vintage mystery reading challenge 2011

Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2011 – Completion

I participated on the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2011 hosted by the wonderful Bev Hankins of My Readers Block. My participation level was “In a Murderous Mood” where one had to read four-six books from the mystery category written before 1960,

I completed the challenge last month.

We had been told that we’ll be receiving prizes beforehand and I was pretty excited about it. And as promised I received The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr.

For a mystery buff like me this is truly exciting! So, here’s a big ‘Thank you’ to Bev!

Books Completed:

1. Dead Man’s Folly. Agatha Christie.

2. The Mystery of the Yellow Room. Gaston Leroux.

3. The Circular Staircase. Mary Roberts Rinehart.

4. The Murder at the Vicarage. Agatha Christie.

5. Plot It Yourself . Rex Stout.

6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Agatha Christie.

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The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

 

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is an important milestone in the genre of detective fiction. It was the first Agatha Christie novel ever to be published. Written in 1916, it was published in the US by John Lanein 1920 and in the UK by The Bodley Head the following year.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is also important because it was one of the first ten books to be published by Penguin Books when they were first launched in 1935. It was Penguin Number 6.

The First World War is in full swing. A wounded soldier, Lieutenant Hastings, visits an old friend at his country home, the Styles. But soon after his arrival the mistress of the house dies an agonizing death. Suspicion immediately falls on her much younger second husband. But did he really do it or is the real culprit someone else?

The plot of the story is good. It is nothing earth shattering but it does manage to keep the reader pretty engrossed.

This is the landmark novel that first introduces us to ‘THE’ Hercule Poirot. It also marks the first appearances of Inspector Japp and Hastings.

Hercule Poirot is his usual clever self in this book. Most of his trademark idiosyncrasies, the neatness of his attire, his obsession with keeping everything symmetrical, his pride over the ‘little grey cells’, are present.

Hastings remains his normal annoying self. I think he is one of the main reasons that I prefer Miss Marple over Hercule Poirot. Inspector Japp is barely present.

In my opinion, for a reader to understand the motive of a murder the reader needs to know the personality of the murder victim. In this case the character of Emily Inglethorp is developed well enough taking into account the fact that she gets murdered pretty early on. Even though she is dead we get a clear picture of her personality.

Alfred Inglethorp is a shadowy character. We do not get to see much of him so understanding his motivations is a little difficult. Evelyn Howard was a surprising character.

The characters of John Cavendish, his wife Mary Cavendish, his brother Lawrence Cavendish and the pretty Cynthia Murdoch are all kind of irritating and empty.

In this book, Hastings’ stupid musings on the beautiful Mary Cavendish, who happens to be the wife of his friend, I found really annoying. Then he says and does other foolish things when he spends some time with Cynthia Murdoch. Boring and irritating!

The whole Dr. Bauerstein angle of the story is just wrong. I guess it is a product of its time. But I didn’t like it.

The final solution is a bit too complicated. Did it have to be so intricate considering the motive behind the crime? Something a little simpler wouldn’t have hurt the story.

What I like about it is despite being the authors’ first novel; it does not feel unfinished in any way. Christie was already writing like a pro. Her clear language and keen eye for detail is already obvious in her first book.

This Christie mystery is a must read for every fan of the detective genre. It doesn’t really matter what the story is or what the characters are like. It is important because it marks the genesis of an author and her creation. Both would one day become world-famous. That’s what really matters and that is why I appreciate The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Plot It Yourself by Rex Stout

I’m a fan of British cosy mysteries. I rarely read any of the American crime/mystery novels, although I do have some experience with the noir and the pulp genre. Plot It Yourself  kind of falls in the middle of these genres. It is not violent (à la cosy mysteries) but it feels somewhat grittier.

Plot It Yourself written by Rex Stout was published in 1959. This novel features Stout’s creation Detective Nero Wolfe. It was published in the UK under the title Murder in Style.

Accusations of plagiarism are sending shock waves through the writer-publisher fraternity. A committee of writers and publishers come to Nero Wolfe as a last resort. But even Wolfe is baffled by this case of  ‘plagiarism upside down’.

This is my first Nero Wolfe book. I know this is not the first book in the series. Starting as I did in the middle of a series of books, there is a good chance I’m missing a lot of background information.

Wolfe seems very inactive here and I don’t mean physically. It takes him forever to figure everything out. By the time he does do something, a couple of dead bodies have already piled up. But Wolfe admits he has bungled the case so maybe Stout wanted his detective to appear inactive in this book.

The final revelation was pretty good but nothing spectacular. I found both Wolfe’s and the criminal’s reactions really weird.

I didn’t enjoy the way women were portrayed in this book. It is not sexist or anything. But the characters of Alice Porter, Amy Wynn, Jane Ogilvy all feel a bit off in some way.

The character of Archie Goodwin provides a nice balance to Nero Wolfe. I enjoyed their banters.

The police are portrayed as totally incompetent and very, very uncooperative. I wonder if they are like that in all of the Nero Wolfe mysteries.

My first Nero Wolfe mystery was enjoyable. I may read more of them in the future. But I have not become a fan. Overall, Plot It Yourself is a good mystery but not wholly satisfying.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The Murder at the Vicarage was first published in the UK by Collins Crime Lab in 1930 and later that year in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company. It is the first full length novel to feature Miss Marple. Miss Marple had previously appeared in short stories published in the Royal Magazine and The Story-Teller Magazine.

Colonel Protheroe is a disagreeable and unpopular man. So, when he’s found dead in the vicarage study, the list of suspects just may have to include nearly half of the village. With several different yet interconnected events going on simultaneously finding out the truth is indeed a tricky job. Fortunately Miss Marple is present at the heart of the crime scene to unravel all with her keen observation power and a deep insight in to the human psyche.

This is not one of the best Marple stories. I’d rate several other Christie books above this one but that does not mean I don’t love The Murder at the Vicarage. This is still much better than many other books from the detective mystery genre that I’ve read.

In The Murder at the Vicarage, none of the characters really stand out. I find Leonard Clement, the vicar and the narrator, of the story to be a bit wooden. Almost all of the female characters are selfish to some degree. Most of them seem rather vain and opportunist. The character of Colonel Protheroe is not sufficiently developed for me to see why he’s so badly hated by everyone in the village. We’re told what he was like but he is killed off so quickly that we don’t get a sense of his wickedness. This for me is important because I find that in detective fiction what kind of a person the victim was really gives us a clue to why he was murdered and who the killer could be.

Incidentally, the characters of the vicar and his wife appear in two other Marple Mysteries, The Body in the Library (1942) and 4.50 from Paddington (also known as What Mrs. McGillycuddy Saw) (1957).

The story does feel a little bit drawn out. We are sent on way too many wild-goose chases. I think the mystery could have been solved much more quickly. Many things that should have been obvious from the start seem to come as a surprise to everyone in the story. The solution comes as a let down.

Christie’s writing is wonderful as usual. The dry humor in the narrative is just superb. The vicar’s dialogues are particularly funny. The narrative is cozy and comfortable.

I re-read The Murder at the Vicarage from time to time and enjoy it as a part of the beginning and evolution of my favorite fictional detective of all time, Miss Marple. Overall, a good and satisfying read.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Circular Staircase, published in 1908, is perhaps the best known work of the American mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart. It was chosen as one of the 100 best mysteries of the last century.

The narration is cosy and comfortable. The writing is easy to read.

The main problem with the story is that it has a rather thin plot which is stretched to the breaking point.

I know that this is fiction and everything is not supposed to be very realistic. But in The Circular Staircase every character behaves in such an unreasonable way!  The family living in the house are overall a very normal bunch of people caught up in a bad situation. But the way they all act and keep information and evidence from the investigators is atrocious to say the least. And all this without any tangible reason.

Everyone just keeps wondering and going round and round. Ladies go on fainting spells, people are tied up, detectives swarm the house and the mystery goes nowhere very fast.

A lot happens during the course of the book. The book is full of chases, people in disguise, mysterious ladies in black, secret passages and at least half a dozen deaths! And yet I felt bored at times. All of this action serves no other purpose than just to lengthen the novel.

None of the book’s characters are really likeable. Most of them are stubborn and short sighted.

The book does have certain situations that were quite spine tingling. But it could have been much shorter. The same things just seem to happen again and again and again…

By the time I finally finished The Circular Staircase, I no longer cared who did what. I was just glad it was over!

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.