Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Agatha Christie’

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

I saw all of the clues in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs but couldn’t put them together to work out who had murdered Amyas Crale nearly fifteen years before Hercule Poirot commenced his investigations into the case.

Crale’s long-suffering wife Caroline was convicted of the murder at the time and had died in jail. Caroline and Amyas’ daughter, Carla engaged Poirot to learn the truth, since she was convinced that her mother was innocent of the crime.

The ‘Five Little Pigs’ of the case were Amyas’ best friend who was a stockbroker, making him the little pig who went to market. The stockbroker’s brother was the little pig who stayed home, a beautiful young woman having an affair with Amyas was the little pig who ate roast beef, while Carla’s governess was the little pig who had none. Caroline’s younger sister was the little pig who cried ‘wee, wee, wee, all the way home.’

Hercule Poirot features heavily in this story. He interviewed the five suspects as well as the police who had managed the investigation at the time, then convinced those involved to write their recollections of the event for him to study. My only quibble with this story was understanding why each character, supposing one of them was the murderer, or was protecting someone else, or had something else they wanted to hide would take part in Poirot’s investigation? Surely anyone who had something to lose would quickly leave the country for an extended tour of Europe, or change their name and move to the most remote village they could find rather than risking Poirot learning the truth? However, vanity and the false idea that they are cleverer than Hercule Poirot often bring Agatha Christie’s murderers undone and this story was no different.

I read Five Little Pigs very quickly, sitting up late to finish because I just had to know which of the characters (if it wasn’t Caroline), had poisoned Amyas.

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie is set in one of her terrific village settings full of little old ladies, likeable young people, pompous older people, weirdos and suspicious characters, and of course a murderer. Unusually for this author, the story also contains a romance.

Luke Fitzwilliam had just returned to England from the Mayang Straits (now Singapore) after retiring from the police force when he met an elderly lady on a train who told him she was on her way to Scotland Yard to report a murderer who had been working their way through her village. Luke thought Miss Pinkerton was imagining things until he read in the paper the next day that she had been killed in a hit and run accident in London.

With the assistance of a friend who had a cousin living in the old lady’s village, Luke arranged to visit Wychwood to investigate the deaths that Miss Pinkerton had told him about, posing as an author writing about superstitions and witchcraft in the village.

Luke soon fell in love with Bridget, his friend’s cousin in Wychwood but their romance was complicated by Bridget already being engaged to Lord Whitfield, a pompous fellow whose enemies have a habit of dying seemingly by accident. While Luke investigated several other suspects in the village as well as Lord Whitfield, I thought I could have saved him the trouble as I identified a particular person as the murderer early in the story. It turned out that I’m not very clever at all though, because I was wrong and the murderer was someone else entirely who I hadn’t suspected at all. I honestly don’t know how Agatha Christie does it, but that’s how it goes for me every single time.

For a policeman, Luke wasn’t any better at identifying the murderer than I was and before long he found himself and Bridget in mortal danger. Luckily, he survived, with the assistance of Superintendent Battle who appeared briefly at the end of the story, just in time to arrest the murderer.

Murder is Easy probably isn’t one of Agatha Christie’s better murder mysteries, but as her poorer stories are still better than many other efforts, I enjoyed this story.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

I swear I had forgotten who killed Mr Shaitana during his own dinner party in Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie before I’d finished reading the last page.

It didn’t matter to me, as I find the joy of an Agatha Christie book is in the characters and how the author portrays social groups, rather than in the actual murder and unravelling the clues to learn who the murderer is (although of course these elements are enjoyable, too).

This particular group included two of my favourite Agatha Christie characters, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and English crime-fiction writer, Mrs Ariadne Oliver, who attended a dinner party hosted by the aforesaid, soon to-be-murdered Mr Shaitana, along with four people whom he believed had previously gotten away with a murder. Hercule Poirot and Mrs Oliver were partnered with two more people who normally worked to catch criminals. After dinner, the eight guests played bridge while Mr Shaitana dozed in front of the fire. As it turned out, Mr Shaitana wasn’t dozing….

I was delighted by Agatha Christie putting a little of herself into the character of the charming Mrs Oliver. When Superintendent Battle told her that he enjoyed her last book, the “one where all of the Chief Constables were shot simultaneously” she declined his offer of assistance for her future books with policing details as she wasn’t interested in accuracy and neither were her readers. Later Mrs Oliver said she regretted making the detective in her novels a Finn as she knew nothing about Finns and was always receiving letters from Finns complaining about faults in his character. I also enjoyed Mrs Oliver telling a fan of her books that writing was hard work and that thinking through and planning plots was a bore and of course, wondered if Agatha Christie had felt this way herself.

There was a level of racism in the book which surprised me. Major Despard voiced his dislike for his host due to his race, as according to him Mr Shaitana was “too well-dressed – he wore his hair too long – and he smelled of scent,” along with “No one knew where he was from, Argentina, Portugal, Greece or somewhere else” or if Mr Shaitana was “some other nationality rightly despised by the insular, Brition, nobody knew.” Funnily enough, his race didn’t stop any of Mr Shaitana’s guests from attending his parties or dinners.

As always, Agatha Christie tells a good story and the joy of forgetting who the murderer was means that I’ll be able to enjoy this story again in future.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie



It is lucky that Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie features legendary detective Hercule Poirot, because none of the other characters in this novel had a clue who murdered their fellow character, sex-pot Arlena Stuart, and neither did I.

Evil Under the Sun is set on Smuggler’s Island, where a group of holiday makers, including Hercule Poirot, Arlene, her husband Ken and step-daughter Linda are staying at The Jolly Roger Hotel. Arlene, in her green Chinaman’s hat and white swimsuit is, to everyone else’s disgust, making short work of a fellow guest’s affections, young Patrick Redfern, while feeling sorry for Patrick’s heart-broken wife Christine.

Also holidaying on the island is a sensible dress-designer who grew up with Ken, a pair of oblivious Americans, several shady characters, a fellow who is best avoided once he starts telling long-winded stories about his time in India, and others who are only there to swim, boat and build sand-castles.

As always, Agatha Christie tells an entertaining story.

I did have a bit of a giggle to myself when all of the holiday-makers continued their holiday after Arlene was murdered. Never let a murder get in the way of a good day at the beach!

The landlady of The Jolly Roger was the most distressed person of the lot, worrying about what people would think when it got out there had been a murder on the island. The investigations continued around the holiday making, with Hercule Poirot asking questions and observing his fellow character’s behaviours, while putting together what had happened like a jigsaw until he had a clear case and could expose the murderer. When he did, I realised I had suspected every other character in the book, including the landlady*, while discounting the guilty party.

I did think that some elements of this particular murder were too far-fetched, but Evil Under the Sun has really good characters and the most appealing location of an Agatha Christie novels other than the Orient Express. I would love to holiday on Smugglers Island myself, but at the rate bodies turn up wherever Hercule Poirot goes, would have cancelled my reservation when I saw him just in case it was my turn to be the murder victim.

*It wasn’t the landlady.





The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie


I guessed who did it before the end!

First time ever.

I didn’t get everything right (I missed the whole accomplice angle in this plot) but I knew who the murderer was. Woo-hoo.

I might have read The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie before (at least thirty years ago) but I can’t remember for sure. (If I’m not sure, it doesn’t count).

What I had definitely forgotten was how good Agatha Christie is a creating believable, likeable characters. And how good she is at writing dialogue which makes the reader feel as if they are also part of the gang. And how good she is at confusing the reader about who the murderer might be.

This story starts at a weekend party at a house called Chimneys, where a group of friends have gathered for a good time. The house guests are bright and cheerful and full of high spirits, when they decide to play a joke on one of the members, who is renowned for sleeping in later than the rest of them. (Even on working days, the men of the party don’t need to turn up to work at the Foreign Office until 11am). The house guest creep into the sleepy-head’s room and set a number of alarm clocks, planning to wake him up through the night, but in the morning, they find him dead in his bed, apparently having overdosed on a sleeping draught.

A bright young thing nicknamed ‘Bundle’ becomes involved in the mystery when a second fellow from the party turns up dead, and from there, things rollick along. The Seven Dials turns out to be a place in London, as well as a mysterious group who appear to be interested in a secret formula for manufacturing wire which is as strong as steel (ah, industrial espionage, a timeless reason to commit a crime…)

The slang used by the characters, their nicknames (Socks, Codders and Pongo, not to mention our heroine, Bundle) and the funny, at cross-purposes conversations reminded me of PG Wodehouse’s joyful style.

The Seven Dials Mystery has everything except a ‘why’ that makes sense. Adventure, romance, mystery, great characters, funny slang, a plot, mad-keen golfers, women who are interested in Politics (yes, with a capital ‘P’), butlers, difficult gardeners, beautiful countesses and wicked villians. I loved that when the murderer was caught, no one expressed any regret that he or she was going to swing for his or her crimes. However, I didn’t really get the reason why the villain committed their crimes as it all seemed a bit too far fetched. I don’t think I can explain why without saying who did it, but my lack of understanding didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the rest of the story.

The Seven Dials Mystery is loads of fun. Read it and enjoy it for yourself.






The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie


I must already have read The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie and forgotten about it, because for once I guessed who the murderer was before the end of the story. I’m hopeless at guessing who the murderer is usually, so this is the only explanation I can come up with.

The Sittaford Mystery starts with a group of neighbours gathering at Sittaford House, a country house which has recently been let to Mrs Willet and her daughter by Captain Trevelyan. None of the locals can understand why the Willets want to stay in their tiny village on the edge of the moor during winter, but Captain Trevelyan was more than happy to move into the nearby town of Exhampton, while pocketing the Willet’s rent money.

During the afternoon at Sittaford House, the group have tea and then, to amuse themselves, decide to try ‘table-turning’. I believe table-turning was a popular pastime during the 1920’s and 30’s when this book was written, when otherwise sensible people tried to communicate with ghosts. During table-turning, the participants put their hands on top of a table, and say the letters of the alphabet while ghosts answer questions or communicate by tipping the table to spell out words. Hmmm.

Anyway, in The Sittaford Mystery, the table spells out that Captain Trevelyan is dead, so one of the party, Major Burnaby, tramps off six miles through the snow to Exhampton to check on his friend. Sure enough, he finds the Captain dead.

Suspicion is thrown on just about everyone, until Jim Pearson, a young nephew of Captain Trevelyan, is arrested. Jim’s fiancé, the very likeable Emily Trefusis, begins her own investigations, enlisting most of the male characters in the book for her purposes. Emily is a terrific heroine, quick-witted and attractive. She manages the male characters very cleverly.

As always, Agatha Christie tells a very good story. Her characters become real in just a few words and all of them appear to have a reason why they would want Captain Trevelyan dead. I always forget how funny Agatha Christie’s characters are, but this book happily reminded me. The table-turning idea is out-dated, but it served the purpose in this book very well.

Despite guessing the murderer, there was a mystery in this book which I didn’t solve until the author told me and there was another twist at the end which surprised me. I enjoyed The Sittaford Mystery.




Third Girl by Agatha Christie


I have a question for all of the people who say they always know ‘who did it’ when they read Agatha Christie novels. How do you figure it out?

I don’t think I’m particularly stupid and I’ve read loads of her books, but I never manage to pick the murderer before Agatha Christie tells me in the last chapter who it is, why they did it and how it all happened. Third Girl was no exception, I had no idea of the murderer.

Third Girl is a Hercule Poirot mystery. Mrs Oliver, the renowned novelist and great friend of M. Poirot, plays an important part in this novel also. Mrs Oliver, in one of the first chapters, tells M. Poirot how much she hates the much loved fictional detective who has starred in a great many of her own novels. I had a bit of snicker to myself, wondering if Agatha Christie used Mrs Oliver as a mouthpiece to have a gentle dig at her own star detective?

Anyway, on with the plot of Third Girl. The ‘third girl’ is Norma Restarick, a young woman who shares a London flat during the 1960s with two other young women. Worryingly, Norma may or may not have murdered someone. Norma visits M. Poirot, seemingly for help, but then tells him he is too old to be of assistance and leaves without giving him further details of the murder.

I found the ‘too old to be of assistance’ angle to be quite interesting, because the characters in this novel are divided between young, arty, long haired mods and the older conservative people, who disapprove of the drugs, long hair and free and easy ways of the younger crowd and my feeling was that Agatha Christie tried a bit too hard to keep up with the times during this novel. I suspect she belonged on the side of the older, disapproving point of view too. I’ve no idea how old Agatha Christie would have been when she wrote Third Girl, and am too tired to ‘Google’ this information, but I strongly suspect she wasn’t wearing mini skirts and taking purple pills during the 1960s, although her characters certainly were.

Despite his hurt feelings at being thought old, M. Poirot and Mrs Oliver investigate Norma and her family, (Mrs Oliver has run across the Restarick family socially) and they find more and more mysteries as they snoop around in Restarick’s homes and lives. Not surprisingly, Mrs Oliver gets ‘coshed’ on the head while snooping.

In order to solve the mystery, M. Poirot ‘reflects.’ I don’t think he actually mentioned his ‘little grey cells’ once in this novel, but he certainly worked it all out in the end, although sadly after several people were actually murdered. Still, in Agatha Christie novels, murders happen.

I don’t think Third Girl is one of Agatha Christie’s better novels, but it is still an enjoyable read.






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