When I was young and pretentious I used to sometimes walk around with a book prominently displayed to show my erudition and when I went on holiday would take some great tome with me thinking this would be the ideal time to read War and Peace or Proust or something that would mark me out as a member of the intelligentsia.
Those days are long past and it always amuses me to read sections in the newspapers on what the glitterati are taking to read with them while they jet off to Mauritius or the Seychelles or go pony trekking in the Andes etc etc. We all know full well that when you get away and are lolling on a beach and drinking a Campari and Soda and nodding off that you simply cannot be arsed with Rushdie or Amis and are more likely to turn to Rankin or Agatha and to hell with the little grey cells.
So over the last two weeks I have been reading crime novels and have abandoned all ideas of reading anything that requires careful analysis or criticism and I have had a great time.
This year I am rereading a lot of Agatha Christie and came across a pile of tattered paperbacks by this author, going dead cheap, in a second hand bookshop in Robin Hoods Bay. Read my way through them all and thought I would give you my thoughts on them.
Crooked House - this is one of Agatha's stand alone books, no Miss Marple or Tommy or Tuppence or Poirot in sight. The Leonides family all live together in the Crooked House of the title. The patriarch of the family dies and it is discovered that he has been poisoned. The sons and daughters in law are all hoping that it is his second wife, a vapid blonde years younger than him who they think is having an affair with the tutor working in the house, and in due course evidence is found against her and she is arrested. Josephine, a clever twelve year old and granddaughter of the house, is nosy and knowing and is keeping information to herself regarding the murderer. An attempt is made on her life and then another murder. The twist at the end is terrific. This is one of my favourite by Dame Agatha and in a foreword to the book she says the same. I can really recommend this as one of her very best.
Two days later: I am back to try and finish this post. When cutting onions the other night I managed to dig the knife into a finger and take a chunk out of it. Blood everywhere, looked worse than it was but rather diffy to type when middle finger is swathed in bandage etc. So trying again.
Two more Christie and both Poirot.
Cards on the Table. A dinner party where the host, the rather oddly named Mr Shaitana, invites four guests who he says have got away with murder, literally, and four crime experts, Poirot, Mrs Oliver, a police superintendent and Colonel Race, one of these characters who pops up at frequent intervals in Christie. Intriguing idea and while the host sits out and watches his guests playing bridge he falls asleep in his chair. But of course he is not asleep but has been killed with a sharp little dagger from one of his display tables. Now with a limited amount of suspects one might think that the book would not be as interesting as others by Dame A but not so. Just when you think you have the answer, Dame A twists it round again. I remember watching this on TV and being hugely annoyed by the insertion of a lesbian relationship (totally unwarranted and added nothing to the story), but even worse the identity of the murderer was totally changed. I was livid.
Cat among the Pigeons. One of the later Christies and though there was a falling off in her later books this is not one of them. Set in a very posh girls boarding school, very British and very upper crust and then one night the games mistress is shot (I have read several murders set in schools and the poor games mistress seems to be the one destined for death in quite a few of them. I wonder why?). Then another mistress is coshed over the head and another also done to death. One of the pupils at the school is a princess from a vaguely eastern country which has just had a take over and a hint that the crown jewels have been spirited out pre-revolution, a spy, a glamorous exotic dancer who is in pursuit of the jewels and another classic piece of misdirection. You think you know who did all the murders but when this person is revealed, they have an alibi for one of them so who did that one? One of her best.
OK I have to stop as I am now bleeding all over my keyboard again. Yuk. But in closing I also read three Anne Cleeves (one Vera Stanhope and two set in the Shetlands) which I enjoyed and caught up on several Inspector Banks. And before I went away I read to simply wonderful books by Alan Melville published by the British Library which were terrific and I shall write about them in more detail.
Right off to get the Elastoplast.