held in its beak. Flavia’s father, a keen but eccentric philatelist, does not take too kindly to this, and Flavia realises the event means much more to him than anyone else. This is further confirmed when a dead body turns up in the cucumber patch.

With murder seeming likely, the police arrive at Buckshaw to investigate. Flavia, however, is not content with being rebuffed by the police and sets about doing some investigations of her own. With her father has the number one suspect, she is determined to find the truth, leading her down into a murky history of stamp collecting, magic tricks, and the death of an old schoolmaster.

Sort of Miss Marple in reverse, here we meet a girl who is too young to be taken seriously, so people don’t really think she’s capable of helping or solving the crime. Overlooked frequently in her life – even her sisters don’t really seem to like her – Flavia is incredibly precocious, and normally that sort of character really grates with me, but for some reason it didn’t here. Perhaps I’m softening as I age. Flavia is portrayed as a prodigious chemist and already a pre-teen expert on poisons and chemicals, and this is actually great fun as a concept, especially to have a young girl in the role of detective. In that way, I suppose it’s not unlike the Murder Most Unladylike series, but they don’t have the scientific backing. Although the books are written by a man, it doesn’t ever really seem that way. It’s refreshing to have a young heroine who isn’t constrained by her gender. Obviously there is a little talk of this (this is a time when women still don’t have all the respect and rights they should) but she is certainly cleverer than most of the men she encounters, and has many strong female idols both in the sciences and in her real life that she looks up to.

The story is really interesting and while I know nothing of stamp collecting (I was always told that philately would get me nowhere), it’s always joyous to see people, even or maybe especially fictional ones, have true passion for something. Flavia’s father is obsessed with his collection, and we also get to see how far people are willing to go for their obsessions. Although it turns out the story of the very rare stamp in here is made up for the story, it does feel like something that could have really happened. We also get to drag in the king, since the royal family has one of the most comprehensive stamp collections in the world. Bradley also does a great job of cementing us fully in time, with many references to the wider world, and even an acknowledgment that Agatha Christie is alive and well and this doesn’t serve to replace her.

It’s great to finally encounter a young narrator that doesn’t fill me with despair, and since the books keep up their ludicrously flowery titles, I daresay I’ll be back to Flavia and her chemistry set in time. A lovely start to the year.

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 Lake District Murder” by John Bude (1935)

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“When the northbound road leaves Keswick, it skirts the head of Derwentwater, curves into the picturesque village of Portinscale and then runs more or less straight up a broad and level valley until it arrives at the little, mountain-shadowed hamlet of Braithwaite.”

John Bude’s rediscovery is down to the British Library, when they added a few of his titles to their collection of crime classics. Out of print since the 1930s, Bude’s calling card is murders in some of the most picturesque parts of the British Isles including the Cornish coast or the Sussex Downs. Here, we head north to find a body in the Lake District.

A farmer pulls up to an isolated garage on cold night in search of petrol. Instead, he finds the owner of the garage dead in his car, apparently having killed himself with monoxide poisoning. When Inspector Meredith is called to the scene, however, it appears that things aren’t quite as simple as that. The dead man’s hands are too clean to have installed the hose himself, and why had he laid out his evening meal if he wasn’t going to stay to enjoy it? In fact, it seems that the dead man was about to be married and set up a new life in Canada, so who was it who took issue with that and decided that he must be done away with? Inspector Meredith is led to the shifty boss of the petrol delivery company and begins to suspect that there is more to this case than meets the eye.

In many murder mysteries, the point is for us to not know who the killer is until the very last page as the detectives filter through the evidence in search of a solution. It’s Agatha Christie’s bread and butter. Bude, however, takes a slightly different approach, coming from other authors such as Freeman Wills Croft, where there is little mystery as to who did it (we have this answer by the book’s mid-point) but the real challenge and tension comes from working out how to prove their guilt. There’s no amateur detective here, just Inspector Meredith. Unlike many fictional detectives, however, he has no gimmick or eccentricity. He’s just a decent, hard-working family man, who likes to work with other people and is logical and methodical.

While the plot does hold together and the crime is solved, Bude certainly takes a long time to get around to it. There is so much talk regarding specifics of petrol tankers, petrol stations, and I after a while I did think if I heard the word “surplus” one more time I was going to throw the book against a wall. It’s not exactly a pacey read, and while Meredith does always prove his theories, some of the ones he comes up with in the first place seem to have no basis other than his uncannily accurate hunch. There are also hardly any women’s voices in the novel, with perhaps just two in all, both in small roles. On the plus side, Bude seems to really love the Lake District and it’s nice to see it as a place where people actually live and work rather than simply a tourist trap.

Not the best of this collection; slow but competent.

Looking for something to do while you wait for the world to return to normal? My new book, Questioning Your Sanity, is a quiz book containing over seven hundred questions and extra trivia on every page. It’s ideal for anyone missing their regular pub quiz, or anyone who wants to brush up on their general knowledge and check their mind hasn’t entirely gone during lockdown. It would also make a great stocking filler for the trivia junkie in your life. Available in paperback or for Kindle now.

“The Moving Toyshop” by Edmund Crispin (1946)

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“Richard Cadogan raised his revolver, took careful aim and pulled the trigger.”

A couple of months back, I read a book about authors and books that were once popular but had been forgotten by time, falling out of print or fashion. As if I didn’t have enough to read already, I vowed to track down as many of the ones that interested me as possible. This book, The Moving Toyshop, is one of them.

Struggling poet Richard Cadogan has just arrived in Oxford for what he hopes will be a relaxing holiday. However, things don’t quite go to plan when he discovers the dead body of an old woman in a small toyshop. Before he can do anything about it, he’s knocked out and when he comes round and tries to find the toyshop again, he finds that it has disappeared and been replaced by a grocers. The police think he’s mad, so he calls upon his old friend and Oxford professor Gervase Fen to get to the bottom of the mystery.

As the two tear about Oxford on the hunt for clues, they encounter a series of people all of whom help them get closer to understanding what has happened, but when the whole thing takes a quick turn and it seems the solution is pinned on a series of comic limericks, Cadogan and Fen have their work cut out for them.

Had Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse ever collaborated on a novel, it would have looked something like this. The mystery itself is crisp and smart, with the suspects lining up for us to interrogate, sometimes giving us no help at all but at other times solving one aspect of the puzzle only to lead to more questions. Some of them are even killed before they can finish their stories. Painting a beautiful picture of a mid-war university city, the writing is genuinely funny and the characters very enjoyable.

There’s something a little meta about it too, and at one point Fen begins listing off possible titles for the adventure, even noting they are for Crispin to choose from. This is never explained, but it’s quite fun to have a character who seems to realise he’s in a book, even if that doesn’t give him any advantages to unravelling his plot. At another point, Cadogan insists that they take the crime to the police because he is infuriated by books when the main characters don’t involve them in what is clearly a police matter. Unfortunately for him, the plot gets in the way and the police must be left out of it. Crispin knows his tropes and is happy to mess around with them.

A swift and pleasant read, and evidence enough that hunting down these forgotten books is not going to be for nought.

Looking for something to do while you wait for the world to return to normal? My new book, Questioning Your Sanity, is a quiz book containing over seven hundred questions and extra trivia on every page. It’s ideal for anyone missing their regular pub quiz, or anyone who wants to brush up on their general knowledge and check their mind hasn’t entirely gone during lockdown. It would also make a great stocking filler for the trivia junkie in your life. Available in paperback or for Kindle now.

 

“The Penguin Killer” by Ste Sharp (2020)

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“I could tell he was a copper by the way he leaned on my desk.”

Wait, come back! I haven’t picked up a book about how to murder Antarctic birds! In this case, the penguin of the title is the publishing house. Ste Sharp has used their distinctive covers to bring this murder mystery to life.

It’s the summer of 1995, the height of Britpop, and while Blur and Oasis battle it out in the charts for the number one spot, twenty-one-year-old Luke Redfern is running his grandfather’s second hand bookshop in Brighton. Unsure what he really wants to do with his life, which for now mostly is filled with work, weed and playing with his band, Luke finds that life doesn’t always wait for you to be ready. Detective Sergeant Mellor has descended on Red Books with some news. There is a serial killer on the loose in Brighton, and at every crime scene a Penguin book is left behind. Luke finds himself implicated when it turns out all of the books contain the distinctive mark that proves they were bought from his shop.

When the killer strikes again, Luke is determined that his grandfather’s shop and name will not be embroiled in something so nasty, and sets out to solve the puzzle. He’s distracted, however, by DS Mellor’s duplicity and lack of cooperation, not to mention the beautiful Lisa, a psychology major who wants to spend her summer with Luke before she goes off travelling. When the murderer begins closing in on Luke and the people he knows, however, time seems to be running out…

The trick with crime fiction is to get you hooked immediately so you care about the characters and want to find out the answers to the mystery, and Sharp certainly manages that. I’ve only read his science fiction before, but it was great to see that he can work in more than one genre with apparent ease. Unusually for a murder mystery, there is very little emphasis on who the victims actually are, rather we focus on the killer’s intent and method. Sharp sets up several possible killers – and I even found myself suspecting some that aren’t specifically foreshadowed as such – and as with all good murder mysteries, the thrill comes from trying to piece together the clues in the right way. Although I know nothing about music (one of the running themes of the novel) I am local to Brighton and love books, so those aspects were really good fun.

There’s a subplot regarding a second, far less dangerous, crime spree which feels somewhat unnecessary but nonetheless fun, although it never quite gets the resolution that I would have hoped for. I think, however, that this is intended to be the first in a series, so with any luck we’ll get some more answers there somewhere down the line. That aside, the novel is ingenious, in places quite subtle, and above all good fun. I’d be interested to see where the story goes from here.

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!

“Murder Most Unladylike” by Robin Stevens (2014)

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“This is the first murder that the Wells & Wong Detective Agency has ever investigated, so it was a good thing Daisy bought me a new casebook.”

There’s always someone ready to come along and give a new twist on a genre or subject, and it’s even better if they do it without stepping on the toes of anything that’s come before. Sometimes all you need to do is simply change the location and the main characters. What happens if you take the novels of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, substitute the old country house for a boarding school and the world-weary detectives for a couple of nosy schoolgirls? You end up with Murder Most Unladylike.

It’s 1934, and Deepdean School for Girls has just been blessed with its first ever Detective Society, set up by Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong. Daisy has become obsessed with detective fiction over the last summer, and has brought back titles like Peril at End House and Whose Body? back to school with her to get the others interested too. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to investigate at school, unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie.

But then Hazel discovers the body of Miss Bell, the science mistress. There’s no question that she’s dead, and by the time Hazel has found Daisy and got help, she returns to find that the body has gone. While the rumour spreads around the school that Hazel has lied about a suspicious death, it seems only Daisy is willing to believe her. The Detective Society finally has a case, but not only do they have to work out who killed Miss Bell and why, they also have to prove a murder happened in the first place.

This book feels like what happens if you were to blend Agatha Christie with Louise Rennison, although Georgia Nicholson would have spent maybe too much time perfecting her eyelashes to solve the actual crime. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong form a dynamic duo, and the relationship is set up very much like that of Holmes and Watson, with Hazel as the sidekick writing the case up. This isn’t accidental, of course, with some references being made to this partnership in the text. Hazel is eminently likeable, however, and a good narrator. Daisy, like Holmes himself, gets my back up more, but her conniving nature and intelligence never quite managed to fall apart narratively. She works in the universe, as there are some girls for whom boarding school becomes their playground. Like with the Harry Potter series, the fact that it’s set in a boarding school is pivotal, as so much exploration has to happen at night.

The school setting also allows for certain limitations which make the story engaging, because quite rightly there is no way the students can interview the teachers as suspects, or be allowed to explore private offices. Instead, they use the system for their benefit. For example, when they want to worry a suspect into confessing, Daisy has the girls in their dorm use a ouija board one evening, through which they “contact” Miss Bell who “tells” them that she was murdered. This is enough to ensure the rumour and gossip is known by everyone in the school the next day.

The writing is sharp, and at no point does it really feel like an adult writing the story, which is a compliment to Robin Stevens for sure. She is able to inhabit the teenage girl’s mindset perfectly, particularly one being raised in the 1930s and coming from Hong Kong to live in England. The book also has to be given credit for diversifying the world that Christie, Marsh, Sayers and the rest had built. Hazel Wong is not originally English and faces some prejudice from some small-minded students, but is generally well-liked, and there are at least four characters who are not entirely heterosexual, although this is never dealt with head on. Then again, that works too, as a teenage girl writing in the 1930s would perhaps not have the mindset or even vocabulary to be able to discuss it. Also, who does want to write about their teachers’ private lives in that way?

An interesting, fun twist on the murder mystery genre, and I sense I’ll be continuing the series at some point. However, it does make one wonder how many suspicious deaths one school can have before it gets closed for good…

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!

“Murder On The Orient Express” by Agatha Christie (1934)

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“It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria.”

There are certain books that are truly iconic in their genre. The Lord of the Rings stands out above all others in fantasy. Misery lords it over the other thrillers. Dune sails high above the rest of science fiction. When it comes to murder mysteries, however, there are few titles better known than Murder on the Orient Express.

The world famous Orient Express is regarded as one of the most luxurious trains in the world. Taking passengers of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds across Europe, it is the last word in quality. Hercule Poirot finds himself returning from Syria to England and aboard a surprisingly packed train, which, shortly after midnight one night on its journey, gets halted by a snowdrift. And then things go from bad to worse – Simon Ratchett, the American millionaire who the night before approached Poirot with a theory that someone was out to get him, has been found dead in his compartment. The door was locked from the inside and he’s been stabbed multiple times. And due to the lack of tracks in the snow, this can only mean one thing: the murderer is still on the train.

Poirot is rapidly hired by the train’s staff to work out who killed Ratchett and why, and as he interviews the passengers he finds himself dealing with endless contradictory explanations. It seems there’s almost too much evidence to be had. Someone is lying, but who, and why, and will justice finally be served?

Even though the solution is now quite well known and, like several of Christie’s stories, something of an open secret, I won’t be sharing it here. It is, however, ingenious and is one of her novels that changed everything about murder mysteries again. Because of the large number of suspects, the book is surprisingly methodical, divided into three parts – the facts, the evidence and the solution. Each character gets a chapter in the second section to explain who they are, what they were doing at the time of the murder, and why they’re travelling. The evidence is all there and, if you’re paying attention, you can solve it quite early on, but some of the finer points might still elude you.

Not only is the solution ingenious, but the way it is handled is wonderful too. Poirot is someone who always wants to see justice done, and here he does that admirably, although it’s impossible to say much more for the few people who haven’t yet read it and don’t want to be spoiled. It still ranks much higher in my head than the film, although my problems with the film were nothing to do with the plot, and more to do with Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot. Perhaps still Christie’s most logical novel, laying out all the evidence piece by piece, it is a masterclass in how to deceive, although I’m certain people at the time – and still now – consider bits of it to be “cheating”. I happen to disagree.

As close to perfection as you’ll get in the genre.

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!

“Unnatural Causes” by Dr Richard Shepherd (2018)

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unnatural“Clouds ahead.”

Death comes to us all. It is the great equaliser. Cultures all deal with death in different ways, but generally the deceased are treated with absolute respect. In many cases, this also means ensuring that if the death wasn’t natural, we do our best to deliver justice. That is where the world of forensic pathology comes into play, and Dr Richard Shepherd is one of the best.

In this staggering memoir, Shepherd explores his career at the forefront of the morgue, with over 23,000 autopsies to his name. He has taken on the mantel of a detective, using his expertise to work out how all those who come before him have died. In his time, he has dealt with serial killers, freakish accidents and natural disasters, been pivotal in some of the most important and famous cases of the last forty years, and has freed the innocent, jailed the guilty, and turned whole cases upside down. All of it, however, has come at an enormous personal cost.

So, first up, this certainly isn’t for everyone. Shepherd does not gloss over much of his work, so there are a lot of details about the process of death, what dead bodies look and feel like, what happens to us after we die, and what illness really does to the human body. He is also frequently involved in cases that feature infant mortality, which are not the easiest things to read. That said, it’s nonetheless a fascinating insight into the world of pathology.

I’ve often contemplated the notion that, in another timeline where I did all my education differently, I may have ended up doing something about death. It’s important work, and at least you know (however morbid this sounds) you’re not going to run out of it. I find the whole thing really interesting, and the book is very engrossing, allowing you to stand at Shepherd’s shoulder as he dissects the deceased. He has been involved in some big cases including the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the aftermath of 9/11, the Marchioness disaster, and was even instrumental when the case behind the death of Princess Diana was reopened years after her death. It is quite something to read about these cases from someone who was there.

A stunning, candid and impressive memoir.

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!

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” by Douglas Adams (1987)

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“This time there would be no witnesses.”

I’m an enormous fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It’s probably the best series in the world about an Englishman travelling the universe in his dressing gown. Somehow, though, I had entirely bypassed Douglas Adams’s other series about holistic detective Dirk Gently. I did watch the Netflix series a couple of years ago which, it turns out, bears absolutely no relation to the novel, but I thought it was time to finally fall into a new world.

Richard MacDuff is attending a dinner at his old Cambridge college, where his ancient tutor Professor Chronotis performs a staggering magic trick that leaves everyone else confused. Richard’s boss, software mogul Gordon Way, has just been shot while driving home and is finding his new status as a ghost rather inconvenient. Gordon’s sister (and Richard’s girlfriend) Susan has grown tired of listening to her brother’s long-winded voicemails and waiting for Richard to take her out to dinner, and so instead goes on a date with Michael Wenton-Weakes. On another planet, an Electric Monk and his horse find a door to Earth, leaving the horse stranded in a bathroom and the Monk trying to work out what he’s doing there.

And among all of this, there’s Dirk Gently, the holistic detective who believes in the interconnectedness of all things. If everything is truly linked, then what does all of this have to do with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a dead cat, and pizza?

It comes as little surprise that many aspects of the novel come from a Doctor Who story that was written by Douglas Adams but never completed or aired. The time travel element in particular is key here, but it seems that some of the characters, including Professor Chronotis, have been lifted entirely from one story to the other. Like a really good episode of Doctor Who, it pings around the timeline, deals with paradoxes, is steeped in clever jokes, and leaves you feeling satisfied at the end. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted before, Doctor Who as a concept doesn’t always work in a novelisation. It’s something that seems to work best on screen. Similarly, while the Dirk Gently series worked on TV (even though the story is entirely different and the only thing the two have in common is a desire to believe in the interconnectedness of all things and the main character’s name), somehow is lacking on the page.

Adams also uses it as an excuse to share his love of computers. Notable for being the first person in the UK to buy a Macintosh computer, Adams was fascinated by technology and one of the first people to really get excited about the Internet. It’s a crying shame that he never lived to see the invention of smartphones, tablet computers and the true potential of the Internet – he would’ve loved it. Although he’s also famous for hating writing, you also get the impression he loves creating, as he’s got some interesting stuff in here, and is having to do the most remarkable back flips to ensure that everything truly is connected.

It all makes sense by the end (well, as much as anything Adams did ever made sense) and I’m a little curious to continue, although I’d advise a hard hat and not to read while imbibing alcohol.

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!

“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!

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