2020-10-21

Agatha Christie 100 - Nemesis

The last written of the Miss Marple mysteries, though there is still one to go after this one, this might have been a better final to the elderly lady's career than what was actually published last.



Miss Marple is saddened to read in the newspaper that her old friend Mr. Rafiel (of A Caribbean Mystery fame) has passed away, but equally astonished when his lawyers inform her that he has one final task for her. It turns out that he booked her a coach trip through the English countryside. And now Miss Marple needs to find out exactly what Mr. Rafiel wanted and how the coach trip fits in with those wishes.

As I said in the introduction above, this would have been more suitable as Miss Marple's final case than Sleeping Murder, at least in most respects. As with many of her late career offerings, this feels rather woolly and meandering almost throughout, though there is an interesting plot beneath it all.

Coming into this re-read I had fairly high expectations on this one, because I remembered it as a pretty good story. I did feel less impressed during this read, though. I speculated earlier that I might have been getting used to Christie's tangents and digressions, but with this one I again felt a bit annoyed. There was one instance during the final explanations where Miss Marple explains something twice, and the second time the listeners react as if they'd never heard that information before. Some editing would have been good here.

Also, my perception was probably coloured by the fact that I felt that the culprit was fairly obvious the whole time - somewhat unfairly, perhaps, because I don't remember it that way from previous reads. The attempts at diverting the reader's suspicions elsewhere didn't really convince me this time.

But nevertheless, while I was less impressed with this than with, for example, Third Girl, it's still a fairly decent mystery and an enjoyable read, if too drawn out. Miss Marple's claims of being a Nemesis seem all the more apt after the dénouement of this one.

I'll award this a somewhat below average rating of 36 out of 100.

1973 1976

Another title with just two Swedish editions, perhaps a bit surprisingly - this novel has a better reputation than most of Christie's late career works. The title is, perhaps less surprisingly, exactly the same in Swedish as in English - I mean, the Greek goddess has the name she has.

The first of the covers is a direct steal from the first British edition. A pretty clever image with a ball of yarn and a scarf forming a question mark - good stuff. Then we have the Delfinserien cover - only 44 years old by now, and the one I own - which is all right. Per Åhlin has modelled his Marple on Margaret Rutherford, but as he couldn't have known that Joan Hickson would become the ultimate Marple, that's not his fault. Perhaps a bit too cluttered with all the greenery, but the greenhouse is important to the backstory, so that's okay.

2020-10-16

Agatha Christie 100 - Hallowe'en Party

Poirot encroaches on Miss Marple's territory, the village mystery, in this, Christie's final 60s novel.



At a party for kids and teenagers, 13-year-old Joyce Reynolds is eager to impress the visiting celebrity, stating that once she saw a murder. The others profess not to believe her, but when she turns up dead later, the visiting mystery writer, a certain Ariadne Oliver, takes her story to her old friend, Hercule Poirot. And now he needs to sort out not only who killed Joyce but also which murder it was indeed she saw...

I found this story pretty good, all things said. Like several other Christie novels, this is another mystery that harks back to an older crime which affects the events of the story. Also like many late career Christie novels, it's a bit woolly and long-winded at times, but it's less annoying here - or perhaps I've just become used to these longueurs by now (always a hazard when reading an author's works chronologically). But there are genuinely some good bits in this mystery, and there's a particularly great bit of misdirection when a vase is dropped. 

During Christie's last 20 or 30 years of writing, Poirot was often sidelined, but in this one he is front and centre of this story, which is always a good thing. 

This story is partly set in a particular garden, which confused me, because I'd always associated the memory of that setting with Elephants Can Remember. This means that I have no idea whatsoever what will happen in that novel. Ah well, I suppose it's never bad to go into a book not having any idea what it's about...

There are a few things during the final revelations in this novel that should have been mentioned earlier on, but on the whole this is an enjoyable read, although clearly not up to the level of Christie's peak writing. I'll award this a 44 out of 100.

1971 1984

Two Swedish editions for this title, and again it's been a long time since the last one was published... At the time this was first published, Hallowe'en was almost unheard of in Sweden - the Americanisation and commercialisation of Sweden hadn't come very far then - so instead of using the American name for the holiday we used the most similar one we had, resulting in a title that would be something like Murder on All Hallows' Day, were it directly translated into English. At least we got the word "murder" into the title.

Both covers focus on the apples, which is fair since they belong to the most memorable scene in the novel. The first one features that very scene and an outline of Joyce as she's in the middle of the game of bobbing for apples. A pretty good cover, all things said. 

The second cover from the mid 80s is a bit more sparse, just an apple with a worm in it. I would like this one as well - but the typography is really ugly and the colours don't contrast very well.

2020-10-12

Agatha Christie 100 - Endless Night

This non-series title, as opposed to most other Christie non-series novels, is a psychological domestic thriller.


Young Michael Rogers, a restless spirit, becomes enamoured with a specific location called Gipsy's Acre and sees himself living there in a specially built house. He runs into Ellie Guteman, who is also quite taken with the place, and they strike up a relationship. They soon end up married with a house commissioned by a famous architect. But in the neighbourhood lives a Mrs. Lee, a village gypsy who warns them that something evil will happen if they keep on living there...

For such a late career work, this features some of Christie's strongest writing. The narration by Michael feels genuine and the arc of the novel fits perfectly with his characteristics. I've seen that it was one of Christie's own favourites, and I can understand that. It's cleverly done, and the narrative trick is quite devastating.

And yet... I thoroughly dislike this one. I really, REALLY don't like it. This is, as you'll understand, not due to the quality of the writing, because I firmly agree that it's very well done in this respect. But it belongs to a subgenre that I detest - the psychological domestic thriller - and also, I'm not overly fond of having characters with mental problems as villains. I am certain that the effect that it has on me is the one that is intended by the author, but I am not interested in being thus affected.

So, if you feel differently and don't have any issues with this sub-genre, take my ranking with a healthy helping of salt, because to me this is a 4 out of 100.

1968 1987 1988 2014

Oändlig natt is a literal translation of Endless Night, so not much to discuss there. Four editions of this novel from a late stage in Christie's career isn't too bad, all things said. Particularly the fact that there has been a recent edition lends some credence to the commonly held opinion that this is Christie's last halfway decent novel (though personally I disagree, as I rated her previous novel highly).

The late 60s cover is a bit too murky and yet too humorous for my liking. If there is one Christie novel that shouldn't be treated to a cover with a humoristic tinge, I think it's this one.

The paperback edition from 1987 is fairly weird. All those celestial objects really make no sense to me. One year later saw a book club edition, and while the image is fairly appropriate, the typeface is horrible. Not only is it much too large, it doesn't contrast particularly well with the image.

The cover of the latest edition is a bit nondescript, but still probably the best one here. A faint outline of a skull and the flying crow(?) isn't the most original image ever, but at least it's not inappropriate.

2020-10-07

Agatha Christie 100 - Third Girl

Hercule Poirot returns, and this time he needs to sort out a mystery in the middle of the swinging '60s scene.



One day, Poirot receives a visit from a young woman, who first says that she thinks she may have committed a murder and then suddenly simply bursts out "You're too old!" and just as quickly leaves again. Poirot is intrigued (and hurt) and starts looking into the identity of the young woman and what this supposed murder might have been.

Though I remembered the villain's identity, I'd been looking forward to reading this quite a bit, because most of the rest of the plot had escaped me. And on the whole I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. This felt like a much stronger plot than several of the novels that surround it chronologically (The Clocks, At Bertram's Hotel, Hallowe'en Party) and at least on the same level as A Caribbean Mystery

Admittedly, again the mystery hangs on a specific misdirection (or in this case, you might say you get two of the same kind), and you might very well see through it if you're well-read on your Christie tricks, but generally the plot hangs together very well, the developments follow naturally and the ending is quite powerful.

It helps that Poirot is front and centre of this story - Mme Oliver also has a bigger part to play than she's had in previous appearances - and that we get to follow along as he investigates, questions and ruminates. Indeed, one could say that we've rarely been able to follow Poirot's thoughts more closely than in this one. There's a whole section in this novel where the reader gets to see when Poirot simply sits and tries to figure out the puzzle in his head. If you contrast this with the last few Poirot novels, it's quite a startling change.

Yes, it's a bit long-winded at times, and the plot could have been tightened up in places, but I will rate this quite highly for such a late-career mystery. In fact, I'll give this a 68 out of 100.

1967 1974 1988

Another literal translation of this title, though we put it in the definite form (= The Third Girl). As usual with these late career releases, there aren't too many editions of this novel. In fact, even though there was a third edition in the late 80s, it never got a paperback release.

The 60s cover is fine, I guess. Not my favourite drawing style, but I suppose it works. Not sure what the harlequin is doing there, though. Delfinserien's cover from 1974 is a bit strange, to be honest. More of an art piece than a correct depiction of anything in the novel. I wonder why there are two women on the cover...

Finally, there's the 1988 cover. As usual Leslie Quagraine manages to work a skull into the image, this time in the form of a palette. At least the painting connection fits the contents of the novel, and of the covers here, this is the one I like best.

2020-10-02

Agatha Christie 100 - At Bertram's Hotel

Another outing for Miss Marple. This time she's staying at Bertram's Hotel, a fashionable, old-style hotel in London.

Miss Marple has been treated to a stay at Bertram's Hotel by her kind nephew and niece Raymond and Joan. But while she's staying there she is concerned that some things do not seem to be exactly what they look like. And when the police turn their interest towards the goings-on at the hotel, it is lucky that there is a sharp-witted old lady staying there...

As you might have noticed, I had a hard time coming up with a blurb for this novel. That's because it's very hard to say what the story is actually about. For about half the novel or so, nothing much actually happens. 

We get to know a handful of characters around the hotel in question who all do vaguely suspicious things. Then we are introduced to the police who are concerned about several robberies and other bloodless crimes that seem to be planned by some well-hidden mastermind, and their focus soon turns to Bertram's Hotel. And then suddenly (if by suddenly, you mean around two thirds through the novel), there is a murder! 

So, the pacing is fairly off in this story, at least if the reader is expecting a mystery. If instead you want to read reminiscences of how it used to be in the olden days, then this is a book for you! Mind you, it's not just a story of the good old days, Christie is careful to note that the good old days aren't really here again, not even at Bertram's, and perhaps that is for the best - at least in some respects.

Okay, but what about the murder mystery then? Well, what there is of it is fairly good. There's a short story in here that could have been interesting to read. The motive behind the murder is chilling enough and the culprit turns out to be a truly despicable person. There's some cluing as well, and also a piece of misdirection, though we've seen this very type before, so a Christie reader might well pick up on what's actually going on.

But there is mainly an awful lot of padding here. Most of the story here instead revolves around the criminal mastermind and the bloodless crimes committed by a well-organised gang, but unfortunately most of the investigations into these crimes are also carried out behind the scenes. Come the dénouement we are suddenly presented with a lot of facts that we've never been allowed to see, which makes it a lot less exciting to see the conclusions drawn by the police.

As you'll have gathered, this is a bit of a mess. There are several strong sections here, though, and it should definitely not be sorted in with abject failures like Postern of Fate. Most of the story here is at least coherent, if not at all as exciting as it should be. I'll rate this a 26 out of 100.

1966 1968 1974

As you can clearly see, the number of editions have gone down quite a lot for these later titles... (It should be perhaps be mentioned that the final cover variant here has been used over a number of pressings, some of which came in the mid 80s.) Still, no new editions for almost 40 years now. The Swedish title is more or less a direct translation of the original's - we just lost the preposition.

The first cover here is horrible. It looks like something I could draw. Meanwhile, the 1968 cover is extremely unimaginative, but still manages to be better than the previous one.

And finally there's the 1974 cover, which quite obviously is pinched from the British Fontana edition, and is just as obviously miles better than the other two covers, with its evocative focus on a woman's hand and the foggy and wet surroundings.

2020-09-28

Agatha Christie 100 - The Clocks

Poirot acts mainly as an armchair detective in this, his first case of the 60s.


Stenographer Sheila Webb is called out to help a Mrs. Pebmarsh, but when she enters her house, what she finds is a dead man lying in a pool of blood, surrounded by a handful of clocks set to the time 4.13. When she screams and runs out of the house, she encounters Colin Lamb - luckily, he's a friend of Hercule Poirot's and will challenge him to solve the case.

As I mentioned above, Poirot acts mainly in a consulting role here, though it is he who puts together all the clues and reveals the solution. Instead, the main parts of the investigation are carried out by Inspector Hardcastle and Colin Lamb, who works in some kind of intelligence capacity and has his own reasons for being in the neighbourhood where the murder took place (and appears to be the son of good old Inspector Battle). Both these characters are quite likeable and it's a pity that we didn't get to meet any of them later.

The case itself is a bit so-so, as well as the narrative structure. There's a bit too much focus on Colin's search for foreign agents, and in the end it all becomes rather inconsequential. 

As far as the main murder case goes, again I have to say that Christie is a bit skimpy on the clues. A lot of Poirot's solution is conjecture and based on things happening behind the scenes. The second murder sort of points the suspicion in the direction of the culprit, but only vaguely so. And don't get me started on those clocks - the explanation of the clue is one of the greatest disappointments of my Christie reading career.

But it's not a total loss - as I said, the characters are likeable, the investigations are generally interesting and the murder plot is a pretty good one. It's just unfortunate that Christie didn't focus more on the murder investigation and give us more clues. I'll give this a 37 out of 100.

1964 1966

A direct translation of the title of this novel - an arguably fairly dull title. Just two Swedish editions of this novel, both of them from around the time when it was first published. Which means that this particular title hasn't had a new edition for more than fifty years!

The first of these two covers makes the most of the clocks motif, but unfortunately also includes one of the most hideous depictions of Hercule Poirot that I've ever seen. Without that, an okay-ish cover, but now it really doesn't look good at all.

The second edition is from the Zebra series. Again a whiff of a cheap dime novel makes itself felt, but I suppose the whole thing is passable. There's a short extract from the novel and some clocks. Better than the first cover, but there's much room for improvement.

2020-09-23

Agatha Christie 100 - The Pale Horse

Another non-series mystery from Christie, though this one features a couple of appearances by Ariadne Oliver.
 

A Catholic priest is killed after having performed the last rites for a dying woman and hearing her confession. The only thing the police find with the priest is a list of names. Writer Mark Easterbrook becomes aware of this list and can identify a couple as people who have died recently. Recently, he has visited the three "witches" in their abode, "The Pale Horse", and when this name turns up in conjunction with the list of names, he is intrigued enough that he starts looking into what it all means...

Well, stating that this is an Ariadne Oliver novel is a bit misleading. As usual, that worthy lady only puts in a couple of appearances, though it is a chance remark from her that makes Easterbrook put two and two together and realise exactly what's been going on.

On the whole, Christie succeeds well with the whole creepy atmosphere of the novel. It isn't always easy using the occult in an effective way in a mystery - the risk is that it all starts to feel hokey - but it works rather well here. Easterbrook is a pretty good detective to use in this story - he doesn't really know what he's doing most of the time, but he muddles through in a fairly effective way nonetheless. 

Obviously, it's a bit of a coincidence that he should know so many people on that tiny list of names that he's able to make connections. But as it turns out, the police are further along in their investigations than anyone could have known, and it is in fact they who make the final connections and arrest the culprit.

One question remains, though: What on earth was the name Corrigan doing on that list of names?

I'll award this a 53 out of 100. It's a good read and should definitely satisfy the Christie fan. There's actually more detection in this one than, say, the contemporary Poirot Cat Among the Pigeons.

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1962 1964 1975
1988 2004

Like so many other later Christie novels, this one also has five editions in Swedish. The title is of course derived from the Book of Revelations, and in the Swedish version of the Bible, the horse is not pale but yellow - hence The Yellow Horse (as a literal translation of the Swedish title would be).

The first cover above is serviceable, nothing more. The yellow horse is there, but again they do not make use of the entire page for the cover image, which to me seems a bit lazy. The Zebra edition from two years later is quite similar to what they've done elsewhere - a somewhat gritty, lurid image of a damsel in distress. Again, a plus for the extract from the novel on the cover page.

Delfinserien's cover from the mid 70s is a bit more imaginative and original. I like it quite a bit with the bottle emitting toxic fumes and the mild allusions to witchcraft. The cover from 1988 is less original, and quite why the yellow horse needs to jump out of a window is beyond me. (There is a hardcover variant of this cover with minor typographical differences.)

Finally, there was a large print edition of this title (Why this particular title? Beats me.) in 2004. I can't really make heads or tails of it. Is that image supposed to be a generic allusion to witches? It's definitely not great, at any rate.

2020-09-18

Agatha Christie 100 - Cat Among the Pigeons

Poirot gets involved in international hijinx in this story, Christie's last 50s novel.


The prince of a fictional Middle Eastern country has convinced his British friend Bob Rawlinson to smuggle out some valuable jewels, as his country is on the brink of revolution. But when the prince and Bob are later found dead in a plane crash, the whereabouts of the precious gemstones remain unknown, but as the sister of Rawlinson and her daughter was present in the country, suspicions start to centre on the school where the daughter is enrolled. And when one of the teachers is found shot to death in the gym, things start to heat up...

Well, this is a bit of a hodge-podge, albeit an entertaining one. The first third of the novel reads just like another of Christie's adventure thrillers with valuable jewels, a fictional country in turmoil and secret service agents trying to ascertain the whereabouts of said jewels. Then, by the second third, when the first murder occurs, we move towards a more regular Christie mystery, with Inspector Kelsey of the local police taking charge. Only in the final third does Poirot appear, quickly untangling all the loose ends and tying everything up in a lovely bow.

As a sort of hybrid mystery/thriller, it's lots of fun, but the mystery parts aren't wholly successful. The balance between the three different crime strands - the disappearance of the jewels; the murders; and the kidnapping of a young princess from the school - doesn't work very well. While Christie provides some cluing, it's mainly focused on the whereabouts of the jewels and to some extent on the princess's disappearance. I defy anyone to realise the killer from anything mentioned in the story.

Both Mr. Robinson and Colonel Pikeaway make their first appearance here - they will both appear in coming works, among them the already discussed Postern of Fate, which ties the Poirot and Tommy & Tuppence universes together.

While an entertaining read, this novel cannot be seen as an essential part of Christie's oeuvre. I'll award it 44 out of 100.

1960 1963 1972
1981 1986

Another Poirot title with five Swedish editions. The title is yet another direct translation, with the minor detail that the Swedish idiom doesn't use the definite article "the".

The first cover from 1960 focuses on the pigeons - or at least on their feathers. I suppose it fits the title fairly well. The Zebra cover from 1963 focuses on the boarding school for girls, and places the grim reaper in the middle of the milling pupils and employees. I like this one quite a bit.

The first Delfinserien cover from 1972 is yet another Per Åhlin creation. It focuses on the murder in the gym with cat's eyes in the background. I have a copy of this edition, and I've always liked it. If I need to come up with anything negative, then maybe it's just a tad too dark.

I suppose Delfinserien was less impressed with the cover than I am, because in 1981 they decided to use the British Fontana cover instead. It really looks pretty striking with the surreal image of a tennis racket instead of a head. The final cover here is a book club cover, and it really is pretty unimaginative. Hey, look, a cat and some bird's feathers!

2020-09-14

Agatha Christie 100 - Postern of Fate

Well, here we are then. The last "new" novel written by Christie, and almost universally reviled. Tommy and Tuppence get one final outing, even though they had been featured in a novel just half a decade before.


Tommy and Tuppence have moved into a new house. As they are putting everything in order Tuppence finds a coded message in one of the books left behind by former tenants -  "Mary Jordan did not die naturally. It was one of us. I think I know which." Naturally, Tuppence immediately becomes interested and starts investigating what might have happened.

Another title that I had very little memory of - obviously I've been aware of its reputation, but I had it in the back of my head that I didn't remember it as being THAT bad. Unfortunately, it more or less is. There's maybe enough plot here for a short story - not a great one, but passable, at least - but here it's stretched out beyond its breaking point. 

But that's really not the main problem - there are quite a few mystery novels that would have been better as short stories. What makes this such a tough read is that while the plot is stretched out, the filler material is extremely drawn out. People talk, talk, talk and then talk a bit more, and what they're saying is hardly ever relevant, and the conversations skip from one irrelevant subject to another (sometimes with a relevant plot point scattered among the tangents). Had this been an earlier novel, it could have been Christie hiding clues in the text, but it just doesn't work here.

Even more problematic is the ending. It turns out that almost everything was irrelevant and the whole story is instead recounted by Mr. Robinson (who had the ignominious disfortune of becoming a regular character in Christie's later works), who tells us a lot of things that we should have been told much earlier. 

Also, there are entire passages that follow on previous paragraphs and directly contradict them. For example, after Tuppence has been attacked, Tommy phones his old friend, Colonel Pikeaway, and explains that he cannot meet with him because he needs to take care of Tuppence. Then in the next paragraph, he's at Pikeaway's place discussing what happened. No explanation how this came about.

Or when T&T have been advised not to hire any new gardener who doesn't give them a codeword first - then in the next scene, there they are hiring a new gardener who suspiciously turns up. For this inconsistency, there's the feeble excuse that Tuppence forgot. I mean, come on. This is Tuppence! The advice came just days before!

Now, mind you, I don't regret having read this novel again, even though it was worse than I remembered it. There's always the odd passage that reminds you of Christie's golden years, and they always feel bittersweet. 

But yeah. This is strictly for the Christie completist. It's a pity that Christie felt it necessary to give T&T a final outing - as I mentioned above, it had only been six years since their latest adventure in By the Pricking of My Thumbs, which admittedly wasn't great but at least serviceable. There's very little to recommend about this novel, and though it pains me, I can't give it more than 3 out of 100.

1974

I'm sure absolutely no one is surprised when I say that there's only been the one Swedish edition of this novel. The title is a direct translation of the British one.

As far as the cover goes, I think it's a pretty good one. The running girl gets the reader interested in the novel, though it's hardly connected to anything in the plot. I'm not sure about the olive green tint to the whole thing, but we've seen worse colours during this re-read. At least it looks a bit murky, somewhat like the plot. (And having seen the different British covers, almost all of them have a green colour scheme.)

2020-09-09

Agatha Christie 100 - Dead Man's Folly

Another Poirot tale featuring Ariadne Oliver, though she's mostly active in the beginning and then simply puts in a couple of shorter appearances later.


Mystery writer Ariadne Oliver has been co-opted into designing a murder game during a fair at Nasse House, though when she begins suspecting ulterior motives behind the whole thing, she implores her old friend Hercule Poirot to come down to the manor. But even though our Belgian friend turns up, he is unable to prevent the murder - and sure enough it's the victim in the murder game who turns out to be the real murder victim as well.

This story putters along nicely for a fair amount of the time, and as this was one title where I had actually forgotten everything except the set-up that I described in the paragraph above, I had a jolly good time reading this one. Poirot's investigations are a bit slow and it takes him some time to arrive at his final conclusions, but generally it moves along nicely.

But that's where the wheels start to come off, because the solution is as close to being unfair as Christie ever came. There are certainly clues scattered throughout the book, but they mainly relate to the disappearance of the lady of the manor and her identity. The only way for the reader to catch on to the identity of the true villain is to make assumptions from those clues, because they do not relate directly to the murderer.

A bit of a shame, because otherwise this felt like a good read. It's really just the final chapter that lets it down. So I'm in a sort of conundrum when it comes to rating this story - should the disappointment of that final chapter colour the rating of the whole thing or not? On the whole, I didn't feel that my time was entirely wasted - as I said, there are clues that can be reasoned out by the reader - so I'll be charitable and keep the rating on the higher side. 62 out of 100.

1957 1962 1973 1995

Just four Swedish editions of this one, and another confirmation that apart from the most well-known novels (and a few exceptions), there's been no new Christie editions for quite a long time. Död mans fåfänga is another literal translation of the British title, though the double entendre of the British word "folly" is different from the double entendre of the Swedish "fåfänga". The former is either a small building on the grounds of a manor or it can simply mean a mild touch of madness or eccentricity, while in Swedish, "fåfänga" has the same meaning when it comes to the building, but its secondary meaning is "vanity". However, the word works in both cases and the title is a very good one in either language.

The 50s cover is just a bit too cluttered, but manages to convey the setting of (the beginning of) the story quite well. Without those black columns, I think I'd have liked it a bit more. The Zebra edition from 1962 instead chooses to focus on Hattie, the disappearing lady of the manor. The cover is striking, but doesn't give much information about the story contained within... (Even the short excerpt at the bottom of the page is extremely vague.)

Then we have the 1973 edition, which features the British Fontana cover. Again, a bit cluttered, and for some reason the Swedish edition has darkened the image somewhat, which doesn't help. The latest edition, from the mid 90s, has its trademark skull, this time featured on a key. Perhaps a bit too minimalistic, but on the whole quite interesting.

2020-09-05

Agatha Christie 100 - Ordeal by Innocence

One of Christie's final non-series mysteries, this novel was one of her own favourites.


Dr. Calgary has been on a research trip on Antarctica for the last two years, but when he returns he learns that Jacko Argyle, the young hitch-hiking man he picked up on one of his last days in England, was accused of committing a murder and sentenced to prison where he later died. As Dr. Calgary could have alibied Jacko, he contacts the authorities to correct their mistake and visits Jacko's family to apologise. But their reaction is not what he had imagined...

I can understand why Christie liked this one, because this is a totally solid mystery plot with interesting characters. Dr. Calgary is a nice acquaintance, and his investigations are of the kind that you could imagine from a total novice in the detection business.

In my opinion, there are two problems with this novel, one big and one small. The smaller issue is simply that there is too little of the investigation business. We are treated to scenes with the different characters and also to the police force's somewhat reluctant re-opened case discussions, but quite a few of them simply serve as distractions from the main plot. This could, however, simply be down to this particular reader's tastes.

The larger problem, however, is one of those that puts a big hole in the plot and just about scuppers the whole thing - and that is the question why Jacko didn't reveal the true story as soon as he realised that he was going to be convicted of the crime. He knew what had happened, and while the rest of the world might not have believed him (though they should have, and obviously it was quite easy to get the true killer to reveal themselves, as we see in the dénouement here), it's simply not in accordance with what we learn of Jacko's character that he would keep quiet about it.

Unfortunately, that plot hole has to affect the rating of what is otherwise a pretty darn good mystery, and therefore I'll only give this a 51 out of 100. Please adjust your expectations accordingly if you don't feel that this admittedly peripheral plot hole will affect your enjoyment of the novel.

1959 1962 1980 1989
1990 2014 1963

Six editions - or seven, depending on how you want to count (see below) - is a fair amount for a title that isn't one of Christie's most celebrated, though as I mentioned she herself was very pleased with it. The original Swedish title is fairly similar to the British one - a direct translation of the Swedish one would be Tried Innocence, which is close enough. However, for the 2014 edition, the publishers chose to change the title to Huset på udden (=The House on the Promontory), which I guess describes the location but is much less evocative. Also, it caused me to think that there was a thitherto unknown Christie title. Imagine my disappointment...

The late 50s edition has a cover which is quite typical for the period. I don't really like the drawing style and I don't think the whole thing looks particularly great. The Zebra cover from 1962 looks better, with a funeral scene and a dagger. Dagger, you say? Let's drown in them for a while! The 1980 Delfinserien edition again steals the Tom Adams cover from the British Fontana edition, featuring a dagger front and centre. Not a bad cover at all.

And so thought two (2!) book clubs who both chose to feature this title, and they made sure to use the same cover without copying it outright. The 1989 cover has a pinker hue and a pearl necklace, while the later one has a nicer blue tint, some money and a diamond necklace. You decide who got it right... To be honest, I actually think the covers themselves are pretty good otherwise.

The latest edition from 2014 changes the title, as I mentioned, and features a snake instead of a dagger. I like the fact that they use the snake's coils to feature the title, but I don't like that they use a snake because there are no snakes in the book (and also, snakes are disgusting).

The final cover here is a curio. An omnibus package featuring this Christie title together with Raymond Chandler's Playback. Shown here for completeness' sake.

2020-09-01

Agatha Christie 100 - Hickory Dickory Dock

A mystery set in an urban setting, with modern young students being haunted by a vandal who's destroyed backpacks and lecture notes, and stolen things of no real value.


Poirot is flabbergasted when he discovers a couple of errors in the letter he just dictated to his secretary, Miss Lemon. It turns out that she is preoccupied because someone is committing several small crimes at the student home where her sister is the manager. Poirot's interest is awakened, and when he receives a list of the items that have disappeared or been destroyed, he is intrigued enough to secure an invitation to the student home.

This is probably Christie's first "modern" mystery, in an urban setting. Another few will follow - Third Girl, definitely, and The Clocks as well, and one could argue that while the setting is Miss Marple's village, The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side also belongs to this category, with its descriptions of the village's development.

So, an urban Christie mystery. But is it any good? Well... It's not bad, per se. It's just that there's not a whole lot of detection in this story. Poirot turns up at the student home, makes a declaration, and one of the culprits confesses almost immediately. 

Of course, this being Christie, there's more layers to the story, but hardly any of the real villains are found through fair play clues. Instead, they are just revealed in conversations during the course of the story. 

And just why did they have to pour green ink over one of the student's notes? This was not done by the first vandal who confessed, so there was no need for that, plot-wise.

But it's still an interesting novel, with a plot that is just about as twisty as you'd expect from Christie, and the characters in the student house can be likened to one of Christie's country house families - there's almost the same type of characters and their interactions are also quite similar.

This is also notable as the first novel where Miss Lemon appears as Poirot's secretary, though she'd been in a number of short stories with Poirot before.

On the whole, a passable novel, though nowhere near Christie's heights. I'd rate this a 47 out of 100.

1956 1966 1974
1988 1996

As you can see, this story originally kept the British title for the first edition, but after that we adjusted it. Mord klockan fem? means Murder at Five O'Clock, and I guess the title change came about from the very tenuous link to the nursery rhyme (coupled with the fact that this nursery rhyme is completely unknown in Sweden, of course). Not that the Swedish title really has anything to do with anything in the novel.

The first cover is another typical 50s cover. Semi-humorous looking and with a few of the missing items from the story. Not too bad, all things said. 
 
Then we have two different Fontana covers, both by Tom Adams. The first with the syringe is the one I own, and it belongs to the Zebra edition. I like the colour scheme and it looks suitably exciting. One drawback is that there is no syringe in the story itself. The second Fontana cover on the 1974 edition seems better linked to the original nursery rhyme, with a mouse squarely in the middle of the action. Though I don't know if that fits with the Swedish title...

A book club cover is the next thing we see. It's okay, with the clock face shown through the noose. Nowhere near as hideous as some of the early book club covers we've seen. The latest edition - almost 25 years old by now - has a cover by Leslie Quagraine, which features another one of his skulls, though it seems a little lazy. The link to this particular story isn't all that easy to find.