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Crooked House, by Agatha Christie

Happy November, readers!

Around Halloween, I usually like to treat myself to a novel by “The Queen of Crime,” Agatha Christie.  This year, I chose Crooked House.  This is one of her stand-alone books, without any recurring characters.  This book has the great supporting cast of well-drawn characters and surprising plot twists that we all expect from an Agatha Christie novel.  And I’m especially glad I read it, because I just found out that they are making it into a film!

The narrator, Charles Hayward, returns from WWII and wants to propose to Sophia Leonides.  Unfortunately, Sophia’s wealthy grandfather has just been murdered, and her whole dysfunctional family has fallen under suspicion.  Sophia is afraid that her family’s newfound notoriety will damage Charles’s diplomatic career, so she says she will not marry him unless her grandfather’s murderer is found.

It just so happens that Charles’s father is an Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, who suggests his son use his connection to the family to help them solve the murder.  Everyone at Three Gables, the crooked house from the title, had means and motive, and (as usual-this is an Agatha Christie novel) they all seem to be hiding something.  I won’t say anything about the ending, but the last few plot twists are especially good!  I was really surprised by this one!

As usual, I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.  But hurry up and read it before the movie comes out!  I’d say this one gets four and a half stars.  It’s not quite up there with favorites like Orient Express, but it’s a great book!  ★★★★1/2

P.S. Here’s a fun fact: the first publication of Crooked House in the US was a condensed version of the novel featured in the October 1948 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.



The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I recently finished a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.  I have been reading them one by one over the past several months.  I don’t often read short stories, but I found it difficult to read mystery novels during grad school-they were either too tempting to finish and distracted me from my work or, if I stayed focused on my studies, I would take too long to read them and forget key details.  I also find a nice short story is a good way to cleanse my palate as a reader.  I definitely got so caught up in Brideshead Revisited that I had a bit of a “book hangover” this weekend.

The Sherlock Holmes stories are classics for a reason.  Holmes is an extremely memorable detective, and the approach to solving cases sets the stories apart from other mysteries.  Conan Doyle’s use of small, seemingly insignificant details as clues makes for very interesting reading, however it also makes the mystery very difficult to solve for a modern reader.  And yet, these stories are definitely “puzzle mysteries”-the emphasis is on logic and there is very little character development.  (Not that Holmes’s character needs to be developed.)  Personally, I don’t mind not being able to predict an ending, and I really enjoyed seeing how each solution worked out.

My one criticism of this book is that there is not a consistent level of quality from one story to the next.  “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Speckled Band” are excellent, intriguing stories, but others just weren’t as interesting to me.  I was interested to note that which stories were interesting had nothing to do with the type of crime being investigated.  (I think Mr. Holmes would agree.)

I would recommend this book to anyone remotely interested in mysteries.  The Sherlock Holmes stories were and continue to be hugely influential within that genre.  This book is also great for a busy reader-the stories stand alone and can be read in one sitting.  Although some of the stories in this book are definitely worth five stars, I give the book as a whole four stars.  I read this book on my Kindle, because it cost only 99 cents, but you can find a variety of formats here.



The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie

We had some severe weather in the DC area yesterday, and a thunderstorm just makes reading a mystery novel that much more fun.  I was on the edge of my seat most of the evening as I finished The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie.  This is the earliest novel to feature Tommy and Tuppence.  For some reason, these recurring characters are less well-known than Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  I’m really not sure why.  Personally, I think they should get some more recognition.

Tommy and Tuppence are two young friends having trouble finding work after the war (this would be WWI).  They decide to form “The Young Adventurers, Ltd” and advertise in the newspaper for work.  Tuppence is offered a job impersonating another young woman.  Some background research reveals that this young woman disappeared under mysterious circumstances while carrying crucial intelligence documents, and soon Tuppence and Tommy are attempting to help the British Secret Service and an American millionaire find the missing girl and recover the lost documents.

Tuppence is confident, intuitive, and impulsive.  Tommy is calm and thoughtful.  The two of them together make an excellent detective team, and the dialogue Christie wrote for the two of them helps to give their books a lighter, faster pace.  The juxtaposition of the two very different characters also seems to speed up the pace.  Tuppence tends to jump right into situations, which by a series of coincidences and good luck provides the team with a lot of clues.  Tommy doesn’t move as quickly, but he is good at combining those clues into a well-thought-out plan or conclusion.  The character dynamic works very well.

This novel is characteristic of Agatha Christie’s other work in that it contains a lot of plot twists and a surprising ending.  I will say (just to brag) that I did suspect the villain early in the novel.  Of course, then I got thrown off by a red herring and suspected the wrong person for the rest of the book.  The novel is told from the perspective of several characters, which leads to quick changes of scene because the characters travel to a number of locations, together and separately, during the novel.  The premise is a good one, and although the first two chapters contain some fairly large coincidences, the rest of the plot unfolds very logically.  If you’re the type of reader that is trying to figure out the ending ahead of the detectives, you do technically have all the clues you need.  Let me know if you have better luck than I did!

I would recommend this book to any fan of Agatha Christie.  If you’re not familiar with Tommy and Tuppence, this is the one to start with.  I would also recommend it to anyone that enjoys The Thin Man movies; the witty dialogue will make Tommy and Tuppence remind you of a British Nick and Nora.  Finally, if you are looking for a good mystery to read during these end-of-summer thunderstorms, this one is a great choice!  I give it five stars, because it was just about impossible to put down.


Soulless by Gail Carriger

Hello again.  It’s Elizabeth.  I’m finally finished with school and moving.  Now I can finally share my review of Soulless, the first book in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series.

When I finish midterms or finals, I like to recover with a nice book.  Since my head is usually aching from all of the nonfiction I have crammed into it over the last few weeks, I like to choose something light to read.  On the other hand, since I’ve just crammed that much knowledge into my head, a dumbed-down read is definitely not going to cut it.  Recently, I’ve been turning to a few historical fiction authors for books that are a great mix of light entertainment and interesting historical detail.

My newest discovery is Gail Carriger.  I first heard about her Parasol Protectorate series when Mur Lafferty interviewed her for the “I Should Be Writing” podcast a few years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read her book ever since.  I finally read the first book this summer, right after finishing my Russian midterms.  These books are slightly different than the historical novels I usually read, since they include elements of urban fantasy, and steampunk.  I thought it made for a fun change!

The heroine of the novel is Alexia Tarabotti, a Victorian-era spinster with a supernatural secret: she does not have a soul.  This gives her the ability to neutralize supernatural beings; physical contact with her makes them temporarily human again.  This secret is known only to a few people in the British government, since Alexia’s abilities can make her a threat to vampires and werewolves, as well as an object of interest to scientists.

One of those people is Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey, Alpha of the London werewolf pack, and head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry.  Alexia would like to work for BUR, but her gender and social standing prevent this.  Alexia and Lord Maccon have a history of not getting along, but a common agenda forces them to work together, and soon the sparks are flying.

Ms. Carriger has done an excellent job with her characters, and I really enjoyed the humor in her books.  What stands out the most is the setting, or world, that her novels take place in.  She has successfully mixed several different styles to create a world that is very original and enjoyable.  I would recommend this book to someone who is looking for something a little different.  If you like historical fiction or mysteries, this will be a fun book to try.  If you are a fan of British period dramas on the BBC or steampunk, then I am sure you will love this novel.  I am giving this novel four stars, because I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series!