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Monday, November 14, 2016

When An Agatha Christie Novel Is Meh...

Last week I popped into Dymock's  to buy a gift voucher and simply couldn't resist picking up a couple  of Agatha Christies. I haven't read them all, and probably won't. It means that now and then I can indulge in a "new" murder mystery by the Queen of Crime.

One of the two was The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side, a Miss Marple story, set in her later years. She's been a little old lady since we've known her - but she does get older. And the world around her changes. She is a bit sad about that, but understands that life is like that. And she's sharp as ever, as everyone in St Mary Mead knows well. In this one, she's annoyed at being unable to garden any more, with a gardener who doesn't work much and does it his way when he does, and stuck with a live-in carer who treats her patronisingly, like a child with dementia. She has to be polite because the woman's wages are being paid by her ever-generous nephew, the bestselling writer Raymond West. 

None of this gets in the way of her being able to solve the mystery of a local murder at Gossington Hall, site of The Body In The Library, now owned by a glamorous Hollywood star and her director husband. 

I enjoyed it. Miss Marple understands human nature, and that helps her solve her mysteries. Plus she knows people she can call on for their expertise - but she only needs them when she already has a theory. I suspect if she ever met Poirot, with his "little grey cells", she would be polite but not think much of his ways, while he would underestimate her. 

The other book I bought was a Poirot novel, Hickory Dickory Dock. I quite liked the beginning - Miss Lemon, that pearl of a secretary, who never makes typoes, has made three in a simple letter. She is worried about her sister - hey, Miss Lemon has a sister! The sister, Mrs Hubbard(known as Ma or Mum to her students) is running a student hostel for an over-the-top - almost caricature - Greek woman. Things have gone missing, things that don't belong together and it all makes no sense. Poirot decides to check it out and sure enough, there's a murder. Then another... I sometimes think I'd run a mile if I saw Poirot coming, although, to be fair, he usually isn't called in till the murder has already happened. Well, in Murder On The Orient Express it happened while he was travelling, but there was a build up.

But that was a classic. This one ... meh. Not her best. And while I was aware of her racism and classism, it really showed in this book. It's not a KKK type of racism, just the casual kind of her era and her class. The African student is played for comic relief. It's not spoilerish to say he isn't even taken seriously enough by the author to be a possible murderer; there's no way the reader would think so! And here was I thinking that the beauty of a Christie tale was that the killer could be anyone, from the gruff Colonel to the sweet young thing(who turns out to be not so sweet). He's just dumb. He does  provide an important clue, but it's not at all because of his "little grey cells". He hasn't got any, except in the physical sense. 

I suppose it says something about English attitudes of the time that people who aren't English speakers are referred to in these novels as "foreigners" even on their home soil, when the English character is the one who is the foreigner! 

Fortunately, Poirot thinks it's hilarious. 

Still, I'm not sure I'll be rereading this one. Not for some time, anyway. A disappointment, alas!

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