I was a big Agatha Christie fan during my junior high and high school years. It all started with The Mystery of the Blue Train. Actually, it probably started with the smart marketing of the Pocket Books editions of Christie’s novels. That ominous cover, showing a skull and crossbones sign at a train crossing, and the blurb on the back cover, encouraged me to take a chance on my first adult mystery. I bought it at TG&Y and took it home with me.
Now, the funny part of the story: I never finished reading it! Here’s what happened: Toward the end of a junior high math class—8th grade? 9th grade? I don’t remember—I’m talking to my good friend Kathy about the book, telling her how much I’m enjoying it.
She gets into a kidding mood. She has the book in her hands, and she tells me she’s going to reveal the killer. A playful argument ensues, and she says she’s just going to open the book to a back page and read a sentence. She does. And, honest to gosh, she reveals the murderer!
She is immediately apologetic, and I have to check to make sure she really has done what I think she’s done. A quick review of the page tells me that she has given away the perpetrator. Kathy was just kidding around, and she feels bad. I feel bad, because I really loved this book and it’s been ruined for me.
A whodunnit really is all about whodunnit. They’re not called mysteries for nothing. Luckily, this premature reveal didn’t stunt my new Christie obsession. Over the next few years, I devoured the novels of this incredibly prolific “Queen of Crime.” Nope, I haven’t read them all, but still I present…
Young Bill Young’s Best of Agatha Christie
Best Hercule Poirot Mystery: Murder on the Orient Express. (Curiously, Murder in the Calais Coach was the U.S. title when I read it.) Ah, the little grey cells! Have they ever been employed so deliciously? Others will put their vote in for The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd or Death on the Nile, but they don’t even make my runners up list: The Clocks (a real brain twister for my then-young mind), There is a Tide (Taken at the Flood, U.K.) and Cat Among the Pidgeons.
Best Jane Marple Mystery: A Pocketful of Rye. I suspect Marple fans may find this an odd choice. Others would probably put forth my runners up: A Murder is Announced, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side and What Mrs. McGuillicuddy Saw (4:50 from Paddington, U.K.). There is a sadness to A Pocketful of Rye that probably suits my sensibilities. Plus, I think it has one of the most eloquent endings of any Christie novel.
Stay Away From the Poirot mystery Hickory Dickory Death (Hickory Dickory Dock, U.K.), and the Marple mystery Murder by Mirrors (They Do It With Mirrors, U.K.). The Queen of Crime was simply not up to her usual standards in these instances.
- The Pale Horse (murder for hire with a delightful appearance by Christie character Ariadne Oliver)
- Crooked House (a precocious little girl is at the center of this whodunnit)
- By the Pricking of My Thumbs (sleuths Tommy and Tuppence solve a crime in their later years)
- Endless Night (probably the darkest Christie I’ve ever read)
About those big and small screen adaptations…
Best Hercule Poirot: David Suchet
Worst Hercule Poirot: Tony Randle (The Alphabet Murders, based on The ABC Murders)
Best Jane Marple: Joan Hickson
Worst Jane Marple: Margaret Rutherford (Not the actress’ fault. The fault lies with the movie creators who wanted to make Miss Marple a comic figure.)
Best Film Adaptation of a Christie work: Witness for the Prosecution. (This is also Christie’s best short story. There are differences, of course, between story and film, but they both work in their own way.)
By the way, I never read the final mysteries of Christie’s two most famous sleuths, the Marple mystery Sleeping Murder, and the Poirot novel Curtain. They were written decades earlier than their mid-70s release, and were not published until after Christie’s death. The author had them all ready to go, and it was a big news story that she had both of her creations die in their final tales. Perhaps it was fitting, but I preferred to keep the little Belgian detective and the busy-body spinster from St. Mary Mead alive and solving crimes in my mind. Much better that way, don’t you think?
Agatha Christie is timeless. Her talent is evident in her continuing popularity. Variety reports that she has sold four billion books! As befits such a true literary force, there are plenty of places in cyberspace to get your Christie fix. Visit agathachristie.com for much more information, or follow the Christie community on Facebook.
Now it’s your turn. Tell us what Christie book you loved. Or let us know what kinds of whodunnits you like to read.
Here’s what’s on my nightstand:
• Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable by Bruce Hood (Beyond culture and the handing down of beliefs, Hood thinks there is something inherent in our nature that makes us believe the unbelievable.)
• The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (An adventure in an alternate world, where people really–I mean, *really*–value literature. What kind of drugs is this author taking?)
• The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham. (Latest installment of maybe the best comic/graphic novel series ever!)
(If you’ve been following this blog, you may be interested to know that Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is no longer on the nightstand!)
And what has been taking up Miss Kitty’s time?
• No Going Back by Lyndon Stacey (An ex-cop and his retired police dog solve a crime.)
• Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth (It’s about our relationship with food.)
• The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (A modern-day woman discovers she has a connection to the Salem Witch Trials.)
Plus, Kitty says she’s so fed up with this weather she’s getting ready to read a Christmas romance: Scrooge and the Single Girl by Oklahoma’s own Christine Rimmer.
OK, now it’s your turn. What have you been reading this hot, hot season?
Hmmm… with all these titles, I wonder how many categories I should tag? Let’s see…
Thanks Young Bill Young for helping me out during my away time. Soon YBY will be joining me as another Okie, Reading books and posting regularly to this blog. So glad you want suggestions for mysteries, my favorite topic next to Science Fiction. All time favorite is Ian Rankin. I also love the southern mystery, especially the ones with a sense of humor. Favorite: Anne George, her Southern Sister mysteries. LOL. Also taking along on my trip was Kathy Hogan Trocheck, aka Mary Kay Andrews (just realized they were one and the same). Callahan Garrity runs an Atlanta maid service with her mom. She used to be a cop but is now a private investigator in between cleaning jobs. This one has a lot to say about the serious topic of race relations, but there’s a mystery to be solved and the House Mice are hard at work solving the crime.
Good reading, pick any book in the series. Excellent plane fare.
Speaking of which, what else did I take along for plane reading, conference downtime reading, and not at work reading this last week.
First, I never take library books, Interlibrary Loan books or anything I worry about losing. Don’t need the stress.
So it was good I had a load of Metro book sale books, then I happened on the University of Utah Book Store and found remainders for $0.88. WOW! Two romances and three mysteries for about 5 bucks. Loving it.
So I started with Sonnet of the Sphinx by Diana Killian. A Poetic Death Mystery (2006). Light but intellectually interesting if you like riddles about romantic poets, lost letters, ship wrecks and newly dead bodies. Characters include Grace Hollister an American literary scholar in an unlikely relationship with Peter Fox, antiques dealer and ex-jewel thief. He’s spent some time in a Turkish prison and soon a one time ex-jailer turns up dead and Peter finds himself a suspect. Detective Inspector Drummond, did I mention very good looking Det. Inspector Drummond, suspects both Hollister and Fox of not being completely honest with the police.
Then there is a very unlikeable librarian, and a new owner of the Mallow farm where the lost poem of Shelley may by residing and a host of clues from the past.
Second, Dead Serious by Susannah Stacey (pseud. of writing team Jill Staynes and Margaret Storey) . I remember Superintendent Bones from a previous book or maybe two. But of course can’t remember the other titles I’ve read. But this is a really good British crime series in the tradition of Dalgleish or Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks. Charlotte (Cha ) Bone’s daughter; Grizel, second wife and a host of townies round out the cast of characters. Body count begins with the corpse of an unsavory television personality found in the trunk of a car. And that is only the beginning of a holiday fete gone wrong.
Since I firmly believe Oklahoma is the center of the universe and all things eventually come home. I can’t help but point out a *Reference to a band playing a tune from Oklahoma during Biddinghurst’s local festival while mayhem ensues. There’s a lot of bad stuff afoot in this small town. Miss Marple would have been unnerved by the activity of the local citizenry. And I’ll leave you with this note from the news media, “W hat exactly was going on in Biddinghurst?”
All in all a good week for quick reads, shopping, beautiful Utah weather, great eating out and a nice visit with my sister in law. And of course, my work conference wasn’t bad either.
Young Bill Young here. Last Sunday a friend of mine asked what mysteries I’ve read lately that I would recommend. Other than suggesting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I didn’t have much to offer. As I’ve said, after running through Agatha Christie’s books during junior high, I rarely pick up a mystery.
My friend knows I read lots of sci-fi, and he hasn’t read very much in that genre. So he also asked what science fiction books I would recommend to a sci-fi newbie. I pretty much aced that part of the interrogation. Here’s what I recommended:
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
I’m calling it a list of five, since the second Simmons book completes the story that begins in Hyperion, and the Brin books take place during the same time period in his Uplift Universe.
So, tell me: what mysteries would you recommend to someone in the mood for a good whodunit?
Yes, I could look up the lists of award-winning mysteries, but I really want to know what you folks think. Come on mystery fans! I know you’re out there…
Young Bill Young here, stealing a piece of Kitty’s online real estate one more time.
I’m not a librarian, but I play one in real life for my friend Ralph. Ralph is in the third age of life, and he’s embarked on a mission to re-read many of his favorite books and authors. Since I work in a library, guess who gets to do some of his Interlibrary Loan requests?
During the past year, I’ve borrowed books by George V. Higgins, Henry Kuttner, Lewis Padgett (the co-author pseudonym for Kuttner and his wife C. L. Moore), and illustrator/author Karen Wehrstein to help him in his quest. Most recently, he’s been rereading British novelist and mystery writer Nicolas Freeling.
Freeling was a popular, award-winning writer best known for his Van der Valk series, which was adapted for British television. His Henri Castang mysteries were not as celebrated, even though some critics believed them superior to the Van der Valk works. Freeling enraged his fans when he killed off Van Der Valk in 1972′s A Long Silence. The outrage over the loss of their favorite crime detective proved too much for his fans in Sweden and France, and both countries stopped publishing him.
But enough about Freeling. This post is really about how hard it is to find some of his books. I’m working down the list of Freeling’s two detective series so Ralph can read them in order, and so far I’ve struck out on finding two of the Castang novels: A Dressing of Diamonds and The Night Lords. They’re simply not out there on WorldCat to borrow through Interlibrary Loan.
Now I know that there is limited space on library shelves, that books are weeded due to disuse or bad condition, and that some books can’t be replaced because they are out of print. And, yes, the public is fickle and ever-changing. What’s popular today may be tomorrow’s cast-off. Still, it’s disappointing to find the works of a such a celebrated author disappearing from our library shelves and from publishers’ print schedules. Even a visit to amazon.co.uk reveals that many of Freeling’s works can only be purchased in used condition since they’re officially out of print in England.
A library colleague tells me it used to be hard to find books by Oklahoma’s own Jim Thompson. There wasn’t much demand for his dark pulp fiction, and his books were out of print. When a new appreciation for him emerged, some of his works were adapted to the screen (notably The Grifters, and After Dark, My Sweet), and he became even more popular than he was during his lifetime.
“We talk about immortal literature, but the vast majority of books are as mortal as we are.”
I wonder… will future generations come up with “no results” when they search for a John Grisham novel on WorldCat? Will they ponder the work of a forgotten author named Dan Brown? Will children still be reading Captain Underpants?
All is vanity.
What I’m in desperate need of is more fiction, so reading The Devil’s Star was the perfect antidote. Jo Nesbo is Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin, except Norwegian. Harry Hole, the flawed detective main character is engaging, funny, clever, alcoholic, avenger of wrongs, bad at relationships, all the things you want from a detective hunting down a serial killer. He is also trying to figure out if his fellow police officer and the lead detective on the case is a thief and killer in his own right. The usual “who can you trust at work” scenario, except these co-workers carry guns. The book is Harry’s struggle with himself, his bosses, his conscience, his life decisions and played out against the background of a killer on the loose during a steamy hot summer in Oslo.
Minor characters carry their weight, Beate Lonn is reminiscent of NCIS’s Abby. Oystein Eikeland, holdout from the sixties, taxi driver, shadowy figure and loyal to Harry. The plot is fast paced, and just when you think the end is near, the action really picks up. I first heard about this book from Detectives Beyond Borders, thank goodness someone is out there picking up on foreign mystery writers. And the interview with Nesbo revealed his liking for Oklahoman, Jim Thompson. Always looking for the Oklahoma connection, I was fascinated that Norwegian Nesbo admired Thompson.
Nesbo is what your summer reading needs. My big question is why a book written in 2003, translated in 2005 takes the United States publishing houses five years to get to American readers? Particularly one so good. Thank you HarperCollins for getting it, but can you get it a little faster. So I’ve borrowed the first book in the series on Interlibrary Loan, Redbreast and can’t wait to sink into it.
Listen to Nesbo for yourself,
I like the television series Castle, usually it has good clues, interesting storyline, sometimes the dialogue is a little lame but… Did anyone think the big clue was really lame last night. Good grief, everyone said the killer was left handed at the beginning, including Dana Delany announcing it in a loud voice, “The Killer is Left Handed”. So when they show the presumably dead killer lying on the floor with a gun by his right hand… Well Hello!
Young Bill Young here. I cut my adult reading teeth in junior high on Agatha Christie mysteries. With a few exceptions, I left the genre behind once I entered high school and college. My sister, however, remains a big mystery fan, and when she told me she had just finished one of the best mystery novels she’s ever read, I was intrigued. Especially since the book was The Girl with the Dragon Tatto. This book had already been on my radar screen because it has sold like hotcakes and received excellent reviews. The story of author Stieg Larsson, who submitted the first three of ten planned “girl” novels before his untimely death, has only added to the mystique of the book.
Well, I just finished reading it. And, yes, I loved it. Here are my top ten reasons for loving the girl:
1. Protagonist Lisbeth Salander has to be the strangest heroine to ever grace the pages of a whodunit.
2. Protagonist Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist with principles. This is especially refreshing in an age where talking heads and dueling propaganda masquerade as news.
3. It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. (I was never really sure what that saying meant, but I think I have a better understanding since reading this book.)
4. It’s not just a “murder” mystery, it’s also a financial thriller. And a good one.
5. It’s a parable for our times. Every Wall Street speculator who fueled the Great Recession should have to read this book and then give a “class report” to the nation about what they learned.
6. It gives new meaning to the term “dysfunctional family.”
7. It takes us to far off places. Not only will you get to knock around Sweden with Lisbeth and Mikael, you will also travel to Australia and Switzerland.
8. It takes you into the underground world of hackers.
9. It reveals that misogyny is alive and well in progressive Sweden.
10. It’s a love story.
The popularity of the book has led to a movie in Sweden. It will probably be making the foreign film circles in America soon, and I suspect it’s just a matter of time before an English or American movie is made. But don’t wait for the cinematic adaptation. We all know the book is always better than the movie. And this is a good book, indeed!
A colleague suggested Bryant & May mysteries a long time ago, so as I passed by the new book table this one popped out at me. Bryant & May as the matchstick advertising of the thirties suggests is a perfect match.
The books are all about strange and nefarious London crimes sorted out by the PCU (Peculiar Crimes Unit), think NCIS with a crazy assortment of British police officers. Christopher Fowler gives a little background you might find interesting before embarking on this series, and also check out his blog.
In Bryant & May on the Loose the PCU has offended the higher rungs at the Home Office and have been ousted from their headquarters. Bryant has taken to bed, even a headless corpse won’t get him up. When Meera Mangeshkar, one of his former Detective Constables is attacked by a man dressed as a stag, adorned with steel antlers, Bryant finally moves into action. Soon other bodies without heads are turning up. Fowler’s book explores the historical underbelly of London, this time, King’s Cross. It also takes a stab at corporate greed, gentrification and the inevitable urban decay.
The novel twists and turns like the King’s Cross streets but eventually all loose threads are nicely drawn together with a very shocking ending.
I probably should have started with the first book in the series, Full Dark House. Absolutely intend to go back and read all the others. This is one series I don’t want to let slip away.
P.S. My friend at work loved the Water Room. Be aware there seem to be a lot of different book covers for the series.
It’s so sad that Robert Parker has passed away. Spenser and Stone will certainly live on for his many fans. His writing style spoke to young and old (my mom and I both read Spenser novels), male and female. The Spenser TV show as well as the made for TV movies of Jesse Stone added an additional audience. All librarians know his books moved off the shelves from the seventies through a lively readership of today. We’re all sorry there won’t be a new Parker novel to look forward to reading.
just a few titles to remember him by and the list goes on and on and on….