Death Comes As the End–Agatha Christie

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I find myself re-reading all the Agatha Christie books again, or at least the ones that are readily available on the library’s ebook lending platform because physical books are basically incompatible with baby care.

This is an odd one of her books, and I find that I don’t read it as much as a result.

It is set in ancient Egypt, the result of her archaeological interests during the course of her life, which included trips to digs in the Middle East.

In this book, we meet a family with issues. The dad owns land in multiple places, but is based out of his country estate, where there is farmland and a tomb, for which he provides regular priestly services. Much like in the middle ages when you would see rich people endowing a monastery to say prayers for them forever, in Egypt you could buy yourself the services of a part time priest.

His family includes his three sons, two of which are married and have children. His daughter has recently returned to the home after the death of her husband, with a small child. His mother also lives there, along with a relative of his dead wife’s who has been with them since he married her. And of course, assorted servants.

He comes home from a trip with a concubine, younger than his daughter. She’s a very unpleasant person. Henet, the dead wife’s relative, being similarly malicious and unpleasant, takes to her at once. Also joining the family is a young distant cousin, a scribe who uncovered some wrong doing on a different piece of land. The father goes to investigate, leaving his young concubine with his family.

She goads them until one of the women slaps her face, then sends him a letter complaining about being physically attacked and generally being made unwelcome.

I think, actually, I was on the PTA with this woman.

He responds by sending a letter to his sons that he will be kicking them all out of the house as soon as he gets back and making a will leaving everything to the concubine Nofret.

That same afternoon she “accidentally” fell from the path up to the tomb in the rock cliff on the property and died.

And so it was over.

But then, one of the son’s wives falls from the same spot at the same time of day and dies. And then someone poisons the wine and both of the older sons fall ill, one of them dying. One of the peasant boys says he saw the spirit of Nofret poison the wine. The next morning the child is dead.

Poison is added to the grandmother’s lotion and she dies.

Henet is found strangled.

By this point, the list of suspects is dramatically shortened because there’s been so many deaths. But like always, Christie is sneaky and clever in her plotting. I didn’t see it coming the first time I read it.

 

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The Christie Caper–Carolyn Hart

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This was the first of these books that I read, back when I was in high school. I loved this series, and devoured all the books in it. I’ve fallen off a bit these last few years because after so long, a series tends to feel a little stale and repetitive.

However, it is worth noting that I met the author several times at book signings and she was always very kind and lovely to me. I adore her.

This series focuses on Annie, the owner of a mystery bookstore on an island off the coast of South Carolina. She solves mysteries with the help of her friends and husband.

In this book, Annie is hosting a mystery conference celebrating Agatha Christie (and now you know how I found this series, I have a well-documented love of all things Christie) which becomes the venue for a nasty series of events.

Neil Bledsoe, a guest at the conference, is apparently a terrible human being and everyone who has had anything to do with him hates him desperately. This includes, for example, the headlining author, whose daughter he seduced, beat and drove to suicide. As well as his stepson, who blames him for the death of his mother. Something like half a dozen people at the conference hate him desperately.

Thus, it’s not much of a surprise that someone shoots at him at the cocktail reception that opens the conference. Nor that someone pushes a vase off the roof to try to hit him.

But when murder strikes, it strikes the witness of the shooting. The next death is Bledsoe’s elderly aunt.

Who is the apparently inept murderer stalking the conference? Can they figure it out before the conference ends and the suspects scatter to their own homes again?

This is a charming book, as indeed are all these books. Plus, when you buy a copy of these books you are supporting a gracious and friendly author who was kind to my infant at a signing once.

The Long Goodbye–Raymond Chandler

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I’ve read The Big Sleep many times, but only just got around to reading this one. There is, apparently, a movie version of this as well, but not with Bogart and therefore I’m not sure what the point is.

Side note: If you are unfamiliar with the podcast “You Must Remember This” I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m not caught up to the current season yet, I’m still in last season’s episodes on the blacklist, and the Bogart episode was so good. But really, all the episodes are so good. End side note.

In this book, Marlowe encounters a drunk man in the parking lot of an expensive club. His date drives off in the Rolls, leaving him in the parking lot and Marlowe rescues him. Later they reconnect and share the occasional drink and talk, but never really become intimate.

Which makes it a bit of surprise when Lennox–the drunk man–shows up on his doorstep early one morning holding a gun and asking for a ride to Mexico. Marlowe insists that Lennox tell him nothing–he’s familiar with the laws about accessories after the fact, after all–but suspects that Lennox may have shot his notoriously unfaithful wife.

He gets his friend to the airplane and later is picked up by the cops who want to know where Lennox is. He refuses to snitch and spends a few days in jail, before he’s released because Lennox wrote out a full confession and then killed himself in Mexico, so the case is closed and it’s all over.

Except that it’s not, really, because it’s all so unexpected. The wife wasn’t shot (she was, actually, but we don’t know that till much later) but had her face bashed in with a statuette, which is not really something anyone can believe Lennox would have done. And why would he go to Mexico, only to kill himself?

But everyone, including the dead woman’s very very rich father, wants the case to stay dead so he lets it go.

Then he’s hired by a couple named Wade. Wade’s a writer, who has suddenly turned into a serious drunk. He’s been violent with his wife in his drunken state and more importantly to everyone, he’s not writing and he’s on deadline for his next book. They want Marlowe to babysit him and ideally figure out what’s eating at him and turning him into a drunk. Marlowe refuses, but when Wade goes missing, he can’t resist the plea of the very lovely Mrs. Wade to find him. He does find him and from there they settle into an uneasy pattern where he is called over when there’s a crisis but he’s not really on the payroll or doing much to keep anything in check.

Until the night that he’s called over by Wade himself, who is drunk as hell, and eventually passes out on the sofa. He goes downstairs and waits for the wife to come home, and when she gets there they go back up to find that he’s been shot in the head. Suicide? Murder?

In true mystery novel fashion, the Wades are connected to the Lennoxes (they were neighbors and friends) and the death of Mr. Wade connects to the death of Mrs. Lennox.

These noir mysteries are so lovely, full of atmosphere and drama. Imagine Bogart as Marlowe while you read.

Frenchman’s Creek–Daphne de Maurier

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This is my mother-in-law’s favorite book and she recommended it to me after I said that I had read and (mostly) enjoyed Rebecca. This is a very different book than Rebecca, which I think is something that should be said because I suspect that, like me, most people only know de Maurier from Rebecca.

As for which of these books are most representative of her canon, I do not know. The tone is the same in both, a stately and intense sense of repressed emotion. It is the subject that is the biggest difference.

In Rebecca, as you know if you’ve read it (or my earlier review of it) there is less romance than there is the ominous foreboding and mysterious ambiance that evokes something like Jane Eyre. In Frenchman’s Creek, it is a romance, almost completely uncluttered with other emotional elements.

In this book, Dona is a pampered rich aristocrat who takes her two very young children and flees London for her husband’s country estate on the coast. She is leaving because she has become bored with herself and her antics and disappointed with the choices she’s been making in her life.

Once there, she hears from the local gentry that there is a pirate that has been plaguing the coast. One night, she follows her servant into the woods and discovers the pirate’s boat. He finds her and thus begins a romance.

By the end of the book, they have engaged in active piracy together, a real plan has been formed and executed to capture the pirate and people have died terribly. She maintains the elegance of style throughout. The Gothic feel is pervasive.

It is a lovely book, and a sweet romance with more redeeming character and literary value than you normally see in romance novels.