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

Reading progress update: I've read 675 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet

Aaah, yes, here we go: Postern of Fate

Postern of Fate was the last book Agatha Christie wrote and the initial notes are clearly dated November 1972, almost exactly a year before publication. It is arguable that her agent and publisher should never have asked for another book after Elephants Can Remember. Although H.R.F. Keating reviewed Postern of Fate charitably in The Times with the ambiguous phrase ‘She stills skims like a bird’, there is no doubt that it is the weakest book Christie ever wrote. The most interesting passages are those where we get a glimpse of the private Agatha Christie.

And then Curran basically tears the book to shreds, pointing out all the things that didn't work. 


Interestingly, there are hardly any notes about the book in the Notebooks.



Reading progress update: I've read 649 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet



This is possibly the nicest and most restrained critical review of Passenger to Frankfurt that was ever written by an Agathyte - and certainly much more diplomatic than what comes to mind when I think about the abominable piece of crap that is Passenger to Frankfurt - and yet again, Curran is very honest:

Published on her eightieth birthday, this was claimed to be Agatha Christie’s eightieth book and, despite the dismay with which the manuscript was greeted by both her family and her publishers, it went straight into the best-seller lists and remained there for over six months. The publicity attendant on the ‘coincidence’ of her birthday and her latest production certainly helped, but Passenger to Frankfurt remains the most extraordinary book she ever wrote. Described, wisely, on the title page as ‘An Extravaganza’ – the description went some way towards mitigating the disappointment felt by both publishers and devotees – and showing little evidence of the ingenuity with which her name is still associated, this tale of international terrorism and engineered anarchy is difficult to write about honestly. Most devotees, myself included, consider it an aberration and, but for the fact that it is an ‘Agatha Christie’, would never have read it the first time, let alone re-read it over the forty years since its first appearance. Like other weaker novels from the same era, it begins with a compelling, if somewhat implausible, situation, but it degenerates into total unbelievability long before the end.

Reading progress update: I've read 633 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet

Endless Night is Agatha Christie’s final triumph, her last great novel and the greatest achievement of her last quarter century. It is written by an elderly upper middle class woman in the voice of a young working class male; it recycles her most famous trick forty years after she originated it; it is totally unlike anything else she ever wrote; and finally, it is a return to the multiple death scenarios of And Then There Were None and Death Comes as the End.

Endless Night really is a cracking read. It also appears that Curran's taste in Christie novels is quite close to mine.

Booklikes-Opoly! - Roll & Book Selection

Five Little Pigs - Agatha Christie The Glass Cell: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC) - Patricia Highsmith The Snare of the Hunter - Helen MacInnes

It's a roll day again! 


You rolled 2 dice:

3 6

Timestamp: 2019-07-18 19:49:02 UTC


... which takes me to:


10. There's nothing like a trip to the beach to start the summer off, and, for readers, half the fun is picking the beach read!
Read a book that appears on any beach reads list or a book whose author's first or last name begins with any letter in B-E-A-C-H.


Oh, look, Agatha Christie, Helen MacInnes, and Patricia Highsmith all qualify for this one. 


What to pick? What to pick? 

Reading progress update: I've read 374 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet

Published in the UK in January 1943, having already appeared in the US six months earlier, Five Little Pigs represents the apex of Christie’s career as a detective novelist; it is her most perfect combination of detective and ‘straight’ novel. The characters are carefully drawn and the tangle of relationships more seriously realised than in any other Christie title. It is a cunning and scrupulously clued formal detective novel, an elegiac love story and a masterly example of story-telling technique with five individual accounts of one devastating event.

Gaaaaah! The main problem with reading about Dame Agatha's books is that it makes me want to pick up each of the books again!!!


And none more so than Five Little Pigs, which is truly fabulous.

Reading progress update: I've read 250 out of 250 pages.

Verdict of Twelve - Raymond Postgate

Well, damn!!!


Reading progress update: I've read 232 out of 250 pages.

Verdict of Twelve - Raymond Postgate

One of the jurors is a religious zealot. I'm glad he saved his fire and brimstone speech until now, otherwise I might have skipped a fair bit of the book.

I have to hand it to Postgate, tho, that the characters he created are very real. So much so that I really cannot stand the one juror who now believes he is on a mission from God.


I'll finish the book shortly. I'll have to. It would be silly to try and go to sleep before finding out what the solution is. 

Reading progress update: I've read 222 out of 250 pages.

Verdict of Twelve - Raymond Postgate

As the jurors deliberate and try to second-guess each other, I am cruising along to see if my hunch works out. 


Here's my prediction:



I don't think the aunt did it. Not because she couldn't or wouldn't - I have not forgiven her for Sredni Vashtar -  but because she's too stupid to do it. 

Of the other suspects, any of them would make this a straight-forward mystery, and this book is anything but that.

So, I have a hunch that Postgate is tricking us into a solution where suicide features, however far-fetched this is. And, ... I still maintain that ivy dust could not have done it.

(show spoiler)


Reading progress update: I've read 130 out of 250 pages.

Verdict of Twelve - Raymond Postgate

Poor Sredni Vashtar. :(


Mrs. Van Beer needs to go down. Hard.


Reading progress update: I've read 97 out of 250 pages.

Verdict of Twelve - Raymond Postgate

Mr. Stannard had gobbled his breakfast and he was suffering badly from nerves. Before counsel could speak his fate overcame him, and he was publicly shamed, as he had been sure would occur somehow. A vast hiccup caught him unawares, and a sound like twirp thundered through the court. He turned scarlet, and devoted his attention to repressing his diaphragm.

I laughed out loud so hard during this chapter. This book is delightful so far. I hope it continues this way.

Reading progress update: I've read 70 out of 250 pages.

Verdict of Twelve - Raymond Postgate

@Tigus - It's looking good so far. I really like how Postgate introduces each of the jurors. I'm also digging the author's snark.

Booklikes-Opoly! - Roll & Book Selection

Verdict of Twelve - Raymond Postgate

While I am enjoying Skeletons: A Frame of Life, I am dropping it from my BL-Opoly picks (it was Indy Roll # 1). It's going to take me a while to finish the book but I really want to get on with new roll...and I also need a fiction read in my life!


You rolled 2 dice:

2 4

Timestamp: 2019-07-16 16:40:57 UTC


...which takes me to:


2. Who?
Read a mystery or detective story or a book with the word "who" in the title.


Verdict of Twelve it is!


Updated List of Books and Accounts below the page break.

-read more-

Reading progress update: I've read 280 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet

Oooh. I did not know that about Death on the Nile but am very glad she made the substitution.

A letter from Edmund Cork dated 29 April 1936 expressed delight at Christie’s news that Death on the Nile was finished. Unfortunately, there are few notes for the plot of this famous title. We do, however, have, in Notebook 30, a list of potential characters – including one very significant one – and a brief note about possible plot development. Most of the ideas originally intended for inclusion were waylaid into other titles.




Death on the Nile


Miss Marple?

Mrs P (ex wardress of American prison)

Mathew P son – nice

Mrs Mathew P – nice

Miss P nervy hysterical girl

Master P Boy of 20 – excitable

Dr. Pfeiffer – doctor and toxicologist

Mrs Pfeiffer – recently married to him – 35 – attractive – with past

Marc Tierney – archaeologist – a little apart from the rest

Mrs Van Schuyler – boring American woman elderly snobbish

Mrs Pooper cheap novelist

Miss Harmsworth – girl companion to Miss Van Schuyler

Miss Marple

Rosalie Curtis sickly girl

Mrs Gibson – non stop talker


The biggest surprise in this list is the (double) inclusion of Miss Marple: at first with, and than without, a question mark. Prior to this, the only novel in which Miss Marple had appeared was The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, and her next novel appearance, The Body in the Library, was still a further five years away. Moreover, the 1932 short story collection The Thirteen Problems, set firmly in the parlours of St Mary Mead, could hardly be seen as a preparation for an exotic Egyptian adventure. For in 1937 the Nile was as exotic to the majority of Christie readers as Mars is to her current audience: very few travelled abroad for holidays, if, in fact, they took holidays at all. So to transport Miss Marple from the (admittedly relative) safety of St Mary Mead to the banks of the Nile and subsequently to the Temple of Karnak, Abu Simbel and Wadi Haifa may have been seen as a journey too far; and so Poirot was substituted.

Reading progress update: I've read 177 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet


The notes for The Murder at the Vicarage are all contained in Notebook 33 and consist of 70 very organised pages that closely follow the progress of the novel. For the early chapters the chapter number is included; thereafter the remainder of the notes follow the novel in chronological order with little in the notebook that is not included in the published version. Two maps of St Mary Mead are included and the rest of Notebook 33 contains the draft for Three Act Tragedy.

As mentioned before, the notes in the notebooks aren't in chronological order, so references to all sorts of draughts and time periods seem to appear all over the place.


However, I like the idea that Dame Agatha seems to have conceived the plot of one of my favourites so clearly in her head that the notes are more of an aide-memoire than a draft working out the difficulties of the plot and clues.


Reading progress update: I've read 167 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet

I'm not going to complain about the variety of information and material included in this book, but I am a bit confused as to what connection with the notebooks some of the inclusions have. 

For example. Curran seems to include excerpts from letters, typescripts, Christie's own An Autobiography, and publication data. 


And Curran also seems to get carried away a bit with describing plots - even of the lesser-known short stories - in detail and providing his own analysis of them. This is a part that I am not enjoying as I am really not that interested in Curran's take on any of the stories.


We also have an odd break in the book: Chapter 5 is the last chapter but it is broken down further into decades of Dame Agatha's life, describing her literary output...and adding more of Curran's analysis. 


Again, parts of the backgrounds are interesting, but I am not sure if all of this is taken from the notebooks or if this is Curran throwing in everything his research has brought up...and then adding more of his own surmises, and again I have no clue what these are based on: the notebooks? Other biographies? Christie's own An Autobiography?  


Oh, and seriously, simply listing books and adaptations make for rather uninspiring reading.

Reading progress update: I've read 96 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet

Chapter 4 was odd.


My doubts about the chapter were introduced by this statement:

"Although Poe is not one of the writers she mentions in An Autobiography as being an influence, Agatha Christie took his template of a murder and its investigation when she began to write The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 75 years later."

I would argue that she took more inspiration from Holmes than Dupin as the parallels to Holmes and Watson - even to the extent of spoofing - are far more pronounced. So, while Poe may have set the template structure, and Holmes and Watson are a variation of Dupin and his narrator friend, I'm not sure Curran's phrasing is right here as tracing Christie's Poirot back to Poe seems like a generalision in the sense that all detective stories with this setup tract back to Poe. To me this is misleading, but Curran may just have included it to give an abbreviated history of the format.  


But then Curran goes on to compare Christie's works, or elements in them, to Poe's Dupin stories. While I remember Christie referencing Chesterton and others in her autobiography, why would Curran choose to draw comparisons to the one author who is not mentioned as an influence in her autobiography??

This does not make a lot of sense to me. 

And then Curran goes off on what seems to me another tangent:

"So, Christie’s output adhered to most of the conditions of Poe’s initial model, while simultaneously expanding and experimenting with them. Although Poe created the template for later writers of detective fiction, early in the twentieth century two practitioners formalised the ‘rules’ for the construction of successful detective fiction. But these formalisations, by S.S. Van Dine and Ronald Knox, writing almost simultaneously on opposite sides of the Atlantic, merely acted as a challenge to Agatha Christie’s ingenuity."

He compares her works to Van Dine and Knox, and while adding in Van Dine's "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" and Knox' "Decalogue" of similar rules, he then goes on to completely dismiss their influence on Christie's writing:

Christie knew of S.S. Van Dine; some of his novels can still be seen on the shelves of Greenway House and she mentioned him in Notebook 41, although it is doubtful if she was aware of his Rules until long after they were written.




But as will be seen from a survey of Christie’s output, many of the Rules laid down by both Knox and Van Dine were ingeniously ignored and often gleefully broken by the Queen of Crime. Her infringement was, in most cases, instinctive rather than premeditated; and her skill was such that she managed to do so while still remaining faithful to the basic tenets of detective fiction.

This feels like a lot padding, or in any case rather clunky and misleading writing. 


Also, curiously, there is not a single mention of Conan Doyle or Chesterton. Not one. 


Needless to say, doubts have settled in about this book now.

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