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Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie — book review

Death on the Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s most ingenuous mysteries. While Christie has definitely penned more ‘twisty’ whoddunits, the shifting dynamics between the book’s various players make for a suspenseful story.
With the exception of our wonderfully punctilious Poirot, Death on the Nile is almost entirely populated by unlikable characters (who are either blatantly racist or express misogynistic and classist sentiments). While Christie’s characters are in essence stereotypes—the self-centred socialites, the oppressive mothers, the vociferous communist, the self-effacing plain-Jane, the vengeful scorned woman—to dismiss them as ‘shallow’ or ‘caricatures’ is rather unjustified. Through her sharp-wit, Christie observes how duplicitous her characters are, regardless of their class and gender. The murder victim is initially presented as heroine of sorts: admired for her beauty, wealth, and altruism. But, here and there, we see glimpses of her flippant and selfish nature.
Throughout the course of the novel, Poirot, as per usual, demonstrates the power of his little grey cells. His denouement, however, wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed how enraged the suspects became once Poirot confronts them about their lies (I mean, they had it coming).

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton — book review


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Whodunnits, Agatha Christie, mysteries, and puzzles are all favourites of mine…so I was pretty excited to read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as it promised to combine all of these things together.

“I suddenly have the sense of taking part in a play in which everybody knows their lines but me.”

With a fascinating premise and unique structure I was expecting The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle to be an amazing read…and while it certainly did succeeded in grabbing my attention, I was ultimately unconvinced by much of its narrative, which struck me as confusing for the sole sake of being confusing.35967101.jpg

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is the type of book that will make you want to scratch your head in confusion and start taking notes. The story maintains its momentum through a blend of action and detection. To start with, I enjoyed how complex the story seemed to be. It definitely kept me guessing and wondering what would happen next. After the half-way point however it seemed to me that all of the different threads were becoming knotted together in a rather tangled mess.

A few of my gripes

➜The Groundhog Day scenario would have been interesting enough…and yet Stuart Turton seems to have felt the need to make his story all the more convoluted by adding weird rules (view spoiler) or using the ‘time-loop’ excuse to make things go a certain way.

➜I know that this is the type of novel that requires one to suspend their disbelief…and I was willing to do so for the seven-days-in-one thing but I struggled to believe in the historical setting. The period was chosen as an homage to Agatha Christie…which is fair enough. There are certain 1930s aesthetics that lend themselves quite nicely to a whodunnit. In Turton’s novel however we have a murky image of this period…the dialogue felt gimmicky and the narrative never gave a clear impression of what year the party was actually taking place in. Just a vague ‘after the War’ sort of setting. The guests attending the party acted in a very impolite manner. Customs and conventions are often forgotten in favour of creating some drama between characters. Everybody seems ready to shoot one another (these type of people usually prefer to shoot pigeons and whatnot) and they are so openly aggressive and rude as to seem completely unconvincing. Turton’s portrayal of the class divide is frankly misleading (so that we will have servants act with open hostility towards the guests).
This cast of characters would have been better suited to a story in the Old Wild West.

➜The whodunnit should have been the heart of the novel. Yet, it is often obscured by a series of weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird nonsense that is there only to confuse the reader. If I were to take the whodunnit out of this ‘context’ it would just seem over-the-top. If you’ve read a few novels by Christie—or any other Golden Age Detective novel—you are bound to find the whole thing derivative. The other mystery is rendered in such a backhanded sort of way as not to be all that compelling.

➜The twists were mildly annoying. (view spoiler)

With so much focus on the structure of his story Turton ends up neglecting the characterisations of his characters so that most of them appear as little more than thinly rendered caricatures. Some of Aiden’s hosts possessed similarly unpleasant and interchangeable personalities while a lot of the men at this party acted in the same blustering way. None of the characters affected me on an emotional level as they seemed closer to cardboard cutouts than real people. The footman is such a laughably one-dimensional villain (seriously, he hunts Aiden singing “Run, rabbit, run”) and so is the main culprit.

➜Turton’s writing could occasionally resort to eye-roll worthy descriptions such as “Blakheath shrinks around me, shrivelling like a spider touched to the flame” and “our entire future’s written in the creases around her eyes; that pale white face is a crystal ball with only horrors in the fog”. Phrases such as these made Aiden’s narration seem rather theatrical.

Overall
The story is so focused on eluding its readers as to leave a lot to be desired. From the poorly rendered time period to the cartoonish characters…this novel was a bit of mess. Still, I did stick to it so it was obviously doing at least something right.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie — book review

51Cf9ajBQ3L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an excellent example of why I consider Agatha Christie to be the Queen of Crime.

“Fortunately words, ingeniously used, will serve to mask the ugliness of naked facts.”

It’s curious that one of the most influential crime novels ever written came about by accident. The idea for this novel was given to Christie by her brother-in-law (she states as much in
her autobiography). Still, I doubt that there are many authors who could have pulled it off as Christie does. Now that I have finally re-read it I can also confirm that knowing the twist did not deter my reading experience…if anything I was able to appreciate just how clever a twist it was.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is in many ways a very Christiesque type of book.
While the story implements a lot of the established conventions of the detective novel (the countryside setting, red herrings, the eccentric and brilliant detective and his intellectually inferior companion) it is also cleverly and unexpectedly subversive.
Once again Christie plays around with themes of justice and good & evil. Poirot calls into question the morals of the people connected to Roger Ackroyd (his family, friends, and employees). Thanks to his little grey cells he’s able to disentangle the truth from an increasingly intricate web of lies…

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.5 stars

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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie — book review

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I can definitely see why many consider And Then There Were None to be Agatha Christie’s magnum opus. Over the past year I have read—or listened to—approximately 30 works by her. With the exception of one one or two anomalies, her books have never failed to entertain me. And I agree with those who call her the queen of crime fiction. Most of her murder-mystery stories implement literary devices that are now considered to be conventions of this genre, and while readers are duped by red herrings and false leads, her professional, or amateur, detectives always manage to extrapolate the truth. The guilty parties are punished, justice is served, and everything is well in the world.
In And Then There Were None she disrupts her usual form, as she challenges her readers expectations by providing us with a cast of quite likely guilty characters. Justice in And Then There Were None takes a sinister role, as we become invested in the lives of the people it seeks to punish.
A rhyme also acquires a dark and deadly significances as Christie uses the ten little soldiers rhyme to create, maintain, and build tension. As the story progresses, and the number of soldiers dwindles, this seemingly harmless rhyme seems far more terrifying than it first appeared to. Christie almost seems to be making a game out of this rhyme, one that is guaranteed to captivate her readers’ attention.
As per usual Christie demonstrates a shrewd insight into human nature. Cut off from the rest of society, the guests soon realise the direness of their situation…soon they fall prey to suspicion and an ever growing sense of uneasiness. The crimes they may, or may have not, committed will arouse further mistrust among the already divided group. Readers too will find themselves questioning the reliability of these characters, and depending on our feelings towards them, we will hope for their innocence or guilt…
With a few singularly effective descriptions Christie breathes life into her characters and their personalities. The changing dynamics between these various characters also provide us with yet another source of excitement. While their various exchanges and discussions do demonstrate Christie’s wit, I had the distinctive impression that this time around Christie had reined in her humour.

When reading crime fiction we often expect the naming and capturing of a criminal. This is usually followed by a restoration of both a moral and a social order…in And Then There Were None it is not the case.

A note on the audiobook edition:
Dan Stevens is such a charismatic narrator. His performance make for a highly engaging experience.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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The Truants by Kate Weinberg — book review

Untitled drawing (3).jpgThis is the type of non-literary book that has literary aspirations yet its laboured attempts to imbue its story and characters with a certain dose of moral ambiguity and depth ultimately fall flat.
In spite of its intriguing first few chapters The Truants soon followed the well-treaded path of similar campus/college novels: we have a main character who has a secret related to her past, she makes a new female friend who is more attractive and charming than she is, she falls for an alluring man who has secrets of his own, and she also finds herself drawn to her professor, who also happens to have secrets of her own.

I could have looked past the predictable and lacklustre dynamics around which the story pivots if the writing or the characters had revealed, at any point throughout the course of the novel, some depth or any other spark of vitality. Kate Weinberg’s prose was competent enough but as the story is told through an unmemorable main character’s point of view, much of it felt dull.
The Truants reminded me a lot of The Lessons by Naomi Alderman (not a good thing).

A more nuanced or interesting protagonist could have made this into a much more enjoyable novel. Our MC however is the typical forgettable young girl who somehow manages to attract the attention of people who seem a lot more fascinating than her…I write seem as I never quite believed that her guy (that’s how interesting he is) and her teacher were as clever or as alluring as our narrator told us. And that’s where the problem lies: she tells us that these two are such magnetic people. We are never shown exactly why they have such a powerful effect on her. This sort of introspective narrative can work…but here our MC’s examination of this period of her life seemed somewhat artificial.

I found this book engaging only when the characters discuss Agatha Christie. The rest is an overdrawn love triangle that is made to be far more tragic and destructive than what it is (dating for a few months when you are a first year uni student…is it as all-consuming as that?). The college aspect of the novel fades in the background, giving way to the usual melodramatic succession of betrayals and shocking secrets. If the characters had been more than thinly drawn clichés then I would have cared for this type of drama.

While this novel was slightly better than other clique-focused releases (such as the campus novel Tell Me Everything and the artsy Fake Like Me) I would recommend you skip this one…maybe you could try the very entertaining If We Were Villains or Donna Tartt’s seminal The Secret History or even the hugely underrated The House of Stairs.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2 stars

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Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie — book review

51wWO72YhvL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis was a light and entertaining read perfect for a warm summer day.
Christie must have had fun writing the character of Mrs Boynton, an oppressive and tyrannical matriarch who wouldn’t be out of place in a story by Shirley Jackson. The hatred that Mrs Boynton’s children nurture for their mother seems understandable…and I doubt that any reader will find themselves saddened by her death. Poirot, as per usual, happens to be in the vicinity and, unlike the readers, is unwilling to let the murderer go…
Christie’s portrays Mrs Boynton in a vivid and dramatic way, and it often in the scenes in which she is spoken of, where she does not feature directly, that we see how terrifying a person she is. Her children, although they fear and resent her, are mere puppets in her hands.
However, even if I enjoyed reading this novel, this is one of the few cases were I preferred ITV’s adaptation…perhaps because they change the identity and motive of the murderer, which in the novel feel somewhat unsatisfying

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars stars

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The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz — book review

The Word Is Murder offers readers a mixture of old and new.
The prose and murder-mystery are heavily reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey, whom are often referred as the most prominent golden age detective fiction writers. What is innovative about The Word Is Murder is that it blurs the line 9780062676788_custom-7786acbfe35f1fe03f3898d44d248ca8035f2f4b-s400-c85.jpgbetween fiction and non-fiction as the protagonist and narrator of the novel is Anthony Horowitz himself. While Daniel Hawthorne, the murder victim, and the ‘suspects’ are fictive characters, there are quite a lot of real people in the story.

Another thing that made this ‘whodunnit’ interesting is that Hawthorne, a former police detective, is not a nice person. Holmes and Poirot, in spite of their peculiarities, are likeable characters. Hawthorne, as Horowitz often points out, is a rather rude man, and readers too will find the detective’s closed-off manner and barely concealed homophobia hard to digest. Yet, even if we do not like him, it would be foolish to deny his great detective skills (he is incredibly observant) and in the end, although irked by many of his qualities and opinions, I found myself rooting for him.
Not only does Horowitz find himself ‘assisting’ a man he dislikes in what could or could not be a murder investigation but he also has to write about it so he often reminiscence about his writing and creating process. In doing so, Horowitz also paints an amusing picture of the publishing and literary world.

This novel combines two of my favourite things: a whodunnit nestled in a book about books. An amusing investigation that isn’t as predictable as readers are initially led to believe.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 because the audiobook edition is superbly narrated)

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THE MOVING FINGER (MISS MARPLE): BOOK REVIEW


The Moving Finger
by Agatha Christie

★★★★✰ 4.5 of 5 stars

It seems odd, now, to remember that Joanna and I were more amused by the letter than anything else. We hadn’t, then, the faintest inkling of what was to come – the trail of blood and violence and suspicion and fear.

The Moving Finger reveals a more mature side of Christie’s writing. While the narrative showcases her well-known traits, her wit and her amusing characters, underlining this story is a serious tone not often encountered in Christie’s mystery.

“There’s too much tendency to attribute to God the evils that man does of his own free will. I might concede you the Devil. God doesn’t really need to punish us, Miss Barton. We’re so very busy punishing ourselves.”

On a superficial level this is due the terms some of her characters use, but if I were to try and pin point the reason why The Moving Finger seems different from Christie’s usual, is the letters that set in motion the narrative. These vicious and insidious letters that bring about anger, shame and suspicion. These childish yet insidious letters make the mystery of this novel more likely, more real. Rich American millionaires and diamonds seem to belong in far off realities. These letters instead seem all too likely. They also reminded of a short story by Shirley Jackson (which was published in 1965), called The Possibility of Evil.
The narrator was a bit arrogant but I loved reading the scenes between him and his sister. Christie has mastered writing the ‘bickering’ siblings.
Overall, this was incredibly entertaining. The mystery wasn’t convoluted and I, for one, enjoyed reading about the various characters.

“Mrs. Dane Calthrop is a very remarkable woman, you know. She’s nearly always right.”
“It makes her rather alarming,” I said.
“Sincerity has that effect,” said Miss Marple.

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