About 1976 ….

As always I am slow and late in posting about an event and now pick up the pen ( the laptop ) to write about it, well after it’s over! I hope Karen & Simon find it in their heart to forgive me and overlook my constant delinquency! I am of course talking about the 1976 Club Event where we read and post about books published in 1976. I did manage to read well in time, but blogging is a whole different matter! I guess I will stick to the over used cliché of better late than never!

1976 was a pretty momentous year; a lot and I mean a lot of things happened besides the literary milestones. Apple Company was formed. Concorde started its first commercial flight. United States landed Viking 1 on Mars. Nadia Comaneci won 3 gold medals at the Montreal Olympics with seven perfect scores, something that never happened before and Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Needless to say it was an epoch making year and there were several famous literary works published that year.

For this event, I thought of reading The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin but due to delay in arrival of the book, I went with Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. It was a re -read, a perfect book for my chemo addled brain and one can always trust Dame Christie for good entertainment, if nothing else.

Sleeping Murder is the last of Miss Marple books, released posthumously, and was the last Christie novel to be published. However in chronological order, Sleeping Murder, belongs to an earlier era, set in 1930s. The book was written by Ms. Christie during the World War 2 to be published if she did not survive the war.

Gwenda Reed is traveling from New Zealand to England for the first time with the aim of buying a house where she and her husband, Giles could settled down and start their married life together. While house hunting , Gwenda comes across a house in South England and she immediately buys it and sets about making alteration to suit her tastes and needs. She soon discovers that the garden steps should have been mapped in a different way and is convinced that the nursery should have a certain wallpaper and there should be a door connecting the living and dinning room. Things turn strange, when there is a door discovered between the two rooms as Gwenda had wanted a sealed door opens to a wallpaper with the exact design she has in mind. Unnerved and worried, she seeks a few days refuge with her husband’s cousins, Raymond West, the novelist and his wife, the artist Joyce. She also meets, Raymond’s aunt, Miss Marple. Raymond and his wife plan a host of entertainments for the young bride from New Zealand and one of them includes an evening at the theater watching The Duchess of Malfi; when the line “Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young” is spoken, Gwenda screams and rushes out of the theater, as she recollects an image of herself looking down from the stairs and seeing a man saying those words while strangling a blonde-haired woman named Helen. The next day, Miss Marple visits Gwenda in her room and gently starts discussing what happened the previous night, the discoveries that Gwenda had made in her new home and starts off an investigation into the house that Gwenda bought and her own family history, leading to some interesting revelations.

The book is a must read for all Christie and whodunit fans. The plot as always is skillfully created with enough depth without taking on a pedantic stand. There are questions about letting the past be for a better future versus letting someone get away with a crime that adds a distinct thought provoking layer to a good murder mystery yarn. The pace of the book is just right; it is not too slow or monotonous nor does it feel like a ride on the fast lane. The characters are all really well sketched out and Gwenda and Giles Reed especially standing apart as good, intelligent and courageous individuals who also make perfect partners. Usually in a Marple/Poirot mystery the other characters are outshone by them; however in this book, they stand independently and add a richness to the narrative. Miss Marple herself is at her best, doing what she is good at – a gossipy old lady who through her chattiness brings forth important information that will be key to solving the case. She is also resourceful and loyal and kind and everything that we love her for! Ultimately the book is what a good murder mystery should be – suspenseful, dramatic, intriguing with a hint of life and its complexities!

It was a great 1976 club read and I now look forward to the 1954 Club read in 6 months time!

When a Dame wrote about a Murder….

Talk about resolutions. I make an entry on August 1 about half way milestones and then did not write for nearly 20 days…so much for perseverance. Having confessed to my errors, one may ask, what kept me away – many things and nothings – too much work, too many parties and one too many weekend getaways! Basically, I have been living it up, though I feel so in the hindsight and not when I was actually indulging in these activities…..

Nevertheless, I am back and I here to talk about an extremely clichéd author, whose work has been appreciated and abused and whose work’s reproduction has become hackneyed and trite in all media forms. After this long eulogy, there only remains for me to state the name of this author –Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie

While in my personal hierarchy of crime and detective series, Sir Author Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes reign’s as an un-parallel ruler (Yes! I know and am aware…I am drowning in a veritable ocean of banalities…but what can I say, when you like em, you like em!); Ms Marple and Hercule Poirot and all her minor characters remain absolutely wonderful in their own unique ways and the tales are as wonderful and novel as you had read them the last time.

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and from her biography it can be deduced that she a reasonably peaceful, albeit adventure less childhood. She served as part of the Voluntary Aid Department during World War 1 and married Archibald Christie in 1914 and with whom she had a daughter. She published her first novel, incidentally, her first work featuring Hercule Poirot, in 1920, called The Mysterious Affairs at Styles. In 1928, she and Archibald Christie divorced, following his declaration of infidelity and her infamous disappearance for 11 days. In 1930, she would marry archaeologist Max Mallowan  and would follow him around the world to various archaeological expeditions, which would also act as settings for her many works.  In 1971, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 3 years after her husband has been knighted. She died at the age of 85 in 1976, having written 66 detective fiction, 15 short stories collections and several romances that she wrote under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott.

Most of her works revolve around English protagonists, who call upon Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, because they are in the vicinity or because they have been referred to by the Scotland Yard, through Inspector Japp or Sir Henry Cleethering.  The detective then goes around finding clues and at times even losing his/her way before organising a grand closure by summoning all parties together and compelling the criminal to give himself/herself away.

What I really like about her writing is her sense of fun and romance that goes beyond your average whodunits. While murder and crime always are the primary events of her books, there is always a gentle narrative behind them. For instance, In Nemesis, one discovers that Verity was murdered she was in love with Michael Rafiel. Or in the The Mysterious Affairs at Styles, Poirot lets John Cavendish take on the blame for the murder of his stepmother Emily Inglethorp, to bring forth the romance between John Cavendish and his wife.  Her sense of fun and irony is also all prevailing – for instance, when  her brilliant nephew offers Miss Marple a “modern work” to read while on her vacations, the author gently mocks the free for all culture of 1960s by making Miss Marple read an extract from the “modern work” –

Her glance strayed for a moment to the book on her lap lying open at page twenty-three which was as far as she had got (and indeed as far as she felt like getting!). “Do you mean that you’ve had no sexual experience at ALL?” demanded the young man incredulously. “At nineteen? But you must. It’s vital.”

The girl hung her head unhappily, her straight greasy hair fell forward over her face. “I know,” she muttered, “I know.”

He looked at her, stained old jersey, the bare feet, the dirty toenails, the smell of rancid fat . . . He wondered why he found her so maddeningly attractive.

Miss Marple wondered too! And really! To have sex experience urged on you exactly as though it was an iron tonic! Poor young things . . .

Of course, there are moments, when even a great author like Dame Christie fumbles….Can anyone explain to me why Bryn Martin goes to Hercule Poirot at the beginning of the novel to plant an idea so destructive to the character of Jane Wilkinson when he had actually no idea about who the culprit was …just to get petty revenge? That’s from Lord Edgware Dies. She is also not the most politically correct or sensitive when describing populations that did not confirm to being white, Protestant (Or Church of England) or not belonging to the English upper or middle class. However making allowances for that era, one must give her credit that in almost all her books, her protagonists are driven by a strong sense of justice, even if it means letting the murderer go!

Read her for the gentle pleasure of good ripping yarn! She never lets one down! Vi Va Dame Christie!