The Club Dumas–Arturo Perez-Reverte

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This book, oh my goodness.

It took a little while for me to get into it, and it’s a bit densely written, but once I got into it I was really into it.

And when I finished it, I nearly screamed in frustration. I suppose that’s to the author’s credit–this is, after all, on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

I’m not going to give you the reason why I wanted to scream when I finished this book, just in case you decide to read it yourself at some point.

But basically, it’s about a rare book dealer, one that acts as a go-between for sellers and buyers on a freelance, high-end basis.

He’s got two issues he’s working on. First, to confirm the authenticity of a rough draft of a chapter of “The Three Musketeers” for a friend who got it from one of his friends, who immediately after hung himself.

Second, he’s been commissioned by a collector who recently acquired what is supposed to be the only authentic copy of a book on demonology. There are two other supposedly authentic copies of that book in private collections. His commission is to take the book his client bought and compare it to the others to determine which, if any, are actually authentic.

Gradually he starts to realize that someone is re-enacting portions of “The Three Musketeers” in real life. He’s being stalked by a sinister man, and a beautiful young girl is suddenly interested in him for reasons incomprehensible.

Book collectors start dying. He tries to figure out what the connection between the Dumas chapter and the Demonology book, while trying to stay alive and relatively unharmed.

It’s mystery! It’s adventure! It makes me think I maybe should have read something by Dumas before reading this!

It’s an excellent book, though. Worth your time.

Last time’s trivia answer: The other title of “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans” is “The Boomerang Clue.”

 

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?–Agatha Christie

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This is, inexplicably, one of my favorite of her books. I have no idea why.

You have this semi-irresponsible young man, a veteran with no job prospects, living with his father, the local vicar.

He’s playing golf with a friend and there’s a weird chasm thing in the middle of the golf course and they find a man that’s fallen into the chasm.

**side note** this reminds me of some Disney movies that shall go unnamed where there’s a convenient bottomless pit nearby for the villain to fall into. I don’t believe any place just has a random chasm stuck in a golf course. Moving on.

The man seems unconscious, the friend goes for help and then the man opens his eyes and says, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” and dies.

The only identification on the man is a picture in his pocket of a very beautiful woman whom Bobby–our intrepid wastrel–immediately develops a crush on.

Then Bobby is offered a job out of the country, which he refuses. And then he’s poisoned. And so he and his friend, the rich and titled Lady Frances, go investigate. They meet the lovely original of the photograph and her sinister husband. Among a host of other suspects, of course.

Who is Evans? What were they supposed to ask? The answer is strangely irrelevant and comes late.

Trivia time! I’ll go easy on you. What was the alternate title for “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”

The answer from last time, regarding the green fabric on the door, is that it came from the green armband on the dead woman’s daughter-in-law’s work uniform.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles–Agatha Christie

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The one that started it all.

I think, later, she had regrets about Poirot. It’s an open secret that Ariadne Oliver is her alter ego and Oliver is always complaining about the idiosyncrasies of her fictional foreign detective.

Regardless, this is the first of her mystery novels. It introduces Poirot and his sidekick. Full disclosure: I don’t like Hastings. He’s just so SLOW. I expect him to be slower than Poirot, but I’d like to see some intelligence somewhere. *sigh*

Moving on.

Hastings is visiting some friends in the country to recover from a wound he took in the war–this is World War 1, mind you–and whilst there, the lady of the house is murdered.

Poirot, whom Hastings had met somewhere previously, is nearby as a Belgian refugee and is happy to help.

There are lots of suspects, but really only one motive: money. They all lived off her, and they all got rich when she died. This includes two sons and their wives, her husband, and to a lesser extent, her companion. The only one not making out like a bandit is some random girl that’s staying with them that the old lady had liked but not yet put in her will.

The house is big, the servants abundant and everyone is complaining about how they’ve had to cut back since the war. Rich people, they’re different than the rest of us.

Poirot solves it, of course. Hastings is astonished and amazed, of course.

Trivia time! The book again offers no assistance so I’ll give you one of my own, off the top of my head because I’m talented like that. Poirot spent a lot of time talking about a scrap of dark green fabric that he found caught in the dead woman’s doorway. Where did that fabric come from?

 

They Came to Baghdad–Agatha Christie

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A lot of people don’t like the “thriller” Agatha Christie books. I think they’re not her best work, but she knew what she was doing and the thrillers are perfectly fine for what they are.

In this one, there’s a huge assembly of powerful people coming to Baghdad in 1950 to have a conference that will decide whether or not there will be another world war.

And the only person who can stop it is…an unemployed typist from London.

Sure, why not?

In any event, this young woman, Victoria Jones, follows a crush to Baghdad utilizing her skill set (which is mostly lying) and gets involved in the British intelligence service, an archaeological dig, and of course, murder.

By the way, the difference between a thriller and a mystery (in my mind) is that in the mystery, solving the murder is the entire point, whereas in a thriller, stopping the bad guys is the point, and the murders are just to raise the stakes.

In point of fact, although I hadn’t read it in some years and didn’t remember it, I knew the bad guy as soon as I saw him. I think her hints were less subtle than usual this time around.

The weirdest part of this book, to me, was trying to reconcile the Baghdad Christie knew in 1950 from the one I think of sixty years later. Christie’s version implied a primitive, ancient society with a few Western modern veneers slapped uncomfortably on. That’s not the Baghdad we see on the news.

Anyway, that’s my takeaway. Romance, spies, intrigue, sand.

Trivia time! Except, there does not appear to be a trivia question for this one. Ouchy, I guess we know which book the author didn’t like.

Oh, and the answer to yesterday’s question is “Go and Find Out”–which is from the Jungle Book, it’s the motto of the mongoose family. I have not read the Jungle Book, so I can’t tell you any more than that.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd–Agatha Christie

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This is the good stuff. This is the book that caused a hue and cry when it was published because readers thought she hadn’t given them enough clues to find the murderer. And indeed, when I read it the first time, back in middle school, I immediately re-read it to find the clues because I was also shocked.

I’m not giving away the twist. I know, it’s not really a spoiler if it’s almost 90 years old, and you’re perfectly welcome to google the answer if you’re impatient like that.

Aside from the surprise ending, it’s a conventional Christie. I feel so poor when I read her early books, because no one has to work and everyone has all these servants. I suppose I’d have been a parlormaid if I’d lived then.

Roger Ackroyd is some sort of manufacturing bigwig, and lives with his niece and sister-in-law, having fought with his stepson.

He’s on the verge of remarrying when the woman he’s interested in commits suicide. She’d killed her first husband, who was a jerk, and had been blackmailed for it ever since. She knew Roger wasn’t a vigilante justice kind of guy, so she killed herself rather than have him turn her in. They apparently hung murderers in England then. No wonder she preferred sleeping pills.

***side note*** In these books, everyone has these prescription sleeping pills that are seriously dangerous. They’re always talking about accidental and deliberate overdoses as though a few doses would be enough to kill. I don’t know what that’s about, since modern sleeping pills are nowhere near that dangerous.

Roger gets a letter from her the next evening, revealing the name of her blackmailer. And within an hour he’s dead, stabbed through the neck with his letter opener.

***second side note*** What the hell kind of edge did these people keep on their letter openers? I can’t imagine my best knife “sliding into him like butter” the way his letter opener seemed to.

Who killed him? His niece? Her mom? His stepson? The stepson’s secret wife/parlormaid? The big game hunter visiting? The secretary? The mysterious stranger? (hint: It’s never the mysterious stranger.)

It’s a good one. If you haven’t read it and can resist the urge to google, I recommend it.

Trivia question time! What motto did James Sheppard use to describe the character of his sister, Caroline?

Answer in the next post.

Lamb–Christopher Moore

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My friend loaned me this, her favorite book.

I’d read Christopher Moore before. He has a baffling kind of surrealist humor that, perhaps, takes getting used to.

In any event, I liked this one. It’s a potentially sacrilegious account of the life of Jesus. In this version, Jesus is trained in Confucianism, Buddhism, and yoga, and that training influences his teachings.

To be clear, *I* didn’t consider it sacrilegious. I thought it was funny.

I think people take their religious figures too seriously anyway. It seems pretty obvious to me that God (assuming he exists) has a sense of humor.

In this story, Jesus has a childhood best friend that stays by his side and tells the “true” story of his upbringing and education, all the way through the crucifixion. Mary Magdalene is there, and the apostles, and most of the Biblical miracles. But in this version, Jesus eats bacon (I know he ate unclean things in the Bible but…bacon? SO not kosher) and doesn’t object to his friend engaging with prostitutes.

This is a much more chill Jesus than we usually see, in fact.

If you can handle religious characters behaving like teenagers and have a passing familiarity with the Gospels, you’ll probably like this one.

The answer to yesterday’s Agatha Christie quiz question: Ada Mason was really Kitty Kidd.

The Mystery of the Blue Train–Agatha Christie

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I have the complete Agatha Christie bound in blue leather, these, in fact. They sit in a bookcase completely unsorted, so I’m just grabbing one off the shelf at random and reading it.

Last night’s book was “The Mystery of the Blue Train,” which Agatha herself apparently hated. I didn’t hate it, but it’s not her most dazzling work.

For those unfamiliar, it goes like this:

Ruth Kettering is the daughter of a massively rich American businessman, married to the heir to some sort of British lord who is carrying on a flagrant affair with a French ballerina. The dad insists she file for divorce and she reluctantly agrees.

The reluctance is not out of devotion to her husband, but because she’s having an affair of her own, with a self-styled French count her father had bought off when she was younger.

The husband won’t accept a bribe to let the divorce happen easily (remember, this is pre-no fault divorces) and the wife heads off to the French Riviera, carrying with her a ruby necklace worth half a million pounds (in 1928 money, mind you) her rich daddy had just given her.

Her husband, his mistress, her maid and Hercules Poirot are all traveling on the same train. They arrive in Nice and discover Ruth Kettering dead.

A former paid companion (even in the 1920’s you could buy your friends, but it was less frowned upon) is the last person besides the maid to speak to her alive. She had advised Ruth not to rendezvous with the fake count.

The maid says, a man came onto the train and surprised Ruth, causing her to tell the maid to stay in Paris.

Was the mysterious man/murderer her husband? Or her lover? Or none of the above?

But wait, there’s more suspects! All the suspects!

I always recommend Christie, even if it’s not her best work. Maybe check it out from the library instead of buying it. Of course, that’s what I do with most of my books because I’m cheap like that.

For Christmas, someone gave me an Agatha Christie trivia book, this one, and I think it would be fun to ask you a trivia question on her books as I review them.

Ada Mason’s trip to Nice was cut short when she disembarked from the train in Paris at the order of her employer. Her story seemed airtight, but there was a leak in her alibi and her true identity was revealed. Who was this actress?

I’ll give you the answer in the next post.