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review 2018-07-01 15:40
They Came to Baghdad
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

I have about 10 books left to read of Dame Agatha's canon of fictional work, and I must admit that this was one of the ones I was not looking forward to. 

 

Knowing from previous experience that Christie did not excel totally sucked at writing international espionage thrillers, and still suffering from some sort of PTSD following my reads of Passenger to Frankfurt, Destination Unknown, Postern of Fate, ... I expected that this book could only be approached with the help of: 

 

1. A Support System

 

2. Gin

 

So, imagine my surprise when the book turned out to be a romp with a fabulously delightful young female lead character - Victoria Jones - who stands up for herself and, as is unfortunately rather unusual in a Christie novel, does not completely loose her mind to a sapless idiot of romantic interest...well, ... it's a long story...just read the book.

 

I loved the setting of the story in Baghdad, even tho it is littered with the ex-pat cliches of its time. I loved the inclusion of the archaeologists...especially Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones (whom I simply had to call Dr. Jones in my head all the way through...even if he did not resemble our fedora-wearing favourite at all), and I even did not mind the ridiculous conspiracy plot. 

 

Now, you may ask why I didn't mind the ridiculousness here in They Came to Baghdad when I have so often on this journey through Dame Agatha's canon complained about the sheer idiocy of similar plots?

 

I honestly have to say that it is because They Came to Baghdad opened my eyes even more to the overrated status of Ian Fleming's James Bond series, which to date I had considered the epitome of ridiculous espionage thrillers. 

The fact is that I recognised a lot of the really cool elements from the Bond series (of which there are very few elements in the entire series, imo) in this very book, written by Christie, years before Fleming even published his first spy thriller - Casino Royale.

 

The "similarity" that stood out most for me was a scene where a character checks her/his hotel room to see if anyone has been snooping while they were away. It is one of the most memorable scenes in Casino Royale and was also one of the scenes that made it into the movie franchise (in Dr. No, I believe...one of the Connery ones anyway). 

So, it came as a shock to me to see the exact same scene written by Agatha Christie is used in They Came to Baghdad, which was published 2 years before Fleming's first Bond novel. 2 years before!!!

 

There were other elements, too. For example, Christie dreams up a conspiracy in this book that resembles an organisation that features in the later Bond novels ("SPECTRE" anyone?).

 

I mean, I know that Fleming basically copied the entire plot of Casino Royale from Phyllis Bottome's book The Lifeline, and I had great fun in researching this claim earlier this year and compiling a comparison of both books after seeing for myself how much Fleming "borrowed" from Bottome.   

What I had not expected, tho, is that there are other elements of the iconic classic that is the Bond myth, that may have not originated as such with Fleming, but that may have existed prior to Fleming's canon.

 

Least of all, I expected to find these elements in Christie's work! I love her mysteries. I love her writing even tho her sometimes antiquated views drive me nuts. 

And now I have to yet again salute Dame Agatha for the very thing I had not thought her capable of - I have to salute her for being able to create an international espionage romp that has all the hallmarks of a Bond novel, mocks the entire essence of the Bond novel, and simultaneously improves upon it - and all of that before the blasted Bond novel even became a thing!

 

But never mind my weird obsession with Bond and Fleming's plagiarism thievery. They Came to Baghdad does not need the comparison to work as book. Christie dreamt up a hilarious adventure and it is obvious that she had great fun writing the story. 

Nearly every chapter starts with a tongue-in-cheek comment, and the characters themselves - including a celebrity sporting a cloak and a large, unusual hat - are so much fun to watch. 

 

Some of Christie's comments and descriptions are dated, of course, but They Came to Baghdad seems positively enlightened when compared with that other, slightly more famous, series of spy adventures that was to be created two years later.

 

 

Previous updates:

 

Reading progress update: I've read 5%.

Reading progress update: I've read 7%.

Reading progress update: I've read 11%.

Reading progress update: I've read 24%.

Reading progress update: I've read 38%.

Reading progress update: I've read 46%.

Reading progress update: I've read 74%.

Reading progress update: I've read 86%.

Reading progress update: I've read 88%.

Reading progress update: I've read 93%.

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

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review 2018-06-24 20:56
Sad Cypress
Sad Cypress - Agatha Christie

The court. Faces. Rows and rows of faces! One particular face with a big black moustache and shrewd eyes. Hercule Poirot, his head a little on one side, his eyes thoughtful, was watching her.

   She thought: He’s trying to see just exactly why I did it… He’s trying to get inside my head to see what I thought – what I felt…

   Felt…? A little blur – a slight sense of shock… Roddy’s face – his dear, dear face with its long nose, its sensitive mouth… Roddy! Always Roddy – always, ever since she could remember… since those days at Hunterbury amongst the raspberries and up in the warren and down by the brook. Roddy – Roddy – Roddy… 

   Other faces! Nurse O’Brien, her mouth slightly open, her freckled fresh face thrust forward. Nurse Hopkins looking smug – smug and implacable. Peter Lord’s face – Peter Lord – so kind, so sensible, so – so comforting! But looking now – what was it – lost? Yes – lost! Minding – minding all this frightfully! While she herself, the star performer, didn’t mind at all!

   Here she was, quite calm and cold, standing in the dock, accused of murder.

In my reading of Christie's novels, this is one of the best opening scenes. 

 

And what is more, I thought this was one of the best Poirot novels of the canon, together with Five Little Pigs, which is quite similar in structure. 

There is a little more to Sad Cypress than meets the eye at first, and it doesn't read like the usual formulaic Christie novel. 

 

For a start, the character of Elinor, the MC, is not your happy-go-lucky bright young thing. We meet her as the accused, who hesitates when asked whether she pleads guilty or not guilty. 

From there on, we step back in time to see the story unfold from the start but even then, Elinor, is riddled with doubts and cares. Christie does a marvellous job describing a woman being close to a breakdown throughout the story leading up to the arrest. 

 

By that time, of course we still don't know what happens and whether her state of mind is caused by her guilt over plotting a murder. We won't know this until the end. 

This is another aspect I liked. This book keeps up its suspense until the end - and even then there are elements which remain ... a mystery. 

 

Yes, the murder is resolved, but much of the book is based on the character of the individuals involved in the plot - and one person's reading of a character may put forth a completely different interpretation of the ending than another reader's. 

 

I, for one, tended to find the ending unsettling - in both the ways of what happened to the villain and what happened to the victim. I don't know if Dame Agatha had intended this to be a happy ending, but I can't quite see it that way. 

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text 2018-06-23 23:23
Reading progress update: I've read 51%.
Sad Cypress - Agatha Christie

I'm so sorry, Lillelara, I'm not being a good reading buddy for this - I got side-tracked yesterday by the lovely weather, which made me (yes, made me) play tennis for most of the afternoon, and then I literally was too stiff and knackered to lift my arms...I regret nothing, except for not keeping up with the book. 

 

I managed to read much further today, tho... until the football. Ahem. It took a while to calm down after that finale and now I will probably finish the book tonight/tomorrow morning.

 

:D

 

Anyway, the book:

 

There is so much to love here: 

 

1. The opening scene had me hooked. The description of Elinor in shock was superb, I thought, and such a great setup to the story. It has the two storylines shoot off: One, where we find out how the trial is going to conclude, and the other where we find out about the murder. 

It is very much similar to Five Little Pigs in that structure and I really like it.

 

2. Roddy is a wuss, as Lillelara already described here, but I like him. He's just so ... unsure of everything, including himself.

 

3. Mary's position is described beautifully, and it must have hit home with quite a few people in a similar situation at the time that the book was set and published (tho it was set a few years before it was published (1940) - so, maybe set in the early to mid-30s?), when the class system took a hit and people found themselves in new "stations" and didn't know what to do with themselves. I really feel for Mary. She really wants people to like her. 

 

4. Dr Lord - Oh, gee... I loved him in the tv adaptation (mostly because he is played by Paul McGann...which needs no further explanation) but in the book he's a bit of a patronising git.

 

5. I did enjoy Laura's discussion of euthanasia, tho. Quite a serious topic for a Christie novel. 

 

6. And then we have this cracker: 

‘Aunt Agatha’s Advice column. “Keep your boy friend guessing! Don’t let him be too sure of you!”’

Hahahaha...

 

7. Nurse O'Brien / Nurse Hopkins - I don't like either of them, and it's not because of the the tv adaptation. It's the way they are described in the book and talking about other people.

 

I'm just about to start Part II, which brings HP on the scene. 

 

:D 

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text 2018-05-01 20:23
Reading progress update: I've read 6%.
A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, poisoning was considered a peculiarly Italian art, owing in part to the reputation of the Borgias, 5 as well as Toffana (a professional poisoner who labelled her deadly cosmetics with the images of saints) and the Council of Ten, one of the governing bodies of Venice. The Council of Ten maintained its position of power by killing off potential rivals, and even went to the lengths of actively advertising for poisoners, as well as maintaining its own reliable stock of poisons for nefarious purposes.

 

Aaaaaaaah, ... the original Assassins Guild....

 

Anyway, I have started the book. This is a re-read for me, so I will probably not post a lot of updates and resort to lurking and commenting on the posts of others. 

 

:D

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text 2018-05-01 18:42
Reading progress update: I've read 91%.
Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie

[X] might be a homicidal maniac but [s/he] was also something much more common than that. [S/he] was a human being who wanted to talk about [him/herself]. And with that class of human being Bridget was well fitted to cope.

I've added the "[...]" as someone might want to read this later. 

 

Anyway, this is where I had to leave off the book this morning because it was time to go to work - one of our lovely protagonist has been left in the care of the murderer.

It has not been often that I had to leave just when the conclusion was about to presented, so I have spent all day wondering how this was going to end.

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