Friday Book Whimsy: Closed Casket

I vowed I wasn’t going to read any more of the books that continue the story of Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I was enormously disappointed in author Sophie Hannah’s first effort, The Monogram Murders, which I reviewed in 2016. Still, I am such an enormous fan of the Poirot mysteries that I finally caved and read the second in the series — Closed Casket.

Once again, the book features Hercule Poirot along with his sidekick, a Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool. Rather than writing it as a sequel — fans will recall that Christie famously killed off the detective in her final installment called Curtain — the series takes place prior to Christies’ books — a prequel of sorts.

In this novel, Poirot and Catchpool are invited to the home of a famous children’s book writer named Lady Athelinda Playford, and neither can figure out why they were included. Perhaps she expects a murder to take place? At least that’s what Poirot speculates.

At dinner, things become a bit clearer. The rich woman announces that she has changed her will to exclude her two grown children, a daughter and a son. This comes as a unfortunate surprise to the two children. They are further shocked to learn that she is leaving her fortune to her secretary. Joseph Scotcher has worked for Lady Playford for a number of years. What is particularly confusing about the change in beneficiary is that Mr. Scotcher has been diagnosed with Bright’s disease and has only weeks to live.

Why oh why would she leave money to a person who she will almost certainly outlive? Before the day is over, he is found dead in the parlor by Scotcher’s fiance who insists she witnesses the daughter beating him to death. However, it is impossible for her to be in two places at once, isn’t it?

Hannah’s second effort was decidedly better than her first. Nevertheless, the bar is set pretty high. The two detectives seem to stumble and bumble more than Poirot ever did under Christie’s pen. Poirot misses clues that even I got.

Still, it’s nice to have my old friend Poirot back, even if he isn’t in his finest form.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders, by author Anthony Horowitz, is a refreshing break from many mystery novels with predictable plots and authors that try just a bit too hard to give the reader a surprise ending. Horowitz is the creator and writer of one of my favorite British television crime dramas Foyle’s War, so I was very excited to see what he had up his sleeve with the unusual format of this novel.

Magpie Murders actually gives the readers two separate mysteries to ponder – a mystery within a mystery, so to speak.

Editor Susan Ryeland is given a copy of the manuscript of author Alan Conway’s latest novel featuring his famed detective Atticus Pund. Pund is very much like Agatha Christie’s famed detective Hercule Poirot, spending his time solving mysteries in little English villages, providing his readers with hints and red herrings galore. Since Ryeland has been Conway’s editor from the get-go, she is used to his formula; however, the more she reads, the more she thinks Conway is giving the reader a mystery within a mystery.

She continues to read, but just as Pund is getting ready to gather the suspects together to identify the killer, the story stops. Whaaaaat? The last chapter is missing. Why did Alan Conway not finish the book, but turn it in to his editor anyway shortly before he commits suicide?

Despite being ordered by her boss to leave it well enough alone, Ryeland begins trying to figure out why Conway would end the story in this manner. As you follow along with Ryeland, can you figure out what’s going on?

What I liked best about this book is that in the first chapter, Ryeland sits down with a cup of tea and hours of time and begins to read the manuscript. And then the book is presented to the readers of Magpie Murders just as Ryeland is reading it. And the Pund novel is a fun romp, very reminiscent of Agatha Christie. Manor houses, murders, mysterious guests. If that had been the entire book, I would still be giving it a good review.

But it isn’t. Because suddenly, the book ends, and the second mystery begins. It was so much fun (if you can call murder and suicide fun).

This really is a must-read for lovers of good mysteries with challenging endings, and definitely a must-read for Agatha Christie fans. As for me, I’m on the lookout for other books by this author.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Woman in Cabin 10

imgresMurder on a cruise ship. It sounds very Agatha Christie, doesn’t it? All it needs is a small Belgian detective using his little gray cells to solve the mystery. Except about the only similarity between Agatha Christie and author Ruth Ware is their British background.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is Ware’s second novel. Her first, In a Dark, Dark Wood, (which I reviewed here) was a psychological thriller that took place in an all-glass house deep in the woods somewhere in England. Her second, The Woman in Cabin 10, is another psychological thriller, this one taking place on a cruise ship.

In fact, for the most part, The Woman in Cabin 10 is simply The Girl on a Train, except on a cruise ship. I found myself alternately at the edge of my seat because of gripping tension, or screaming out loud, “Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t have another drink!”

I found the book frustrating.

Laura Blacklock (called Lo) is a writer for a London magazine. Circumstances result in her getting a coveted assignment – reporting on the inaugural cruise of a very fancy schmancy small cruise ship on some rich-and-famous people will be traveling. This is her BIG CHANCE. DON’T. SCREW. IT. UP.

Unfortunately, at the very beginning of the book (and shortly before she leaves on this business cruise), Lo’s apartment is burgled while she is home. The burglar, though he has a gun, does not kill her, but instead leaves with some of her belongings. The incident shakes her up so much that she pretty much is a wreck for the rest of the book.

Already freaked out because of her own personal incident, the very first night on the cruise ship, she borrows some makeup from the woman in the next room, and later on witnesses a body being thrown overboard from that same room.

Well, it turns out no one else has seen that particular woman – EVER – and no one else heard a body being thrown overboard. And since Lo has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder for which she takes antidepressants, and since she is already freaked out by her own scare prior to leaving, no one believes her.

So what does she do? She drinks too much, takes too many prescription medications, and tries to solve the mystery herself.

The main problem with the story, at least in my opinion, is that the character of Lo Blacklock is so inherently dislikable. I wanted to not believe her myself. She seems to be paralyzed with fear – something that might be realistic, but doesn’t make for a very interesting novel. And I seriously got so very tired of her being drunk and overmedicated. Just say no to drugs, Lo.

And yet, just as with Ware’s first novel, the writing is quite good. Good enough, in fact, that I continued to read. And while the ending didn’t blow me away with surprise, I found it to be fairly satisfying and somewhat unpredictable.

Overall, I can recommend this book for people who like thrillers such as The Girl on the Train. Just be prepared to understand that this novel, readers, is not the next The Girl on the Train, as hard as the author might try and as strongly as the publishers might try to sell the idea that it is.

Here is link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: Agatha Christie’s The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery

imgresThe newest thing seems to be authors taking over the writing of popular mystery series after the original author dies. Ace Atkins continued Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. More recently author Kyle Mills continued the iconic Mitch Rapp series originated by the late Vince Flynn. It is my understanding that these authors have continued the series with the deceased author’s family’s permission.

I wasn’t aware, however, that there was a new Hercule Poirot book. SERIOUSLY?????

I was amused to find out very recently about Sophie Hannah’s new addition to mystery writer extraordinaire Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series. The reason for my amusement was that it has been said that by the later books, Christie was sick and tired of the somewhat annoying little Belgian detective. She is to have said “he was a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.

But he was a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep who I absolutely ADORED. As did many others. So I shouldn’t have been surprise to see this addition.

Since Christie famously killed off the detective in her final Poirot offering Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, I wasn’t sure how Hannah was going to handle the new Poirot mystery. As it turns out, it is not subsequent to Curtain. Instead, it is just folded into his earlier life.

Hercule Poirot as portrayed by David Suchet in the wonderful PBS long-running series.

Hercule Poirot as portrayed by David Suchet in the wonderful PBS long-running series.

I was excited when I first began reading The Monogram Murders, though slightly apprehensive about another author besides Christie presenting Poirot, both in his appearance and actions, and by how the mystery would unfold. As much as I read mysteries, I admit I was rarely able to figure out the murderer in any of Christie’s books. Cheers to Dame Christie.

I started out optimistically, but I’m afraid I was soon disappointed. As hard as Hannah worked at presenting a reasonable imitation of the famous detective, it’s not surprising that she fell just short of success. Poirot did things in this book that he simply wouldn’t have done. It is hard to put my finger on what I mean, but if you are a fan of Poirot, you will understand. So then he was simply a detestable little creep.

Poirot has a new sidekick in this mystery, a Scotland Yard detective named Catchpool, and he is certainly no Arthur Hastings. I found him to be both unlikable and quite inept. It’s true Captain Hastings was not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but you couldn’t help but like him. Poirot and Catchpool worked together to solve the mystery of the murder of three people from the same small English village who share a dastardly secret.

I found the ending particularly unsatisfactory. One of Christie’s many strengths was that she could wrap it all up so satisfactorily, and all of the clues she sneakily placed throughout the book suddenly made sense. Hannah was not successful in this effort. The ending was frankly, terrifically confusing and chaotic. I found myself skimming the last confusing chapters because by that point I didn’t care who killed whom.

I’m thinking this might be the last attempt at adding to Hercule Poirot’s legacy.

Here is a link to the book.

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Ask the Librarian

I got my first library card when I was probably 6 or 7. Back in those days (when dinosaurs walked the earth), we didn’t learn to read until we were 6 or so. These days, kids go to kindergarten already knowing how to read. When I was in kindergarten, we learned our colors, our shapes, how to take naps on little rugs on the floor, and how to be away from our mommies. Reading didn’t come until first grade when we met Dick and Jane. See Spot run. Run Spot run.

But as soon as I was able to read, Mom took me down to get my library card. I have had a library card ever since.  And it isn’t something that just disintegrates in my billfold. I am an active library user. In fact, I am very happy because now I can have a library card from two different library systems. Look up geek in the dictionary and there I happily am!

searchWe can thank Benjamin Franklin for coming up with the concept of libraries. Apparently when he wasn’t out flying kites in lightning storms (and who thinks that is a good idea?), he was spending time in the more valuable pursuit of figuring out ways to encourage people to read.

The library in Columbus (at least when I lived there; it has since moved) was located in a big brick building downtown. You climbed up the long cement staircase, walked through the wooden doors and were greeted by an array of books that could make you cry from happiness. I literally can remember to this day how it smelled.

Off to the right was the children’s library. When I was younger, I recall I was addicted to a series of biographies about famous people of all sorts – Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Florence Nightingale, John Quincy Adams. The stories were seemingly endless.

As I got a bit older, my tastes began to gravitate towards mysteries. And heaven, sweet heaven, I discovered Agatha Christie. My life was forever changed. The library had the complete set of books written by the Queencollins-crime-club of Crime. They were hard-covered, and on the cover and the spine there was a little gun and the words  “Crime Club.” I remember this distinctly because when I was in 6th grade, I had an Agatha Christie book on my desk at school, and Sr. Amica spotted it on one of her prowls around her classroom. She held it up and pointed out to the class about the sinful book I was reading. “Crime Club!” I remember her saying as she looked at me like I was Adolf Hitler. I remember even at that young age, and even being so painfully aware of wanting people to think the best of me, thinking, “Seriously? Agatha Christie? Miss Marple?”

Sr. Amica passed away that school year, and, well, that’s all I’ll say about that.

neighborhood lending libraryI began to think about libraries because Jen sent me a picture of something she saw during one of her walks in Fort Collins. Someone built a lending library of sorts in their front yard. It is full of books, and apparently you are invited to borrow the book, bring it back when finished, donate your own books, etc. I really, really love this idea.

I have mentioned before that I have become an avid ebook reader. In fact, ebooks are literally the only way I read these days. I get them from the library if I can; if I can’t, I buy the book either from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I like that I always have a number of books at my ready. The biggest disadvantage, of course, is that most ebooks are not sharable unless you are willing to actually hand your reading device to another person. I’m not.

But if I still read paper books, I would sooooo take advantage of this enthusiastic reader’s personal lending library. In fact, I would be happy to donate some of my own books to his/her cause.

One final word about libraries. When I was in college, one of my work/study jobs was to reshelf books at Norlin Library at the University of Colorado. I would get the books reshelved in quick order, and had enough time at the end of my shift to peruse the stacks. Even a few minutes to read. It was while working at Norlin Library that I read Dracula by Bram Stoker – in 15 minute increments.

Thank you Benjamin Franklin. You deserve to be on the Hundred Dollar Bill. Libraries were one of your best ideas.