Welcome back, as we review five more of Agatha Christie‘s novels. Please read my introductory post for notes, and a reminder that I’ll forewarn any book spoilers. The last five reviews are posted here.
On with the show…
Hercule Poirot #34
In which Poirot and Mrs. Oliver pursue an unknown crime, and an unknown perpetrator, and the dreaded young generation.
No good. It’s always interesting to see Poirot – whose liveliness in the ’20s and ’30s has naturally subsided – having to deal with the ‘modern generation’ but, unfortunately, Christie herself still seems to be dealing with them. As a result, Third Girl comes off as unaware and confused about itself. The nature of the mystery uses a number of plot elements from previous novels without every distinguishing it.
The Suchet adaptation was passable, although far from the best, and that’s not surprising: very little happens in this novel, and what does happen is eminently forgettable. For Christie fans only.
Poirot ranking: 34th out of 38.
Miss Marple #11
A relaxing holiday at a nostalgic city haunt leads Miss Marple on the trail of deceit and murder.
With the exception of some stinker short stories, and one or two gems of novels, most of the Miss Marple stories hover squarely around average. Years after reading this novel, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. At Bertram’s Hotel avoids many of the predictable aspects of Christie’s well-worn premises, and maintains an oddly sinister undertone throughout. Ultimately, though, I can find very little to recommend it. Miss Marple does nearly no actual investigating here, and there aren’t even really any clues. I find it hard to believe she solves this one, given that it’s all divination. (There is one marvelous piece of all-encompassing misdirection, which is cleverly disguised for the entire novel.)
Christie seems a little torn here over what genre she’s writing in and most notably – as in a few of Christie’s most flawed works – the few charismatic characters far outweigh the majority, leading to an uneven reading experience. There are two potential problems with books like this: a) the murderer(s) will turn out to be someone who never stood out against the livelier characters, or b) the murderer(s) won’t be as much of a shock, since they dominated the proceedings.
At Bertram’s Hotel isn’t execrable, but it’s for die-hards only. I wouldn’t recommend this to a Christie novice. (Having said that, both the Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan adaptations are really quite fine.)
[One of the four appearances of Mrs. Robinson, a shady member of an international Financial Syndicate, who had previously encountered Poirot in Cat Among the Pigeons, and would later appear in two more novels.]
Marple ranking: 11th of 14
The death of a spy in her hotel room launches a young tourist on a whirlwind adventure.
They Came to Baghdad has always felt like an airport novel to me: passable, but characterised solely by stereotypes, and never really reaching any kind of plot intensity, at least not any that doesn’t feel manufactured. This novel is a vivacious little romp in the vein of Christie’s early thrillers, where Dame Agatha was allowing herself to experiment a little now that she’d reached a secure point in her career. Things move along steadily, and at least you can sense Christie’s enthusiasm – it’s not just workmanlike.
But, like all her thrillers, it borders on the preposterous, and I doubt anyone in the world has ever put this down and thought, “Wow. Glad I read that.” Copies of this book probably litter bargain basements and attic bookshelves everywhere.
Hercule Poirot #6
On a train bound for the French Riviera, Poirot meets a young heiress, and becomes embroiled in a tragic murder case.
Christie herself admitted that she only cobbled this one together to make some money during a difficult time, so I don’t feel too bad about disliking The Mystery of the Blue Train. The book has a few good elements: indeed the characters are intriguing, and a dynamic, very 1920s Poirot dominates the proceedings, but things don’t really come together. (Nor do they in the David Suchet adaptation.) Unsurprisingly, given the novel’s provenance, it feels perfunctory and – outside of Poirot himself – never vital.
This was the first Poirot novel I read, so it has a special place in my heart, and it’s certainly not his worst, in spite of Christie’s opinion. But it’s still not very good.
Interestingly, given it was a rush job, this novel introduces two recurring elements of Christie’s canon: Poirot’s valet George, and a description of the village of St. Mary Mead, which will later be home to Miss Marple.
Poirot ranking: 33rd of 38
As the ’20s came to an end, Christie – respected but still known as much for her regular short story writing than as some kind of ‘Queen of Crime’ – resurrected the characters of her early thriller-cum-mystery The Secret of Chimneys (including the stoic Superintendent Battle, who would return in three further books) for a second adventure. Unfortunately, it’s mediocre from start to finish. The characters lack panache (even those who had it in the former novel), and the story – and its ultimate solution – are utterly preposterous.
Thankfully, we’re now moving away from mediocrity. The novels that follow will, at the least, be readable.
Coming up next time: mediocre thrillers, Poirot’s day-to-day cases, and one of Christie’s more unusual efforts.