Sunday 18 May 2014

Oh, Agatha

Oh dear, have I really not blogged since last Wednesday? I'm sorry, I'm being very negligent - and I can't even think of a reason why, as it hasn't been an especially busy week. Perhaps it's my general reading slump at the moment - and, if you've been around for any of my previous reading slumps, you'll probably know what my solution has been. Dame Agatha Christie. If you hate spoilers of any variety (and I'll only talking about the death which happens in the first few pages) then skim read this post...

Yes, that's right, I've ignored the hundreds of unread books in my house - and the few that I'm reading at the moment - and taken myself to Oxford Central Library to borrow some Agathas. Almost all of mine are at home, and the ones I have here don't fall into blank years in A Century of Books - and, if I'm reading Agatha, I may as well kill two birds with one stone.  Still, with the criteria of being (a) not read read, (b) filling blank years, and (c) currently in library stock, I managed to come away with two books - Hallowe'en Party and The Seven Dials Mystery, and whipped through the first in a couple of days.

I'd always steered clear of it, because of my distaste for Hallowe'en, but it's pretty incidental to the plot. And, as plot is so important in Christie novels, I'm not going to tell you much beyond the initial murder - which is of a young girl at a Hallowe'en party, who is drowned in an apple bobbing bucket. Shortly before this, she has begun to tell people that she once witnessed a murder, only she didn't realise it was a murder until much later. They won't listen - but it seems that perhaps someone present has taken her comment seriously... Hercule Poirot, naturally, comes to sort things out, called there by Ariadne Oliver. I have five main things I want to say about this novel:

1.) I love Christie plots about misinterpretation - where a witness sees someone looking shocked that something is there, when in fact they're shocked that something isn't there; when a look of horror is about a memory rather than a current event - all those sorts of things, for some reason, are wonderful to me. So I loved that element of Hallowe'en Party.

2.) I've never read an Ariadne Oliver novel before, and I love her. And Agatha Christie obviously had a lot of fun creating her (she is a detective novelist, with a Finnish detective hero, and Christie uses her as a bit of a mouthpiece...)

3.) This is Christie's child-killing novel... it's interesting for the number of times (and this isn't a spoiler) she talks about leniency for mentally imbalanced killers or those who've been through care, or whatever extenuating circumstances, and how Poirot doesn't think justice should be considered less important than mercy.

4.) It was published in 1969 - so nearly 50 years after Poirot's first case and Christie's first novel. Amazing that she could still be on such good form after all that time.

5.) And it is a very good novel. I found the conclusion a little unsatisfying, mostly because I'd already guessed the solution, or at least most of it, and I much prefer being surprised by the end of a detective novel.

So, there you go. Onto The Seven Dials Mystery...


  1. Dead Man's Folly is a solid Ariadne Oliver novel, I'd recommend that.

  2. The thing I often find with Agatha Christie is that there is an extreme coincidence at the heart of the explanation, such as a murder committed in revenge for something that happened thirty or forty years ago, and sparked off by an accidental meeting between the past murderer and the revenge killer. Is there one here?

  3. Agatha's just wonderful - and I loved your point about misinterpretation! She's so good at this and I'd never quite focused on that aspect before. Love Mrs. Oliver too - you have lots of treats in store!!

  4. Those are great books Simon! Sometimes one just needs to read an Agatha Christie book, she can be a good tonic. I like the cover art you have there for Hallowe'en Party, my copy is an old plain black hardcover, which somehow makes it even more sinister! There was an excellent and entertaining television adaptation of The Seven Dials Mystery made around 1980, which I think you can find on you tube, if you're interested.

    By the way, a week not blogging, no excuse needed. I've been shamefully neglecting my blog this year!


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