Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

The best combination

The book I’m reading now is that best of things. It’s a children’s book. And it’s crime. I’m having trouble staying away from it. You’ll wonder why that is a problem, and the thing is I have so much to do. But I find myself sitting down, promising to read just one chapter before whatever.

It is often several chapters when I surface again.

Back in the olden days I don’t recall finding crime for children once you were past Enid Blyton & Co. So the thing for young readers who wanted to go on detecting, was to move on to adult crime novels. Which was all right as long as you could stick to Agatha Christie and other ‘light murderers.’

Those books are obviously still with us, and presumably young teens who have watched Poirot, might consider trying them. But am I wrong in thinking that new crime tends to be generally more gruesome, and thereby less suitable for the post-Blyton fan?

Actually, there is old-style cosy crime still being published. But when I think new crime, I think much more graphic, with more violence and sex and swearing than you want for your average 14-year-old.

And the reverse question is whether there was a lot of that around 40 years ago, and I just didn’t notice? Among the crime novels I receive now, I seem to mainly be in for the very, very bloody and depressing ones. There are books I just look at briefly, before deciding that even if I had twice the time, I wouldn’t dream of reading that. This week, one arrived accompanied by a wooden spatula, engraved with the title of the book, and both had to go.

On the other hand, with YA books, there is less need to jump straight  from Blyton to, say, Stuart MacBride. One excellent choice would be the one I’m reading now. More about that on Monday. Hopefully.

You can never have too much intelligent YA crime.

The Hobbit

I never read The Lord of the Rings. I just never wanted to. I listened to the BBC dramatisation, which was pretty good. I had trouble telling who was who, apart from Robert Stephens as Aragorn, who was wonderful. I obviously didn’t see the films either. Although, I seem to have seen the end quite a few times, having managed to walk into the room where the DVD was playing, at the same moment every time. It sort of ends happily, I think?

The only Tolkien I’ve read was the first chapter of The Hobbit – to Son at bedtime – many years ago. Luckily something intervened after that, and the Resident IT Consultant continued the reading.

Daughter likes the LOTR films. She liked the first Hobbit film, too, and wants to go and see the second one. Before doing that she decided to actually read the book. She finished it yesterday.

A little bit later she asked if it was all right for her to say something, and once I’d ascertained I’d not be sad or offended by this something, she had my permission to proceed.

‘The Hobbit was boring,’ she said. I replied I wasn’t surprised. There must have been a good reason I never returned to it.

We sort of came to the conclusion the reason it’s possible to make so many films out of the one book, might be that its boringness requires more fun and exciting stuff to be added. Which makes it longer. Rather like the  two-hour films made of Agatha Christie’s short stories. You pad. And then you pad some more.

J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit

(The cover is nice, though.)

Bookwitch bites #114

Well, wasn’t that a week stacked to the gills with reviews of some of the excellent books published on the 5th? Don’t spread them out. Just send them in our direction all at once. Spacing your reading is so last century.

And Sophie Hannah is the new Agatha Christie. Will be. Sort of. Sophie is the latest in the recent trend of asking living authors to step into the shoes of their late colleagues. And whereas Agatha Christie did finish Miss Marple off, I think Hercule Poirot managed to avoid having a last case. Although, he is dreadfully old, even if we don’t bring him into the 21st century. Very pleased for Sophie, who writes extremely well. I look forward to seeing what she can do with the old French, oops, sorry, Belgian detective. (Maybe she’ll be less scary. Than her usual self, I mean.)

No sooner had Daughter and I returned from our travels, overseeing The New Window, but Mrs Pendolino called in to deal with hair that had grown too long. She’s on her way to Vegas, which apparently is the place to go this year.

Once shorn, we opened our doors to Botany Girl and Rhino Boy, who called in on their way past Bookwitch Towers, having inspected some scout hut or other. They weren’t going to Vegas. The Northwest – our Northwest – is good enough for them.

I have known Botany Girl for almost as long as I have known the Resident IT Consultant. I’ve not seen so much of her, however, so it was nice of her to remember my proximity to the scout hut. Rhino Boy I’d only met the once, over ten years ago. He wasn’t sure he’d met Daughter, but she was able to tell him what he had for dinner that evening (and somehow he knew she was right. It was a Quattro Stagioni…).

Before regaling us with tales of stuff that all happened when we were all less old than we are now, Rhino Boy looked round the room and his gaze fastened on Anne Rooney’s The Story of Physics. So I let him have a little look. Seems he knows about Physics. He also wanted the inside story on Stieg Larsson. (As if I’d know anything about that.)

Botany Girl and I agreed that it is possible to have a satisfactory quality of life even without advanced Maths, and I forgot to remind her I still owe her a session of washing up.

And I suppose now it’s back to ‘normal’ for maybe a week…

The Books To Die For Tour

Waterstones Deansgate is a good place to go to if you want the attention of several young men at once. (Staff, I mean. And it helps if you’re difficult. Like me.)

John Connolly and Declan Burke

I was there to hear Declan Burke and John Connolly – and as it turned out, Barbara Nadel – talk about how they forced hundreds of authors to write essays on their favourite crime writers, and to do so by the deadline. (I have to get back to Waterstones here. Last year I was in that same room to hear John speak about one of his children’s books. It was the children’s department. Yesterday he was there as an adult writer, and it was an adult’s fiction department. Very obliging of them to keep switching.)

John Connolly and Declan Burke

Declan Burke and Barbara Nadel

Anyway, there we were, around fifty crime fans or so, to hear the gossip about the participating authors of Books To Die For. And how much work it had been putting this wonderful ‘reference’ volume, conceived in wine, together. I believe John said yes to Declan’s idea, while really meaning no. These things happen.

They insulted each other, which was only to be expected. John reminisced about young people, suddenly feeling old doing so. (Having stumbled across a photo of John last week, I can assure you he was himself very young once.)

Apart from age issues, we learned that John has a marvellous black book of contacts, and he really entered into ‘the spirit’ of this job. I’d say they both did.

According to Barbara the participating writers were given very little time to write their essays. A mere six months, which left the editors to hunt people down ‘like assassins’ (hope they really didn’t mean that) after the deadline, literally chasing people across continents.

They had to fact check everything from often inaccurate quotes to people who couldn’t remember their own date of birth or the titles of their books. (It’s always so hard, that.) Both John and Declan gave examples of authors they didn’t know, and also listed some of the more unusual writers that cropped up. (No, I’m not listing them here. Read the book!)

John Connolly

There was a worried moment when it looked like no one was going to pick Agatha Christie, which indicates that people didn’t necessarily go for the obvious names first. Some essays revealed a lot about those who’d written them, and whereas they tried to be really strict on word count (2000), some essays did end up twice as long.

Lee Child wrote the shortest one. Declan and John were amazed that he remembered the cover of ‘his’ book in such detail, and the price he paid, and not much else… Sara Paretsky’s contribution is ‘wonderful.’

Declan Burke

In the Q&A I finally had my explanation as to why crime writers are so nice. According to Ruth Dudley Edwards, murdering all day long makes you nice. Although as regards bad reviews, John prefers knockdown fights in the pub. More honest. (He doesn’t read reviews. Except he seemed to have read mine…) We are all so nice, because these days we want to be able to meet an author in the bar, and still be friends. So true. Sometimes.

Declan Burke, Barbara Nadel and John Connolly

There was a lovely long queue to have books signed, and I fought for my place last in line with another big fan. We both won. More or less. There were trading cards. With duplicates. We now have to meet up again and swap. And make friends. John also handed out postcards, which left Declan wishing he’d thought of that.

Afterwards I hobbled towards my train at such utter lack of speed that my lovely Irishmen returning to their hotel would surely have caught up with me, had I not been rescued by a tram.

Out cold

Or as the (Norwegian, obviously) pilot (many years ago) announced on landing the plane twenty minutes early, that we should please remember this and use it as credit against any delays we might encounter some other time.

I am fairly certain there have been days with more than one blog post from me. I am cashing in some of my credit today. As on many Boxing Days in the past, I compensated for too much time spent slaving over the dishwasher, by flopping and doing nothing more than watch television.

So, we enjoyed The Clocks with the ever nicely padded David Suchet, after which I remembered that I’d intended to hang on for the Dolly Parton concert on BBC4. Unfortunately I don’t work Nine to Five, but I Will Always Love You. Within reason. Obviously.

Before couch-potatoing all evening I started reading Advent by James Treadwell, which is looking quite promising. I know it’s the end of December, and Advent is over, but I don’t think it’s that kind of Advent. Besides, the book hasn’t been published yet. Very nice cover, for a proof. For a ‘real’ book too.

In between the above dubious activities I mainly lectured the Resident IT Consultant in the art of using lemon and honey for his poor throat. That’s despite him looking at my present (A Wrinkle in Time), while sitting in my chair.

Pieces of Poirot

Poirot falling to pieces was a novelty. I’ll give them that. But the consensus in these parts seemed to be that we prefer a slightly saner Poirot, and if the murderers can be more cheerful as they go about their business that would not be a bad thing. At least if it’s Murder on the Orient Express, and they are almost justified, and they get to travel on that great train.

David Suchet, Murder on the Orient Express

But it must have been the justification that had the screenwriter in a twist. It wouldn’t be pc to allow murderers to get away with it (although it seems to be in vogue in real courts, here and now), so we need to have Poirot all religious and with flashback to a possible mistake made earlier, as well as putting the current murderers in context with the stoning of an adulteress.

It is a very Christmassy Christie, what with the snow and all. Considerably more ‘current news’ than they could possibly have hoped for, as well. Trains stuck. Cold trains. Bad customer service. Ineffective digging in snow drifts. Almost British. The period feel is good, and the train is lovely.

But we don’t want Poirot falling to pieces. He didn’t in the ‘old’ film, nor, as far as I recall, did he in the book. When did he become a catholic, or at least, so overtly religious? As the film began Daughter muttered that she hoped they weren’t going to change who did it. A bit hard with this scenario, but it began to look as if they’d change Poirot’s decision at the end.

Was it just me, or had much of the casting been done by someone who knew exactly what each character should look like, as defined by the old film?

And was this intended as Poirot’s last case? If so, I suppose he’s allowed to go round the bend somewhat. As Son pointed out, everyone was so very angry.

Murder on the Orient Express 2010

(This post co-published with CultureWitch)

Saxby Smart’s Detective Handbook

I’d like a small pile of detectives on my bedside table, too. Just like Saxby Smart. He’s a detective who keeps other detectives nearby at night in case he needs them. Ah, no, I see now it’s books he’s got. Though I still quite like the idea of the detectives stacked up. As long as they can keep quiet.

Feeling vaguely Sherlocky today, after watching the Sherlock repeat on television on Sunday, so decided to tackle the detective handbook. I’ve not read any of Saxby’s own criminal adventures, but I suspect they are a lot of fun if this guide is anything to go by. It’s got everything. Or so it seems.

Most importantly it has a list of cons you can try, from phishing to dropping pigeons. Quite zoological. (I’d say, don’t try this at home. Just in case.)

Simon/Saxby explains the history of crime from body snatchers via the Lindbergh baby to Watergate. The difference between peelers and the FBI. Stuff on blood, and also why the butler did it.

The great names like Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie and hardboiled eggs all get a chapter. A DIY lesson in detecting, which I’m far too lazy to even contemplate, but would suit the younger reader.

Finally there is a guide to Saxby’s own bookshelves, with introductions to some of the best crime novels in existence. Not so necessary if you have a crime lover nearby who will initiate you to the ways of crime, but for everybody else this is an invaluable list.

Great to find such a humorous book which takes crime seriously. Apparently they have overcoats in Chicago. That’s good because I believe it gets cold there. But what does a mere dame know? Though I do wish he’d mentioned Knox’s Chinaman. Chinamen are amusing.

And there is information for those of you who need to know how to rob a grave. Which is not the same as snatching bodies, btw. One has come further than the other.

This is no vicarage

I think I get it now. This fascination for Nordic crime. People like Adèle Geras, who can’t have enough of the gritty crime from our cold and dark countries. And me, who shudders at the mere thought of some of the bleak grittiness.

I’m currently reading a much talked about Swedish crime novel, which can remain anonymous for the time being. Started it on Friday night and read solidly for an hour, or about 100 pages. Then I thought to myself that it was so unpleasant that I might as well give up and save myself the remaining 500 pages. Ghastly crime (I know they all are, really) and not a single likeable character.

Then for good measure I continued yesterday. It’s scary and off-putting and I still can’t stand the characters. I don’t like the Stockholm setting, because although I don’t live there, I feel I could do. In which case I do not want that sort of stuff happening on my home ground. I can see myself leading that kind of drab life and I feel vaguely sick.

But that’s what you like, isn’t it? If it’s grim and it’s grim in a different place, for people not living your kind of life, then it’s just ‘nice’ to watch from the safe distance of your armchair. While I can see myself there, I’m scared.

I used to have this theory that readers with ‘cosy’ British lives enjoy the murderous Ikea life style in the glow of the Aurora and all that. You’re safe in your semidetached lives. And I used to think that I adore cosy English crime because it’s different. Set in charming surroundings, with interestingly different characters, and totally unattainable.

Now though, I find crime like Stephen Booth’s – for instance – a little bit too close to home. But still quite enjoyable, as the Peak District is still a few miles down the road.

And isn’t that why we like Agatha Christie? Most of us can’t aspire to that kind of life (partly because it’s now in the past), and feel secure in the knowledge that we won’t be murdered in any mansions or vicarages anytime soon.

Having come to this brilliant conclusion I had to try and decide what type of crime writing I do like and feel comfortable with. Irish fantasy. Quite safe. V I Warshawski, safely far away in Chicago. Mma Ramotswe. Very far away. And yes, Stieg Larsson. Because for some reason I can’t see myself living in his settings. Anything with humour, really. Like Donna Moore’s mad capers. Not real. A reflection on society, but not my life.

I yearn for more Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Safe time, safe class. Yes, I want safe crime. Something that is unlikely to reach me.

What language do you read?

And I don’t mean whether you can manage Harry Potter in Chinese. Charlie Butler blogged about English versus English the other day. Very interesting. As a non-native reader I used to be foolish enough to believe that English was English. Yes, I know the British have something that differs from what the Americans swear by, but people can get by, can’t they?

Seems not. I remember the little witch looking at the Mrs something-or-other in Blyton’s Castle of Adventure. I went to Mother-of-witch and asked what Mmmrrsss meant. (I tried to pronounce those three letters.) It’s the same as Fru, in Swedish. Once I knew this, I knew this, and I had learnt a new word, and also how it’s meant to be pronounced. I felt cosmopolitan and clever. (I was about eight.) I can still remember what it means.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m currently living in Britain because of that Mrs. Not because I turned into a Mrs myself. There was something so satisfyingly exotic about all things British. I coped admirably with shillings, and didn’t require them to be turned into öre. Miles can be confusing, but only because you have six British miles to a Swedish one.


Some years ago I read a book by Beverly Naidoo, set in South Africa. It would have been useful knowing how much a Rand is worth, but not essential. Could have looked it up, I daresay. But ‘translating’ it into pounds and pennies wouldn’t have helped. After all, how much is a knut?

You could have footnotes, but they can get a little tedious. A glossary is one solution, but not for too many words, or it’s tempting to skip looking at it.

Reading Agatha Christie can be tricky, because she sometimes uses French, which I don’t speak, and I think the reader is meant to. On the other hand, when I read Adrian McKinty’s Fifty Grand recently, I didn’t object to the Spanish he used. So it’s all relative.

Helen Grant’s The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is a nice proper British English book, except it’s set in Germany and Helen has put German phrases in her story. Words, and whole sentences! I think it adds a very nice flavour. The same goes for Caroline Lawrence using Latin all over her Roman Mysteries. ‘Euge!’ say I.

I think we need some foreign-ness in books. Not just random Chinese, obviously, but anything that belongs to the story. We often talk of dumbing down these days. Translating 50p to one dollar is dumbing down. That’s how people end up not knowing it’s different in the other place.

Just not too different, because we’re mostly he same. Except when we’re not.

Ladybird books

It would appear that foreigners can sometimes get things right.

I know that as one of them I can never lay claim to the kind of past many of my readers have with Ladybird books. You sort of imbibed them with the first milk, and a person can only have one past. At least most of us. Lucy Mangan has been spot on again, writing about her Ladybird collection, and being generous enough to concede that her otherwise hopeless husband also has an excellent Ladybird past. Wow.

On my first visit to these shores I bought one book. Aged ten, and with one year of school English behind me, I wasn’t well placed to read much at all. But Mother-of-witch let me buy one book, which we then laboured over together. There were many tempting ones in the shop, but I settled on something solid about two children on a farm. It personified my early image of English children, with their sweet sensible shoes, boys in shorts, with mothers who bake cakes and fatherly fathers.

So I tried to learn English with Ladybird, although by the time I really could read the book, it was far too childish for me and I had moved on to Agatha Christie.