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Archive for the ‘Escapist Reads’ Category

Adventure Christmas PuddingAfter three murderous mysteries, it was delightful to discover this festive and Christmassy caper.

“The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” reads like Agatha Christie’s ode to the traditional English Christmas. Hercule Poirot is invited to experience “an old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside” at Kings Lacey, a grand manor house that dates from the fourteenth century.

However, the finicky Poirot reisists at first, put off by fears of cold stone and large drafty rooms. Instead he finds King Lacy full of warmth (central heating set at 68°) and cheer, with charming hosts and excited children.

Of course, there are suspicious characters and rather curious doings, but the bulk of this longer short story focuses on the ritual of Christmas in a country house: crackling fires, holly and mistletoe, midnight mass, a feast with all the trimmings, plum pudding, and plenty of Christmas cheer.

This is certainly the coziest Christie I have read. She wraps it up nicely with some unexpected fun on Boxing Day. Indeed, Poirot tells himself, “he had a very good Christmas,” as did I along with him—so much so that I plan to make this story a part of my own Christmas tradition each year.

Double Sin“The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” is an extended version of a story called “Christmas Adventure” which first appeared in the Sunday Dispatch in 1928. This longer version debuted in a collection of short stories also called The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding that was released only in the U.K. in 1960. This story was also published in several other collections as “The Theft of the Royal Ruby,” which is the title of the story I read in Double Sin and Other Stories.

Under either name this is a most enjoyable and highly recommended holiday read.

 

Agatha Christmas: A Reading of Christie’s Holiday Classics

agatha christmas logo

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

A Christmas Tragedy by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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hercule poirots christmas lg“It is, then, your opinion that Christmastime is an unlikely season for crime?” asks Hercule Poirot of Colonel Johnson, in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (also published as Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder).

Johnson (whom readers will remember from Three Act Tragedy) has invited the mustachioed sleuth for the holiday and is anticipating a relaxing break free from any detective work. Poirot, however, is not so assured. Nor does he agree with his host regarding the value of a wood fire. The fastidious Belgian feels a draught about his shoulders and pines wistfully for central heating.

Nearby at Gorston Hall, a tyrannical and slightly mad patriarch Simon Lee has gathered his estranged, grumbling clan for their first Christmas together in years. Once again, Agatha Christie shines in providing an appealing cast of disparate characters, from the grasping politician, to the prodigal son, to the mysterious Spanish granddaughter, to the long-suffering loyal son and his well-bred, decorous wife who runs the house prodigiously.

The novel takes place from December 22 to December 28, so it’s fun to read over this time period. Christmas serves as a sort of ironic offset to the action, as the atmosphere is more lugubrious than jolly. After the murder, the traditional festivities are curtailed, and the characters themselves lament the lack of merriment.

Instead, this is a brilliant murder mystery. Christie incorporates both the “locked-room” setup (in which it seems that no one could have entered or left the crime scene to actually commit the murder) and the “closed circle of suspects” (in which the characters know that one of their small number did it).

Indeed, the already strained relations among the Lee family worsen exponentially when they each suspect one another of murder—quite a dysfunctional Christmas!

There’s also international intrigue with complications from the Spanish Civil War and from business ties to South African diamonds.

This whodunit kept me guessing. It seems likewise for Poirot, who in his summation makes a case for how each family member had motive and opportunity in this murder. Ultimately, the reveal is surprising and inevitable—as the best endings are.

Spoiler alert! Johnson and Poirot discuss the outcome of Three Act Tragedy so best to read that book ahead of this one.

Finally, Christie nicely rounds off the subplots and future plans are made to celebrate a traditional English Christmas with all the trimmings. All in all, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is another Christie classic. Most satisfying and highly recommended!

 

Agatha Christmas: A Reading of Christie’s Holiday Classics

agatha christmas logo

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

A Christmas Tragedy by Agatha Christie

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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Christmas Tragedy“A Christmas Tragedy” is a short story in The Thirteen Problems collection, which was also published under the title The Tuesday Club Murders. I particularly like the setup, in which the different stories are told by a group of friends gathered together to discuss mysteries.

Sir Henry Clithering presses Miss Marple for a mystery that has happened to her. She recalls an incident, which she quickly redefines as a “tragedy.” Indeed, I found this one of Christie’s more chilling stories. While Christmas serves a bit as a plot device, this is not a “Christmas story.”

Miss Marple recounts a visit to a spa for the holiday, but she recalls “a curiously eerie feeling in the air. There seemed to be something weighing on us all. A feeling of misfortune.”

Upon seeing a fellow guest, Mr. Sanders, she immediately knew that he planned to kill his wife. Miss Marple had no proof, however, just gut instinct.

13 ProblemsThe narrative progresses with tension and a sense of impending doom. Some of the characters are shocked by the happenings and some seem to take a “positively ghoulish” delight in it all.

Miss Marple holds it together though, offering one of her classic dictums: “a gentlewoman should always be able to control herself in public, however much she may give way in private.”

So while it’s not a cheery holiday fable, “A Christmas Tragedy” is a typical Christie whodunit—a fast read that ends with one of her trademark inverted plot twists.

 

Agatha Christmas: A Reading of Christie’s Holiday Classics

agatha christmas logo

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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agatha christmas img lg“A Christie for Christmas” was a popular saying and holiday tradition back when Agatha Christie was writing a book a year. Her latest release would be timed so that it could be in stockings or wrapped up under trees. Reading the new Christie was somewhat of a Christmas Day ritual.

Christie incorporated the holiday into several of her mysteries, so I thought it would be fun to read these Christmas-themed works. I’ll be posting my (spoiler-free) reviews below over the next week.

Agatha Christmas to all!

4 50 from Paddington4:50 from Paddington
Novel featuring Miss Marple
After a day of hectic Christmas shopping, Elspeth McGillicuddy is certain that she witnessed murder on a train.

No one believes her but her friend, Miss Jane Marple …

 

 

 

Christmas TragedyA Christmas Tragedy
Short story featuring Miss Marple

Miss Marple goes to a spa for the holidays in this chilling, not cheery, tale.

Upon seeing a fellow guest, Mr. Sanders, she immediately knew that he planned to kill his wife. She has no proof, however, just instinct.

 

 

 

hercule poirots christmas  Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
(aka: Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder)
Novel featuring Hercule Poirot

“It is, then, your opinion that Christmastime is an unlikely season for crime?” asks Hercule Poirot of Colonel Johnson.

Christmas serves as a sort of ironic offset to the action in this brilliant murder mystery.

 

 

Adventure Christmas Pudding The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
(aka: “The Theft of the Royal Ruby”)
Short story featuring Hercule Poirot

This longer short story reads like Agatha Christie’s ode to the “old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside”with all the ritual and trimmings.

This is certainly the coziest Christie I’ve read and a perfect holiday read.

 

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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4 50 from Paddington lgAgatha Christie’s 4:50 from Paddington opens amid the pre-Christmas rush in London. There is all the excitement of holiday crowds at the shops and jostling along train platforms. Christie, always so deft with her descriptions of rail travel, brings the reader right into the moment as one train passes closely by another and Elspeth McGillicuddy witnesses a murder.

This is the original The Girl on the Train (another book I highly recommend). Elspeth does not seem to be able to get anyone (the porter, the local police) to take her story seriously. No one believes her, except her friend Miss Jane Marple …

There are some cozy scenes in St Mary Mead with cameos of favorite characters. But my one complaint is that—while Miss Marple has been invited to Christmas dinner at the vicarage—Christie offers us no glimpse into that gathering. We get a passing update on the vicar’s family, but I wanted more, having gotten to know them so well in The Murder at the Vicarage.

There is also quite a bit of train travel early on, but ultimately this is one of Christie’s “country house” mysteries. Miss Marple sends the plucky Lucy Eyelesbarrow (who seems a sort of younger version of the aged sleuth) to infiltrate the household of Rutherford Hall and snoop around for evidence.

Unlike some of Christie’s more luxurious manor house settings, Rutherford Hall is menacing. “A long winding drive led through large gloomy clumps of rhododendrons up to … a kind of miniature Windsor Castle. The stone steps in front of the door could have done with a bit of attention and the gravel sweep was green with neglected weeds.” Indeed, this turned out to be one of Christie’s scarier and more suspenseful novels, as I feared for Lucy as well as for some of the inhabitants of the hall. Danger looms.

Christie offers up some memorable characters at Rutherford Hall and, like Lucy, I was confounded a bit trying to guess who the killer was. The plot takes several clever turns, including an ingenious twist in the actual reveal of the murderer at the end. Also, there are satisfying resolutions to some of the sub-plots.

Overall, 4:50 from Paddington brought together several of my favorite aspects of Christie: Miss Marple, the inherent intrigue of train travel, the closed-circle of suspects, and the happy ending for some of the characters. It’s hard to pick a favorite Christie, but this is definitely one of mine. Highly recommended.

 

Agatha Christmas: A Reading of Christie’s Holiday Classics

agatha christmas logo

A Christmas Tragedy by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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LOTR LOST comboSeptember 22 has long been celebrated as “Hobbit Day” since it’s both Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday and is also the date when the The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) starts. In a circular twist, Peter Jackson opens and ends The Hobbit movie trilogy on this day.

September 22 is also the date, in 2004, when Oceanic 815 crashed into waters unknown, in the pilot of the series LOST.

Eerie. I can’t understand why more hasn’t been made of this—on fan sites, media, or Twitter. It seems an astoundingly important connection between these two great sagas. (Spoilers Alert!)

Both are mythical stories which involve epic quests. Although LOTR opens with Bilbo’s birthday party, Frodo doesn’t actually begin his journey until the next day. Still, it is on the twenty-second when he acquires the Ring and that is what kicks off the action.

There are many other parallels. Each tale revolves around a group of disparate characters brought together by circumstance. In LOTR, the rise of Sauron and the discovery of the Ring prompts the formation of the Fellowship and ultimately takes these characters across Middle-Earth. A plane crash maroons the LOST characters on an uncharted island, desperate to make the best of it.

Both groups are terrorized by baddies (orcs, Nazgul, Uruk Hai in LOTR; the Others, Charles Widmore’s assassins, the Dharma Initiative on LOST), supernatural forces (Sarumon’s winter, dark magic in Moria and Mordor, Sauron’s eye in LOTR; the Smoke Monster, electromagnetic powers, the time shifts in LOST), and by a supreme villain (Sauron in LOTR; The Man in Black, though some might argue Ben, in LOST). Gandalf the White serves as a guide and leader in Middle-Earth. Likewise, on LOST, the guardian Jacob is always shown in white or light-colored clothing (well, when he is on the Island).

LOTR trilogy poster

Each also features an unlikely hero who struggles to escape that role. Frodo wishes the Ring had never come to him and tries to give it to Galadriel then to Aragorn. Jack refuses to embrace faith (or fate) and just wants off the Island. Yet, each perseveres and ultimately saves the world: Middle-Earth in the case of Frodo, and our planet (not just the Island) in Jack’s. However, neither can return to the world he has saved, as they are both changed and damaged by their missions. Frodo sails into the West with the Elves. Jack sacrifices himself and dies on the Island.

Oddly, despite the September 22 connection and the fact that LOST show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse professed admiration for Tolkien, there are almost no references to the author or his works. There were a few television promos that featured Gandalf’s quote, “not all who wander are lost.” This tease had me on the lookout for Tolkien Easter eggs, to no avail. It’s strange because episodes were rife with allusions to Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, the novels of Charles Dickens, Lord of the Flies, Star Wars, and other favorites of Darlton. Charlie Pace sports a tattoo in Elvish and sometimes wears a t-shirt featuring the White Tree of Gondor, but that is because Dominic Monaghan acted as Merry Brandybuck in the LOTR movies.

Kate Austen, though, makes it off the Island to kick some orc butt in The Hobbit trilogy as Tauriel. Seriously, she was like the same character, which I loved.

Other than that, there is only a musical theme entitled “Down the Hobbit Hole” which plays when Jack and Locke (aka the Man in Black) lower Desmond down to the Source in the finale. But this is also a riff on Alice in Wonderland (Down the Rabbit Hole), and it’s a bit of a mislead because Desmond enters a creepy cave full of skeletons and gloom, whereas Tolkien assures us that hobbit holes are nothing like this.

“Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

He writes in The Hobbit and goes on to describe a cosy dwelling with polished brass, paneled walls, tiled floors, comfortable chairs, and lots of coat hooks as “the hobbit was fond of visitors.”

In the end, it may be that the choice of September 22 for the crash of Oceanic 815 was a merely a coincidence of the network programming schedule. Or perhaps—like so many other unexplained happenings on LOST—it was engineered by “the Island.”

Ten Ways to Celebrate Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week

The Hobbit: My Own Unexpected Journey

LOST Under the Dome

Happy Hobbitversary! 75 Years On

A Tolkien Travesty: Nobel Jury Not so Noble

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2 book bricksWhen 11/22/63 landed with a thud on my doorstep, I knew I was in for a hefty brick of a read. As I pulled the nearly one-pound beast out of the oversized shipping box … it loomed.

At 842 pages, however, this book is more than 200 pages shorter than the last Stephen King novel I read, Under the Dome, which is 1072 pages.

I decided to size them up together, and in this light, 11/22/63 does look much more manageable.

Still, I find it most ironic that King took a jibe at the length of Donna Tartt’s The GoldFinch, which clocks in at a mere 784 pages. “Don’t drop it on your foot,” he joked at the end of his review for The New York Times Book Review (in which he mostly gushed with enthusiasm).

I will keep that foot precaution in mind as I dig into 11/22/63 in anticipation of this Friday, Nov. 22nd, the 50th anniversary of that infamous date.

Even better, I am reading this as part of the #112263Along organized by Kristin of My Little Heart Melodies, and I love seeing all the tweets and posts from other readers.

The readalong goes for another month through Sunday 12/22 (did I mention it was a long book?) so please join us!

Click here to sign up via Mr Linky!

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More on the 11/22/63 by Stephen King Readalong

Sign up for the 11/22/63 Readalong via Mr. Linky

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