Book 10: The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side by Agatha Christie

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I’ve finally finished reading another book! It must be the Easter holidays! Joking aside, I’m shocked that I haven’t read a book to the end since February. Luckily, I’ve finished off two that have been on the go since then, and read a third, in the space of one weekend! They were all Agatha Christie related.

So, first up, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. This has one of my favourite titles of a Christie. It refers to The Lady of Shalott, a poem by Tennyson that my mum used to read us because it was King Arthur and Camelot related and we were very into that at the time. As a title, I think I only prefer Why Didn’t they Ask Evans? as far as Dame Agatha’s titles themselves go. [Although, on reflection there are a lot of good ones, for example Sparkling Cyanide, Towards Zero, Ordeal by Innocence, Dead Man’s Folly, Crooked House.]

Anyway, the downside is that Miss Marple is the star of this book. As any followers will know, I am Team Poirot, if there is such a thing. Miss Marple usually annoys me with her old busybody ways. Somehow I ended up quite liking her in this one, but I was mainly drawn in by the plot, which didn’t involve her much. Basically, a vaguely irritating but good person drops dead at a party. Poisoned. (Of course!) Lots of people were there, but it’s hard to find a suspect. In fact, the police believe that the film star actress whose party it was must have been the target. After all, the poison was in her drink that she gave to the victim.

I don’t wish to include spoilers, so let’s move on. Marple investigates from her armchair, fed information by Superintendant Craddock. After much to-ing and fro-ing and more deaths, she comes to a conclusion first. After the juicy nature of the plot, I was somewhat let down by the abruptness and lack of direction in the ending. However, overall this was a good book, a great read and a whodunit that I wasn’t able to solve!

I give The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side 7/10.

Next up, Spiders Web, adapted by Charles Osborne from Agatha Christie’s play.

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Book 9: Nerve by Dick Francis

My second Dick Francis of the year! [She said, hoping no-one had noticed her month long absence when she had resolved to post fortnightly.]

I read this straight after The Woman in White so you will have to excuse me if this is less than detailed.

Nerve was Dick Francis’ second novel about horse racing and crime. It’s very different from the first, which you can read about on my blog, here. This time, a jinx seems to falling on the jockeys. Nerve kicks off with one of them killing himself (gun to the head) in the middle of the show ring. Rob (our hero) blames the immense pressure on him and the fact he was going to lose his job. But even worse is to come. A leg break leads Rob to get some better rides than usual. Meanwhile, another of his friends is sacked for being late in freak circumstances, and another jockey suffers a mental breakdown.

For Rob, everything is going well, until his horses start to lose. All the time. Everyone says he’s lost his nerve. He investigates, and finds an interesting culprit. The ending is interestingly played out. My only problem with the story is that Rob is hopelessly in love with his cousin. I’m not sure why Francis chose this subplot but I found it rather weird.

Overall though, a very gripping, read in one sitting, type of book. I give Nerve 7/10.

Reading has taken a backseat to work of late, so I’ll return when I have read something else!

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Book 8: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I’m very excited to announce that I am one step closer to achieving the most challenging of my New Years book resolutions. I’ve read 1/4 of the huge classic novels I hope to read this year by demolishing Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. I say demolished, because I thought it would take me weeks and I would find it hard going, but not a bit of it! I’ve read it in under a week, all 620+ pages of it.

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This is the beautiful edition I read, a Christmas gift from my mum. I had spare time to read this week because I’ve been home with a chest infection. So, on Tuesday I was bored, and my mum challenged me by saying “I bet you won’t read The Woman in White“. Reader: I did.

Now, having spent time on and off for five days reading this classic Victorian ‘Sensation novel’, I’m so glad I picked it up. It provided a fantastic amount of entertainment and at times the suspense was unbearable.

Having also read The Moonstone several years ago, I think the thing I like about Collins’ writing is also what sometimes frustrates me and gets me a bit (very temporarily) fed up. I love switching narrators, but he does tend to stick with a narrator until I’m devastated to part company with them, then brings me a different narrator I get into, then snatches them away too. Anyway, the suspense in the middle: wow, this author knows how to ramp it up. At times I was afraid for his characters. At the end I was almost elated for them.

The villains. I can’t leave a review of The Woman in White without mentioning first how dastardly and evil some of the villains of this piece are. I leave you to find out who they are for yourself, lest I spoil it, but suffice it to say they make some villains look positively lovely.

In case I haven’t gushed enough already, as you can tell, I was absolutely hooked by this book. From start to finish I was gripped, my attention only waning once or twice which is amazing in a book of more than 600 pages. I’m pleased to have read it, and enjoyed the various personalities, twists and suspenses throughout.

I would give The Woman in White at least 8/10.

Book 7: Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson

A cheap acquisition in a library book sale, I bought this even though the book by Thompson that I long to read is actually The Killer Inside Me.

That aside, I enjoyed Pop. 1280. The title refers to the county over which Sheriff Nick Corey presides. It is a very small county in the American South. Written in the 60s, its author is famed for the book I mentioned earlier, and wrote a great deal of ‘pulp fiction’. Anyway, the aforementioned sheriff is a seemingly decent man. He’s the narrator, so that’s what he would have us believe! In places his narration really makes me smile, but boy is he a corrupt, messed up character deep down. In short, He starts doing some very bad things.

This is a very strange book. I felt it was getting really juicy and grim, and then it tailed off. I was left a bit disappointed by the ending. However, I will continue to search for more of Jim Thompson’s books. I liked his gritty, tongue in cheek, brutal at times, style of writing.

I give Pop. 1280 7/10.

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Book 6: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Well, let’s get a confession out of the way first: this was not a re-read. That’s right, at approaching 30 years of age, I had never read this classic of literature set in the American South. I have now.

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I was gripped by Harper Lee’s prose. I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly why, but I was! Scout is such a good main character. Told through her eyes, she makes you care about her family and her neighbours in her sleepy village. Although you could say not a lot happens, and the story encompasses several years, it was enjoyable nonetheless. I think I might have enjoyed it the way I enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie books in my childhood, though they are hugely different. I also love all the names: Boo Radley, Atticus Finch, Jem and Dill, to name but a few!

In conclusion then, this is a well written story, that in my opinion completely deserves the classic label. If, like me, you’ve left it this long to pick it up, I urge you to waste no more time and try it now.

I give To Kill A Mockingbird 8/10. Next up, a little known crime/ pulp fiction book by Jim Thompson Pop. 1280.

Book 5: The Never List by Koethi Zan

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Ok, I admit it, this book isn’t from my endless list of books I own but haven’t read. I bought it at the weekend, but I did use a voucher so technically it was free?!

The Never List is a book I’d never heard of, and I chose it on a whim. It didn’t disappoint, although I did feel the ending lacked a little something. Also, if there was meant to be a twist in the tale, I saw it coming almost from the first few pages. Despite this, it was a gripping debut novel. As a thriller it didn’t let you down and it was fast paced enough to keep you reading. So much so that I read it in one go, right into the night.

Did this book scare me? No, but it certainly made me uncomfortable and jumpy whilst I read it. Did it need to be compared to Gone Girl on the cover? No, but at least that might make more people read it. Do not read it if you’re looking for similar to that book though. It isn’t similar and it is far better in my opinion. It is certainly better written and constructed and has a more interesting storyline. More importantly, you can actually like the main character.

I give The Never List 7/10 and I’m deliberately giving nothing away about the plot so that thriller readers will go out and read!

Book 4: Dead Cert by Dick Francis

This is Dick Francis’ first of many novels, and the first I’ve read. In the summer, my mum bought me this 40th anniversary edition in a charity shop.

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Now, if you plan to start to read this book, clear your diary. It is that good. Dick Francis sets his books in the world of horse racing that he was so familiar with from his days as a jockey. If you’re not that interested on jockeys, horses and racing, do not let that stop you reading this gem of a book. I’m not keen on any of those three either (though I have nothing against them), but the way Dick Francis writes just makes you have to keep reading.

It’s a murder mystery, with a dead jockey, who most people think just died in a fall. His friend Alan York knows differently because he saw a wire bring down the dead cert horse, killing the rider. More deaths eventually ensue and Alan both falls in love and puts himself in terrible danger investigating. I could not put this down.

In summary, Dead Cert is gripping and very readable. You believe in the characters and desperately want them to stay alive. I would give this book 8/10 for sheer readability.