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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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Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz — book review

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“Can you tell me what happened on the night of the murder? I asked and even as I uttered the words I felt slightly ridiculous. They sounded so old-fashioned, so clichéd. If I’d seen them in a novel, I’d have edited them out.”

Anthony Horowitz has written yet another labyrinthine whodunnit that pays homage to Golden Age Detective fiction. In Moonflower Murders readers will be reunited with Susan Ryeland, a former editor who now runs a small hotel in Crete with her partner Andreas. Running a hotel is exhausting and Susan, nostalgic about her old life, years for a break. It just so happens that she’s approached by a couple, the Trehearnes, own a five-star hotel, Branlow Hall, in Suffolk. Eight years previously a guest was brutally murdered in his room. Susan just so happens to have edited a book that was inspired by this murder (Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd Takes the Case). The Trehearnes’ daughter, Cecily, disappeared after telling them that Alan’s novel holds the truth behind the 2008 murder. The Trehearnes hire Susan, hoping that her knowledge of the book and her ties to the now deceased Alan will shed light on Cecily’s disappearance. Similarly to Magpie Murders the novel is divided between Susan’s narrative and Alan’s novel.
While it does take a stretch of the imagination to believe that the Trehearnes would hire Susan and not a private detective to find what happened to their daughter, I soon fell into the flow of story. Susan’s presence at Branlow Hall ruffles quite a few feathers. There is Cecily’s icy sister, the various hotel employees, Cecily’s husband and their nanny…we have quite a large cast. Some of them hold Susan accountable for Alan’s novel, others simply don’t like the idea of her ‘snooping’ around. Yet Susan, who is determined to find out what happened to Cecily, knows that her disappearance is tied up to that fateful night in 2008.
While I did like the story-within-the-story technique in Magpie Murders, in this novel I was far more invested in Susan’s ‘reality’ than Alan’s book. In fact, as much as I like I Horowitz’s writing, I did dislike Alan’s. I found myself agreeing with Susan’s comments about Atticus Pünd Takes the Case: Alan’s narrative is populated by cruel caricatures of the ‘real’ people from Branlow Hall. I just didn’t particularly care for Pünd and his investigation. Alan’s novel seems a clumsy attempt at imitating Agatha Christie. His dialogues lack her wit and his detective is forgettable. I wish that Horowitz had also included a few relevant chapters from Alan’s novel, rather than giving us the whole thing.
While many of the easter eggs and allusions in Alan’s novel went over my head (was all that kerfuffle with the names truly necessary?), I knew the identity of the killer early on…which is perhaps inevitable given that Alan tries so hard to emulate the Queen of Crime (view spoiler). While I do understand that much of what I disliked in Atticus Pünd Takes the Case was intentional (as characters from Susan’s narrative point out its many flaws), I still don’t understand why readers should have to read the whole thing. Also, Alan’s novel takes us away from the more interesting whodunnit.
For the most part I liked Susan’s investigation. There were so many subplots and red-herrings that it was hard to keep all the facts straight but for the most part I was intrigued by the unfolding of her investigation.
Sadly, I couldn’t help but noticing that Horowitz has written yet another book that casts homosexuality in a negative light. This is the third book by him (the other ones being Magpie Murders and The House of Silk) in which gay men are portrayed as morally corrupt (they are sadistic, pedophiles, liars, manipulative). Which…what gives Horowitz? Throughout Moonflower Murders characters make comments about ‘what can and what can’t be said’ nowadays, which suggests some sort of awareness towards ‘modern’ sensibilities’. While I do not except, nor desire, for characters to be models of virtue, it seems odd to make your 3 gay characters either horrible, such as with Alan and Frank, or a former prostitute who leads an unhealthy and unfulfilling existence. Great representation…not. While there aren’t any extremely likeable characters, Alan and Frank are perhaps the worst of the whole lot. When talking about Alan and Frank, other characters conflate their sexual orientation with their morally reprehensible behaviour. They will say ‘I have nothing against gay men’ and go on to say something that equates being gay with perversion. This is the second novel by Horowitz in which his main character doesn’t challenge other characters’ homophobic remarks (Susan…you’ve let me down).
In Horowitz’s novels being gay makes you undesirable.
This whole thing bugged me so much that I was unable to become truly invested in the story. Still, I did like Horowitz’s depiction of the publishing industry, and I was interested in Susan’s observations about the editing process or writing in general.

“Every writer is different,” I said. “But they don’t steal, exactly. They absorb. It’s such a strange profession, really, living in a sort of twilight between the world they belong to and the world they create.”

This was far from a ‘bad’ whodunnit. While I was disappointed by the way gay characters were portrayed, Horowitz’s writing is nevertheless engaging (and his quintessentially British humour gets to me). Atticus Pünd Takes the Case on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired.

My rating: 3 of 5 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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Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie

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“Who is there who has not felt a sudden startled pang at reliving an old experience, or feeling an old emotion?”

Curtain bids a bittersweet farewell to the one and only Hercule Poirot. While I know that by this point Agatha Christie feelings towards him were less than amicable, her novel doesn’t convey its creators impatience. Rather than hurrying Poirot off from the stage, Christie grants him one final performance.
I will admit that seeing the formidable Poirot altered in such a visible way did indeed affect me. Still, in spite of his physical appearance, his mind remains as sharp as ever and he is, as per usual, always a mile ahead of his naïve friend Hastings (who is yet again played like a fiddle). Surprisingly Hastings was not as irritating as he could usually be, and while his younger self was more of a stick-in-the-mud kind of chap (at times acting like little more than disgruntled child), this older Hastings seems far more genial. Hastings’ feelings mirrored my own ones: being at Styles again brings about a bout of nostalgia, and his reunion with Poirot reveals that underneath his somewhat priggish British exterior, lies a deep affection for his Belgian friend.
Their banter was as amusing as ever, especially in those occasions when Poirot teases Hastings about his partiality for redheads.

While many of Christie’s murderers are often motived by financial gain, in Curtain our ‘X‘ is driven by much more fiendish impulses. Suspecting this, Poirot is forced to act fast. Sadly, his failing health does seem to disrupt his investigation so much so that Poirot finds himself seeking once again Hastings’ assistance.
The group of people residing in Styles offer us with interesting little portraits of human nature: a domineering spouse, an ambitious doctor, a womaniser…some of these have indeed in some form or other in previous works by Christie but that doesn’t make them any less interesting. Christie, as per usual, demonstrates that she is perfectly attuned to capture certain personalities—their attitudes, moral and political standpoints, as well as their fears and desires, their strengths and weaknesses—and the way in which they talk—through different word choices, expressions, and turns of phrases—so that each character leaves a vivid impression in the readers’ mind.

“As my taxi passed through the village, though, I realised the passage of years. Styles St Mary was altered out of all recognition. Petrol stations, a cinema, two more inns and rows of council houses.”

Christie’s own nostalgia is apparent in this novel, and Hastings, similarly to his creator, perceives the changes in his world with an uneasy acceptance. There are quite a few works by Christie that express uncertainty over the modernisation and rapidly changing social norms of her country, and these feelings particularly suited the story of Curtain as much of it seems to be a dialogue between the various cases that have shaped Poirot’s career.
The mystery was skillfully executed, and I enjoyed reading of the way in which seemingly small events and exchanges seemed to alienate the characters from one another. The reveal was both clever and effective, bringing light to the whole affair.
I thoroughly recommend this one to fans of Poirot. Sad as it may be it demonstrates Christie’s greatest strengths (wit, murder, drama). And while the novel might be presenting us with Poirot’s final case, I am eager to be reunited with him in his early adventures…

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.5 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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Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz — book review

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I like to think of myself as a “serious” Agatha Christie fan. With the exception of one or two books—aberrations of some sort—I have always enjoyed reading Christie. I also happen to be a huge fan of the Poirot ITV series (starring the impeccable David Suchet) on which Horowitz has worked on. As Horowitz demonstrates in Magpie Murders, he knows a lot about whodunnits, particularly those that are considered to belong to the ‘golden age’ of detective fiction.

Magpie Murders is both a homage and satire of the detective genre. In a similar vein to The Silkworm, this novel focuses on a writer, Alan Conway, whose latest—and last—manuscript brings about some drama. In Conway Horowitz presents readers with the epitome of the self-important and unpleasant writer, and it’s easy to see why his editor—and one of the narrators—Susan Ryeland wants little do with him. Yet, asshe informs us in the very first pages of this novel, Conway’s last manuscript will change her life.
Knowing this, we then read the manuscript alongside her, and Horowitz utilises the device of the story-within-a-story perfectly, giving each narrative more or less the same length. Conway’s novel is full of easter eggs, many of which Susan decodes later on, and I had a lot of fun reading this quintessentially British whodunnit. The narrative, for Conway’s novel and Susan’s story, shows a self-awareness in its use of certain tropes and devices.
This was a fun read that kept me entertained from its opening page to its final one.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4)

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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 Franchise Affair : Book Review

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The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
★★★★✰ 4 stars

This was an interesting novel. The tension between the various parties (the accused and the accuser/victim) creates a sense of suspense and the mystery itself is less about ‘who is right and who is lying’ and more about what the court will decide.
The Franchise Affair gives its readers a picturesque look into the dynamics of a small town. The gossiping, the divide and resentment that can occur between classes, the type of ‘herd mentality’ that can turn a whole village or town against someone.
Tey’s writing style is easy to read and could often be rather amusing. The large cast of characters were all rendered in in vivid detail. Even if they made a single appearance the way in which the narrative presented them and their way of speaking gave a really clear cut image of that person.
The novel chronicles Robert Blair’s attempt to clear Marion Sharpe—and her mother’s—names. His investigation was very methodical and he made many clever speculations. He is helped by his cousin (who works at the same firm and is a poet) and by a few other people (such as a mechanic) who believe that the Sharpe women are not guilty.
The witty dialogues and sharp social commentary make this more than a ‘mere’ mystery. Although this novel encapsulates the society and conventions of a particular time and place (England in the late 40s) there were many things that made this a rather relatable story; for example, the Sharpe women are made guilty in the eyes of the public thanks to an article on a fairly gossipy paper reminded me of the way in which certain social medias (ahem, twitter) act like judge, jury, and executioner. Thanks to that one piece they became ostracised from their community and fall victim to their increasingly hostile community, guilty before any trial as taken place There was something vaguely Shirley Jackson-ish about this aspect of the story (two women living in a big house, hated by their village, said to be witches, (view spoiler) ).
Overall, this was an engaging and suspenseful story, and I will certainly pick another novel by Tey.

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