First Published: In Cosmopolitan (US magazine) in 1948.
I Read: Crooked House. Harper, New York, 2011.
Detective: Charles Hayward
Summary:Charles and Sophia met overseas, fell in love and were separated by their duties in the War. They decided if they lived through it and still liked each other then they would get married. Two years later the War is over, both are back in England and Charles meets with Sophie to reaffirm their arrangements. While the war is finished, there is an unexpected battle on the home front -- Sophia’s grandfather, patriarch of the Leonide’s family, has been murdered. The whole family is convinced his second, and much younger, wife is the culprit. However there is little evidence against her, and everyone who lives in the house had a pretty good motive for murder. And much to Charles's consternation, Sophia refuses to marry him until the mystery is put to bed, giving him a very strong motive to see the whole business through...
Review:Much like the Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, either you know how the book ends or you do not and I cannot really review it for fear of spoiling the ending. Suffice it to say I thought this book brilliantly clever; you can tell Christie had fun while writing it. The mystery itself is a bit different, as the Rules of Fair Play, which normally Christie strictly adheres to, she took a bit of liberty with them in this mystery. You see, there are really only two clues which give a hint as to who the culprit is and even then they are a bit convoluted. The ending makes complete and utter sense when you read it, however the ability to reach the correct conclusion on your own, well, let's just say it is a bit more difficult than usual.
One of the best characters in the book beyond the Charles Hayward and Sophia was Sofia’s great aunt Edith de Haviland. Edith was the only one in the whole of the Leonide family (and our intrepid investigator) who figured out who committed the murder. Charles thought, "I had a suspicion that there might be more going on under the battered felt hat than I knew." (pg. 35), and he wasn’t wrong in his assessment of Edith. Which brings us to an important point, Christie’s use of spinsters in key roles in her mysteries.
It all started when Michael Morton cut Caroline Sheppard from the stage adaptation of The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd and replaced her with a young girl (“for plot purposes” is the phrase I heard when I read this snippet of information, it has no basis in fact -- just in my imagination). Caroline Sheppard was the spinster sister of Doctor Sheppard; she seemed abreast everything going on in the village without ever leaving her house. This directorial cut catalyzing Dame Christie into giving a voice to those women who never married and never had children (and were past reproductive age) -- in other words the spinster.
Using notes from Caroline Sheppard and her memories of her grandmother (& her grandmother’s friends) -- Christie created her second beloved sleuth, Miss Marple (btw Christie is one of the only authors to have created two equally famous sleuths). Christie was not alone in putting this group on the literary map; Miss Marple is just arguable one of the most popular. As a group I find them an interesting read, as they are allowed to do things which married or single ladies are not. And obviously with her use of Edith in Crooked House, Miss Marple is not the end of the line in Christie’s use of this type of character, I cannot wait until I meet another spinster!
Random (And Almost Relevant) Facts: During the period in which Christie was penning her mysteries, there were a plethora of spinsters populating the world. Why? World Wars One and Two had decimated the numbers of eligible males. Millions of men died at sea, in trenches and on beaches -- creating a “surplus” of marriageable women back home after the wars. This allowed for the rise of respectability among this group, since mathematically speaking it was infinitely harder to “find” a husband (or for that matter remarry, since so many husbands and fiancees died as well).
And since I am on a roll....
Mother Teresa is not a spinster. While researching spinsters I found many lists which included her on them. Seriously. Greta Garbo, Coco Chanel, or Elizabeth the First all can be considered spinsters, I am not sure I would have ever used that term to their face (because I am not stupid), but the term is applicable. Mother Teresa is different, she willingly took herself out of the procreation and marriage pool when she took her vows, to become a nun. Which is different than either choosing not to or not having the opportunity to marry and/or having kids. I just needed to point this out, since I guess I had stronger feelings on the use of the word "spinster" than I thought....
"It was rather like the exit of a bumblebee and left a noticeable silence behind it." (pg. 55)
Interesting Note: This is one of the hardest edged solutions I have read so far in her books. When it was first published her publisher considered it so controversial they asked her to change it. Christie refused and the book is better for it (she’d been writing for thirty years at this point, so she could get away with saying no)!
Also this is one of the few Christie mysteries which has never been made into a play, movie or tv show. The BBC made it into a radio play in 2008; but so far that’s it!
Cheating: Still no cheating. I hear London and Edinburgh are lovely at Christmas time......
Over the years, we've gotten books signed in many ways and circumstances. We've taken books to hotel rooms, met authors behind curtains at trade shows, even had a box of books signed while spread out on a bench at the parking lot at Sea-Tac airport. This comes close to that.
Craig Johnson wasn't going to be coming to Seattle to sign copies of his brand new Longmire novel, Any Other Name, but cookie lady Gina was going down to see him in Portland. She was happy to take copies down for him to sign and he was happy to sign them. Little did we know that this'd get done on the trunk of a car! But hey! - whatever it takes, right!
We're so glad it wasn't raining...
Our thanks to Craig and Gina for going the extra mile for us all!
SPECTRE's heavy-handedness continues to raise hackles and alarms, but now on two continents. As noted by Melissa Eddy and David Streifeld in the NYTimes, "It is using some of the same tactics against the Bonnier Publishing Group in Germany."
Their article also raises an important point: "The Authors Guild accused the retailer of acting illegally: 'Amazon clearly has substantial market power and is abusing that market power to maintain and increase its dominance, which likely violates Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act', said Jan Constantine, the Guild's general counsel.'"
"'How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it', says Dennis Loy Johnson, of Melville House, echoing remarks being made across social media."
"The press doesn’t seem to consider this newsworthy, but there is a war going on between Amazon and book publishers. This war involves money of course, and though I have an opinion, I’m not here to comment on what might be a fair and reasonable settlement.
There are other significant issues people might want to consider. Currently, Amazon is making it difficult to order many books from Little, Brown and Grand Central, which affects readers of authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, me, and hundreds of others whose living depends on book sales. What I don’t understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers. It certainly doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of authors.
More important—much more important—is the evolution/revolution that’s occurring now in publishing. Small bookstores are being shuttered, book chains are going out of business, libraries are suffering enormous budget cuts, and every publisher—and the people who work at these publishing houses—is feeling a great deal of pain and stress. Ultimately, inevitably, the quality of American literature will suffer.
If the world of books is going to change to ebooks, so be it. But I think it’s essential that someone steps up and takes responsibility for the future of American literature and the part it plays in our culture. Right now, bookstores, libraries, authors, and books themselves are caught in the cross fire of an economic war. If this is the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed—by law, if necessary—immediately, if not sooner."
"One of the books made scarce by Amazon's actions is an updated edition of Brad Stone's The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.
The book revealed how Bezos said Amazon should approach vulnerable publisher for better terms 'the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.'
'What irony', said Stone, a former New York Times reporter. 'A book detailing Amazon's heavy-handed tactics in business negotiations becomes, at least in a small way, a victim of those tactics.'"
SPecial Executive for Counter-Intelligence Terrorism Revenge and Extortion
We did not choose this term to refer to Amazon lightly; we chose it because it fits.
From the Wikipedia page on SPECTRE: "Fleming's SPECTRE has elements inspired by mafia syndicates and organised crime rings that were actively hunted by law enforcement in the 1950s. The strict codes of loyalty and silence, and the hard retributions that followed violations, were hallmarks of U.S. gangster rings, Mafia, the Unione Corse, the Chinese Tongs/Triads and the Japanese Yakuza/Black Dragon Society."
From the May 21 Seattle Times, Jay Green wrote Bezos expects 10,000 robots at Amazon warehouses by 2015. What does that mean for the warehouse humans? Fewer human workers means less payroll, less payroll spent in the locations of the warehouses, less economic flow out from the company but maybe Wall Street will finally see the profits it seems to be ambivalent about when it comes to SPECTRE.
From Tom McCarthy atThe Guardian (May 23), in writing about authors who have been affected by this mess, sighted this from Jeffery Deaver: “'Because of a dispute with Hachette Book Group, which publishes The Skin Collector, Amazon has chosen to attempt to intimidate publisher, authors and readers alike by significantly reducing purchase price discounts of my books and those written by other Hachette authors,' Deaver wrote on his Facebook page earlier this month."
Summary: Magdala "Nick" Buckley has managed to escape death three times, in almost as many days. By chance she runs across Poirot and Hastings (on vacation, of course ,after his success with the blue train mystery) when a fourth attempt is made on her life. This poses a very rare type of case for our clever Belgian -- of solving a murder before it occurs. How can he resist?
Review:Hastings is back, three down five to go in the Poirots narrated by him! On the upside, this installment found Hasting not quite as pedantic as he was in previous installments. Even Poirot, his greatest friend, was not above mocking him a bit: “Hastings has a singularly beautiful nature. It has been the greatest hindrance to me at times.” (pg. 117).
This book was a much more streamlined than its predecessor The Mystery Of The Blue Train, I enjoyed reading this book very much. Those who haven’t read a lot of Christie often believe her books are all like the game "Clue" -- a small group of people in a manor house, with a murder & murderer in their midst. Peril At End House is the first one, out of the twenty-two I have read so far, which reminds me of this narrow minded view. The deft twist at the end of the book, one which only Christie could pull off, keeps the book from ever being predictable. (BTW there are such variety of settings in her books, I am not really sure how this almost slanderous rumor ever got started! Oh and the Butler never did it, just to lay that one to rest as well.)
Now time for something completely different.
On Sunday, my husband took me out to dinner and I ate some of the best tasting prawns in the history of ever (or my life which ever is greater). They were juicy, buttery and also tasted of the steak they were cooked next to on the grill -- the quintessential surf & turf. Seriously, the food I have eaten all week has paled in comparison to this fantastic meal. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or The Moving Finger are the literary equivalent of my prawns -- rich, complex and completely unexpected. Something which stays with you, in you mind or on your waistline, long after you finish.
Peril At End House is not a prawn.
No, Peril At End House is more akin to a really hearty pot roast; in forty years I have never had a bad bite. Good, warm and comforting -- never a stand out, but one which blends together in your memory creating a long deep affection for the dish (provided you are not a vegan or a vegetarian, if you are then substitute pot roast for a non-animal based dish). To me End House is the blending agent in the Christie cannon helping to smooth out the tower heights and bottom scraping lows that any 50+ year writing career is bound to have. Thus allowing the creation of a deep love for Christie’s cannon of works to grow in your memory.
Peril At End House can easily be someone’s favorite or an installment which merely contributes to the overall quality of the great mystery writer’s cannon of work. Whether prawn, pot roast or a squash (I really hate squash of any type outside of a pie) you cannot deny her genius.
“To detect a crime before it has been committed -- that is indeed of a rare difficulty.” (pg. 41)
Cheating: Nope no cheating this time.
It did occur to me however, should I cheat on any one book -- then I could go through and read the last pages of all the books I have lined up for the year! If I failed, I could do it in a truly spectacular fashion, nothing by halves. I mentioned this epiphany and was immediately threatened with having the last chapter removed from each of the remaining books to “help” my will power along. I said that was a form of cheating (as it would take no will power at all to resist, and what fun is there in that?) plus vandalism all rolled into one. I declined the faintly sarcastic offer.
Monday July 7th at Noon - Diana Renn signs Latitude Zero
17-year-old Tessa Taylor is a good girl: diligent student at her alternative New England prep school; dutiful daughter; TV host for a local educational kids' show. But when her not-so-good boyfriend persuades her to ride bandit in a bicycle charity ride, Tessa causes a bike crash that leads to the death of a young Ecuadorian cycling champion known as "El Condor." Horrified to think that her own recklessness could have had fatal repercussions, Tessa becomes obsessed with identifying some other cause to explain El Condor's death. What she finds is a mysterious web that leads her deep into the heart of the cycling world-- and ultimately to Ecuador, itself. Tessa realizes that someone wanted El Condor dead. But who, and why, and what do they now want from her?
I Read:The Mystery Of The Blue Train. New York, Harper, 2011.
Summary: A ruby called The Heart of Fire once worn by Catherine the Great was recently acquired by Rufus Van Aldin for his daughter Ruth. The ruby, over the years, has gathered quite a reputation for being cursed, but in Van Aldin’s eyes it seems to fade away in his daughter’s hands. Unfortunately there is plenty of fodder for the curse to work with in Ruth’s life; her marriage is all but over, her husband has been cheating, she has her own lover, there is a set of thieves after the Heart Of Fire and a mistress who would love to get her hands on Ruth’s money. When Ruth is murdered on The Blue Train there are plenty of suspects to choose from -- what the curse didn’t count on? Hercule Poirot took the same train.
Review: This book had a lot going on between the covers. Not exactly in a bad way, it was still an interesting read -- it just felt a bit cluttered. Not as streamlined as say The Crooked House, Peril at End House or The Moving Finger. Like a camera which is just this side of being focused, the picture is still a hair blurry but the subject is intriguing enough so the slight fault can be over looked. The Mystery of the Blue Train reminds me of this type of picture, you can enjoy it but find it mildly distracting at the same time. There are several love interests, a possible heist, a curse, a murder, an inheritance and a detective, as I said a very busy book.
The Mystery Of The Blue Train contains a classic subject in mystery, the theft of a unique item - a heist, carefully planned and executed which often render the theft, even if foiled, into stuff of legend. Movies depicting these type of heists have been made by Hollywood for years; To Catch a Thief, The Italian Job, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Asphalt Jungle for example. All of these fall into the category of well organized thefts, which have their mirrors in real life: The Gardner heist, Cannes jewel heist, and any of the thefts perpetrated against Harry Winston.
There is another side of the coin however - inelegant thefts. You can’t call them heists as they are missing the artistry, flair and creativity that are synonymous with the term "heist". No, these are simply crimes of opportunity, the complete opposite of what we see in The Blue Train Mystery. The Bling Ring, for example, owe much of their success to luck, celebrities (who ought to know better - weird stalkers abound for them and are always a vague a threat) leaving their doors unlocked and valuables unsecured. One of the most famous/notorious crimes of opportunity is The Blue Diamond Affair.
The Blue Diamond Affair started in 1989, when a Thai worker employed by the Saudi Royal Family managed to steal two hundred pounds of jewelry estimated to be worth twenty-million dollars (btw the theft was perpetrated against the now King). The fifty carat Blue Diamond (which is larger than The Hope Diamond, currently touted as the largest blue diamond in the world - btw funny story Harry Winston donated the Hope diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958 and sent it through the mail! Anyways back to the show...) was among the stolen pieces. After the theft, the Thai worker hightailed it back to Thailand and started selling the jewelry, which sent up a huge flag, and soon after, he was arrested.
This is where things get interesting.
Thai police allegedly only recovered a fraction of the stolen jewels and the Blue Diamond was not among them. When the pieces were restored to the Saudi royal family, the Royals claim a good portion of the jewels were fake. A year or so later on separate trips, one businessman disappeared and four diplomats who went to Thailand to investigate were murdered execution style. The jeweler and his family who purportedly replaced the fake stones for the real ones in the returned loot died under very suspicious circumstances as well.
Beyond murder, the Saudis believe there is a full scale cover-up going on in Thailand in order to distribute their jewels among the Thai royal family and ruling elite. Pointing out the coincidence that the wives of said Thai elite started wearing some serious bling shortly after this point, including one blurry photo of the Thai princess, in theory sporting the Blue Diamond set into a necklace.
If you think a time has dulled the rift between these two countries, you would be mistaken. In 2009, in Thailand the former police lieutenant and five policemen were indicted for the murder of the Saudi businessman. Many said this move was meant to pacify the Saudis, which was an epic fail on Thailand’s part since less than a year later, the government proposed to give said lieutenant a promotion to assistant chief of police (while still under indictment). The former lieutenant declined the position, a political decision meant to try and pacify the Saudi Royal Family again. Why you ask? Mecca is located within the borders of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis were not-so-subtly threatening to withhold travel visas to Thai Muslims who wished to make their pilgrimage. On March 31st of this year, a Thai judge cleared the lieutenant and the five other policemen of all charges, stating there wasn’t enough evidence for the case to go to trial.The Saudis were not amused.
In 1990, the Saudis downgraded their diplomatic relations with Thailand, which remain seriously frosty to this day. Twenty-five years later the Blue Diamond still remains missing and is a huge source of tension between the two countries. The mystery is still unfolding; it will be fascinating to see if this dubious theft is ever resolved.
On the surface The Mystery Of The Blue Train and The Blue Diamond Affair sound dissimilar, but underneath I think they have a number of comparable qualities. Both are complicated affairs with many people involved, hidden motives, greed, and the acquisition and use of something which isn’t yours - plus the theft of a legendary stone (I don’t want to get too specific, because spoilers, but I maintain they are there). Sometimes it makes me wish there really was a flesh and blood Poirot. This seems like just his sort of case where his talents for discretion, finesse and little grey cells are needed to solve a mystery which has spiraled out of control.
“For this man, negligible and inconspicuous as he seemed, played a prominent part in the destiny of the world. In an Empire where rats ruled, he was the king of the rats.” (pg.1)
Interesting Note:The Mystery Of The Blue Train provides us the first glimpse of St. Mary Mead where Miss Marple would come to reside. I found it exciting to read about, since we wouldn’t learn about Miss Marple’s exploits for another year or two. On a related note, since we are on the topic, you can trace Miss Marple’s fictional lineage back to Caroline Sheperd (Dr. Sheperd’s spinster sister from TheMurder Of Roger Ackroyd), an armchair detective who always seemed to be very well informed on the goings on in her village, and yet never left her home. Using her knowledge of the village life to theorize the motives behind village events, including the murder of Roger Ackroyd. Christie is said to have used a portion of her ideas from Caroline and her real life Aunt to help create Miss Marple. This sort of literary archeology provides an extra level of interest in the books, since you are given a rare glimpse into genesis of a second beloved detective.
Cheating: No cheating this time. Maybe I should upload a video of me doing an interpretive dance, embodying the concept of not cheating......Naw, I don’t think I want that following me around for the rest of my life! Plus I do not have enough rhythm to pull it of, and I am not sure enthusiasm will carry it through...
Mary was nice enough to take some time and answer a few questions for the blog! Thanks Again!
To learn more about Mary and her books click hereto go to her website!
1.Has Christie influenced your writing and how? If so, any one particular book more than the others?
Yes. Any mystery writer who says otherwise is lying. Even if they never read Christie she influenced them by creating a style (especially for so-called cozies) and sold enough books that her work had a huge impact on the marketplace. I should add that before there was Christie in my reading life, there was American Mary Roberts Rinehart who had a great impact on the genre--and on me. She was published even earlier and like Christie was a world traveler and wrote in other genres.
2.Just like Sue Grafton you are rapidly running to the end of the alphabet in your Emma Lord series, you only have Z left! Any huge surprises in store with book Z? Will Z be the last in this series? Or are you plans to top secret to share...
No secrets here--I was asked a couple of years ago by my publisher how I intended to title the post-Z books. One of my daughters came up with the idea of flipping the titles and still keeping them in alphabetical order, as in A____Alpine, B____Alpine, etc. Works for me.
3.Did your visit to Alpine last year change how you think of the town? Did it influence how you wrote about the town in Alpine Yeoman?
The visit only confirmed what I already guessed and knew. Of course I played around with the actual setting from the start. The Skykomish River does NOT go through Alpine. In fact, my family members who lived there thought the Sky was the river that went by the town, but they were wrong. It's the Foss River, which goes into the Sky a mile or so to the west. But what was really weird was that I invented certain things in the early books, such as the cross-state power lines that went through the town. It turns out they not only exist but go over the spot where I'd put them. In the third book, I'd written about Emma finding a perfect Christmas tree by Alpine Falls, but she and her brother had to drive back to the highway to get there. Until we were driving to Alpine and my son-in-law pointed out the road into the falls, I had no idea it existed. I made some mistakes, too. I had Icicle Creek going the wrong way. It actually flows over into E. Washington. Guess I have a problem reading section maps...
The Alpine Yeoman was finished by the time I went to Alpine, so there was no opportunity to make any real changes. I'm about a third of the way though The Alpine Zen and so far I haven't altered anything, but it could happen later in the book. Because of the real Alpine Advocates, I've known for several years where most of the town structures were located. I did NOT know that the newspaper office is on the site of my grandparents' house, however.
4.You have written around 55ish books so far...do you have a favorite? And why. Bonus: Do you ever reread them?
I've actually written 61 books now, counting Clam Wake, the new B&B coming out in August, and Alp Z will be #62. I got my start in historical romance (accidentally) and wrote 7 of those books before turning to mystery.
Yes--sometimes I have to re-read some of the Alps to keep up with all the characters--and to answer readers' question as I can't remember what went on in books I wrote almost 25 years ago.
(Woops! Sorry Mary!I thought I counted correctly....)
5.Agatha Christie came to dislike Poirot over time (rather intensely apparently), are you less fond of Emma Lord or Judith Flynn after all these years of writing stories for them? Why or why not.
I couldn't possibly dislike Judith because she's based on my cousin, Judy. Alas, Judy died last May after suffering a massive stroke. She'd been in more health for several years, but she was such a sociable animal, so brave, so cheerful and so full of fun (and curiosity) that she continued to lead a very active life. My editor immediately asked if I could go on writing the series without her. I said I could--it was my way of keeping her with me.
Emma had driven me crazy along the way, but I like her. She has the same take on life that I do in many ways, and thus is sort of an alter ego (though not as close to being me as is Renie in the B&Bs). I've been a journalist and have worked on small town newspapers, so I understand that part of Emma very well. Her skewed love life has been another matter, however, but she's finally figured it out.
6.Christie never had a book where Miss Marple and Poirot solve a mystery together (thinking Poirot woudn't have stood for Marple's suggestion). Have you ever thought of teaming Emma and Judith up together in the same mystery?
I couldn't do that if I wanted to (which I don't)--for legal reasons: Two different publishers own the rights to the characters.
7.During your writing career you have written romances and cozies--have you ever just thought of breaking the mold and write hardboiled mystery?
I don't think I could. I have a terrible feeling that if I tried, it'd turn out to be a parody of a hardboiled mystery and might be funny--but not satisfying for readers who like the real thing.
8.Is there any Christie book you wish you thought of first?
No--because I couldn't have done it as well as she did. But I have learned from her about how to set up a mystery with clues and red herrings. She mastered the art of misdirection--which does come in handy. I often used it. Seemingly trivial conversations are another way to deal with providing clues.
9.Any final words?
Yes. One very important bit of advice for readers new to the Alpine series. READ THEM IN ORDER. They are the saga of Emma's life and readers who come in late to the series are sometimes confused or miss out on the impact of the characters' interactions. That's not as important with the B&Bs, which are more episodic and less character-driven.