evil under the sun

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2012 – Completion

I participated on the Vintage Mystery Challenge 2012 hosted by the wonderful Bev Hankins of My Readers Block.

I had chosen to read from two Vintage Themes (16 books). The themes were,

Deadly Decades: 8 books, one from each time period plus one of your choice (Pre-1900s; 1900-09; 1910-19; 1920-1929; 1930-1939; 1940-1949; 1950-59).

Golden Age Girls: 8 books by female authors OR 8 books with female detectives.

And drumroll, please! I completed the challenge last month! It took me on an average two books per month. I could have done it faster but I didn’t want to. I wanted to savour it as much as possible. But here we are at the end of the road.

Once again, I’d like to thank Bev for hosting this challenge! 🙂

Completed Books:

Deadly Decades: 

Pre-1900s: The Big Bow Mystery. Israel Zangwill. (1892)

1900-09: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (1902)

1910-19: At the Villa Rose. A.E.W. Mason. (1910)

1920-1929: Behind That Curtain. Earl Derr Biggers. (1928)

1930-1939: The Thirteen Problems. Agatha Christie. (1932)

1940-1949: The Body in the Library. Agatha Christie. (1942)

1950-59: 4.50 from Paddington. Agatha Christie. (1957)

Decade of my own choice: 1900-09: In the Fog. Richard Harding Davis. (1901)

Golden Age Girls: 8 books by female authors.

1. The After House. Mary Roberts Rinehart.

2. The Lodger. Marie Adelaide Belloc.

3. A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie.

4.  The Old Man in the Corner. Baroness Orczy.

5. The Moving Finger. Agatha Christie.

6. Evil Under the Sun. Agatha Christie.

7. Death And The Dancing Footman. Ngaio Marsh.

8. The Beckoning Lady. Margery Allingham.

Death And The Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh

Death And The Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh was published in 1942. It is the eleventh book in Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series.

The mischievous owner of Highfold Manor has been busy planning the ultimate weekend party. He hopes to bring together a group of people who, at best, have an uneasy relationship with each other, then sit back and enjoy the fireworks. What he doesn’t know is that it’s going to be an extremely long weekend, a weekend no one will ever forget.

I enjoyed Death And The Dancing Footman much better than my last Marsh novel, Opening Night. The women in Death And The Dancing Footman are, for one, much less stupid. Also, the dialogues are much better.

Death And The Dancing Footman is set in Highfold Manor at Dorset. As the party is all assembled there a terrible storm starts, leaving the roads deep in snow and the mansion is totally cut off from civilization. I am very fond of cosy mysteries set in isolated places with no way out.  Christie’s And Then There Were None, Evil Under the Sun and Cyril Hare’s An English Murder come to mind. But somehow I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere of Highfold Manor as much as I should have.

The mystery is good. I suspected almost everyone by turns.

The narrative does go a bit slowly. I do get that they are stuck in a snowbound mansion in the middle of nowhere. But still the time between the beginning & the crime and from the crime to its solution feels like an eternity.

Among the characters I found Jonathan Royal to be really irritating. He is childish, selfish and even harmful at times. Why would anyone want to be his friend is beyond me. Aubrey Mandrake was another childish, whiny sort of character. All the members of the Compline family are uniformly bland.

Detective Roderick Alleyn doesn’t really do much. He shows up after more than half of the book is over. He asks a few questions and solves the thing pretty easily. I’m still not sure how he hit upon the solution to the mystery.

As I have mentioned earlier the women in this book are not stupid, which is a relief for me. Almost all of them are strong characters, whether good or evil. Although I was annoyed by everyone falling in love with Chloris Wynne just because she is blonde and beautiful. She does however admit that she is not a natural blonde, which made her more likeable.

I don’t like too much romance in my mystery. One of the romances did begin to annoy me mostly because of the man but the woman sort of redeemed it.

The ending was satisfying but I do have a few qualms about the character of the murderer. I feel that the motive behind the crime abruptly changes the character of the murderer. It doesn’t really make sense.

Even though I did have some problems with Death And The Dancing Footman, I overall enjoyed the book. It is a nice, satisfying cosy mystery.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot and holidays never get on well together. Wherever Poirot goes death seems to stalk him. This time though it all may turn out differently. This secluded hotel called the Jolly Roger is very exclusive and entry to it is extremely restricted. Surely, all of its guests are safe against the outside world. But that wouldn’t matter because everywhere under the sun there is evil.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie was published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1941 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the same year.

Arlena Marshall is a strikingly attractive woman. She is a heartbreaker and men are drawn to her like moths to a flame. The vacationers at the Jolly Roger think that she’s up to her old tricks again. But when she turns up dead and the truth starts to be uncovered, it becomes apparent that things are not always what they seem.

I found the plot of Evil Under the Sun surprisingly similar to that of a Poirot short story called Triangle at Rhodes (1936). It also bears some resemblance to another Poirot novel, Death on the Nile (1937). Incidentally, one of the characters in Evil Under the Sun makes a reference to the case of Death on the Nile in one of the early chapters.

Among the characters I thought that the victim, Arlena Marshall, wasn’t properly fleshed out. We know what the others think of her but I don’t really get a sense of who she really was. Kenneth Marshall’s character I didn’t really understand or feel sympathetic towards. He’s a bit of a stuffed shirt. The character of Linda Marshall was poorly sketched.

I found the characters of Odell and Carrie Gardener funny, even if they were caricatures. I wish I could have learned more about the characters of Stephen Lane, Horace Blatt and Emily Brewster.

Like many other Christie mysteries this book has at least one recurring character in it. One of the official investigators in this case, Colonel Weston, had previously appeared in Peril at End House.

Agatha Christie did a wonderful job describing the hotel and its surrounding area. I had no problem picturing it in my mind. Once I started the book it was like I was transported right to the seaside resort, with its beach and overhanging cliffs.

With this mystery I totally had no clue about who the murderer is. I suspected everyone at one time or another. In the end there is no great twist to the solution of the mystery. Of course, there aren’t enough people or enough space for a real surprise. But the actual murder with its intricacy more than makes up for it. It is one of the more elaborately planned murders envisioned by Christie.

Evil Under the Sun is a very engaging mystery. Definitely recommended.

Teaser Tuesdays (June 19)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read

• Open to a random page

• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser:

“It was Mr Blatt’s apparent ambition to be the life and soul of any place he happened to be in. The Jolly Roger Hotel, in his opinion, given somewhat loudly, needed brightening up. He was puzzled at the way people seemed to melt and disappear when he himself arrived on the scene.”

 P. 56, Evil Under the Sun”  by Agatha Christie

Happy Birthday Agatha Christie!

15th of September, 2011 is the 121st birthday of Dame Agatha Christie, DBE.  Arguably, one of the most famous and prolific mystery writers of all time, her contribution to the detective/mystery genre is indisputable.

Now, it is no secret that I love Agatha Christie’s works! Although Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories first got me interested in the genre of mystery, it was Agatha Christie and her creations that got me totally enamoured with the genre. So, today I will discuss some of my favourites among her creations, both characters and books, as a tribute to her.

“The worst is so often true.”  – Miss Jane Marple

Miss Marple is my favourite Christie detective.

It started with A Murder is Announced (1950), my first Miss Marple mystery. Since then I have read every single Miss Marple novel and short story out there. I love how Miss Marple always assumes the worst about everyone and is always frighteningly right.

The Miss Marple short story collection, The Thirteen Problems (1932) (also known as The Tuesday Club Murders) is my all time favourite Agatha Christie book. My favourite stories from The Thirteen Problems are The Tuesday Night Club, The Idol House of Astarte, The Blood-Stained Pavement, The Blue Geranium, The Companion, The Four Suspects, A Christmas Tragedy and The Herb of Death. The Idol House of Astarte and The Blue Geranium creeps me out. I remember reading The Idol House of Astarte while riding the bus with chattering class mates and I still felt a chill go down my spine. The Blood-Stained Pavement is a predecessor to Evil Under the Sun. The usage of the language of flowers thing in The Four Suspects was very interesting.

A close second is Sleeping Murder (written in the 40’s, published in 1976). The story with its themes of suspicion and jealousy and tacit hints of something even more forbidden feels ahead of its time. The atmosphere of the home where it all takes place is creepy to say the least.

“I do not approve of murder.” – Hercule Poirot

Hercule Poirot is perhaps Christie’s best known detective. I love his little idiosyncrasies and the way he sometimes pretends to be more ‘foreign’ than he actually is.

My first Hercule Poirot was Lord Edgware Dies (1933).

My all time favourite Poirot mystery is Cards on the Table (1936). I love this book because this has Mrs. Oliver joining forces with Poirot for the first time and Colonel Race & Superintendent Battle, two minor Christie detectives, come together with Poirot for the first and the last time. The impossible setting of the murder also is another major reason I love the book.

“You believe in a life after death, do you not? And who are you to say that the same wishes, the same desires, may not operate in that other life? If the desire is strong enough – a messenger may be found.” – Harley Quin

A strange mixture of mystery and supernatural, Mr. Harley Quin, is perhaps the most unusual of Christie’s creations.

Even though in her autobiography Agatha Christie mentioned that Mr. Quin and his friend Mr. Satterthwaite were her favourite creations she wrote only 14 short stories featuring Mr. Quin. 12 of those were collected in the book The Mysterious Mr.Quin. As a collection of short stories, The Mysterious Mr.Quin is exceptional. The plots of the stories are quite nondescript at times but the presence of Mr. Quin makes reading The Mysterious Mr.Quin worth while.

“Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne.” – Parker Pyne

I believe Parker Pyne has been extremely neglected by every one. I really like his stories because they have a certain warmth to them.

There are a total of 14 Parker Pyne stories of which I loved The House at Shiraz (1933) and Death on the Nile (1933) (a short story, not the Hercule Poirot novel of the same name) from the collection Parker Pyne Investigates (1934) the best.  Interestingly, Hercule Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon started out as Mr. Pyne’s secretary. Poirot’s friend Mrs. Oliver also makes an appearance in one of the Parker Pyne stories. A nice link between the two detective’s worlds.

“Who was whistling Three Blind Mice?” – Sergeant Trotter, The Mousetrap

I love reading plays in general. Among Agatha Christie’s plays my favourites are And Then There Were None (1943), Appointment with Death (1945), The Hollow (1951) and of course the legendary The Mousetrap (1952). Interestingly, all of these plays feature people who are trapped somehow. And Then There Were None, The Hollow and The Mousetrap both have a group of unlikely characters stuck unwittingly in an isolated house while Appointment with Death features a family suffocated by their menacing family matriarch.

Finally, I would like to wish Agatha Christie a very Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday Ms Christie! Thank you for making me happy and comforting me with your wonderful cosy mysteries when I need it the most!