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review 2017-02-21 14:56
We Get to See Early Poirot and Hastings in This One
Murder on the Links - Agatha Christie

I realized this year that I have never read this book. I could have sworn I had since I did my Poirot readings a few years back, but then realized nope that I must have confused this book with another. Either way, I am thrilled that I got a chance to immerse myself back into the world of our egg-head shaped detective and his "little gray cells."


Image result for poirot gifs


Told in the first person POV by Hastings (Poirot's mostly bumbling and honestly dumb as anything assistant) in this one. We have Hasting and Poirot go off to investigate after Poirot receives a letter from a Monsieur Paul Renauld. Renauld believes he will be murdered and asks for Poirot to come as quickly as he can. However, when Poirot and Hastings arrive, they find the police on the scene since Renauld was found murdered and his wife bound by unknown attackers.


We have Poirot getting into a mental pissing match with another detective named Giraud who hates Poirot and seems him as old and outdated. I did want to shake Hastings a bit here and there since he wants Poirot's deductions to be correct since he doesn't want Poirot to look foolish which would mean he would look foolish. Speaking of Hastings, he falls in love at first sight with a young woman he calls Cinderella. I hope you like that name, because she is referred to as such throughout mostly the entire book. We even have a connection to the murder and we have Hastings acting a fool (IMHO) cause of love. I don't know. I may be heartless, but if I think you committed a crime I am going to get the heck away from you.


This is not one of Poirot's locked room mysteries, but it does leave a lot of intrigue into who killed Renauld and why. Also I have to say that once again I was totally in the dark about who the villain was in this one. I guessed wrong (twice) and just gave up on who dun it until Poirot revealed all.


The ending in it's own way had a HEA which surprised me.



Image result for poirot gifs

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review 2017-02-13 09:13
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

This one is for all the Agatha Christie fans out there who also love science.


Harkup devotes a chapter to each of the 14 poisons Christie used to eliminate so many of her victims over the course of 56 years writing mysteries.  In each chapter she discusses the history of each poison's discovery, its use in real crimes throughout history, its antidotes (if any), how its tested for, and how Christie used each poison in her books (as well as how accurate her knowledge was - hint: very).


I found the writing compelling and incredibly interesting, but this is not a book for people bored by, or disinterested in, chemistry and anatomy.  Harkup knows her stuff both as a chemist and as a Christie fan.  She gets into the nitty gritty details about how each poison wreaks its havoc in the human body; this might cause some eyes to glaze over.  In almost every chapter, she manages to discuss Christie's books and plots without revealing the killer, and when she can't avoid it, she clearly warns the reader upfront that there are spoilers ahead, offering "go to page xx" to readers wanting to avoid knowing whodunnit.  Some might still find her discussions too revealing, so be warned; if you want to know as little as possible about the books, save this one for later.


At the end, she offers a fascinating appendix of every book and short story Christie wrote, with each US/UK title and a list of all the ways people die, a more esoteric appendix illustrating most of the chemical structures discussed in the text (the rest are on her website), a select bibliography and a comprehensive index.


I came away from this book having learned a lot, but possibly the two most important things:  strychnine is just about the last way I'd want to go, and that Christie would have been the last person I'd ever want to piss off.

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text 2017-02-05 20:10
My moment of geek
The Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie
One of my reading projects for 2017 is the Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie. I've read a number of them already, but some of them it has been a very long time. I've never been as fond of Jane Marple as I am of Hercule Poirot.

However, I want to talk about a thing that happened to me in December. My office had put together an elimination of bias training for the lawyers. The training was presented by a psychologist who works for the University of Oregon - and he started the training by talking about bias in the context of the human brain. He went on to talk about how the human brain is absolutely masterful at categorizing things - our minds can observe a penguin, an eagle, an ostrich and a finch, and we immediately recognize and categorize all of them as birds although they bear very little physical resemblance to one another. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a remarkable feat. He talked about how easy it would be to write a computer program to recognize the color blue in an image, and how difficult it would be to write a computer program to recognize a bird in an image because computers aren't nearly as good at categorizing things as the human brain.

This is all super interesting as it relates to bias, of course, because our brains are constantly categorizing things - including people - and if we aren't careful with our categorizing it can turn into unconscious (or conscious) discrimination.

As he was explaining all of this, I had this personal moment of geek, where I thought to myself - aha. That's exactly what Agatha Christie has Miss Marple doing. She is exercising her skills of categorization in ways that are simultaneously broader and narrower than the way that an average person categorizes. Marple doesn't categorize by social class or sex or wealth so much as she categorizes by event and psychology, drawing parallels between, perhaps, the fish monger's crush on a post mistress and the murderer's attraction to the victim's sister.

All of this is simply to say that Agatha Christie was clearly a woman ahead of her time. I did manage to keep my mouth shut during the training, and not burst out with "OMG, that's exactly what Miss Marple does, except it's different because . . ." and out myself as the total dork that I am. I was pretty proud of myself for that.

Anyway, about this book. It's fine - introducing us to Miss Jane Marple, who isn't nearly as sweet as you think she is.


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text 2017-02-02 22:01
U.S. Kindle Sale: Miscellaneous
Still Life - Louise Penny
A Fatal Grace - Louise Penny
The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie
N or M? - Agatha Christie
Bare Bones - Kathy Reichs
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

Currently $1.99: Grant Takes Command, by Bruce Catton.  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Dirk Gently's Detective Agency & The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (one volume), by Douglas Adams.  The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie.  Want to read Christie in French?  They have several French editions of her novels, including Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for sale at $1.99 each.


Currently $2.99: Still Life and A Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny (the first two books in her Inspector Gamache series).  N or M? by Agatha Christie.  Bare Bones, by Kathy Reichs.

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review 2017-01-21 22:17
Mrs. McGinty's Dead
Mrs. McGinty's Dead - Agatha Christie

‘I should, perhaps, madame, tell you a little more about myself. I am Hercule Poirot.’

The revelation left Mrs Summerhayes unmoved.

‘What a lovely name,’ she said kindly. ‘Greek, isn’t it?’

Now this is a Poirot novel that strays from the script a bit. It's fascinating but there seem to be three parts to this novel and the crime/mystery part is the weakest one. Yet, I really liked the book because first and foremost, Christie made me laugh out loud quite a few times. 


Eh bien, let's start with the weakest part - the crime/mystery:


So, Mrs. McGinty is found dead and her lodger has been arrested, is standing trial, and will probably be sentenced to hang, but ... Superintendent Spence is having doubts and is consulting an old acquaintance to have a look at the case.

‘I don’t know what you’ll go there as,’ continued Spence doubtfully as he eyed Poirot. ‘You might be some kind of an opera singer. Voice broken down. Got to rest. That might do.’

‘I shall go,’ said Hercule Poirot, speaking with accents of royal blood, ‘as myself.’

Spence received this pronouncement with pursed lips. ‘D’you think that’s advisable?’

From there on, the typical sleuthing adventure ensues, except that there are a lot - and I do mean way too many - characters that are part of the investigation, a few red herrings, Ariadne Oliver - whose involvement in the book has less to do with the plot (I'll get to that later) -, and an ending that seems to have been rather far-fetched. 


In fact, by the time the mystery was resolved, I had kinda lost interest in the whodunit part and really enjoyed the characters interacting with each other. 


This book is really not about the mystery, which, in my opinion, was rather sub-par. No rather, the book seems to have been a self-reverential celebration of all things Poirot. And this may or may not be to readers tastes. I quite liked it in this case.


We have a lot of details about Poirot himself:

In his early days, he had seen plenty of crude brutality. It had been more the rule than the exception. He found it fatiguing, and unintelligent.


My work has enslaved me just as their work enslaves them. When the hour of leisure arrives, they have nothing with which to fill their leisure.

We have a couple of tips of the hat to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which was published 25(!) years before Mrs. McGintys Dead, when Poirot discussed gardening with Spence: 

Me, once I decided to live in the country and grow vegetable marrows. It did not succeed. I have not the temperament.’

In many of the details that describe Poirot in this book, Christie seems to take a retrospective stance, It serves as a celebration of his previous adventures, but I also could not help feeling that Christie took the opportunity to have some fun herself and poke her famous character at every opportunity. Not only, does she send Poirot to the country - and we all know how much Poirot hates the country -

It’s not really a Guest House, just a rather decrepit country house where the young couple who own it take in paying guests. I don’t think,’ said Spence dubiously, ‘that it’s very comfortable.’

Hercule Poirot closed his eyes in agony. ‘If I suffer, I suffer,’ he said. ‘It has to be.’

And Christie makes sure of it his suffering. This was one of my favourite parts and I am sure anyone who has ever been exasperated by Poirot's eccentricities would chuckle about the following scene of Poirot taking up lodgings at a country inn:

The room was large, and had a faded Morris wall-paper. Steel engravings of unpleasant subjects hung crookedly on the walls with one or two good oil paintings. The chair-covers were both faded and dirty, the carpet had holes in it and had never been of a pleasant design. A good deal of miscellaneous bric-à-brac was scattered haphazard here and there. Tables rocked dangerously owing to absence of castors. One window was open, and no power on earth could, apparently, shut it again. The door, temporarily shut, was not likely to remain so. The latch did not hold, and with every gust of wind it burst open and whirling gusts of cold wind eddied round the room.


‘I suffer,’ said Hercule Poirot to himself in acute self-pity. ‘Yes, I suffer.’


The door burst open and the wind and Mrs Summerhayes came in together. She looked round the room, shouted ‘What?’ to someone in the distance and went out again.

Mrs Summerhayes had red hair and an attractively freckled face and was usually in a distracted state of putting things down, or else looking for them.

Hercule Poirot sprang to his feet and shut the door.

A moment or two later it opened again and Mrs Summerhayes reappeared. This time she was carrying a large enamel basin and a knife.


A man’s voice from some way away called out: ‘Maureen, that cat’s been sick again. What shall I do?’

Mrs Summerhayes called: ‘I’m coming, darling. Hold everything.’ She dropped the basin and the knife and went out again.

Poirot got up again and shut the door. He said: ‘Decidedly, I suffer.’

As I said I really enjoyed this part of the story but I did keep wondering why Christie took to treating Poirot in such a way. Was it to celebrate him or was she falling out with him as a character that had become so famous that he had a life of his own - just as Arthur Conan Doyle fell out with Holmes?


Which brings me to the third part - Ariadne Oliver. Ariadne is basically Christie's way of injecting a fictionalised version of herself into the Poirot stories, and in this one Ariadne enters the scene - nearly knocking Poirot over with her car - and spends a lot of time agonising over how her own fictional creation - Sven Hjerson - is being changed inappropriately by theatre and film producers. 

Robin continued blithely: ‘What I feel is, here’s that wonderful young man, parachuted down—’

Mrs Oliver interrupted: ‘He’s sixty.’

‘Oh no!’

‘He is.’

‘I don’t see him like that. Thirty-five— not a day older.’

‘But I’ve been writing books about him for thirty years, and he was at least thirty-five in the first one.’

‘But, darling, if he’s sixty, you can’t have the tension between him and the girl— what’s her name? Ingrid. I mean, it would make him just a nasty old man!’

‘It certainly would.’

‘So you see, he must be thirty-five,’ said Robin triumphantly.

‘Then he can’t be Sven Hjerson. Just make him a Norwegian young man who’s in the Resistance Movement.’

‘But darling Ariadne, the whole point of the play is Sven Hjerson. You’ve got an enormous public who simply adore Sven Hjerson, and who’ll flock to see Sven Hjerson. He’s box office, darling!’

Yeah, I can see Christie having exactly this sort of conversation with agents and producers about Poirot and Marple, and I can see Christie using this particular book as a dig at people trying to exploit her characters. And given the resolution of the plot, what a dig this is!!! If only it had deterred her estate to employ Charles Osborne to adapt her plays as novels!


So, while the mystery plot is rather mediocre, the context this novel provides for Poirot as a character that has developed a public persona outside of the books is just marvelous.



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