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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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Jane Austen Birthday Chawton House Library

Image: Chawton House Library

Today, December 16, is Jane Austen’s birthday!

As such, it seems the ideal moment to shout-out to the upcoming “Emmaversary”—the 200th anniversary of Emma, which was published on December 23 1815. (A very Merry Christmas present for all Janeites!)

In honor, Austen scholar and author Sarah Emsley is hosting a literary fete online, “Emma in the Snow,” which will feature a series of posts celebrating this unique and seminal novel. I will be contributing a paean to Emma … more precisely to Mr. Knightley (my favorite of Austen’s romantic heroes).

The first offering recounts The Publishing History of Emma.

Now is the perfect time reread Emma (or discover for the first time) while also tapping into the Emmaversary fanfare in the press and online.

How Jane Austen’s Emma Changed the Face of Fiction—The Guardian

Why Jane Austen’s Emma Still Intrigues 200 Years Later

How Well Do You Know Emma—BBC Radio R Quiz

Chawton House Library

On Twitter:
#Emma200
#EmmaInTheSnow
#FridayEmma200

My Favorite Posts on Jane Austen:

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

Worn Out With Civility at Mansfield Park

Jane Austen, Genius of Economic Game Theory?

How Did I Not Know About Marvel’s Pride & Prejudice?

Kate Middleton Decried as Jane Austen Character

When Pride and Prejudice Clicks, from Boring to Brilliant

Spoiler Alert: This Book Has No Ending

More Jane Austen on WordHits

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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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salem along teethAll month I’ve been reading Salem’s Lot by Stephen King as part of the #SalemAlong—a group read hosted by Melissa, Trish, and Care. It has been a blast! The book is an addictive page-turner, but also I’ve loved seeing everyone’s comments and reactions as they read via twitter.

It’s not too late if you want to join in. It’s fast read, and #SalemAlong runs through Halloween. But beware this post has spoilers—something I usually try to avoid. So, *spoiler alert!*

FYI, per the page numbers: I bought the Anchor Books mass market paperback, because pulpy seems to fit Stephen King.

NOTE: You do not need to have read Dracula, The Haunting of Hill House, or any vampire lore, as King gives the reader all the needed clues and info—though one character is saved by a deep knowledge of monster comics.

p. 15 “ ‘Salem’s Lot” is short for Jerusalem’s lot. Nice ironic touch.

p. 21 Already hooked. The prologue was a spooky tease, but by the third page of the first chapter, I know I’m in for the haul. No surprise or sudden cliffhanger. It’s just that King’s writing is so darn readable.

p. 25 The creepy the Marsten house looms large!

p. 26 I’m invested in Ben—another likable guy in the vein of Barbie and Rusty from Under the Dome and Jake from 11/22/63.

p. 64 Chapter 3: The Lot (I). My favorite chapter follows a day in the Salem’s Lot, introducing the reader to different characters and to the rhythms of small-town life. I was fascinated by how different things were in Maine back in 1975. For example, Susan left an order on the door overnight for the milkman, who arrived each morning straight from the nearby dairy.

I would’ve been quite happy to read along and have no vampires. I felt the same way at the beginning of Under the Dome.

p. 101 “Barlow and Straker” This made me thing of Bram Stoker. Maybe that’s a stretch, but I got that connotation each time I read the names.

p. 106 “between then [next week] and October 30.” King likes to remind us that Halloween is on the horizon. This book starts late Sept and runs into October. (Under the Dome also took place in October.)

p. 188-122 Vintage King! Here he takes something ostensibly trite (being afraid of shadows while walking through the woods) and makes it terrifying! Instead of feeling that I had read or seen this before (which of course we all have), I was truly, palpably scared along with the two little boys.

p. 201 “That year the first day of fall (real fall as opposed to calendar fall) was September 28” Now the days start to get shorter and the nights get longer.

p. 223 “Understand death? Sure. That was when the monsters got you.” Foreshadowing from the mind of 12-year-old Mark Petrie.

p. 242 “Say, these kids aren’t going to eat me, are they?” Ben asks Matt the school teacher, in another little foreshadowing zinger.

p. 371 I got up and made sure to shut and lock all the windows of my house. No more reading this book at night!

SalemAlong buttonp. 422-435 Ok. I’m shouting at the book here. Just as King managed to make the overused spooky woods motif fresh and horrifying, inversely this scene seems so played … like it came out of a Scary Movie sequel. Why, why would anyone go to the vampire’s house at dusk?! Especially, why would a kid who had earlier proven so savvy in vampire knowledge? This whole scene annoyed me. Susan, who I had liked before, seemed really stupid here. I hate it when girls/women are stupid victims … and here is where I lost sympathy for Susan. Um, Darwin Award.

I don’t think this is the prevailing opinion, as there were lots of sighs and gasps for Susan on twitter. #SalemAlong

p. 473 “Sunset on Sunday, October 5, 1975, at 7:02 pm, sunrise on Monday, October 6 1975, at 6:49 am.”

This is a nice device with the countdown to sunset which King uses at times to remind the reader that sunset is getting earlier and daybreak later—longer nights! This especially resonated with me because I’ve also been watching the sunrise creep later and later. I hate dark mornings, and I’m counting the days until daylight savings begins on Nov 1.

p. 512 I would’ve grabbed a couple of bottles of the Médoc on my way out of the Marsten House.

Also, I liked this plot twist here, by touching on the myth that vampires can anticipate the future. The cat-and-mouse game with Barley ups the suspense/thriller aspect of the book. King keeps us hooked by integrating this with the horror story.

p. 520 “In the fall, night comes like this in the Lot:
The sun loses its thin grip on the air first, turning it cold, making it remember that winter is coming and winter will be long. Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick. They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.”

p. 576 So what happened to Father Callahan? Did he end up at a rave in the East Village?

p. 628 Wow. The “dissolution” scene reads like blow-by-blow a description of what happens to the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m wondering if this is just a coincidence? Or if Steven Spielberg had read Salem’s Lot (which came out six years before his movie) and was inspired either subconsciously or consciously. I’m not suggesting plagiarism, but more like a cinematic allusion, much the way rappers sample other music.

p. 652 October 1972 – June 1975

I always like the way King put the dates he spent writing each novel on the last page. I’ve noticed that the writing times are much shorter for his more recent books, like Under the Dome and 11/22/63, which each took about a year even though they are much longer. So he is picking up speed!

Overall, I highly recommend this read—especially fun during the run up to Halloween. It wasn’t as scary for me as The Shining (the movie … I have not yet braved the book). But I will confess that I tried not to read it at night. When I did, I was frightened enough to lock all my windows and wear my cross around my neck.

A thank you shout-out to readalong hosts Melissa, Trish, and Care. They are most welcoming, and there is still a week left if you want to join the #SalemAlong!

Next up for me is a sunny, fluffy read. The Diamond Caper, by Peter Mayle, takes place on the French Riviera—a perfect antidote to Stephen King!

Mayle antidote

Readalong of Salem’s Lot

Join the Salem’s Lot Readalong

#SalemAlong on Twitter

#112263Along — readalong of 11/22/63

#DomeAlong — readalong of Under the Dome

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