Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Books that I read in September

48. Christie, Agatha. By the Pricking of my Thumbs (208 p.)

49. Bradbury, Ray. Something Wicked This Way Comes (215 p.)

50. Christie, Agatha. Death on the Nile (214 p.)

51. Christie, Agatha. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (182 p.)

52. Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (255 p.)

September total: 1,074 pages
YTD total: 15,145 pages

Yes, I did read the first two this month in that order because the titles go together.

After only nine months, I've already hit one of my two unofficial targets for the year (15,000 pages[1]); with only 6 books left to read to reach the other[2], it looks like I should be able to reach that one with time to spare, as well. (ETA: Due to an accounting error, I actually reached the fifty-book mark this month, but didn't realize it until going back later to compile the complete list of books I read in 2008.)

Four Christies in one month, three of them starring Hercule Poirot. They're fun to read, but I've had enough of the cheeky Belgian's "leetle gray cells" to last me for a while.

By the Pricking of my Thumbs is one of Christie's later novels, starring Tommy and Tuppence as the amateur detectives of choice. This one is really Tuppence's story, though Tommy gets to help out when Tuppence gets whacked on the head.

This is not a standard detective story in that it's not certain whether or not there's been a murder until half-way through the book, and the primary plot is about a kidnapping that may or may not have happened and a painting that may or may not depict an location involved in both sets of events. It's all rather uncertain--that is, until things start to gel and it turns out not only that Tuppence was on the right track all along, but that things were rather worse than even she thought. It also has a twist ending in which the little old lady who seemed to be a kidnapping "victim" (but wasn't actually kidnapped) turns out to not only be responsible for all of the murders in the book, but also a serial poisoner of some reknown.

This isn't one of Christie's better books, in my opinion, but it largely features the English countryside and small, provincial towns, so the scenery is pretty; and even when Christie had an off day the result was still an enjoyable read. It's also a nice break from all the Poirot, Marple, etc. mysteries. The major downside isn't even Christie's fault; whenever I saw "Tuppence", I thought of Tuppy from Fry & Laurie's Jeeves & Wooster, and that's a rather different and much more unsettling mental picture than Christie intended...

For those who haven't read it, Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes is sort of like reading Robert Newton Peck as rewritten by Stephen King. Cooger & Dark's freakshow carnival would be right at home in King's Maine, but the nostaligic, carefree days of two boys being 13 and having adventures in a small midwestern town in the 1950's has a lot in common with Peck's Soup series.

This is basically horror-lite; a gateway book for younger readers (middle school or junior high) that hooks them and points them on to eventually reading King, Koontz, Straub, etc. There's dark magic and creepy imagery involved that's slightly scary if you aren't already used to that sort of thing, but nothing that's too over the top. It's also very much in the classic "YA novel" mold, with one exception: while the primary protagonists are kids who must take things into their own hands in order to uncover the mystery/save the town/etc. with no significant help from any adults, Will's father does play a critical role in helping the boys defeat Mr. Dark, at least temporarily. However, Will's father is portrayed essentially as a kid in an adult's body--and that's part of what makes him useful to the story--so Bradbury gets away with that deviation from the norm.

This is the second time I've read this book, and it likely won't be the last. I definitely recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it yet and enjoys fantasy-horror that is relatively tame compared to, say, the old Tales from the Crypt comics.

Death on the Nile is, with Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None, one of the better-known Agatha Christie mysteries to be turned into a feature film. As with most of her mysteries, one by one all of the suspects are put under suspicion, having done something wrong the night of the murder, and the final twist being that the murderer is the one person who, for the entire book, had been categorically and repeatedly ruled out as having an absolutely airtight alibi. I think all of the clues needed to figure out who done it are given before the denoument, at least, even if I did read this in such small bits and pieces that I couldn't keep track of clues and thus was surprised by the reveal.

I liked this one a lot, and would definitely recommend it.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the first Hercule Poirot mystery and was the first mystery novel that Agatha Christie wrote. Thinking back, there were crucial clues I don't recall being revealed to the reader until the denoument, even though Poirot most certainly knew of them, which always leaves me feeling cheated, even if the rest of the book is relatively well-written (as this one is).

It's worth reading as an introduction to Hercule Poirot, and as an introduction the setting the Styles manor house, which is also the setting of Curtain, his final case (chronologically, though it was not the last one she wrote). Originally published in 1920, there is quite a bit that has become dated or that would be handled better & faster by modern forensics or modern technology (such as a telephone), but despite that, the main plot itself holds up quite well and the setting could be moved up quite a bit with very few significant changes.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is somewhat infamous among mystery readers (and was apparently quite controversial when it was first published) due to being one of the earlier uses in the mystery genre of an unreliable narrator--the narrator never states anything untrue, but leaves out (until the denoument) the simple yet critical fact that he himself is the murderer..

This was an excellent book; I've heard it said that this is one of Christie's best, and I definitely agree. I also agree that using an unreliable narrator feels like a cheat when you reach the end (and then are shortly thereafter hit with revelation of the murderer's fate), even if Christie was masterful in concealing the narrator's unreliability while simultaneously revealing (almost?) all of the clues necessary to figure it out. (I say "almost" because there were a few leaps of logic that were a bit far to expect anyone--even Poirot--to make. The fact that some of the clues are dropped in with nary another mention just like the red herrings are makes it a bit more like a real-life mystery, but makes it that much harder to keep track of everything you're supposed to be following, especially when reading the book only a paragraph to a page at a time (as I did, since I read this in my car while waiting at stoplights). As with all or almost all of Christie's mysteries, modern forensics and technology largely prevent the story from being believable in a modern setting, but taken as what would now be a piece of historical fiction, it's quite well done.

In any case, I highly recommend this one.

After reading this many Agatha Christie mysteries inside of a month, I have a much greater appreciation for and understanding of the basic setup and feel of the "How to Host a Murder" games.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
[1] 15000pages
[2] 50bookchallenge
Tags: books, reviews

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