Miss Marple delves into the past to launch the #1976club! :D


It’s always a joy to find that one of our club weeks is a year which contains some Agatha Christie titles (and she had such a long writing career that it’s often the case!). I’m a lifelong lover of her books, and so frankly any excuse for a revisit suits me. 1976 is a particularly poignant year, however, as Christie had sadly died in the January; and so the posthumous release of “Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple’s Final Case” was something of an occasion. I still have my original paperback, bought at the time, and picking it up was a bit of a trip into the past.

“Sleeping Murder”, like “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” which had been released shortly before Christie’s death, had actually been written some decades before publication. During World War 2, because of the precariousness of life, Christie had written the last stories of her two great detectives in case she didn’t make it through the conflict. In the end, of course, she did, so the two stories were kept on standby until the 1970s. This potentially throws up some contradictions, but Miss Marple’s final outing is a joy from start to finish.

The book opens with a young woman, Gwenda Reed, arriving in the UK from her home of New Zealand in search of a house. Recently married to Giles, who will follow her soon, she’s excited to be making a new life in a new country. Chance (or fate?) leads her to a house called Hillside which feels instantly as if it will be home. Having bought the house and moved in, Gwenda begins to get her home ready for her husband’s arrival. However, as she explores Hillside, she has a number of uncanny experiences where she appears to know things about the house of which she can’t possibly be aware. Making her escape to London for a break, she stays with the novelist Raymond West and his wife; and it is on a visit to the theatre that some words from a play trigger a vision of a murder from the past. Is it real or imaginary? Fortunately, West’s Aunt Jane is on hand to help investigate and find a solution – although her advice from the start is to “let sleeping murder lie”, as a number of revelations could spell danger…

   ‘You are two very nice and charming young people (if you will allow me to say so). You are newly married and are happy together. Don’t, I beg of you, start to uncover things that may – well, that may – how shall I put it? – that might upset and distress you.’
Gwenda stared at her. ‘You’re thinking of something special – of something – what is it you’re hinting at?’
‘Not hinting, dear. Just advising you (because I’ve lived a long time and I know how very upsetting human nature can be) to let well alone. That’s my advice: let well alone.’

More I will not say because too much revealing of this plot in advance would really spoil the reading of it! Christie is an author who never disappoints me, and although her later works didn’t quite reach the high standard of her early ones, I always enjoy them. However, “Sleeping…” *is* in fact an early work as it was written during the 1940s, and the plotting and atmosphere is excellent. The book features one of my favourite Christie tropes, that of the investigation of a murder in the past which just won’t go away; and the extra element of mystery behind Gwenda’s background as well as her almost supernatural reaction to a house she’s never seen before add little frissons of terror at times – Christie really could add those little spooky touches so well.

As for the murder and the solution, I had a faint glimmering of who the killer was as I read on through the book, and I suspect this is a memory of previous revisits rather than any great detecting abilities on my behalf. “Sleeping Murder” has a complex and often dark plot, with hints of some most unpleasant undercurrents, and a really nasty killer. The denouement is very satisfying, Miss Marple a wonderful sleuth as always, and the book features little cameos of St. Mary Mead and Jane Marple’s friends, all of which rounds things off nicely. There *is* an oddity in that one short paragraph or two which open a chapter were later re-used in a Tommy and Tuppence mystery; this was much later in Christie’s writing career and so it may be that she just liked the piece and re-used it, or it may be that she had forgotten. It plays no real part in the Marple story, but is pivotal to the T&T mystery so in the end it really doesn’t matter!

So, a wonderful start to the #1976Club reading week! I raced through “Sleeping Murder” with much enjoyment and happiness – Golden Age crime is always my comfort reading, and Christie always a treat. “Sleeping Murder” was a fine way for Miss Marple to bow out; clever, sometimes chilling, eminently readable and a great reminder that you should never take older women for granted… Let’s hope the rest of 1976’s books are this good! 😀

#1936Club – the Queen of Crime never disappoints! :D


And here we go! The #1936Club is up and running! It’s become a kind of tradition for me during recent club weeks to start off with a revisit to the Queen of Crime – the very wonderful Agatha Christie. We tend to pick club years from a period during which Christie was writing regularly, and so there’s usually one of her books to read if you want to (much like Simenon and his Maigret titles). However, 1936 is something of a bumper Christie year – as can be seen from the picture below…

Now three mystery novels in one year would be achievement enough for any writer, and Christie produced three Poirot titles – amazing! They’re good ones, too; I’ve read them all over the years, and have a particular fondness for “The ABC Murders”, as one of the crimes takes place in Andover, where I grew up!

However, looking at the three novels, I felt I knew all of them too well to revisit at the moment (despite the fact that “Cards on the Table” features Mrs. Oliver, who I love). So I cast around to see if there were any short stories from 1936 and there were – and I have them scattered around in the two collections shown. Therefore, I spent a happy hour or so with three of Christie’s shorter works – and they were just as enjoyable as her longer ones!

First up, let’s turn to “Murder in the Mews”; this is a collection of four stories in one volume, originally published in 1937. However, the story “Triangle at Rhodes” was originally published in The Strand Magazine, Issue 545, May 1936 under the title “Poirot and the Triangle at Rhodes”, so I do feel justified in reading it for the club! Interestingly, I can see from the pencil scrawl inside the book that this is one of the Christies I’ve owned since my early teens, so that got me all nostalgic!

“Triangle…” is set, obviously, in Rhodes, where Poirot is attempting to take a low-key, out of season holiday. However, he doesn’t seem to be able to get away from crime… Whilst keeping company with young Pamela Lyall and Sarah Blake, they observe two couples also visiting the island. Dougland and Marjorie Gold are an odd pair; he’s younger than her (scandal!!), and seems to be very attracted by the wealthy Valentine Chantry, who has her glowering husband Tony with her. Tensions soon develop, and Pamela is convinced she is a brilliant judge of human character. However, does Poirot agree with her interpretation of events? And will murder taken place?

The other two stories feature in the collection “Problem at Pollensa Bay” and helpfully the title page gives copyright dates for each tale, so I’m going to stick with that! 😀 The works from 1936 in the collection are the title story itself, and “The Regatta Mystery”; and intriguingly, both are stated to have originally been published in 1936 in the Strand magazine as Poirot mysteries (so keeping them in line with the publication of “Triangle…”). Here, the stories have been changed to ones featuring Mr. Parker Pyne, ‘specialist in unhappiness”, and that may be because the subject matter of both is less murder mystery and more problem solving!

On to the actually stories. “Problem at Pollensa Bay” finds Parker Pyne in Majorca where he becomes embroiled in a doting mother’s fears for her son, who seems to be entering into an unsuitable relationship. And in “The Regatta Mystery”, we are faced with the burglaring equivalent of a locked-room mystery, when a prank at a dinner goes horribly wrong and a valuable jewel is stolen. In the former story, the happiness of two young people is at stake; in the second, the reputation of a young man suspected of the theft. It takes all of Pyne’s ingenuity to solve the problems!

All of these stories show Agatha Christie at the top of her game, which isn’t surprising really when you consider the full length works she published that year. Her writing and plotting is assured, she captures characters, motivations and settings brilliantly, and each short story is a delight to read. “Triangle…” is probably the most famous as it shares elements with one of her novels; and the two other stories are definitely better as Pyne stories instead of Poirot. But they’re all proof, if it was needed, that Christie was just as good at short works as she was with longer ones!

Back in 2019, when we featured the 1930 Club, I chose to spend time with Christie’s ‘Harley Quin‘ short stories, and they were a real joy; the 1936 ones were just as wonderful, and I’m reminded that I have the collection “Parker Pyne Investigates”, a 1934 collection, on the shelves, which might need a revisit soon. Anyway – I’m extremely happy that I chose to start the week with Agatha Christie – the stories were the perfect read for the moment, and she really never disappoints!

#1956Club – starting the week with Contrasting Classic Crime!


And we’re off!!!

I’ve dropped into the habit of starting off my reading for our club weeks with a revisit to an Agatha Christie; she’s one of those authors, much like Maigret, who seems to have a book published in just about every year we choose! The novel she published in 1956 was “Dead Man’s Folly”, a book I probably haven’t read in decades; but I thought I would add a slight twist to my reading by also revisiting a very different crime writer – Ed McBain.

In 1956, Christie was probably at the height of her repuration; she had numerous classic titles like “Murder on the Orient Express”, “Death on the Nile” and “And Then There Were None” (with its former “Ten Little….” titles) behind her, and many more great mysteries to come. In contrast, Ed McBain, although an experienced author, would make his first step into releasing his police procedural series featuring the detectives of the 87th Precinct with the book “Cop Hater”; and his work is very different from Christie’s, just showing the range there can be in crime writing.

Christie needs no introduction; McBain may well do, because I actually don’t know how much he’s read or how he’s viewed nowadays. He was born Salvatore Albert Lombino, but legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952; under that name, he’s probably best known as the author of “The Blackboard Jungle” and he continued to write as Hunter (as well as other aliases). However, as Ed McBain he produced a series of 56 books featuring the 87th Precinct squad and I confess to owning them all… (plus several other little spinoffs…)

The 87th Precinct was located in an unnamed fictional city (generally reckoned to represent New York) and was a real ensemble series which inspired the hit TV show, “Hill Street Blues” (as well as an earlier black and white TV series which is very sweet but not as hard edged as the books!) I read them all decades ago; so I did wonder how I would find a re-encounter, and whether my tastes would have changed or I would find the books dated…

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

This particular Christie was published about two-thirds of the way into the writer’s career, and her famous detective Hercule Poirot was well-established. “Dead Man’s Folly” sees him partnered again with the crime novelist Ariadne Oliver, a character generally agreed to be based on Christie herself and who would often share the spotlight with Poirot in later books. Mrs. Oliver has been invited down to Nasse House in Devon to stage a murder hunt at a summer fete held by the lord of the manor, Sir George Stubbs; however, her woman’s instincts tell her something is not as it seems and she summons Poirot down to help. Under the guise of visiting celebrity prize-giver, Poirot is introduced to the motley crew of what will become suspects, including Mrs. Folliat, the previous owner of the house; the Legges, a couple experiencing marriage difficulties who are staying nearby; locals including the MP Mr. Masterton; and Sir George’s vacant and fickle wife, Hattie. Inevitably, there is a murder, which Poirot is chastened not to have prevented; and the tangled plot, with alibis and secrets stretching long into the past, will take all his ingenuity to untangle.

One of the joys of reading this book (apart from knowing you’re in the hands of the Queen of Crime!) is the portrait she paints of Nasse House; because this was based on Christie’s own beloved Greenway in Devon, and her love for the location shines through (and is perhaps reflected in the attitudes and behaviour of one of the characters…) The mystery itself zips along entertainingly, and it’s the kind of plot she does so well; she’s so brilliant at building those twisty-turny stories where everything links into past events and it takes all her detective’s power to unravel them. This is no exception, and I had forgotten the plot completely so the reveal was a treat. What I also loved being reminded of was how funny an author Christie is; she’s not afraid to send up her characters and detectives, and so reading “Dead Man’s Folly” was just perfect. It probably doesn’t rank among her top mysteries, but even lesser Christie is good in my book!

Cop Hater by Ed McBain

Impressively enough, McBain published *three* 87th Precinct books in 1956, but this was the first and introduced readers not only to the setting but also to some of the regular characters. The main detective, who will feature all through the series, is Steve Carella, and as a seasoned reader I recognise several names who will recur! The setting is a July in the city, where the heat is oppressive and tempers short. In these days of primitive air conditioning, everyone is suffering and matters are not helped when someone begins to kill cops…

These are hard crimes to solve; is it a maniac who just hates the police? Is there a connection with a criminal who’s had dealings with each victim? Or is this the work of one of the teenage gangs causing havoc in the streets? Carella and those close to him will be put in danger trying to solve the case, and things will get very tense before any resolution is found.

One thing I remembered straight away was just what a good writer McBain generally was. His prose is economic yet often evocative; he can nail character brilliantly in a few words; and his characters and the city quickly come alive for the reader. The crime itself is an interesting one and I shan’t say too much about it except to note that McBain uses a particular crime-writing trope which appears in a very famous Christie book so there’s a strange connection between two very different authors! The narrative was often spare and effective, the denouement came along more quickly than I expected (in those days McBain wasted no words, though that did change later), and the characters in peril didn’t suffer too much fortunately!

This is of course a first novel in a series, and in many ways it’s a gentle introduction to his writing but it also lays out a template for where the series will go. The police are human and flawed; there are no black and white lines of good and evil; and the city will be as much a character in the stories as the various players. Already, in what is something of a scene-setting book, the various detectives are starting to fall into the roles they’ll mostly stay with during the series; and I do think I would love to re-read the books in publication order one day (rather as I would like to with Christie!)

There was, I have to say, one element I thought I might struggle a little with, and I was right; McBain’s portrayal of women is not something with which I feel entirely comfortable. It has to be borne in mind that this book was written a *long* time ago, when attitudes were different; nevertheless his women are very objectified, defined often by their physical attributes and in relation to their sexuality; and towards the end of the book this element becomes even more pronounced. I was probably less sensitive to this when I was younger but I find it less easy to deal with nowadays. It won’t stop me reading McBain, but it’s something I wish he’d toned down a little.

So, my first reads for 1956 were an excellent pair of very different crime books, and I loved re-encountering both authors. Re-reading can be a dangerous thing; you never quite know if an author will live up to your memory of them and their books. Fortunately, though, Christie never fails to please, and “Cop Hater” has reminded me how much I love Ed McBain’s writing. Now, if we’d made this Club a fortnight long, I might even have been able to read the other two 1956 87th Precinct books! ;D

#1920Club – launching the week with the genesis of a great detective #poirot #agathachristie


And here we go, launching the #1920club – a week where we read, enjoy and share our love of books from a year from the 20th century. This time we’ve chosen something special – a date that fell 100 years ago and yielded a wide and interesting range of books – 1920!

As is so often the case, I’m choosing to kick off the week with one of my most beloved authors – the wonderful Agatha Christie! As I’ve mentioned before, I read her books first in my teens and I’ve loved and collected them since. She was an astonishingly prolific writer, and 1920 is a special year in the Agatha Christie world; because it saw the publication of her first novel, and the debut of her iconic detective Hercule Poirot. The novel is “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” and though I’ve read it many times, I relished a revisit!

Agatha Christie Mysterious Affair at Styles 1920club tea flowers golden age crime

It’s well-known that Christie worked in Torquay’s hospital as a dispenser of medication during the First World War, and it was here she conceived her first crime novel. Poirot was apparently inspired by her encounters with Belgian refugees during her work, and it’s clear she drew from some elements of her life in the book. The story is narrated by Arthur Hastings, making his first appearance as Poirot’s somewhat hapless sidekick; on sick leave from the war, he travels down to Styles Court in Essex to stay with an old friend, John Cavendish. Styles is not a happy place at the moment; John’s wealthy stepmother Mrs. Inglethorp has married a man the family dislike intensely; John’s marriage is rocky and rumours abound; and Mrs. Inglethorp has just had a major quarrel with her loyal companion, Evelyn Howard. Also staying at the house are John’s brother Lawrence, and orphan Cynthia Murdoch, an informal ward of Mrs. Inglethorp. Emotions are obviously near the surface and not long after Hastings’ arrival Mrs. Inglethorp is poisoned in the night, but in a room which is apparently locked from the inside. Evidence points to her husband, although he may have an alibi; and it seems that several other characters may have perfectly good motives for the murder.

Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man. He was hardly more than 5’4”, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little to one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.

Fortunately for all, Hastings has bumped into an old friend who happens to be living locally: one Hercule Poirot, a refugee from Belgium who has escaped and is settling in England with the help of Mrs. Inglethorp (who seems to have been aiding a number of Poirot’s fellow countrymen). Described as having been “one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police”, he’s ideally placed to investigate and fortunately the police will not object. Enter Inspector James Japp of Scotland Yard who also knows Poirot of old as they’ve worked together previously and he’s happy to have Poirot’s input. So the stage is set for the team’s first case, and it’s a wonderfully twisty and clever one.

Even though I know the book well, it was a real joy to return to, and to experience reading it with the focus on the fact it was Christie’s first book (as well as Poirot’s first outing). For a first novel it’s remarkably accomplished, eminently readable, fiendishly clever and very satisfying. So many elements stood out, and as I could remember whodunnit I could take pleasure in simply enjoying the story and seeing such well-loved characters take their place on Christie’s stage.

via Wikimedia Commons

Because Emily Inglethorp was poisoned it was hard not to think of Christie drawing on her experience as a dispenser (and poisons recurr again and again in Christie’s fiction). Interestingly, Cynthia Murdoch is also a dispenser and I did wonder if she was a little self-portrait? The characters are remarkably vivid and well-formed, and as I implied above, it’s hard to believe this is a first novel; those characters and relationships we take for granted now almost seem to have sprung ready formed from her pen. Already there’s a lovely relationship between Poirot and Hastings, with the latter playing the Watson-ish foil to the great detective, and Christie is not averse to poking fun at her characters.

“Yes, he is intelligent. But we must be more intelligent. We must be so intelligent that he does not suspect us of being intelligent at all.”
I acquiesced.
“There, mon ami, you will be of great assistance to me.”

Interestingly, the fledgling Poirot is less mannered in some ways than he eventually ends up; he has his moustaches and his quirks of behaviour, some of which are essential to the solution, but we are left in no doubt of his prestige in the Belgian force and the serious situation which has led him to this country. The two are very Holmes and Watson, as was the template in Golden Age crime of the time, with the wonderful Japp taking the Lestrade role. Nevertheless, these characters have an existence all of their own, proved I suppose by the fact they’ve become as embedded in our culture as has Sherlock Holmes.

But putting this aside, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” is a marvellously entertaining read with a twisty and ingenious solution. I think it’s hardly surprisingly that Christie and Poirot went on to be such a success; Hastings is a wonderful narrator (and I wish she’d used him more than she eventually did), Poirot brilliant and Japp the perfect foil for them both. It’s classic Christie, classic golden age crime and a wonderful start to my week of reading books from 1920! 😀

#1930Club – some previous reads!


During our Club reading weeks, I always like to take a look back at books I’ve read previously from the year in question. 1930 turns out to be a bit of a bumper year; not only do I own a good number of books from that year, but I’ve read a lot too! So here’s just a few of them…

Just a few of my previous 1930 reads…

Some of these, of course are pre-blog: there’s two of my favourite crime writers lurking in the pile, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. The Sayers is “Strong Poison”, a book that introduced Lord Peter Wimsey’s love interest Harriet Vane. I adore all Sayers and I would have liked to revisit this during our weekly read. Christie’s “The Murder at the Vicarage” also saw a debut, that of Miss Marple (in novel form anyway – she’d already appeared in short stories). Again, I was so tempted to pick this one up, but I went for “Mr. Quin” instead as I know “Vicarage” so well. Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” is detecting of a different kind, hard-boiled American. I love Hammett’s writing (although not everyone has enjoyed him recently…) and again was very tempted.

Katherine Manfield’s “The Aloe” is also a pre-blog read; it’s a slim and lovely Virago I’ve owned for decades and the story is a longer version of her short work “The Prelude”. A revisit to this one would have been lovely too, as her prose is gorgeous. “The Foundation Pit” by Platonov is most likely the first of his books which I read; it’s an unusual, allusive book and his writing is very distinctive. Yet another writer I’d love to go back to.

As for titles I’ve reviewed on the blog, there’s the very wonderful Jean Rhys. I wrote about “After Leaving Mr. McKenzie” relatively recently (well – 2016 actually…), and so I didn’t re-read. Yet another excellent woman prose stylist, with a haunting main character, compelling prose and a bleak outlook for women of her time and kind.

Nabokov’s “The Eye” was also a 2016 read; it’s a fascinating, tricksy and clever novella, with wonderful writing and a marvellously unreliable narrator. I love Nabokov’s prose and since I have many, many of his books unread on the shelves I should get back to reading him soon! 😀

Gaito Gazdanov is a relatively recent discovery; a marvellous emigre Russian author, many of his works have been brought out in beautiful Pushkin Press editions. “An Evening with Claire”, however, is his first novel which was brought out in the USA by Overlook Press/Ardis, and it features his beautiful, often elegiac prose in a work often described as Proustian. I believe more Gazdanov is on the horizon from Pushkin – hurrah! 😀

Not pictured in the pile above is “Le Bal” by Irene Nemirovsky. I came a little late to the party with her books; I failed in my first attempt to read “Suite Francaise” but after reading a collection of her shorter early works I came to love her writing, and “Le Bal” was one of those titles. It’s a powerful little story, portraying the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship in all its horror and proves she was such a good writer.

So those are just a few of my previous reads, on and off the blog, from 1930. Really, it was *such* a bumper year for books, wasn’t it? So glad we chose it! Have you read any of the above? 😀

#1930Club – starting off the week with the Queen of Crime!


And we’re OFF!!! Yes, the #1930club kicks off today, for a week of reading, discovering and discussing books from that year. As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I found that I had a surprising amount of books from 1930 already in the stacks, including a number I’ve not read. However, I was *really* tempted to start off with a re-read, and the great Agatha Christie was calling. There are a few choices from 1930, but I ended up picking “The Mysterious Mr. Quin” – and what a joy it turned out to be!

No, I don’t know why the cover has horrible cats’ eyes either…. 😦

My copy of “Mr. Quin” is from 1982, and I reckon I probably picked it up in that decade, as I was making a concerted effort to read and collect everything Christie had written. I probably haven’t revisited it in a very long time, but I recall having a great fondness for it – and I still do. The book collects together 12 short stories featuring the elusive title character and his side-kick, the very entertaining Mr. Satterthwaite. The latter is an ageing bachelor – described by his author as oddly elf-like, he is comfortably-off, a lover of art and fine living, and something of a snob. His friendships with the rich and titled give him great pleasure, and he has a keen interest in those around him, being one of life’s observers. Mr. Quin arrives into his life in the first story, “The Coming of Mr. Quin”, which is set on New Year’s Eve. Mr. Satterthwaite is a house-guest (he’s a constant presence at any gathering worth attending) and there are unspoken tensions amongst the family with whom he’s staying. He and Quin develop an instant bond, and between them discover what’s causing the discord, setting things right before tragedy takes place. This sets a kind of template for what follows, although each story is individual and cleverly constructed – and in fact the whole set-up of the relationship between the two men is quite brilliantly done.

“Oh yes – I answer for Mr. Quin.”

Before I dig a little deeper, it has to be said that these stories are incredibly entertaining, and I found the book quite unputdownable. I’ve always found Christie’s writing utterly compelling and I absolutely loved reading these tales again. However, this time round I think I appreciated her sheer artistic achievement more, and I was aware of a number of elements in the book which I particularly love in her writing. For a start, many of the stories feature Christie’s favourite trope of looking back and resolving a mystery from the past; as Quin regularly points out, you can often see things better with perspective, picking up on things you might have missed at the time. It’s one of the things I’m most fond of in her books.

“That is a curious idea of yours,” said Mr Satterthwaite slowly. “That one sees things better afterwards than at the time.”

“The longer the time has elapsed, the more things fall into proportion. One sees them in their true relationship to one another.”

The Quin/Satterthwaite stories also allowed Christie to combine her three kinds of writing: crime, romance and a touch of the supernatural. Certainly, some of the stories gave me a spooky kind of shiver down the spine! Quin and Satterthwaite often act as nemeses (another Christie trope) and are on the side of the lovers, the dead and those at the end of their tether. Christie’s strong sense of justice always came through in the books and it’s wonderful to watch her characters solve probles and avert catastrophe.

“I have a certain friend – his name is Mr Quin, and he can best be described in the terms of catalysis. His presence is a sign that things are going to happen, because he is there strange revelations come to light, discoveries are made. And yet – he himself takes no part in the proceedings.”

Interestingly, although Harley Quin is the title character of the book, it’s very much Mr. Satterthwaite who takes the central role; perhaps as the male equivalent of Miss Marple? Quin is described by Satterthwaite as a catalyst, helping the latter to take action – he acts as Quin’s ’emissary’. And Mr. Satterwaite himself is a fascinating creation, containing elements of both of Christie’s great detectives. Like Miss Marple, he is an observer of life, but that tendency has given him insight and he sees similarities everywhere. And like Hercule Poirot, his detection is mostly detection of the mind; he too uses his ‘little grey cells’ to puzzle out the solution to a problem, egged on by the elusive Mr. Quin. All three of these protagonists of Christie’s are single; spinster or bachelors; and interestingly both of her male characters have strong female characteristics, of which the novelist reminds the reader regularly. Satterthwaite himself has moments of anguish, even despair, as he thinks he’s had a wasted life; but Quin often reassures him that he has seen life and is making a difference.

“You have seen much of life,” said Mr. Quin gravely. “More than most people.”

“Life has passed me by,” said Mr. Satterthwaite bitterly.

“But in so doing has sharpened your vision. Where others are blind you can see.”

As the stories progress, Mr. Quin himself becomes more and more elusive, and a slightly darker character, until in the final tale “Harlequin’s Lane” he becomes almost sinister. I’m not going to discuss the individual stories, because I don’t want to give anything away. But suffice to say, each story contains Christie’s signature twists and sleight of hand, and I found myself marvelling at her incredibly fertile mind!

You might have seen Simon’s recent post about the Charles Osborne book “The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie”; it’s a book I’ve had in my collection for decades (in fact, I think Mr. Kaggsy may have bought it for me in our early years together). Despite the Internet being handy, I always go back to Osborne when I read a Christie; his insights and thoughts are always spot on. “Mr. Quin” allowed Christie and her characters the room to philosophise a little; and as Osborne points out, her writing is superb in places, something she’s not always given credit for.

The characters initially only appeared in this one book together, although Mr. Satterthwaite also appears in “Dead Man’s Mirror” (part of the “Murder in the Mews” collection) and “Three Act Tragedy”. However, as my burrowing into the Osborne book revealed, there are actually another two uncollected stories featuring the detecting duo. This triggered a frantic rummage in my Christie shelves to see if I had them, and indeed I have; in a later anthology “Problem at Pollensa Bay”.

“The Love Detectives” is from 1926, so could slot into the original collection (but maybe nobody wanted to have 13 stories…); it involves Quin and Satterthwaite solving an obscure murder whilst saving a pair of lovers from the gallows. “The Harlequin Tea Set”, intriguingly, is later Christie, published in 1971. It’s a longer short story, and Christie makes reference to her dynamic duo having last met in the final story of the original collection. The writing is perhaps not so sharp, and the narrative maybe more fanciful than her early works; nevertheless, it’s a gripping and involving tale of Satterthwaite and Quin, and allows them to make a welcome final return visit.

So tempted to read these soon….

So my first read for the #1930Club was a wonderful one! I’ve said before that I could happily sit down and spend a month reading all of Dame Agatha’s books from start to finish, and every time I dip into one that feeling is reinforced. The main problem I have at the moment is that instead of reading other books from 1930, I’m desperately drawn to pick up at least the two Christies above… ;D


As you’ll see, there’s a page here on the Ramblings where I’ll put links to other posts, and my co-host Simon will be doing some linking too – make sure you check his blog out for more #1930Club loveliness! And do leave a comment with a link – we’re so looking forward to seeing what everyone else reads! 😀

Looking ahead – to the past? ;D #1930Club


Those of you paying attention will have noticed that we’re edging ever closer to October; and during that month Simon at Stuck in a Book and I will be co-hosting one of our regular six-monthly reading Club weeks! If you’re new to these, basically we pick a year and encourage everyone to discover, read and discuss books from that year. You can review on your blog, post on other social media or just comment on our blogs. We love to hear what gems you’ve discovered or want to share, and the whole thing is great fun. Simon came up with the idea and as you can see from the different Club pages on my blog, we’ve done quite a few…:D

The next year we’re going to be focusing on is 1930, and as I usually try to read from my stacks I thought I’d have a nose around and see what I have that would be suitable. I was surprised (and not displeased!) to find that I own quite a substantial amount of books from that year and more than ever I think I’m going to find it very hard to choose what to read! Normally, I don’t share much ahead of the Club weeks as it’s fun to be surprised by what people read. However, there are so many books on the pile that I feel impelled to have a look now in the hope that some commenters might be able to recommend ones they think are particularly good. The mystery this time is going to be what books I actually choose!

A large stack of possible reads from 1930

So as  you can see, the pile of possibles from books I already own is quite large… Let’s look a little more closely!

1930 Viragos

It should be no surprise, really, that there are several Virago titles from 1930 and these are all from my collection of green spined lovelies. I’ve definitely read the Mansfield; probably the Delafield and Coleman; and possibly not the Sackville-West or Smith. All are tempting for either a new read or a re-read.

Classic Crime from 1930

Again, no surprise that there should be classic crime from 1930. Sayers is a favourite of course (yes, I have two copies of “Strong Poison” – don’t ask…) and this would be a welcome re-read. The Christies are again books I’ve already read, and I know “Vicarage” very well, so the “Mr. Quin” book would be a fun choice. Hammett too would be a re-read. Not sure here what to choose, if I end up re-reading.

1930 Russians

There are indeed Russians from 1930, which might be unexpected bearing in mind the events that were taking place amongst the Soviets in that troubled era. Certainly, Platonov was probably written for the drawer; and Nabokov and Gazdanov were in exile, as was Trotsky. Mayakovsky’s last play was published in 1930, the year he died. Well. I think I’ve read the Platonov, the Nabakov, the Gazdanov and the Mayakovsky definitely. Not so sure about the Trotsky. All are very appealing.

A selection of other titles from 1930

And here’s a pile of general titles from the year in question. The Rhys is again a book I’ve read (fairly recently); “Last and First Men” was purloined from Eldest Child who I think might have studied it at Uni; “War in Heaven” I’ve had for decades and have probably read – I do love Charles Williams’ oddness so that’s a possible. I confess that the Huxley at the top of the pile is a recent purchase, as I saw it was published in 1930. It’s short stories, in a very pretty old Penguin edition, and I’d like to read more of him.

As for the two chunksters at the bottom, well thereby hangs a tale… I’ve owned these books by John Dos Passos for decades and never read them (oops); “U.S.A.” is a trilogy of three novels, and the first of these was published in 1930. Dos Passos was known for his experimental writing and why I’ve never picked them up is a mystery to me. I’m thinking that if I can motivate myself to read the 1930 novel it might set me on the road to reading the rest – we shall see…

Oh – in case you were wondering what the paper on top of the pile of books was, it’s this:

Woolf On Being Ill…

I hoped to find some Virginia Woolf to read for 1930, but the only thing could see was her long essay “On Being Ill”. I couldn’t easily find it in the essay collections I own, but I managed to track down a scan of the original magazine publication online. I love Woolf in all her forms, so this one may well get some attention.

So what can we be sure will be on the Ramblings during the #1930Club? Well, for a start there’s likely to be a guest post from Mr. Kaggsy (which is becoming a regular occurrence!). I hope to read at least one Agatha, and also something of substance. I’d like to try to really work out which of these books I’ve actually read and which I haven’t, going for new reads instead of re-reads. Apart from that – well, watch this space to find out what I finally pick for the #1930Club! 😀

#1944Club – some previous reads


Usually, when we do our week of Club reads, I always manage to dig out some previous reads from the year in question. However, 1944 is proving to be an odd one.. I haven’t managed to identify many books that I’ve read from that year, and I’m hampered by the fact that it’s only recently that I’ve started to record the publication date of the books I’ve finished. However, there are a few that I can pinpoint…

Transit by Anna Seghers

I read Transit back in 2014, and found it to be a powerful work. I found it  “a haunting and gripping novel which is relevant today, in a world which is still troubled by wars and refugees. Seghers gets inside the mind of people in exile like no other writer I’ve read, and “Transit” is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the effect of WW2 on real, ordinary people, reduced to fleeing for their lives.” Alas, I don’t think much has changed, has it? 😦

The Custard Heart by Dorothy Parker

This is drawn from Parker’s 1944 collection “The Portable Dorothy Parker”, so I’ll count it! I reviewed this little Penguin Modern recently and was impressed once more by Parker’s writing. Such a sharp wit, and yet such an astute understanding of women’s lives.

A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

As I mentioned in my introductory post for the #1944Club, there are several Persephones which were published in 1944 and I own two of them, having read this one. It’s one of my favourites from the publisher, and I read it and loved it pre-blog. However, I find I put a review on LibraryThing in which I said “This is a remarkably good novel about the way war affects those who are fighting and those who have to stay at home and ensure. The contrast between the two types of war is beautifully written by Playfair who, although she does not go into detail about the horrors, gives us enough to imagine what is going on.” I’ve kept this one on the shelves which says a lot about how much I liked it.

And then there are the Agathas….

I’ve read all of these; I’ve read everything the woman published, dammit! But this was all well pre-blog so I can’t point you to a review or tell you anything much about them. Except that the woman was a damn genius writing machine.

And that’s all I can find in the way of previous #1944club reads. No doubt if I was more organised mentally and had more time to research the shelves I might reveal a few more. But no matter – there are plenty of lovely books from 1944 to be read and tomorrow I’ll review one of them (which is actually a re-read…) 😉

The #1944Club launches!


Yes, it’s that time of the year again! Those of you who’ve been following for a while will be aware that I co-host a biannual reading week with Simon at Stuck in a Book. He came up with the fun idea of focusing our reading on a particular year, and we’ve done six so far with people joining in on their blogs, social media etc. We got as far as the 1970s before deciding to go for a random year earlier in the 20th century, and 1944 came out of the hat!

It’s a year that has a lot of potential for interest; World War 2 was of course still underway, and so it might be thought that publishing would have been limited. Also there could be a tendency for books to focus very much on what was happening in the world, or conversely provide escapism. And works published in parts of the world away from Europe could be less affected by those world events.

A quick look at the big books from the year throws up some intriguing titles. There’s “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham (which I’m sure I have somewhere); Christianna Brand‘s atmospheric “Green for Danger” was a classic crime novel which captured the tension of the times; Margery Sharp‘s “Cluny Brown” made her debut; and of course Agatha Christie was as prolific as ever with no less than three works (one of which was under her pen-name of Mary Westmacott). In fact, crime fiction features strongly on lists of books from 1944, and maybe the format, with a crime being committed and all being put to rights at the end, was something that appealed to readers in times of conflict.

In fact, there are a number of Persephones which were published in 1944 (which I found out thanks to Simon’s excellent post about them!) and I’ve read one and own another. I *would* like to read the Mollie Panter-Downes stories, as I loved her “One Fine Day”, but I don’t know if time will be on my side…

I have a few books in mind for this week, as well as a guest post, and it will be fascinating to see what works people choose to read and write about. As usual, I’ll have a dedicated page on the blog where I’ll gather up as many links to everyone’s 1944 posts as I can – so don’t forget to leave a comment so I know what you’ve said and where it is! Simon will no doubt be having a post that does the same and so between us we can hopefully make sure everyone is featured.

So do feel free to join in with the #1944Club – there are some interesting and varied books to be read from that year, and I’m looking forward to everyone’s thoughts!

#1977club – some previous reads


Well, we’re halfway through our week of reading from 1977, and I thought I would take a look at some previous reads – both on the blog and off. Interestingly, I don’t seem to have covered many books from 1977 here on the Ramblings, but I don’t record the publication dates so I may have missed some. Anyways, as they say, here are a few I’ve written about before:

Interestingly, I guess you could possibly say that these are what might be called ‘difficult’ books; Clarice Lispector, who I wrote about here, definitely has a reputation as not being a straightforward read. The Strugatskys wrote some marvellous speculative and sci-fi books – this one is a wonderfully twisty tale and you can read my thoughts on it here. And the Lem was one of a series of re-issues by Penguin. Again writing under a Soviet regime, so lots of subtexts, I covered it for Shiny New Books here.

However, in pre-blog times I’ve read some substantial books from 1977, including these:

I went through a phase of reading Diana Wynne Jones in the 1980s (and was lucky enough to meet her once). She was a marvellous author (much better than a certain HP writer, in my view…) and this is one of her Chrestomanci books. She always twisted reality rather wonderfully. The Tolkien came out not long after I had discovered The Lord of the Rings , and I was keen to read anything by the author; although I’ve never found anything that matched up to the trilogy.

The very fat Agatha book was essential reading for any fan of the great Christie and I read it back in the day although if you asked me for specifics I would collapse in a heap of poor memory. As for the Woolf diaries – well, I came upon these in the early 1980s (which is when I think they first appeared in paperback). I had a daily train commute at the time and I immersed myself in Woolf’s diaries and letters and all the wonder and strangeness of Bloomsbury – developed a real obsession with the group, in fact. I would love to read them all again – maybe in retirement – but time isn’t going to permit that during this week.

I also recall that I once owned and read a copy of “In Patagonia” and I think I rather enjoyed it – but it, and my memories of it, have I’m afraid flown off in the wind…

So – some previous reads on and off the blog. I’m still planning a mix of new and old reads this week, and it’s actually nice that our club reads give me what I feel is an excuse to re-read. What are you enjoying from 1977 this week?

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