Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

Two Serious Ladies

Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles


She was suffering as much as she had ever suffered before, because she was going to do what she wanted to do. But it would not make her happy. She did not have the courage to stop from doing what she wanted to do. She knew that it would not make her happy, because only the dreams of crazy people come true. She thought that she was only interested in duplicating a dream, but in doing so she necessarily became the complete victim of a nightmare.

Well, that was a rambling gallop through the litany of first world problems faced by the bored if ever there was one.


Did this book have shock value when it was first published?


This nearly ended up being the first DNF of 2017, and part of me wish it had been. 

In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers

In the Shadow of Islam - Isabelle Eberhardt The Oblivion Seekers (Peter Owen Modern Classics) - Isabelle Eberhardt

In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers are both collections of writing by another lady travel writer that I have encountered - Isabelle Eberhard. 


Never heard of her? I had not either, but a quick look at her biography ensures that I will look at a more in-depth biography about her.

"ISABELLE EBERHARDT (1877–1904) was born in Geneva, the illegitimate daughter of a former Russian Orthodox priest and a part-Russian, part-German aristocratic mother. Her father was an anarchist and nihilist who was to convert to Islam, and his daughter’s life was to take similar dramatic turns before her tragically early death at the age of twenty-seven. Increasingly isolated from her family and her inheritance, she was plagued by emotional and financial problems, but she had a fierce will. From an early age she dressed as a man for the greater freedom this allowed, and she developed a literary talent and a gift for languages, including Arabic. Like her father Eberhardt became drawn to Islam. She converted while in Algeria with her mother. After her mother’s death she cut all ties with her family, called herself Si Mahmoud Essadi and travelled throughout North Africa. She became involved with Qadiriyya Sufi order, married an Algerian soldier, worked as a war reporter, helped the poor and needy and fought against the injustices of French colonial rule. She was also the victim of an assassination attempt but later successfully pleaded for the life of the man who attacked her. She openly rejected conventional European morality of the time, preferring to choose her own path, and drank alcohol, smoked marijuana and had numerous affairs. She died in a flash flood in Aïn Séfra, Algeria, in 1904."


Eberhardt, Isabelle. In The Shadow of Islam (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 25-32). Peter Owen Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

In both collectoins, In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers, Eberhardt describes life in norther Africa, Algeria to be precise, from the point of someone actually living with the people at around 1900. She doesn't cling to any European perspectives she may hold and gives a voice to the people she encounters, their believes, their customs, their reasoning. She describes tribal rivalries, domestic issues, love, slavery, hardship, wealth - all of which seems to have its place in her settings. The stories are not  connected and aren't really stories either. Rather they are vignettes of observations or conversations mixed with stories. 


Because Eberhardt does not give the account from the perspective of a European traveller, but of someone who is searching for her own self, she does not judge. or at least, she pretends not to judge.


The stories truly are interesting. However, her writing is - lyrical as it is - does at times come across as too stylised to be a true account of her observations. Some poetic licence was no doubt at play.


When looking at both collections separately, In the Shadow of Islam is a better book. It contains one or two stories that are also in The Oblivion Seekers but I found the translation of the stories in In the Shadow of Islam to have a much better flow.


In a way this is surprising because The Oblivion Seekers has gathered more praise on account of the translation by Paul Bowles, which in my opinion is not warranted. I found Bowles' translation hard to read. 


In the Shadow of Islam - 3.5*

The Oblivion Seekers - 2.5*




‘I don’t care if I dress as a workman, but to wear ill-fitting, cheap and ridiculous women’s clothes, no, never...’


-- Isabelle Eberhardt

The Woman in White

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

At the ripe age of sixty, I make this unparalleled confession. Youths! I invoke your sympathy. Maidens! I claim your tears. 

So finally, finally I got around to reading the classic that is The Woman in White. Many thanks to Murder by Death for being my reading buddy. It certainly helped me to sustain momentum at the end.


About the book, I am so glad I read it. I didn't love it, but I fully acknowledge that it is a remarkable book and, its time, must have caused quite a stir. 

I loved the narration from several points of view - basically, every character got their say at one point. Even a grave stone got a paragraph to tell part of the story!


I loved the plot and the twists - but I won't go into them because, erm, spoilers and such - even tho I already had a good idea of where the plot was going to go.


I loved that there was such a mix of characters. From the courageous, to the devious, to the whiny, to the downright pathetic. And no, the "hero" of the piece was not necessarily the best character.


In fact, Walter Hartwright was such an annoying, whiny, lovesick puppy for the first part of the book that I felt some great relief when another character took over the narration.

Luckily, Walter improved later in the book. (Although, he remained a condescending git.) 


The second main character, Laura, was no better. If there was a quote to describe her, this would be my pick:

"I am so useless— I am such a burden on both of you," she answered, with a weary, hopeless sigh. "You work and get money, Walter, and Marian helps you. Why is there nothing I can do? You will end in liking Marian better than you like me— you will, because I am so helpless! Oh, don't, don't, don't treat me like a child!"

Luckily, Laura is absent for much of the book's a mystery.


Btw, Murder by Death and I had the same edition of the book - a 1967/8 faux leather Heron Books (London) edition from the Literary Heritage Collection, and I have to say this was a fabulous way to read this book -





No, my favourite character of this book was Marian Halcombe, whom Walter (the main character) describes as follows on their first encounter:

The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. She left the window— and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward a few steps— and I said to myself, The lady is young.

She approached nearer— and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!

Never was the old conventional maxim, that Nature cannot err, more flatly contradicted— never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more strangely and startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. The lady's complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache.

She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw; prominent, piercing, resolute brown eyes; and thick, coal-black hair, growing unusually low down on her forehead. Her expression— bright, frank, and intelligent— appeared, while she was silent, to be altogether wanting in those feminine attractions of gentleness and pliability, without which the beauty of the handsomest woman alive is beauty incomplete.

Well, as I said, Walter was a bit of a git. However, this is one of the examples in the book that shows how Collins set out his narratives and that he did to include humor, even if it was kinda shallow. 


Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey SAT through life.

All of this was very well. Good writing, a well laid out plot, a romantic element, experimental writing (for its time), fascinating characters, ...

So, why did The Woman in White not sweep me off my feet?


I guess the simple answer to this is that the story dragged. A LOT. I'm at a loss to see why we needed to read the Third Epoch, other than this having being printed as a serial originally and Collins obviously kept the story going for a paycheck.


Had he cut some of the overly detailed explanations at the end I would have enjoyed this much, much more. Alas, he didn't. Just could not come to the point, which reminded me of all the things that were so annoying about Walter in the beginning of the book - it took him ages to come to a conclusion about his feelings that were just so obvious:

I loved her. Ah! how well I know all the sadness and all the mockery that is contained in those three words. I can sigh over my mournful confession with the tenderest woman who reads it and pities me. I can laugh at it as bitterly as the hardest man who tosses it from him in contempt. I loved her! Feel for me, or despise me, I confess it with the same immovable resolution to own the truth.


No shit, Sherlock.



Metropolis - Eddie Vega, Thea von Harbou

Dieses Buch ist kein Gegenwartsbild. Dieses Buch ist kein Zukunftsbild. Dieses Buch spielt nirgendwo. Dieses Buch dient keiner Tendenz, keiner Klasse, keiner Partei. Dieses Buch ist ein Geschehen, das sich um eine Erkenntnis rankt: Mittler zwischen Hirn und Händen muß das Herz sein. —Thea von Harbou

This book is not of today. This book is not of the future. It tells of no place. It serves no cause, class or party. This book is a story which grows on the understanding that: "The mediator between brain and muscle must be the Heart." —Thea von Harbou

Inspired by Troy's posts on all things Metropolis, I finally managed to watch the film and read the book by Fritz Lang's wife Thea von Harbou. Unlike some of her other novels, Metropolis actually did not start as a script but was published 1925, before the film was made. 


It is of course nearly impossible to read the book without being reminded of the imagery of the film. Even tho I had not seen the film before I read the book, the images from the film have permeated western culture so much that I would wager that only few people have not been exposed to them - be it through music videos, films, design...



Back to the book. I really enjoyed it. It was not perfect. It had some issues, but they were not able to spoil the story or the imagination, or the language. 

I cannot put my finger on it but this was a book where I had to read out passages aloud because the writing was so dramatic that I had to hear it. (Btw, I read the German original and cannot speak for the English - or any other - translation on this.)


With other books, the overly dramatic writing would have caused me to dislike the book, but for Metropolis - whose story and imagery (even in the book) is based on the constant struggle between extremes (like the "head" v "hand", the "above" v "below", "man" v "machine", etc.) - it worked. 


The second aspect I really enjoyed was the use of different pieces of mythology that are woven into the story. We get medieval chivalry, biblical, references, Hindu mythology (there are references to deities like Ganesha), Norse mythology - one of the characters who set off the plot is "Hel"! (bodes well, doesn't it?) - Greek mythology, and so much more. While the message is rather general, the symbolism is so strong in this one that it felt like a puzzle at times, which was highly entertaining.


There are some aspects, however, which were challenging in the book, which the film (and I cannot praise the film high enough) overcame: At times the book drags, and there are some scenes that don't really make sense (like what was up with Josaphat and the plane???). As a result, some parts of the book take a bit work (yes, actual work) to get through them to get to the somewhat vague message that is already given to us on page one. 

Also, there is this one dream scene in the book that is so obscure that it made little sense without the visual aid of the film, even though the text does not withhold any information about the significance of the scene. It just really works better in the film, but this is why von Harbou was better known for her screenwriting than for her novels. 

"The crown rested on the head of a woman. And the woman was sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold, precious stones and pearls. She had in her hand a golden cup. On the crowned brow of the woman there stood, mysteriously written: Babylon."

"Like a deity, she grew up and radiated. Death and the seven Deadly Sins bowed low before her."

"And the woman who bore the name Babylon had the features of Maria, whom I loved… "

"The woman arose. She touched the cross-arched vault of the lofty cathedral with her crown. She seized the hem of her cloak and opened it. And spread out her cloak with both hands… Then one saw that the golden cloak was embroidered with the images of manifold demons. Beings with women's bodies and snakes' heads— beings half bull, half angel— devils adorned with crowns, human faced lions."

In the film, this translated into one of the scenes I loved best for its expressionist features, when the danse macabre ensues within the club reserved for the elite of Metropolis, when the re-imagined Hel (in a manner of a stylised dance) unleashes her evil onto onlookers...


Dancing Lady anyone?


A Tag! A Tag! (Reading Habits Tag)

Many thanks to Spooky's House of Books for creating the first fun tag of 2017 and to Booklikes for highlighting it. 


So, while there seems to be some speed to the website, here's mine...


1: Do you have a certain place in your home for reading:

Yes, two really: a comfortable armchair and my bedroom.


2: Bookmark or random piece of paper? 

Probably more piece of paper. I like paper bookmarks but I usually use train tickets, boarding passes, admission tickets, etc. That way they serve as both reminders of past adventures and "rest stops" for new adventures (even if they are bookish ones).


3:Can you  just stop reading or do you have to stop read after a chapter / certain number of pages:

I prefer a stopping point that is natural in the book. This may be a chapter ending or a part in the narrative that just seems to work. I can stop anywhere if pressed, tho. 


4:Do you eat or drink while read:

I usually stick to drinks rather than food.

Tea, coffee, water usually. How chocolate if the story or reading environment lends itself to it. 

Some books, however, require wine (or even hard liquor) ... These have, thankfully, been rare, tho. 


5: multitasking: music or TV while reading: 

Music sometimes. It can enhance the atmosphere of the book. I once read Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans while listening to a radio programme on the BBC that was all about music of the '40s. It was perfect. 


6:one book at a time or several at once:

I might try to stick to one book at a time, but that rarely happens. I need to be able to switch between different books to serve different moods.


7: reading at home or everywhere:



8: reading out loud or silently in your head:

Silently unless it is poetry or written in such a way that needs to be red aloud.  


9:Do you read ahead or even skip pages:

Never in books I enjoy. reading ahead or skimming (never skipping) usually only happens when I don't enjoy the book at all. 


10:Barking the spine or keeping it like new:

Depends on the book. If it is a treasured edition or book that I borrowed from someone, then I will take care to keep it like new. 


11:Do you write in your books: 

Sometimes, but only when I am moved to mark important parts. It is always a struggle to justify writing in the book, tho, which is why I love, love, love the highlight and comment function on my kindle.

I must admit, I really enjoy reading the notes of previous readers in secondhand books, tho.

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me - Ian Fleming

I WAS RUNNING away. I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.

That is not a bad start for a book, is it? It's intriguing. It tells of a backstory that is about to be revealed, and it foreshadows whatever else is going to happen whilst the character is on the run. 


To be honest, when I started the book, I was really looking forward to reading this. Not just because it was the beginning of another fun buddy read, but also because I had not read The Spy Who Loved Me before. I knew the film, of course, but the film, I was advised, bears no resemblance to the book. Not even close. So, after a few decent Bond stories that followed the abysmally bad From Russia With Love, I thought Fleming had maybe found his template. That maybe From Russia With Love was him scraping the bottom of the barrel, and that surely ANY other book had to be better.


Well, I was wrong. I was so wrong. 


Also, when reviewing that hot mess that is From Russia With Love, I did mention that it would have been helpful if Fleming had provided a bit more insight into the internal monologue of the books female lead. Yes, I bemoaned that Fleming did not write any part from the female perspective. 


Well, folks, it goes to show that I should be careful what I wish for because Fleming did exactly that in The Spy Who Loved Me, and it does not work. What Fleming gives us is Viv, a young Canadian whom we again learn very little about other than she's been in some seriously messed up relationships. Yes, Fleming defines her through the relationships she's been in, mostly being taken advantage of.

What doesn't work about this is that Viv's own account is just dripping with Fleming's misogyny. At one point, he has her describe an abortion as follows:

It was as mentally distressing but as physically painless as I had expected, and three days later I was back in my hotel.

That is all Fleming has Viv say about it. Doesn't sound convincing, does it. 


Fleming tries to sell her history as a tough backstory and which is supposed to set Viv up for a resolution to stop being a push-over, be more confident, and not be groped at every turn.

Well, that was the end of that! From now on I would take and not give. The world had shown me its teeth. I would show mine. I had been wet behind the ears. Now I was dry. I stuck my chin out like a good little Canadian (well, a fairly good little Canadian!), and having learnt to take it, decided for a change to dish it out.

So, Viv ends up "on the run" in rural New York, stuck in a short-term motel job, where again she first falls prey to the husband of the owner and then ends up being held for five hours by two thugs who beat her up and threaten her with rape every five minutes. And for a large chunk of the book, this is all the plot there is. Until Bond turns up and saves the day, upon which Bond claims Viv as his reward. 


Let's recap: Viv had just undergone severe beatings, rape and death threats, and the one thing on Bond's mind is to have sex with her.


The idiotic thing - well, another one, is that Viv, who previously had resolved to escape from abusive relationships, feels she had to go along with Bond's request.

But I knew in my heart that I had to. He would go on alone and I would have to, too. No woman had ever held this man. None ever would. He was a solitary, a man who walked alone and kept his heart to himself. He would hate involvement. I sighed. All right. I would play it that way. I would let him go. I wouldn’t cry when he did. Not even afterwards. Wasn’t I the girl who had decided to operate without a heart? Silly idiot! Silly, infatuated goose! This was a fine time to maunder like a girl in a woman’s magazine! I shook my head angrily and went into the bedroom and got on with what I had to do.

WTF??? Why???


This is the point in the book when I no longer asked myself if Fleming lost his mind, but whether he had one in the first place. 

And as if this wasn't sick enough, it actually got worse:

I think I know why I gave myself so completely to this man, how I was capable of it with someone I had met only six hours before. Apart from the excitement of his looks, his authority, his maleness, he had come from nowhere, like the prince in the fairy tales, and he had saved me from the dragon. But for him, I would now be dead, after suffering God knows what before. He could have changed the wheel on his car and gone off, or, when danger came, he could have saved his own skin. But he had fought for my life as if it had been his own. And then, when the dragon was dead, he had taken me as his reward. In a few hours, I knew, he would be gone – without protestations of love, without apologies or excuses. And that would be the end of that – gone, finished. All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that had made his act of love so piercingly wonderful.

Seriously, what utter bullshit! I have not felt so nauseated and enraged by a book since

From Russia With Love. I had hoped Fleming got his act together in the books that followed, but clearly he was a leopard that could not change his spots, which is a shame because the premise of the book was great. It is just that a misogynist dumbass writing from a point of view he has no interest in understanding or even exploring will inevitably end up with a book full of misogynist dumbassery.


Avoid at all costs.

The Crime Writer

The Crime Writer - Jill Dawson

As some of you may know, I've been reading more books by and about Patricia Highsmith over the past year, so when The Crime Writer crossed my path - Thank you, Tigus! - I had to give it a try.


In the book, Jill Dawson uses Patricia Highsmith as the lead character. Dawson thoroughly researched Highsmith's life and work, which - from what I gather - makes for a believable character in the book, although of course we will never know as Highsmith herself was a bit of a recluse (by her own choice) and a bit of a mystery. All this adds to the credibility of Dawson's imagined character of Pat.


As for the story, it describes Pat withdrawing to the English countryside, trying to work away from the distractions of her fans and her family.

During her stay, she seemed to be pursued by a stalker and by a journalist, whose motives are not clear. Is she being investigated? Is her clandestine relationship with a married woman being put at risk of discovery? Are all of these things connected? 


In time, Pat is entangled in a web of intrigue and concealment. 


It's an engaging enough plot, and my only criticisms are these: 


1. Part of the plot strongly reminded me of Sarah Waters The Paying Guests, which I actually enjoyed but it did take away some of the plot development.


2. Although this is a fictional account, some of the plot hinges on actual facts in Highsmith's own life, and as such I could not help but notice a couple of anachronisms. The most, to me, irritating of which is in connection with Highsmith's book The Price of Salt (later re-published as Carol). Highsmith published the book under a pseudonym, and it was not widely known (according to Andrew Wilson's biography Beautiful Shadow) until much later than when The Crime Writer is set. Accoding to Wilson's biography, which is largely based on Highsmith's own diaries and records, Highsmith was not aware that anyone (other than her immediate family and her publisher) knew she had written The Price of Salt until the 70s after a neighbour of her mother's tried to discuss the book with her. Officially, Highsmith only acknowledged the book at the time of its re-publication in 1990. So, the developments in Dawson's story which involved The Price of Salt  threw me a little.


All in all, however, The Crime Writer was an enjoyable way to re-imagine one of the most puzzling and contradictory writers I like to ponder about.

The Spy Who Loved Me: Reading progress update: I've read 49 out of 164 pages.

The Spy Who Loved Me - Ian Fleming

I'm currently googling where I can find some brain bleach at this time of night and whether they deliver!

I have a feeling this is going to be as horrible as From Russia With Love.

Gads min. If this weren't a buddy read again, I'd bail.

Crow: From the Life and the Songs of the Crow

Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow - Ted Hughes

Hey Crow,


With all your self-obsessed aloofness,

your lack of empathy and whimsy,

you're a misrepresentation of all crows.






Ah, well, it was only a matter of time before I crossed paths with Ted Hughes' work. Let's just say that just because something is clever, and Hughes' work is CLEVER, it doesn't mean it captures my heart? That is not its aim. Imagination? Definitely not. Interest? No, not that either.


Well, maybe with one exception:

Crow’s Account of the Battle

The cartridges were banging off, as planned,
The fingers were keeping things going
According to excitement and orders.
The unhurt eyes were full of deadliness.
The bullets pursued their courses
Through clods of stone, earth, and skin,
Through intestines pocket-books, brains, hair, teeth
According to Universal laws
And mouths cried "Mamma"
From sudden traps of calculus,
Theorems wrenched men in two,
Shock-severed eyes watched blood
Squandering as from a drain-pipe
Into the blanks between the stars.
Faces slammed down into clay
As for the making of a life-mask
Knew that even on the sun's surface
They could not be learning more or more to the point
Reality was giving it's lesson,
Its mishmash of scripture and physics,
With here, brains in hands, for example,
And there, legs in a treetop.
There was no escape except into death.
And still it went on--it outlasted
Many prayers, many a proved watch
Many bodies in excellent trim,
Till the explosives ran out
And sheer weariness supervened
And what was left looked round at what was left.


Thunderball - Ian Fleming

"This is a silly plan. This is the sort of melodramatic nonsense people write about in thrillers."

....and that criticism straight out of the mouth of the "bond girl" in this installment is probably one of my favourite lines in the series so far. Whoever said they were all shallow?!


In fact, Domino is another kick-ass leading lady, who first stumps Bond with her driving skills - yeah, between Domino, Ms. Galore, and  Tilly Masterton, Bond may have a thing for women drivers -, calls him out on bullshit, engages with him on her own terms, and finally saves his hide.


Of course, Bond is still Bond, and the sexist, chauvinist comments are there (in abundance) throughout the book, but one wouldn't set out to read a Bond novel without a bucket of salt at hand, and this one is nowhere near as horrible as other Bond novels. However, the story is still a bit tepid - bad guys steal nuclear war heads and threaten the world. I'm sure this was thrilling stuff in 1961 when the book was written, but it has worn off a bit since. And if it weren't  for the "nerdy" tid bits like M's opinions about processed food, the technical details about the Polaris missiles, and the descriptions in the book of everything that surrounds the plot - i.e. the development of characters, the depiction of fight scenes, the dialogues, the sea life are just great - the book would be utterly forgettable.


I mean, I must have watched Thunderball about a gazillion times since I was a kid and I still couldn't say what the film was about. It took reading the book twice - most recently as part of the Bond Buddy Read with Troy - to take in that Fleming describes SPECTRE as a well-functioning corporation, to recognise that he set up Blofeld as this puppeteer that pulls the strings behind the scenes rather than engaging with Bond one on one (even tho this will come later in the series).


What was interesting on this latest read was how ridiculous the whole premise of the threat of nuclear missiles being stolen is in the context of the ongoing Cold War at the time the book is set. The unquestioned premise of Bond being on the side of right, stepping in to return the missiles to one of the sides rather than to allow a profit-oriented organisation to hold the world at ransom, shows why Bond novels are first and foremost adventure stories. Fleming does not question whether Bond's missions have a moral justification. Or whether there are any doubts about the point of propagating that the nuclear arms race kept the world at peace.


Unfortunately, we don't get to know in the Bond novels whether Fleming believed this. We only get the boys own adventure story. 

Dame Agatha - Reading List Update

Update - Jan. 2017: 28 of 66 books read. Looking forward to more.


Update - Jun. 2016: A few more of the reads and re-reads taken off the list.


Update - Dec. 2015: I'll repost this every now and then to keep track of titles and reviews.


I have read most of Dame Agatha's books in my teens (though mostly in translation) but as am in the process of a re-read, I need a list to keep me right. 


Title Detectives
1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1922 The Secret Adversary Tommy and Tuppence
1923 The Murder on the Links Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Monsieur Giraud
1924 The Man in the Brown Suit Colonel Race
Anne Beddingfeld
1925 The Secret of Chimneys Superintendent Battle
Anthony Cade
1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Hercule Poirot
Inspector Raglan
1927 The Big Four Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train Hercule Poirot
1929 The Seven Dials Mystery Superintendent Battle
Eileen "Bundle" Brent
1930 The Murder at the Vicarage Miss Marple
Inspector Slack
1931 The Sittaford Mystery
also Murder at Hazelmoor
Emily Trefusis
Inspector Narracott
1932 Peril at End House Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1933 Lord Edgware Dies
also Thirteen at Dinner
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1934 Murder on the Orient Express
also Murder in the Calais Coach
Hercule Poirot
1934 Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
also The Boomerang Clue
Bobby Jones
Frankie Derwent
1935 Three Act Tragedy
also Murder in Three Acts
Hercule Poirot
Mr. Satterthwaite
1935 Death in the Clouds
also Death in the Air
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Japp
1936 The A.B.C. Murders
also The Alphabet Murders
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp
1936 Murder in Mesopotamia Hercule Poirot
Captain Maitland, Dr. Reilly
1936 Cards on the Table Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver
1937 Dumb Witness
also Poirot Loses a Client/Mystery at Littlegreen House
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1937 Death on the Nile Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race
1938 Appointment with Death Hercule Poirot
1938 Hercule Poirot's Christmas
also Murder for Christmas/A Holiday for Murder
Hercule Poirot
1939 Murder is Easy
also Easy to Kill
Superintendent Battle
Luke Fitzwilliam
1939 And Then There Were None

Sir Thomas Legge
Inspector Maine
1940 Sad Cypress Hercule Poirot
1940 One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
also An Overdose of Death/The Patriotic Murders
Hercule Poirot
Chief Inspector Japp
1941 Evil Under the Sun Hercule Poirot
Colonel Weston, Inspector Colgate
1941 N or M? Tommy and Tuppence
1942 The Body in the Library Miss Marple
Inspector Slack
1942 Five Little Pigs
also Murder in Retrospect
Hercule Poirot
1942 The Moving Finger
also The Case of the Moving Finger
Miss Marple
1944 Towards Zero
also Come and Be Hanged
Superintendent Battle
Inspector James Leach
1944 Death Comes as the End Hori
1945 Sparkling Cyanide
also Remembered Death
Colonel Race
Chief Inspector Kemp
1946 The Hollow
also Murder After Hours
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Grange
1948 Taken at the Flood
also There is a Tide...
Hercule Poirot
Superintendent Spence
1949 Crooked House Charles Hayward
Chief Inspector Taverner
1950 A Murder is Announced Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock
1951 They Came to Baghdad Victoria Jones
1952 Mrs McGinty's Dead
also Blood Will Tell
Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Spence
1952 They Do It with Mirrors
also Murder with Mirrors
Miss Marple
Inspector Curry
1953 After the Funeral
also Funerals are Fatal
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Morton, Mr. Goby
1953 A Pocket Full of Rye Miss Marple
1954 Destination Unknown
also So Many Steps to Death
Mr. Jessop, Captain Leblanc
1955 Hickory Dickory Dock
also Hickory Dickory Death
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Sharpe
1956 Dead Man's Folly Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1957 4.50 from Paddington
also What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!/Murder She Said
Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock, Lucy Eyelesbarrow
1958 Ordeal by Innocence Arthur Calgary
Superintendent Huish
1959 Cat Among the Pigeons Hercule Poirot
Inspector Kelsey, Adam Goodman
1961 The Pale Horse Inspector Lejeune
Ariadne Oliver, Mark Easterbrook
1962 The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
also The Mirror Crack'd
Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock
1963 The Clocks Hercule Poirot
Det. Inspector Hardcastle, Colin Lamb
1964 A Caribbean Mystery Miss Marple
1965 At Bertram's Hotel Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Fred "Father" Davy
1966 Third Girl Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Chief Inspector Neele, Mr. Goby
1967 Endless Night Sergeant Keene
1968 By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tommy and Tuppence
1969 Hallowe'en Party Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Spence
1970 Passenger to Frankfurt Stafford Nye
1971 Nemesis Miss Marple
1972 Elephants Can Remember Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1973 Postern of Fate
Last novel Christie wrote
Tommy and Tuppence
1975 Curtain
Poirot's last case, written 36 years earlier.
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1976 Sleeping Murder
Miss Marple's last case, written 36 years earlier
Miss Marple





Read: 28/66


Elephants Can Remember

Elephants Can Remember - Agatha Christie

“Elephants can remember, but we are human beings and mercifully human beings can forget.”

My first Christie of 2017. It took me a few attempts to get into the story, not because it was difficult to find a way to engage with the plot but purely because I enjoyed re-reading the opening of the story where Ariadne Oliver, Dame Agatha's alter ego in this series, considers the different ways to wear a hat and which hat is appropriate for which occasion.


I love Ariadne. She's the scatty, sassy, creative, liberal counterpart to Poirot. Not as brilliant in applying logic, but just as brilliant by her exuberance and love of life.


As for the story itself, this was quite different from previous works of Christie. Although there are some similarities with A Murder is Announced (one of my favourites), Elephants Can Remember is not a locked room mystery and puts much more emphasis on the different mental states and attitudes of the characters, who all seem to be entities who interact with each other, but who seem to act somewhat isolated from other characters. 


Despite the occasional comic relief through Ariadne's antics, there is little that is cozy or twee about this story and in a way it struck me as if Christie tried her hand at a dark, psychological thriller, rather than at another Poirot mystery. I very much admired the attempt. Many of the Christie novels I love best are quite dark - just look at Endless Night! - even though she is of course best known for mysteries that are more akin to puzzles than gritty crime novels.


Maybe my appreciation for Elephants Can Remember has been influenced by my recent foray into the writing of Patricia Highsmith, whose work was contemporary to Christie's later work (including Elephants), but I did wonder whether Christie was influenced by the change in direction that crime fiction in the 1960s and 1970s seemed to have undergone.


The Russia House: Reading progress update: I've read 161 out of 453 pages.

The Russia House (Penguin Modern Classics)  - John le Carré

Joining the stream he let it carry him, not caring which way he went. By contrast with his determinedly contented mood the early food queues had a restless and unsettled look. The grim-suited labour heroes and war veterans, their breast-plates of medals jingling in the sunlight as they waded through the crowds, had an air of being late for wherever they were marching. Even their sloth seemed to have an air of protest. In the new climate, doing nothing was itself an act of opposition. Because by doing nothing we change nothing. And by changing nothing we hang on to what we understand, even if it is the bars of our own gaol.

(p. 149)

So good. Especially after I finished a re-read of Thunderball just yesterday. Just the right mix of thriller and satire.

The Sea and the Little Fishes

The Sea and Little Fishes - Terry Pratchett
What better way to start 2017 with than this short story about Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, both firm favourites of mine already. Both are kick-ass characters in their own right, but this tale puts a "twist" on how both ladies tend to operate.

Granny is not an expert in headology for nothing, you know.
Many thanks to YouKneek for pointing me to a free online version.







Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

Death in the Tunnel

Death in the Tunnel - Miles Burton

From the book description on Goodreads:


On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet. Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no reason can be found.


Originally published in 1936, Death in the Tunnel is one of the mystery novels that was re-issued as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. I was really looking forward to this, not just because it satisfied a task in this year's holiday scavenger hunt, but also because I was hoping to discover more great writers from the golden age of mystery writing.


Sadly, for me Death in the Tunnel fell short of that mark. The story started out great with a mysterious death on a train that seemed to occur just as the train passed through a tunnel, yet there were no witnesses, no motives, no suspects, and according to the chief investigator it looked like suicide. (Tho, why there would be such an elaborate investigation if this was a suicide is a question that is not really answered...)


Anyway, the leading detective starts to interview people close to the dead man and at some point draws another investigator into the case. Without spoiling too much of the plot, I'll come straight to the problem I had with the story - the two investigators are utterly useless idiots, who come up with one random theory after another and seem to be stumbling along in the proverbial dark until the very, very end of the book.



Seriously, I had to roll my eyes a lot at their assumptions so many times because they just were the least logical conclusions ever - and yet, we were supposed to believe that this was great detecting when it seemed they created most of the red herrings themselves instead of actually sifting through the relevant information.


Death in the Tunnel is one of those books that would make for a pleasant beach read or something to pass the time while waiting at the dentist's, but I found it really tiresome as an antidote to a craving for a delicious mystery.

Currently reading

Treffpunkt im Unendlichen. by Klaus Mann
Progress: 62/336pages
On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming