sleeping murder

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!

Five Best Books: Re-reads

In this week’s 5 Best Books we are asked to list our Five Best Books: Re-reads. I love to re-read. Many authors I consider to be my favourites are based on of how many times I have re-read their books. All of the authors of this week’s top 5 are my favourite authors. Agatha Christie could have featured as a top 10 all by herself but I have restricted myself to only two of her books, one from Miss Marple and the other from Hercule Poirot. So without much further ado, here are my top 5 Re-reads.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – I first read Pride and Prejudice at 11-12 years of age. Ever since then it has been re-read many, many times. Nothing, of course, can match the thrill of the first read but this book never fails to capture my interest. Even though I know how it ends, I still fell anxious about the predicaments of Elizabeth and Darcy. My copy of Pride and Prejudice was a wedding gift for my mom at her wedding nearly 25 years ago. It is falling apart due to its age, the many re-reads do not help either. Time I got my own copy, I guess.

2.  Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie – Even though, I am a Miss Marple fan, for some reason Cards on the Table is the Agatha Christie book I have read the most number of times. The gripping plot is the main reason behind it but all the recurring characters is also a big attraction for me. This book features the most recurring characters of any Agatha Christie book that I have ever read. Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver, just to name a few. As a ‘bona fide’ Agatha Christie fan that is nothing less than a feast for the mystery hungry soul!

3.  Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie – This is by far one of the best Miss Marple novels ever written. For those who have never read any of Agatha Christie’s works this is a fine place to start. Each re-read feels like the first time to me. The atmosphere of the book and the twisted nature of the main plot, never fails to creep me out. The freshness of the story never dims. One of my all time favourite comfort reads!

4.   Dracula by Bram Stoker  How can a book that I have read and re-read so many times still fill me with so much fear and dread? I know the book almost by heart now. But Jonathan Harker’s experiences in the Castle Dracula, the count’s arrival in England, his encounter with Lucy and her mother, the Count’s evil presence at the asylum, it all still manages to scare me and I’m not a person who’s easily scared. A book worth every re-read it gets.

5. The School for Scandal and Other Plays by Richard Brinsley Sheridan – The School for Scandal and Other Plays is a collection of five of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s most famous plays, The RivalsThe Duenna,  A Trip to ScarboroughThe School for Scandal and The Critic. Every writer has at least one or two duds, in my opinion. But Sheridan’s plays rarely fail to entertain me. As a result, The School for Scandal and Other Plays remains one of my eternally favourite books. Even after several re-reads I still laugh at the same jokes. This one never really grows old for me.

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie was first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1976 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later that same year.

Christie wrote Sleeping Murder during World War II, most likely in 1940. The book remained sealed in a bank vault for the next thirty six years. The last Miss Marple novel Christie wrote was Nemesis. It was published in the year 1971. When she realized she may not be able to write any more books, Christie agreed to publish the book  in 1976 but died before its publication.

I place this book in my chronological (story wise, not in order of publication) reading of the Marple books after The Moving Finger and before A Murder Is Announced. My reason for doing so is that a certain piece of information about the case in The Moving Finger is mentioned in Sleeping Murder and as A Murder Is Announced wasn’t published until 1950.

Gwen, a young newly wed woman, knows she has come home the moment she steps into that beautiful house called Hillside. What a wonderful place to settle down with her husband, Giles, now that they have decided to stay in England permanently. But soon after she moves in, a feeling of irrational fear starts to engulf her. Is Gwen going crazy or is Hillside haunted? Are the ominous visions that rise before her eyes just hallucinations or are they glimpses of the house’s past?

This story has what I love most about Agatha Christie books, the psychological angle. The theme of jealousy and suspicion runs through this story.

The first time I read Sleeping Murder was on a rainy afternoon. I was alone in the house. The sky was overcast. Even though it was only 4 o’ clock in the afternoon it had already grown dark outside and the only sounds I could hear was the rain falling incessantly and the occasional thunder. I got to the part where Gwen is at the theater, watching a play and has a sudden mysterious vision that terrifies her. Suddenly the power of my house went out, leaving me in total darkness. Now, I’m not someone who is easily scared but at that moment I felt chills down my spine. And yet I couldn’t stop reading it.

I don’t know if it is the after effect of that first experience or the book itself has something to do with it but there is something definitely ominous and creepy about this story. Reading it always makes me feel uncomfortable. Like Miss Marple says in the book,

It was real evil that was in the air…

Miss Marple is once again marvelous. Her insightful opinions about the human nature come in to play once again. Her philosophy of distrusting everyone is expressed well by herself,

It really is very dangerous to believe people. I never have for years.

The protagonists, Giles and Gwen are very much like any other young couple in any of Agatha Christie’s books. Giles, the dashing and enthusiastic but rather short sighted young man and Gwen, the competent and modern but very feminine young women. Nothing about them really stands out but they are not unpleasant either.

Among the other characters Walter Fane, J J Afflick, Mr. and Mrs. Erskine are all interesting in their own way.

The climax had a chilling effect on me. I wasn’t surprised because having read so much Christie and being an ardent admirer and follower of Miss Marple’s philosophy I’ve come to take nothing for granted and suspect everyone. But the scene was pretty suspenseful and scary and I did become anxious.

This is by far one of the best Miss Marple novels ever written. Even if you haven’t read any of the Miss Marple mysteries or even any of Agatha Christie’s books, you should read this book just to realize why Agatha Christie deserves her fame. Very, very highly recommended.

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30 Day Book Challenge

Day 18: Favourite Fictional Female Character

Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple.

My first encounter with Miss Marple was in A Murder Is Announced. I loved A Murder Is Announced. Ever since then I have been a fan of Agatha Christie and also of her creation, Miss Jane Marple.

Miss Marple, with her gentle blue eyes and fussy, old spinsterish manner seems like such a dear, old, harmless lady. But under that gentle demeanor lies a shrewd judge of character. And the habit of believing the worst of everyone and being very frighteningly correct in her assumptions. She’s not afraid to deal with death and unpleasantness and is not easily intimidated. In fact most of the time her assumptions and solutions are far more shocking than anything envisioned by the more ‘so called’ modern and enlightened generation.

All of Miss Marple’s solutions are based on her observations of the village life. Her unrivaled understanding of the Human Nature always gives her a deeper insight in to the true nature of crimes. She always maintains that Human Nature is very much the same everywhere and certain types of persons will always act in certain ways.

I love Miss Marple! Her cleverness, her kindness and above all her sense of justice, makes her endearing to me and millions of other readers.

The cover picture is from one of my favourite Miss Marple mysteries, Sleeping Murder.