Book log: Agatha Christie — They Do It With Mirrors

Book 8)

Miss Marple goes to spend a few days with her old friend Carrie Louise, at the request of old friend’s sister who is worried that something sinister is happening without being able to pin down why she feels that way. Carrie Louise’s first husband set up a “good works” institution in the grounds of his estate prior to his death, which is currently being used to rehabilitate young criminals, and her third and current husband Lewis is one of the trustees of the institution. Several members of the rather complex family structure live with them, which means there are several people with a financial interest in murdering Carrie Louise. Then, of course, there are the juvenile delinquents. However, when murder happens, it’s with a twist. Lewis’s young assistant has a mental breakdown and has a confrontation with Lewis which climaxes with the young man shooting at him but missing, and at the same time her step-son from her first marriage is murdered elsewhere in the house by a shot which initially goes unnoticed in the immediate aftermath of the altercation between Lewis and his assistant.

Lewis tells the police that earlier that day the murder victim had told him in confidence that someone was trying to poison Carrie Louise — an obvious motive for someone to seize the opportunity to silence him while everyone was distracted, and an urgent reason for the police to find the killer before anyone else dies. It’s up to Miss Marple to unpick the tangle of motives and opportunity at Stonygates.

I worked out who and how almost immediately — but so excellent was the misdirection that I thought that I must be mistaken. As usual with Christie, once you do know what happened a lot of tiny details suddenly click neatly into place.

One thing I did notice was that Christie through Miss Marple has a lot to say about excusing criminal behaviour because someone had a problem childhood. It’s not a problem for me, since it’s in character for Miss Marple anyway, but I did feel that it was the author’s viewpoint as well as the character’s, and for some readers it might feel a bit too much like being lectured. But I enjoyed this book a lot — and when you finally know the answer, the motivation feels right for that character.

LibraryThing entry

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Book log: Agatha Christie — The Moving Finger

Book 7

Technically a Miss Marple novel, although the little old lady from St Mary Mead barely appears in this one, not even being introduced until the final third of the book. It’s told from the viewpoint of Jerry Burton, a war-wounded pilot who has taken a house in the small town of Lymstock to spend a few months recuperation somewhere in the country away from his friends. His doctor’s advice was to take an interest in local politics and scandal as a way of keeping his brain occupied without stressing him. Jerry and his sister Joanna get an early opportunity to do just that, when they receive a poison pen letter. when they find that they’re not the first, they decide to track down the writer, almost as a game. But the game turns deadly serious when one of the recipients is found dead by poison, with a note saying “I can’t go on”.

Jerry’s continued interest in the case is welcomed by the police, for as the officer in charge of the investigation points out, as an incomer he doesn’t have pre-existing biases, but as a resident he will hear things that people will be reluctant to tell the police. And so Jerry gets to see in fine detail how scandal and gossip work in a small community, with the phrase “no smoke without fire” as a running theme of village conversation.

This is an excellent study of village gossip, with some fine character studies. The main disappointment is the portrayal of Miss Marple herself, who seems a curiously flat character in this book. I think I would have enjoyed it more had I known when starting it that Jerry is the primary investigative character as well as the narrator.

LibraryThing entry

Book review: Edited by Josie Brown, Rose Mambert, and Bill Racicot — Elf Love

Book 3)

Anthology of 20 short stories with the theme of elf love, published by new small press Pink Narcissus Press. This is an ARC I received through the LibraryThing Early reviewers programme.

While the cover art suggests fantasy-subgenre romance stories, the contents are a good deal more wide-ranging. There’s a good sampling of traditional themes about elves, some in modern settings and some not, and the endings cover the full span from happy through bittersweet hope to tragic. The genre styles vary considerably as well. And to go with the prose stories, there’s one in graphic form.

Unfortunately the quality varied considerably as well, and for me a few of the stories were a waste of dead trees; but the best were well worth my time. There were several authors whose stories felt a bit unpolished but made me inclined to find more of their work once they’ve got a few more kilowords under their belts. Of particular note was Duncan Eagleson, who provided my two favourite prose stories in the anthology, together with the art for the graphic story (and the cover art, which I liked less than the graphic story).

There’s some violence, and some sexually explicit and some erotic content (the two are not identical) covering a range of sexual orientations, mostly not gratuitous.

In spite of the uneven quality, this is a worthwhile anthology — this is a good selection covering a range of story types, and I could have quite happily read the whole thing in one sitting without feeling that the stories were too repetitive. While my copy was an ARC, I personally wouldn’t have been disappointed had I paid the full cover price of US$15 for the trade paperback. Whether other readers feel the same will really depend on how many of the stories work for them, and regrettably I have to say that the anthology is sufficiently uneven and unpolished that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it at that price.

I’ll try to write up some detailed notes on individual stories later, but in general I’d agree with TPauSilver’s comments on LibraryThing.

Released in February 2011, but available now for pre-order direct from the publisher.

LibraryThing entry.