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.


Progress! Books 1-7 of 2015 and a big announcement!

Hi everyone and a very belated happy new year! I wrote before the turn of the year of my expectations for my upcoming year in books. I haven’t been dedicated enough to update here but things are going smoothly so far, although I may have done something to sabotage myself.

So far in 2015, I have read 7 books; a number I am quite pleased with. I’ve been enjoying using twitter to complete Borough Press’ #bookadayuk, which is great fun and reminds me of a very short version of the challenge I did on here in 2013.

My 7 books so far include three Agatha Christies, so I’m optimistic about my target of completing her complete works this year. The Moving Finger proved to be a very good read, and introduced Miss Marple extremely late on in the book, which, if you’ve read my reviews before, you know I like! Partners in Crime is a book of short stories about Agatha’s less well known detectives, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. I’m not a huge fan of Christie’s short stories usually, preferring a full on novel, but these were excellent. The writing style is easy going, and Tommy and Tuppence are a lot of fun. Destination Unknown, however, is one of Dame Agatha’s stand alone thrillers, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Where the previous book was fun, this wasn’t at all. The characters were moderately endearing and the plot was slow but ultimately interesting. So, not a complete waste of time, but quite low down my list of Christie favourites.

I’ve also read The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie by Charles Osbourne, which details all of the queen of crime’s prolific output in date order with details of her life at the time interspersed. I would only recommend this to hardcore Agatha fans, as it’s somewhat heavy going, but very enjoyable in places. Maybe one to dip into rather than read cover to cover like I did.

Making up the magnificent seven, I’ve also read one Dick Francis The Danger. It took me much longer to read than his others, but the characters were fantastic and the plot is brilliant despite being a little slower moving in places than the others I’ve read. (See Dead Cert here and Nerve here.)

Last but not least I’ve read two teen books this year. I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and The Enemy by Charlie Higson. Both were good. Both led me to look up sequels on amazon. If you only bother with one though, I’d go with The Enemy. Higson writes in a very youth friendly way, about a zombie apocalypse. Well, that’s how it seems anyway. Basically, everyone over 14 years of age got ill. Some died but many went insane and still walk the earth trying to eat the intrepid survivors, the under 14s. There’s a lot of death in this book. It’s sad but there are great action scenes and very good characterisations. I will be keeping my eyes open for the sequels when I’m buying books again. I am Number Four is not as well written, and is far more sci-fi, and much more teen friendly I would say. Number four is an alien in a teenage boy’s body, exiled from his dead planet with only a minder and a friendly dog for company. He falls in love, but the evil aliens who killed his planet are coming for him. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if I came upon the sequels in the library I would like to know how it works out for four.

I seem to have written an incredibly long post. I’m currently reading Proof by Dick Francis which is amazing. But, hold the front page for this: yesterday I went to my shelf and picked up Bleak House by Charles Dickens. “Big deal!” I hear you cry! Well, those of you who have read any of this blog will know that this particular book of mine has sat on my shelf for years, and every year I say I’m going to take the plunge into the 932 page volume and read it. Reader, I’ve started it! It may well derail my attempts to read 52 books, it may well take up every waking hour that I’m not teaching, but I’ve taken the first baby steps. I’m on chapter three! This is my first ever foray into Dickens. To those of you who warned me about the pages of fog description, I’ve made it through those and past the first appearance of Lady Deadlock. I’ll let you all know how I get on…


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 40: A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie


Back to Christie, although I admit I picked up A Murder is Announced because I was going on a train journey and the book I’d just started reading (Black Notice – see previous post) was too big to fit in my bag, especially if I was to carry it around London all day. And so, for reasons of practicality I began reading this book. I then left it for a month at least before finishing it one weekend.

What did I think of A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie? Well, I really enjoyed it. I guessed wildly and constantly throughout who had committed the crime. This was the first Christie I ever solved in my mind at any point correctly. That made me love it all the more. Although, if I am completely honest, I do think I may have seen a Marple adaptation on TV of this years ago, so maybe it isn’t such a feat after all!

Anyway, this book starts slowly but gets very gripping at the end when murder upon murder is being committed all of a sudden. A fast paced read for the most part. Marple’s contribution was good.

I give A Murder is Announced 7/10.

Now I’m up to date with my reading this year. I have three books on the go at the moment: The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell, Agatha Christie The Grand Tour edited by Mathew Prichard and Poirot’s Early Cases by Agatha Christie. I will update as soon as I’ve read any of them (if I can).

Agatha Christie madness

This is by way of a long winded apology to anyone who has stuck around long enough to read this blog. Firstly, I didn’t think I’d get so behind on posting my reading. Second, I didn’t think I’d get so behind on actually reading my target of 52 books this year, one for every week. Thirdly, I didn’t think the blog would turn into a chronicle of a reading love affair with Agatha Christie. So, I’m sorry three times!

I want to explain why Christie has taken over my reading life of late. It all started in 2006 I believe. I read my first Poirot from the library and quickly read many more in rapid succession. I’ve always liked Poirot best, and for a time exclusively looked for the books he featured in above other works by the Queen of Crime. For a couple of years now I’ve been down to my last handful of Poirot related books (although there are certainly many more Christie’s left- she wrote so many). It’s been my target for the past two years to finish all the Poirot novels and I’ve had the last few on standby. This year just three remained. They were Mrs McGinty’s Dead, Poirot’s Early Cases and Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case. I read the first earlier this year and then something strange happened. I started reading random Marple books and a lot of Agatha’s stand alone works (many of which are far more brilliant than I gave Dame Christie credit for).

I think this is a confession as well as an ode to Agatha. I don’t want to finish Poirot. Yes, there will still be the odd short story I haven’t read, plenty of stand alone whodunnits and a small pile of Miss Marple but I will miss the great mustached Belgian detective. However, I’ve set my sights on reading them this year and I’ve saved the last book for last (the rest have been read in a completely random order). The reason I’m writing this post is partly because of TV. I’ve watched various of David Suchet’s adaptations over the years and now they too are almost at an end. I’m so excited to watch Dead Man’s Folly tonight. It’s set at Agatha’s old holiday retreat Greenway, that I visited this summer and while we were there the staff spoke about the filming. So, if you’ve not tried the Poirot series yet, try it tonight for the majestic house Christie once loved, and the boathouse in which she set a key part of this story. I can’t wait to see how they’ve used the places where I stood this summer.

So here we are at the second reason why 2013 has involved a massive Agatha Christie kick. Once I knew we were going to Torquay in the summer, I found out that not only was there an Agatha Christie mile but also that there was a chance of visiting her nearby holiday home on the river Dart. Greenway is run by the National Trust now and it was brilliant to see where Christie and er family enjoyed ther holidays in Devon. Before we went I read several Christie books back to back, especially those set in the locations we would visit. I also read about Agatha’s houses in Agaths Christie at Home. When I got back I thought I would have a break and started on some Patricia Cornwell. Then I read A Murder is Announced. Now I want to get back to my Poirots so I can watch the final episode when it comes on, safe in the knowledge I’ve read the book first. I will be sad to see both the books and the series ending but the time seems to have come.

So, the gist of this long and rambling post is that you’ll have to bear with me. Teaching is getting in the way of both reading and blogging. And this blogger is unabashedly in love with the wors of Agatha Christie. More reviews to follow!

Still to come… Three more Agatha Christie books, one Patricia Cornwell and two graphic novels based on Poirot books!

Book 33: Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

My name is Pippo, and I’m a terrible blogger. There, I’ve admitted it. I keep thinking I will have more time to blog soon… And then I fail.

So, the summer holidays have been and gone and I’ve started a new, harder role at my school. That’s right, I’m now a reception teacher! The first two weeks have been so full on and I feel as f I’ve been in a bubble of chaos that I couldn’t detach from. Well, today I slept in way too late to acheive anything I wanted to get sorted. So I’ve written today off and started blogging again. I apologise that I’ve been away so long, and I openly admit it may happen again. If you’re still reading, thank you for reading my ramblings and waiting for this book review so long.

I read Sleeping Murder ages ago now, it was part of a huge Agatha Christie kick I went on. The reason for this kick was that I booked a holiday in Torquay, Devon. Then I discovered the Agatha Christie Mile that I would be able to investigate once there. I ‘persuaded’ my amazing husband that we could not only see this while at the birthplace of the ‘Queen of Crime’, but that we could also spend a day at Agatha’s holiday home Greenway. My excitement atths plan led me to read Towards Zero (set in Devon), Sparkling Cyanide, Parker Pyne Investigates and then (immediately prior to the holiday) Sleeping Murder, in which Miss Marple explains all on the terrace of The Imperial Hotel, Torquay. To a sad individual such as myself this was very exciting! As a total coincidence this was the very hotel I had booked a stay at! More on Torquay and Agatha in the next review.

Excitement aside, Marple was on top form in this book, which Christie intended as her final adventure and wrote during the war, setting it aside in a safe box in case she was killed, as a legacy for her daughter. This is easily my favourite of the elderly sleuth’s cases. She helps a young couple solve a deep mystery that is years old. For the first time ever, I worked out whodunit before the protagonists did! Sadly she only spends one page at the hotel, but never mind. I give Sleeping Murder 7 and a half out of 10.

Book 16: They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

I finished my 16th book of the year on Wednesday, so I’m currently very close to reading two books this week, courtesy of the bank holiday! Both books have been selected from my dining room bookshelf, which is the bookcase pictured at the top of this blog.
Anyway, They Do It With Mirrors was a great read.

As you will know if you’ve been following my attempt at Penguin’s Readarama challenge (read one book per week all year), I’ve read quite a few Christie novels this year. You will also know that I’m not a huge fan of Miss Marple. Well, this was another Marple adventure. Now I’m going to deviate from my usual criticism of the old lady sleuth. This was a really enjoyable, well written and thought out murder mystery. It hinged on misdirection, with an element of locked room thrown in. There were unbreakable alibis, elements of theatre, and plenty of fatalities. Marple is a shrewd and subtle investigator. She actually does very little, and sometimes you forget she’s there. I think that’s what I have previously found difficult about her. In contrast to Poirot, Agatha’s other hero of detection, the old lady takes a much more passive role, but often manages the same results.

Of the Marple books I have read, which includes Murder at the Vicarage, The Thirteen Problems, The Body in the Library and A Caribbean Mystery, this is definately one of my favourites. The plot was far more interesting than A Caribbean Mystery, which I read earlier this year. They Do It With Mirrors held my attention from start to finish, and it had some characters I really liked, and enjoyed reading about. A light, but gripping story. I give it 7/10.