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text 2019-03-13 14:47
Reading progress update: I've read 43%.
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie,John Curran

This book is for serious fans of Christie - it spoils many of the solutions to the mysteries and is both a deep dive and a breezy overview.


Christie left behind some 80 notebooks full of plot ideas, clue placements, puzzles, character names/descriptions, and solutions. The most interesting thing I've learned so far is that she frequently dithered between multiple solutions/murderers in books, and an idea/clue that wasn't used in one of her mysteries would crop up later in another mystery. 


In fact, the entire Boynton (although she referred to them as P, planning, apparently to name them something that began with the letter P) family was first assigned to Death on the Nile, but didn't make it into the final book. Christie then built an entire mystery around the family two books later in Appointment with Death. In addition, everyone should know that the intensely annoying Salome Otterbourne's original name was "Mrs. Pooper."



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text 2019-03-11 20:10
Reading progress update: I've read 18 out of 280 pages.
Murder in Mesopotamia - Agatha Christie

I need a book with a female main character, so I decided to reread Murder in Mesopotamia, which is narrated by Nurse Amy Leatheran:


"Dr. Leidner saw a woman of thirty-five, of erect, confident bearing. He saw a good-humoured face with slightly prominent blue eyes and glossy brown hair. She looked, he thought, just what a hospital nurse for a nervous case ought to look. Cheerful, robust, shrewd and matter-of-fact. Nurse Leatheran, he thought, would do."


Nurse Leatheran has just been engaged by Dr. Leidner to come out to his archeological dig and tend to his wife, Louise Leidner (dubbed Lovely Louise by her admirers. And her non-admirers). There's something not quite right at the dig, as described in this passage:


"Yes, individually they are all pleasant people. But somehow or other, I may have been fanciful, but the last time I went to see them I got a queer impression of something being wrong. I don’t know what it was exactly . . . Nobody seemed quite natural. There was a queer atmosphere of tension. I can explain best what I mean by saying that they all passed the butter to each other too politely.”


This is a wonderfully descriptive explanation of the tension.


My recollection of the adaptation is that it isn't one of the better ones, but the setting is wonderful:



While the book takes place at a dig in, I believe, Iraq, the adaptation was filmed at a dig in Tunisia.

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text 2019-03-11 15:06
Recent acquisitions!
Poirot and Me - David Suchet,Geoffrey Wansell
An Autobiography - Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie,John Curran
Agatha Christie - Laura Thompson
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Both the Suchet book and the Laura Thompson biography were only .99. I'm pretty sure that my fellow Agathytes who have read Thompson's biography were underwhelmed - remind me below.


I also decided that if was going to embark on a project of understanding Christie better, it made sense to go straight to the author's own words about herself and her life, so her autobiography is the thing that I plan to concentrate on first.And the Curran book was really just bought on a whim because the premise is intriguing, especially now that I don't have to worry about any of the solutions being accidentally spoiled.


Which takes me back to A is for Arsenic, actually. I own it, but was reluctant to read it because I didn't want to spoil any of the unread books.

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text 2019-03-08 17:46
MR's definitive Christie ranking, 66 & 65

I've been talking about doing this for a while, and I think that I am as ready as I will ever be to embark on it. In terms of the timing of the posts, they'll come when they come. I have my ranking already established, but I may need to do some rereads before I am ready with each post, so I expect to sporadically add posts over the next several months. Some posts will talk about multiple books, some, probably, only one. I really don't have a plan here, aside from organizing them in some sort of ranked order.


I will attempt to avoid spoilers, and will clearly mark spoilers both at the beginning of the post and at the point where the spoiler occurs.


This first post is easy peasy though, because today, we're going to talk about the worst two Christie novels, as stated by MR. All of Agatha Christie's mysteries are worth reading at least once, except for these two, which are completely skippable with no redeeming value whatsoever.


Passenger to Frankfurt - Agatha Christie 66. Passenger to Frankfurt


Passenger to Frankfurt was published in 1970, very late in Christie's career. In fact, there are only 5 books that were published after P2F - Nemesis, Elephants Can Remember, Postern of Fate, Curtain and Sleeping Murder, and of those five, both Curtain and Sleeping Murder were written many years prior and held for publication until the end of Christie's career.


Reason for the ranking: Passenger to Frankfurt is an execrable book that was only published because it was written by Agatha Christie. By every possible metric, it should not have been published: the mechanics of the mystery are bad, the characters are worse, and the plot is utterly lacking in credibility. The writing is pedestrian at best. 


No book ever should use the possibility that Adolf Hitler left behind an heir to represent the Teutonic ideal as a plot point. This book is abysmal, and doesn't merely stand as the worst book that Agatha Christie ever wrote, it stands as one of the worst books published by a legitimate publisher in all of human history. It's not even worthy of reading as a curiosity.


The only reason to read this book is if you are reading everything written by Agatha Christie.


I do have to confess that I couldn't stomach the idea of reading this book again, so I am working off of my memory when I write this. I've been trying to reread before ranking, and I will continue with my rereading project as I work through this definitive ranking process, but this was such an obvious choice for #66 that I felt no responsibility to revisit it.


The Big Four - Agatha Christie 65. The Big Four:


The Big Four, on the other hand, was published fairly early in Christie's career, in 1927, and stands in as the 4th full-length Poirot mystery. Agatha was still alternating between standard mystery and international espionage at this point in her career. In the Poirot canon, The Big Four is preceded by The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Links and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, two solid mysteries and one, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, that is one of her greatest technical achievements. It was followed by The Mystery of the Blue Train and Peril at End House. Of those two, Peril at End House is very good and The Mystery of the Blue Train is mediocre at best.


I did force myself to reread The Big Four in going through this process, to determine if it would improve on the second reading. It did, but just a little bit. 


Reason for the Ranking: This book is really a curiosity, and I do maintain that it can be skipped unless one is a completist. The one additional reason to read it is that it involves the second encounter between Poirot and Countess Vera Rossokov, who functions as Poirot's Irene Adler character. She also appears in two short stories: The Double Clue and The Capture of Cereberus, which is the 12th and final story in the exceptional short story collection The Labours of Hercules.*


The main problem with The Big Four is that the plot is impossibly convoluted and frustratingly unbelievable. Many of Christie's early thrillers have a light-hearted sensibility to them that allows me, at least, to overlook their technical flaws (The Secret Adversary, The Secret of Chimneys, The Seven Dials Mystery) because they are just flat-out charming and fun. The Big Four is neither charming nor fun - it is a slog, and there is a bit of cruelty to poor Hastings that is nearly unforgivable (even if it is defensible given the plot action). It is the only Hercule Poirot mystery that I would wholly recommend skipping, and it is unfortunate that it is an early mystery because readers who embark on a Poirot reading in order could easily bog down here and not want to read on.


*As an aside, I am not ranking short story collections at this point. However, this is one of Christie's strongest collections, with a series of linked short stories.



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review 2019-03-07 00:52
The Lost Plays by Agatha Christie
The Lost Plays: Butter in a Lordly Dish / Murder in the Mews / Personal Call - Agatha Christie,Ivan S. Brandt,Richard Williams,Full Cast

This was a "listen-along" with Themis, although she finished days ago. Overall:


Butter in a Lordly Dish: this was a short, approximately 30 minute, radio play. It started slow, and ended violently. I'd give this one three stars.


Personal Call: another short, approximately 30 minute, radio play. Inspector Narracott makes a brief appearance here - he also shows up in The Sittaford Mystery, which I am rereading now. In addition, this has a bit of a supernatural aspect, which is very unusual for Agatha. I'd give this one 3 1/2 stars.


Interlude: the first interlude involves some radio interviews, including an interview with Agatha Christie which occurred on the 10th anniversary of The Mousetrap. This was extremely interesting, and I laughed out loud over the discussion about how much longer the play would run (we are at 50 + years and counting now, which they definitely did not predict). This material gets 4 stars.


Murder in the Mews: this was about an hour long. It's not one of my favorite stories, tbh, and I thought the adaptation was just ok. They cut out one of the major clues that Poirot uses to get the solution (the golf clubs don't make an appearance here), but I do think that the radio play did a good job of humanizing the victim and making the motive behind the mystery plausible and sympathetic. Better than the story, and even better than the Poirot adaptation (although the Suchet episode is hugely entertaining). Another 3 stars.


Epilogue: I'm listening to another interview at this point. The historical material is pretty interesting.


Overall, I am glad I listened! Next on the Agatha play schedule is the script of Murder on the Nile.

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