Book log January 2013

Busy trying to catch up with the sorely neglected book log. Here are my brief notes on January’s books. I know I read more than these, but I didn’t jot down notes at the time and have lost track.

1) Agatha Christie — Five Little Pigs

A young woman approaches Poirot for help in solving an old murder — that of her father by her mother. Amyas Crayle was a superb artist, and a womaniser who routinely slept with his models for inspiration. Caroline Crayle rowed with him about it, but tolerated it because she knew that they were passing infatuations — until the one who wasn’t. Amyas died of poison, and Caroline died in prison.

Carla Crayle is quite certain that her mother was innocent, and wishes to both clear her mother’s name and unmask the real killer. Sixteen years after the killing, there is no evidence left save the memories and journals of the five people who might also have committed the murder. Hercule Poirot must use his deep understanding of psychology to weigh the different stories against each other, and hunt out the clues in the contradictions.

The plot itself is intriguing, but the highlight of this book is the distinct and individual voices Christie gives to each of the five little pigs in their narratives. Blustering, dishonest, self-serving, self-deceptive, or merely subject to the passage of time — each memory, and how it is presented to Poirot, is different. And the very attempt to present the facts in the way the teller wants Poirot to hear them exposes each pig’s inner secrets… Superbly constructed, and great fun to read.

2) Agatha Christie — The Sittaford Mystery

A standalone without any of Christie’s regular characters.

There’s not a lot to do in the tiny village of Sittaford on a snowy afternoon, which is why a tea party amuses itself with a seance. The fun turns sour when a spirit announces that an absent friend of one of the party has just been murdered. Major Burnaby is sufficiently concerned that he sets out in what has become a blizzard to walk to his friend’s house in the next village.

Captain Trevalyin was a wealthy man, and the obvious suspect is his nephew James Pearson, who was actually in the village at the time in search of a loan from his uncle. But young Pearson’s fiancee refuses to accept that he is a murderer, and sets about tracking down the real killer.

Enjoyable mystery, with plenty of plausible red herrings, and a good lead character in the form of Emily Trefusis.

3) Robert Sheckley — The Status Civilistation

Short novel from the master of satirical science fiction. Will Barrent awakes to find himself with no memory, and a one way ticket to a penal planet where the inhabitants are mindwiped and then left to do as they please. The society created over generations is one in which committing crime is a social good, and the only way of advancing in society — or indeed, staying alive. Barrent has no memory of his crime, and no desire to commit further crimes; but to find out how and why he was sentenced to life and death on Omega, he will have to stay alive long enough to find a way back to Earth.

4) Rudyard Kipling — The man who would be king

Kipling’s novelette about two former non-com officers from the British Army in India, who decide to take a crate of rifles and ammo and set themselves up as kings of one of the upcountry statelets in Afghanistan. Beautifully written study of greed and politics, and an excellent adventure story.

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