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2015 reading challenges Agatha Christie Blast from the Past Crime Fiction Mark Bailey Reviews vintage mystery bingo gold

Agatha Christie – Death in the Clouds (1935)

Cover of Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)
Cover of Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)

Hercule Poirot is a passenger on board a flight from Paris to Croydon (which was the main London airport at that time). Sometime before landing, one of the passengers is found dead – it is Madame Giselle who is a wealthy French moneylender; initially the cause of death is said to be a reaction to a wasp sting but Poirot spots the true cause of death: a poison-tipped dart which has been apparently fired from a blowgun. The case then becomes one of murder.

It is a classic locked room mystery with a murder being committed in a space occupied by thirteen people with no-one witnessing the crime and all of them conceivably could have a motive for the death. The joy is in the puzzle and trying to solve it before Poirot the first time you read it and enjoying the journey thereafter.

This is another of my favourite Agatha Christie novels and edges out other Agatha Christie  contenders Murder on the Orient Express and The Mystery of the Blue Train as my L6 entry (“Read One Book that involves a mode of transportation”) on the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo Golden Age Card because of the Tom Adams cover of the Fontana paperback version that I read when I was young (which is the image at the top of the page) – this is just a gorgeous piece of art; my absolute favourite Tom Adams cover is that for The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (below) which is inspired by John William Waterhouses 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot from the Window] (further below).

Cover of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)
Cover of The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)

John William Waterhouses 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot from the Window]
John William Waterhouses 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot from the Window]
2 good books on Tom Adams’ work in general (and the Agatha Christie covers he has painted in particular) are

  • “Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond” by Tom Adams & John Curran, 2015
  • “Agatha Christie: The Art of Her Crimes” by Tom Adams & Julian Symons, 1981

 

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2015 reading challenges Agatha Christie Crime Fiction Mark Bailey Reviews vintage mystery bingo gold

Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders (aka The Alphabet Murders) (1936)

Cover of Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders (1936)
Cover of Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders (1936)

This novel was chosen as my L2 entry (“One Book that has been made into a Movie or TV Show”) on the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo Golden Age Card for 3 reasons – it is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels, it has an unusual narrative structure and it is has been dramatised in some interesting & different ways.

The novel follows the murders of the title and their investigation as seen by Hastings, Poirot’s old friend. Before each murder, Poirot receives typed letters signed by A.B.C. giving the date and location of the next murder which move alphabetically – Alice Ascher is a tobacco shop owner who is killed in her shop in Andover, Betty Barnard is a flirty waitress killed in Bexhill and Sir Carmichael Clarke is a wealthy man killed at his home in Churston. With each victim is left a copy of an ABC railway guide.

The unusual structure is that each chapter is narrated by Hastings followed by a description of events in the life of Alexander Bonaparte Cust, a travelling salesman who received a head injury in the Great War and is subject to memory blackouts and constant headaches. This third-person narrative is supposedly reconstructed by the first-person narrator, Hastings continuing Christie’s commitment to experimenting with points of view as seen most famously in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

 

I like the ABC Murders because it is a chase novel with multiple mysteries – Is Cust ABC? Does he know if he is ABC? If he isn’t then who is? Why are the murders occurring? Can Poirot prevent a murder and break the sequence?

 

There are 3 contrasting TV/Movie adaptations that spring to mind

Lobby Card for The Alphabet Murders (1965)
Lobby Card for The Alphabet Murders (1965)

There is the 1965 film The Alphabet Murders with Tony Randall as Hercule Poirot which does emphasise comedy (and has a rather buffoonish Poirot) but I still quite like it as a film although Agatha Christie had some major issues with the script which is why Zero Mostel dropped out (for scheduling reasons) and was replaced by Tony Randall.

Video Cover for the ABC Murders (1992)
Video Cover for the ABC Murders (1992)

There is the 1992 TV version with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot which is much more faithful to the novel albeit with some minor changes and characters omitted mainly to fit in the time constraint of the broadcast slot available.

Still from Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie - Les meurtres ABC (2009)
Still from Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie – Les meurtres ABC (2009)

Finally, there is the 2009 version in the French TV series Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie entitled Les meurtres ABC which takes some very substantial liberties with the concept of Poirot (slightly less so with the story) and is also fairly comedic – it is Agatha Christie but not as we usually know it; this is one episode of the series that is available with English subtitles on DVD. I personally have a soft spot for this series (especially the later ones with Inspector Swan & Alice Avril (a Journalist)) but it is not one for the purists.

 

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Agatha Christie Mark Bailey Reviews Sophie Hannah

Review- The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (aka The Brand New HERCULE POIROT Mystery)

Review- The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (aka The Brand New HERCULE POIROT Mystery)

Cover of "The Monogram Murders" by Sophie Hannah
Cover of “The Monogram Murders” by Sophie Hannah

The novel is set in the traditional 1920s & 1930s milieu that we are used to both from the majority of the Poirot stories (save those with Ariadne Oliver & Curtain) and from the TV adaptations – I do wonder if it is really possible to see Poirot in your mind’s eye nowadays without thinking of David Suchet.

The synopsis from the publisher is as follows:

“Hercule Poirot’s quiet supper in a London coffee house is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered. She is terrified, but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at the fashionable Bloxham Hotel have been murdered, a cufflink placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim…

In the hands of internationally bestselling author Sophie Hannah, Poirot plunges into a mystery set in 1920s London – a diabolically clever puzzle that can only be solved by the talented Belgian detective and his ‘little grey cells’.”

 

The reviews for this have been mixed but I did like it – it is a good read but it does have some fairly major flaws which I will now cover just some of.

It is narrated by a new character – Edward Catchpool who is a 32 year old police detective from Scotland Yard. We don’t know his rank – he is only ever called Catchpool or Mr Catchpool but he must be sufficiently senior to be allowed to go and investigate at Great Holling without asking permission. He is a policeman investigating murders but is scared of dead bodies – is this because he would have been 21 at the end of World War I so presumably would have served and may have been traumatised by the war. The problem with Catchpool is that we know little about him at the start and learn little more during the course of the novel – he is a mere tool for Poirot and not a well treated one at that.

There are some curious changes in the character of Poirot – he now appears to like English food (beef chop and vermicelli soufflé) and thinks that Pleasant’s kitchen in St. Gregory’s Alley in one of the less salubrious parts of London makes the best coffee Poirot has tasted anywhere in the world. Poirot also now likes fresh air and travelling on buses.

The plot does rely on Poirot making some leaps of logic that are a teensy bit heroic if one is being kind and the traditional ‘gather everybody together and show just how clever Poirot is’ drags on for far too long (Chapters 22 to 25 with the explanation to Catchpool so about 1/7 of the book).

There are more issues with the logic, characters and style highlighted by other reviewers – some I agree with and some I don’t – look at Amazon for some fairly damning reviews.

Will I buy a follow-up (Amazon are calling this ‘Hercule Poirot Mystery 1’) – of course I will as this is a new Hercule Poirot novel and I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels but it will be in the hope that they improve the way I feel Jill Paton Walshs Lord Peter Wimsey continuations have from book to book.