Saturday, March 26, 2011

Introductions &Top 5 Christies

Hi there, my name is Patrick and I am a mystery addict. I've loved mysteries as long as I can remember, being introduced to them via Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. From there, I became an Agatha Christie devotee, and after reading all her books, stumbled over my favourite mystery author of all-time, John Dickson Carr. Not wanting to read through all his books too quickly, I kept reading more and more mystery authors, until I formed a mountain of mysteries to read.

I barely used my mystery collection for that photo, due to lack of space. I have way more books sitting around, just waiting to be read, and I'm constantly reading them. I usually write down what I think of each, and so I thought to myself, why not try out a blog?
Let's get started with something a little more conventional. These are my top 5 Agatha Christies. She was a wonderful author, and there are plenty of books to choose from. Some of my choices might surprise mystery devotees. Keep in mind, though, that these are not in any particular order. I cannot for the life of me decide on any paricular best-to-worst ranking. These are all wonderful reads- let's get started!
#1. Cards on the Table was my very first Christie, and I instantly fell in love with her. Knowing nothing about how Christie wrote, plot devices, or anything of the sort, I was completely and utterly shocked by the ending. Had I read it later on, I would've almost certainly guessed the ending. But what a work! It takes the locked-room and turns the tables completely on it- instead of the room being inaccessible to the suspects, they are all locked inside with the victim, and under the right set of circumstances, anyone could've committed the crime! This made for a very different kind of impossible crime, and I adored it, with one of its best puzzles being the suspects themselves: Who can be trusted? Who is a murderer? Also, Mrs. Oliver makes her first appearance, and it is a pure delight all the way. She is a somewhat satirical figure: a renowed female mystery novelist, with a bizarre, foreign, eccentric sleuth she cannot stand. You can almost hear Agatha sighing with her in sympathy.

#2. And Then There Were None is one of AC's best-known and loved works, for obvious reasons: it a masterpiece thriller and mystery. The plot set-up is well-known: ten people are stranded on an island, each with a shady past, and one by one, they are slowly killed off by a fanatic who preaches justice. (So basically, you could say Agatha Christie single-handedly created the modern slasher genre!!!) The growing psychological tension and terror is intense, and just when it seems you've finally figured it out this time, the body count rises, and only the dead are out of suspicion... The surprise ending is stunning, and the journey that takes you there is well worthwile.

#3. The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Thus goes the quote that inspires the next novel, The Moving Finger. It is a wonderful novel, starring that elegant, adorable spinster sleuth, Miss Marple. I think that some of AC's best novels were "village" novels or "country house" murders. The village in The Moving Finger is great, and very memorable characters populate it, whether it be a major figure like the vicar's wife, Mrs. Dane Calthorp, or a minor character like the boring Colonel Appleton. Yet underneath the seemingly idyllic village, trouble is brewing, as a vicious poison-pen letter writer is terrorizing the village, ripping the community apart, and no one has the courage to do anything about it. The venom behind these letters is conveyed marvelously, and the story itself is a complex puzzle that contains touches of ingenuity, although some readers familiar with Christie might be able to spot whodunnit. But as AC herself points out, it stands the test of time, and is great to read and a fair-play triumph even today.

#4. The Pale Horse is one of my very favourite Christies. Yes, it's one of her later books, and you're not suppose to like them, but I do. It is a smashing supernatural novel- its use of the occult, witchcraft, and the glorious impossible premise behind it reminds me very much of John Dickson Carr. The story is at times terrifying, and that makes it all the more effective. I was personally surprised at the solution, which just enhanced my enjoyment of the book even more. But what is most delightful about this book is that it takes my favourite characters of Christieverse (the Calthorps, Mrs. Oliver, a couple matched in Cards on the Table), and sticks them all in the same novel! Thus, Christie cleverly establishes how Poirot and Marple inhabit the same universe without ever having the two meet. Wonderful! Not only that, there's a hilarious satirical figure: a chemist named Mr. Osborne, who studies the faces of all the people who enter his shop (with remarkable accuracy), hoping one of them will turn out to be a poisoner so he can go on the witness stand and declare "That person bought poison from me!" He becomes obsessed with the idea that an invalid is not really an invalid, and begins stalking him, coming up with ridiculous theories to explain away the apparent paralysis. Humour, suspense, the supernatural... what more could you ask for?

#5: I'll only go up to five novels, and the last one is A Pocket Full of Rye. This is a Miss Marple novel that, once again, mainly takes place in the countryside, and is all the better for it. It revolves around the Fortescue family, and a series of murders take place that seem to have absolutely no rhyme or reason- it is only when Miss Marple arrives that she notices a pattern, and the hunt for a killer begins. I guess I love this for the way seemingly unrelated facts finally are revealed as part of a pattern, and once you see it, you slap your forehead, thinking "Silly of me not to have spotted it!". A very entertaining read.

Honourable mentions must go out to Cat Among the Pigeons, A Murder is Announced, After the Funeral, The Hollow, Taken at the Flood, The Thirteen Problems, Death on the Nile, The A.B.C. Murders, The Murder at the Vicarage, Five Little Pigs, Crooked House, Ordeal by Innocence, Mrs. McGinty's Dead, and probably a bunch more titles that I cannot recall at this moment. Obviously, I could've made this a top 15 or top 22 list if I wanted to, but it would result in a post far too massive for me.

I will now take my leave, and disappear into the shadows 'til next time.

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