Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012

Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012 – Completion

I participated in the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012 hosted at the Book Chick City. My participation level was TWELVE (12) mystery & suspense novels.

And I have completed my first challenge of 2012! I thought it would take me at least six months to finish 12 mystery & suspense books but I did it in five. So yay me! 🙂

So glad to have participated in the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012! Thanks to everyone in Book Chick City for hosting this fabulous challenge!

Completed Books:

1. The Big Bow Mystery. Israel Zangwill.

2. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

3. At the Villa Rose. A.E.W. Mason.

4. Behind That Curtain. Earl Derr Biggers.

5. The Thirteen Problems. Agatha Christie.

6. The Body in the Library. Agatha Christie.

7. 4.50 from Paddington. Agatha Christie.

8.  In the Fog. Richard Harding Davis.

9. The After House. Mary Roberts Rinehart.

10. The Lodger. Marie Adelaide Belloc.

11. A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie.

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

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The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy

Today Baroness Orczy is mostly remembered as the creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel but she also wrote quite a few mysteries. The Old Man in the Corner (1909) is possibly the best known among her mysteries.

Polly Burton, a young reporter, encounters a strange old man at a tea shop. He offers simple solutions to the most perplexing of unsolved mysteries. All the while the man toys with a piece of string, making knots and unravelling them. Annoyed by the man’s smugness but at the same time fascinated by his solutions Miss Burton keeps visiting the tea shop, as a new mystery is unravelled each time.

I had read The Fenchurch Street Mystery a long time ago in a mystery anthology. I wasn’t much impressed with it as I found it kind of dull. As a collection, Baroness Orczy’s mysteries, with an interconnecting central narrative, work better.

The Old Man in the Corner contains twelve short mysteries, The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace, The York Mystery, The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway, The Liverpool Mystery, The Edinburgh Mystery, The Theft at the English Provident Bank, The Dublin Mystery, An Unparalleled Outrage, The Regent’s Park Murder, The de Genneville Peerage and The Mysterious Death in Percy Street.

Most of the mysteries are easy to figure out once you’ve read the first few stories. After a while I managed to pin point the culprit pretty easily. I read on only to find out how they did it.

Many of these mysteries are rather twisted. I say twisted because none of the criminals are caught or punished by the authorities. The eponymous old man’s sympathies lie mostly with the criminals and he shows unconcealed delight as the criminals get away with their crimes. Also, there is something gruesome about many of the stories. For example, the murders in The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The Dublin Mystery and The de Genneville Peerage. Some of the perpetrators, like those in The York Mystery and The Edinburgh Mystery, are abnormal people with a warped view of love and loyalty.

Among the stories The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The York Mystery, The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway, The Edinburgh Mystery, The Theft at the English Provident Bank, The Dublin Mystery and The de Genneville Peerage are pretty good. Mysteries like The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace, The Liverpool Mystery, An Unparalleled Outrage and The Regent’s Park Murder are pretty bland. The last story, The Mysterious Death in Percy Street, left me surprised.

The end of the central narrative left me fairly shocked. I really didn’t see this coming.

Overall, I enjoyed The Old Man in the Corner. I would definitely want to read more of Baroness Orczy’s mysteries.

(This review is offered as a part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme. Check out what other reviews are up at pattinase.)

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye.

Four and twenty blackbirds,

Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,

The birds began to sing;

Wasn’t that a dainty dish,

To set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,

Counting out his money;

The queen was in the parlour,

Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,

Hanging out the clothes;

When down came a blackbird

And pecked off her nose.

This, in short, is the plot of A Pocketful of Rye.

Agatha Christie had a real affinity for nursery rhymes. Many of her novels and short stories are named after nursery rhymes. A Pocketful of Rye gets its name from the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence.

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie was first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1953 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year.

The setting of the story is classic Christie. A large household filled with unpleasant people were everyone has a motive and any of them might have been the killer.

The bodies pile up amazingly quickly which is unusual for a Marple mystery.

Among the characters, I found the character of the chief investigator Inspector Neele to be kind of different. He is quite young and not portrayed in the usual way the police are portrayed in detective books. He kind of reminds me of Inspector Craddock, another young detective from the Marple stories. I felt sorry for Jennifer Fortescue. Getting what you want may not always be a good thing.

In this novel, Miss Marple is much sterner and much more eager to catch the killer. She had known one of the victims and it is her death that makes Miss Marple angrier than I’ve ever seen her before. Inspector Neele calls her ‘avenging fury’ (though he admits she does not look like the popular idea of it).

Miss Marple deduces the identity of the killer once again through her infinite knowledge of the ‘Human Nature’. I was kind of surprised by the identity of the killer. Because it is not the usual type Christie goes with (not that there hasn’t been one or two exceptions to this rule in some of Agatha Christie’s books).

The narrative is crisp and enjoyable. The book almost reads itself.

A Pocket Full of Rye is a very entertaining Miss Marple novel. Mystery buffs will definitely enjoy this engaging little problem. Recommended.

The Lodger by Marie Adelaide Belloc

*The following review may contain spoilers.*

The Lodger was published in 1913. It is arguably the most well known work of its author Marie Adelaide Belloc (1868 – 1947). The Lodger famously became the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), although the movie differs somewhat from the book.

The new lodger at the Buntings’ home is a dream come true. So generous with money and such a gentleman! He is just what Robert and Ellen Bunting needed. So what if he is a little ‘eccentric’? Surely, he means no harm. Or does he?

The Lodger strangely oppressed me. It’s not so much the crimes but just the unbearable suspense of it all. Is the lodger the serial killer everyone is looking for?  Will some harm come to the Bunting family?

I don’t understand Ellen’s attitude. Why does she become so agitated? Why does she want to know for sure and yet tries to ignore the possibility of her lodger being a serial killer & tries to cover for him? If it was fear, I would have understood. If it was pure sympathy for the lodger, that could be explained too. But she shows both repulsion and compassion. All her life she had maintained her distance from ‘crudities’ such as murder. She wouldn’t even let her husband talk about them. But her tenderness for the lodger contradicts all that. She forgets her scorn for crimes & criminals and becomes unhealthily obsessed with the ghastly murders in spite of herself.

The characters of Robert and Ellen Bunting are interesting. The way they both react to their forebodings about the lodger was interesting to read. Their dilemma also stems from the fact that the lodger had brought them the financial security that they needed so badly. But surely no amount of money can ever make up for the fact that they are harbouring a possible serial killer?

The characters of Robert’s pretty but vacuous daughter Daisy and his young friend Joe Chandler seemed promising but nothing comes of them. I thought the young policeman Chandler would turn out to be useful somehow but he simply spends his time wooing Daisy, who in her turn contributes very little to the story.

The book builds up the suspense and keeps building it up until I felt as jumpy as Ellen Bunting! The part that really creeped me out was when Robert Bunting bumps into his lodger in the streets after midnight.

The book got on my nerves after a while. It stretches on and on and Ellen keeps getting worse and worse. How much more of that could I take? I longed for the conclusion.

After so much nerve-wracking suspense nothing really comes of it. The ending felt very abrupt. I kept anticipating some terrible ending to Ellen’s unfounded sympathy for her lodger but that never comes.

Overall, reading The Lodger was a weirdly unsatisfying experience. The suspense quotient of the story was so high at times that I couldn’t breathe but in the end it was all rather hastily wrapped up. The book made me feel strangely depressed and discontented. I don’t think I will be re-reading this one.

(This review is offered as a part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme. Check out what other reviews are up at pattinase.)

The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The After House written by American mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart was published in 1914.

Ralph Leslie, a young doctor, is recovering from a bout of Typhoid. Partly to earn some money and partly to stay close to a girl he has espied through his hospital window, he gets a job on board a yacht named Ella. What promised to be a tranquil voyage soon turns into a nightmare as three of Ella’s passengers are found hacked in to pieces. With land nowhere in sight, the crew of Ella do all they can to reach the nearest port before the unknown assailant strikes again.

I read Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase (1908) last year and was not impressed. I still decided to give Rinehart another chance. I must say that I enjoyed The After House more than The Circular Staircase.

The atmosphere created by Rinehart is perfectly chilling! After the multiple homicides occur, I could totally feel the fear felt by the crew and the passengers.

I also loved the supernatural touch Rinehart added to the story. Floating in the lonesome sea on an isolated boat with dead bodies on board, people are bound to be more than a bit inclined to believe in the paranormal. It was quite effectively scary.

I read a lot of Classic literature, Mystery and Detective novels especially Golden Age Mysteries. By now I should get used to the attitudes from a different era. But for some reason I can’t. Racism and sexism bother me to no end. It gnaws at my brain until I cannot see straight. A lot of good and some very good mysteries are ruined by this problem of mine. The same problem plagues The After House.

In the story the protagonist treats the women like some sort of dumb dolls who should be protected from the ‘horrors’ of the crime at any cost. Most of the crucial evidence is cleared away so as not to offend their ‘delicate’ senses. They are ordered about and herded together like animals. They are portrayed as pigheaded individuals who see only one thing at a time and act accordingly. All of them want to protect one person it seems and they try to accomplish that by any means (destroying evidence, perjuring themselves, using their ‘feminine wiles’). I could understand if one of them was like that but nearly half a dozen women all acting alike is a bit too much to take.

And don’t even get me started on the racism! George Williams, the coloured butler, is used as a punching bag (both metaphorically and literally). He is portrayed as a cowardly snivelling fool. The ‘N’ word and ‘d…y’ are commonly used to describe him. This made me really uncomfortable and at times angry.

The romance, as usual, annoyed me. Well, at least the heroine wasn’t some pretty as a doll blonde who just says sweet things and faints. The conclusion of this romance is also unnecessary and irritating.

The court room scenes were pointless. They basically repeat everything we already know. I have seen Rinehart do this before in The Circular Staircase where the rather thin plot is stretched to the breaking point. She liked using fillers to draw out her stories it seems.

I enjoyed The After House more than The Circular Staircase but the two books share some common problems. Rinehart creates some really amazing spine chilling situations and parts of the books are great fun to read. But she also tries to extend her stories through tedious repetitions and needless twists, a practice that ultimately leaves the reader exasperated. I only wish her books stayed taut and thrilling throughout without all the superfluous parts. Then I definitely would have wanted to read more books by her.

(This review is offered as a part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme. Check out what other reviews are up at pattinase.)