Agatha Christie and my mystery mission

This is a post about Agatha Christie and her books. Not all of you will know that her books are said to outsell all others except the Bible and Shakespeare. She wrote approximately 83 books, thirty-nine of them featuring her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, fourteen starring elderly spinster and amateur investigator Miss Marple and five about her amusing, enthusiastic, mystery-solving couple Tommy and Tuppence. I haven’t included her other novels, written as Mary Westmacott, her plays or her autobiographical works in this tally. I have included short story collections.

Of these books, I have read all of the Poirot, a feat I discuss in more detail elsewhere on this blog. For several years now I have planned to complete reading the rest. This year I hope to do so. 

In pursuit of  this quest I have read four books so far this year by the Queen of Crime. 

I started with two volumes of shorts stories: The Mysterious Mr Quin and The Listerdale Mystery. Of the two, the latter is more typical as volumes of Christie’s short stories go. The problem being that it is hard to set up a mystery, introduce a hero or heroine or adversary (or both) and have them solve the mystery in the space of only twenty or so pages. I love Agatha’s style but I definitely prefer it when she gives herself a novel to showcase her storytelling talent. Many of her short stories are simply too short, although a few in this collection were still perfectly formed and gave me good entertainment. The Mysterious Mr Quin, however, stands apart from her other volumes of short stories. 7/10. In these stories, a man named Mr Satterthwaite keeps encountering the eponymous Harley Quin. He always seems to meet him when there is some sort of mystery to be solved or some lovers to be helped. Each of these stories are carefully detailed and have lovely twists in the tales. These are unusual for Agatha Christie, but are characteristic of her great talent, and her underrated ability to turn her hand to anything.

I’ve given The Listerdale Mystery 7/10 as well. It was very light reading in places but some stories had brilliant twists. The worst of the stories was probably ‘The Manhood of Edward Robinson’. The best three (and worth checking out) were ‘Philomel Cottage’, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ and ‘Accident’.

Next, I read By the Pricking of My Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence novel. This is one of their best mysteries and has a somewhat supernatural element to it. It was such a page-turner that I read it in a day, while on holiday. I’ve been reading the Tommy and Tuppence books in chronological order: these are the only Christie books I have done this with. 7/10.

The Pale Horse also has a supernatural element to it with people dying from a distance, seemingly without explanation. I had been looking forward to this one for a while, and my copy is a first edition, given to me by my husband for. Our ‘paper’ wedding anniversary. It’s a brilliant mystery but what I expected from the premise did not completely deliver. In places it was spooky, intriguing and mysterious; in others slightly dragging and a little far-fetched. Still, it was Agatha and it was a good read. 7/10.

So, we are less than halfway through the year and I am currently reading a fifth Christie: Passenger to Frankfurt.

Only time will tell whether I complete my challenge in 2016. I still have three Miss Marple books to go: At Bertram’s Hotel, Nemesis and Miss Marple’s Final Cases; one Tommy and Tuppence: Postern of Fate; and three others: Death Comes as the End, They Came to Bagdad and While the Light Lasts. It sounds very do-able. 

My love of Agatha Christie’s brilliant body of work will go on long after all these books are finished. I’d like to think I may reread some eventually once I’ve repressed the twists and solutions a bit more. Once the challenge is complete I also intend to read Agatha’s Autobiography, the Mary Westmacott novels (which are much harder to get hold of: so far I own one out of six) and Christie’s published plays. I will keep you updated. In the meantime, if you’ve yet to pick up an Agatha Christie book, go out and get yourself a couple and settle in for a  really good time.


The blog, the challenge and the re-reading…

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here. I apologise for that, but life takes over sometimes. In the past year of writing no blog posts I have managed to read quite a bit. This is a post about my book related life in 2016 so far. I’m writing it in the hope of writing more regularly again. 

Firstly, the moment has come at last, I can finally say that I have reached the summit that was Bleak House by Charles Dickens. My first Dickens; all 932 pages of it; finished. It took me eleven months on and off and I really enjoyed it in the end. I can truthfully say that once you get past the fog and the slow set up of each and every character, it becomes so worth it. I actually laughed, I also cried real tears. If you have a spare few months or haven’t got round to this very multi-layered book yet, do read it. I recommend it. It’s all the better if you can read it in larger chunks so set aside time if possible. 

The next news is that I’ve had a huge Harry Potter revival. This was directly caused by a visit to the set of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London. My husband bought the tickets as a present for my last birthday and we spent a very happy day there in February.

Since then I have had to revisit all of the films. Now I’m revisiting all of the books. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in the series, is a great book to re-read and this was at least my third time reading it, but there were still bits left out by the film that I had forgotten. It’s so good on the page. J.K Rowling infuses so much detail to every scenario. The wizarding world looks so good in this first portrayal. Moving immediately on, the second book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets brings even more of Hogwarts to life. If you’ve only seen the films I urge you to read these books. This one in particular had me laughing out loud at various points. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban owns the honour of being my favourite of the films, but when I first read the series I preferred the fourth book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I am currently reading. This is my first reread of these two. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a brilliant read, and again I was happily immersed in details I had forgotten that the film removed or changed. More on this rereading spree in future posts. Safe to say, I recommend going on a Harry Potter binge.

We are nearly up to date. I’ve set myself targets this year of reading a book a week: 52 books. I’ve read 19 so far. A far greater challenge I have set myself is to not buy any more books at all. This is important as my unread library stands at over 200 books. I will keep you informed.

Books I have read this year include:Bleak House by Charles Dickens 8/10. Four Agatha Christie books: The Mysterious Mr Quin, The Listerdale Mystery, By the Pricking of my Thumbs and The Pale Horse; all 7/10. Three books by Dick Francis: Bolt (7/10), For Kicks (8/10) and Flying Finish (7/10). Disclaimer by Renee Knight (7/10), I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (9/10), Slam by Nick Hornby (8/10), Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (8/10), Agatha Raisin Kissing Christmas Goodbye by MC Beaton (6/10), The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (7/10), Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined by Stephenie Meyer (7 and 1/2 out of 10), Very British Problems by Rob Temple (6/10) and the first three Harry Potter books by JK Rowling. 

I will hope to tell you more about some of the above in future posts. In the meantime, happy reading everyone, whatever you might be reading at the moment.

15 books so far this year… And slowly making Bleak House progress

So as we get within touching distance of another half term a.k.a increased reading time for busy teachers, I thought I would update the world on my latest reading habits. No surprise here that Agatha Christie, Dick Francis and Sophie Hannah feature. I’ve also squeezed in a Harlan Coben book and two books about football! I finally read a book that has been big on my life for no reason other than our shared name Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass. 

 Bleak House update for you all first: I’ve read 21% of it according to Goodreads. That’s just over 200 pages and I have to say I am getting into in. Progress is slow because I have to be in the right mood to pick it up. That, and the fact that Dickens never used one word where twenty would make him happier, so some passages are rather wordy!

Now, to football, something I have rarely (if ever) mentioned on this blog but that is a huge part of my life. If you’re not a fan then skip this paragraph! As background for you, I support Blackburn Rovers, a decision I made circa 1996, when my Dad took us to Ewood park (a 500 mile round trip from our Norfolk home) for the first time to please my then Blackburn supporting little brother. In the intervening years I’ve watched them from afar and sometimes in the flesh at away games nearer me or on long treks north. It has sometimes been hard work sticking with them, but I’m in too deep now to step away. Anyway, I love football. It makes me happy as much as it makes me crushingly disappointed at times. The two football books I have read this year are both by Harry Redknapp. If you don’t know football, he’s a famous manager. Always Managing is his autobiography and my husband bought it for me for Christmas by mistake. I read it anyway and I loved it. It’s written so you can imagine Harry is talking you through it all himself. 7/10 Harry. I really enjoyed it. A Man Walks on to a Pitch is a series of anecdotes strung together by the theme of Harry’s top 11 players of each decade he has been involved in football. Not as good as Always Managing but an easy read and enjoyable.

Right, football talk finished. If you’re still reading and you like Agatha Christie but haven’t read them all then may I highly recommend Murder is Easy to you? It’s one of her stand alone whodunnits. I had great fun guessing who did it. 7/10 again. Reflex by Dick Francis is similarly a great, gripping mystery lead by a strong leading man. 8/10. Proof is by the same author and is one of the saddest I’ve read. Scrap that, it is devastating: an insight into a man’s lasting grief. Also 8/10 at least. 

I wasn’t keen on Alice’s Adventures… In all honesty, it’s a bit too random and nonsensical for me, especially the through the looking glass bit. Sophie Hannah’s Pictures or it Didn’t Happen was a quick read and enjoyable enough if a bit abrupt. Harlan Coben’s Six Years, while not his best work, was enjoyable and kept me guessing.

As for the other books on the pictured pile, I am currently reading N or M from the 1940s Agatha Christie collection. I’ve also started Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris. Tripwire could be next. I’ll keep you informed. 

Book 3: A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

My first Agatha Christie of 2014, and it’s not even the end of January yet! This is a Miss Marple mystery, with happily a very small appearance by the elderly sleuth.

A Pocket Full of Rye is one of Christie’s nursery rhyme inspired stories. When Rex Fortescue is found dead in his office, poisoned and with rye in his pocket, Inspector Neele immediately begins investigating. Within days, two more people with the household are killed. One with poison while eating bread and honey, and a maid found strangled with a peg on her nose. Around page 95, Marple pops up, thinly explaining her presence (butting in to the case if course) by saying the maid used to work for her and she wants to solve the murder. Inspector Neele lets her, and of course she pieces the puzzle together to solve the mystery.

Like Sleeping Murder, Marple appears on very few pages of this, which in my opinion is a good thing as I’m not a fan. I enjoyed the nursery rhyme link and the quick succession of murders. I thought it was relatively slow paced though and the ending disappointed me slightly.

Overall I would give A Pocket Full of Rye 6 and 3/4 out of 10. Not quite worthy of a 7 I’m afraid. If you want to read a Miss Marple novel, both Sleeping Murder and A Murder is Announced are superior.

Coming next… Dead Cert by Dick Francis.

Book 2: Poirot and Me by David Suchet


Poirot and Me was a Christmas present from my husband. I had requested it straight after watching the final episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and the accompanying documentary Being Poirot. It did not disappoint.

Let me start with a warning: Don’t read this if you’re after a really gripping exciting read. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It is a book in which Suchet, who has now played Hercule Poirot in all the adventures Agatha Christie wrote (apart from The Lemesurier Inheritance- I’m not certain why?), describes how he got the job of being Poirot. He then takes us through the twenty-five years he spent playing the Belgian detective. He also elaborates on projects he took on in between. And that is about it.

So if you love Poirot, love Agatha Christie or love David Suchet, then this book is perfect for you. If you aren’t the slightest bit interested in these three then give it a miss. Simple.

I love two of those three, and like the latter enough, so I really enjoyed this book. It has some lovely photos in it too. I give Poirot and Me 7 out of 10. Sad that there are no more Poirot books or episodes left though.

Books 47 and 48: Crooked House by Agatha Christie and Endless Night by Agatha Christie

What a surprise! After a short break from her, I went back to Christie and read these back to back. These are my last two books to review from 2013. I’m sorry to announce I fell short of 52 books last year, but only by 4. A drastic improvement on last year and the blog definitely kept me reading at times!

I read these two books because I’m trying to read a really interesting book called Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran, but sadly at the start of each chapter is a little list of solutions that get revealed in that chapter. This has meant needing to read some books so they don’t get spoilt for me. Next in line is A Pocket Full of Rye but I got a bit Christie-d out and had to have a rest after these two.

Crooked House is a fantastic book, and in an introduction to it Agatha herself says it was her favourite to write. It is a fast paced mystery with lots going for it. Interesting characters, a family puzzle, a man desperate to marry his love but held back by her refusal to do so because of a murder in the family. Of course, he feels must investigate. This book led me totally in the wrong direction, then back again. It twisted and turned a lot. An excellent, page turning read.

By contrast, Endless Night boasted one of Christie’s biggest twists, but boy was I bored. The first person narrator (normally a style I really like) went on and on, and I saw the twist coming from absolutely miles away. It had good plot points and some interesting characters but it was nothing like I had expected. Disappointed.

I give Crooked House 7.5/10 and Endless Night 6/10.

Book 42: Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie

For those of you following this blog, you will know I am a massive fan of Christie. This year I’ve read far more of her books than I intended and evolved into a huge Agatha Christie geek (at least I’m not ashamed to admit it!). Poirot was my first Christie love. I read my first of the books featuring him back in 2007 and read about 7 more of his adventures that month alone. I’ve tried Marple, and we have a bit of a love/hate relationship. This year, with only three Poirot books left to read, I seemed at times to be wandering off and trying lots of Agatha’s stand alone novels. I’ve already said this elsewhere so let me move on.

I read Curtain in a day. I couldn’t help myself. I had to read and read and read it even though I knew that by the end I would have read every Poirot book and would have none left to read. I read it into the night. I read it when my husband asked me to put the lights out with a promise that I wouldn’t be long. I could not stop. I couldn’t look away at the vital moment. I couldn’t stop while tears welled up. Yes I’m a geek. In conclusion, I ended up finished and crying in my bed at 2am for a fictional man, whose cases I’ve read on and off for 7 years. He was part of my life over those years, and we’ve been through a lot together. I was reading a Poirot when I started teacher training, when I moved to a new town and was lonely with no job but supply teaching, and I continued to read his adventures as I grew up into a teacher, bought my first house and married my husband. A lot happens in 7 years but Poirot has always been at hand. I think in part the tears were a product of that sentiment. The feeling that I had finished a massive series of books and there will never be another. But also, without giving away the plot to those who haven’t read or seen it, it’s actually a very moving ending. Hastings really does pull on your heartstrings for a fictional narrator. I must applaud Agatha Christie. She may have disliked Poirot and become annoyed with her creation, but she still writes what can only be described as a love letter to him. Trust me, the TV series, good as they made the episode, didn’t come close to the emotion here. Maybe that’s just me though, the product of a long time reading and enjoying 39 books featuring the mustachioed detective.

I give Curtain 9/10 even though it left me sad.