This novel, the world’s best-selling mystery with over 100 million copies, has recently been voted readers’ favourite Agatha Christie novel in a global poll. Though I’d probably struggle to name my own personal favourite Christie novel, I’m not inclined to argue with this honour. The book is a masterpiece of crime fiction whose power hasn’t diminished with years, and it’s said that Christie herself regarded it as her highest achievement.
It’s a testament to the Queen of Crime’s versatility that her best-loved novel doesn’t involve her best-loved fictional sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Instead the story focuses solely on a group of ten strangers who all get separate invitations to Soldier Island, an isolated spot off the coast in Devon. Once there and secretly puzzled by each other’s presence, their cosy dinner on the first night is interrupted in a startling manner by a recorded message accusing each one of them of murder, and soon after one of the guests drops dead. Meanwhile their mysterious host, Mr U.N. Owen, is nowhere to be seen. The next morning they discover yet another dead body, and find themselves cut off from the mainland.
This Miss Marple novel has a couple too many convenient coincidences for my liking, but remains one of the most fun Christie mysteries to re-visit.
It surely has one of her best openings. In a small village of Chipping Cleghorn, the locals settle comfortably into reading their favourite local Gazette when they spot a most peculiar notice announcing a murder that’s about to take place that day at 6.30pm, at a place called Little Paddocks. Nobody takes it seriously and all assume that it refers to some sort of murder mystery evening, but all agree that they should definitely show up and find out. The announcement comes as a total surprise to Miss Letitia Blacklock, the owner of Little Paddocks, but being a practical woman she’s resigned to the mob of curious villagers showing up at her doorstep, and prepares drinks and suchlike. Things turn from frivolous to serious when the evening ends with gunshots and death of a stranger.
Now that I’m officially doing a Christie challenge I suspect I’m going to give preference to the novels that stuck in my head the most, and leave the least favourite or poorly remembered ones for last. This Poirot mystery is definitely up there with the best.
Our favourite Belgian detective is investigating a sixteen-year-old case on behalf of a young woman, Carla Lemarchant, whose mother Caroline was convicted for murdering her husband. Amyas Crale was a brilliant and egocentric painter with an appetite for affairs, and all evidence points to Caroline poisoning him when his latest passion turned serious enough for him to consider divorce. Years later, Carla receives a posthumous letter from her mother swearing her innocence, and now, her mind in turmoil, Carla wants Poirot to find the truth, whatever it might be.
Another quick re-read in between the book club. I’m actually thinking of doing an official Agatha Christie re-readathon challenge, where I read and review every novel by the Queen of Crime, yes all 66 of them. If I finish one each month, this should take me only five and a half years. Piece of cake.
Anyway, this novel is one of my favourite Miss Marple murder mysteries, partly for the mystery itself and partly for the observations of the social changes of the time. It takes place in Miss Marple’s home of St Mary Mead, but in this post-war era it’s no longer the same sleepy village. There’s a shiny new supermarket and a housing development referred to simply as the Development. Miss Marple, who was an old lady since her very first appearance, is now truly frail and has to put up with a live-in housekeeper, a capable yet annoyingly patronising woman who treats her charge as a feeble invalid. But of course Miss Marple’s mind is still as sharp as a tack.
This psychological thriller left me with a question, can an average book be elevated by a brilliant, shocking last-minute twist that makes you look at the story and characters in a whole different light? Yes… to a degree.
The story centres on two sisters, Robin and Sarah, who despite being fraternal twins are pure chalk and cheese: Robin is wild, rebellious and outspoken, Sarah is a good girl, docile and eager to please. When a shy and sensitive boy called Callum Granger shows up at their school and becomes friends with the girls, none of them can predict the seismic shift that’s about to rock their families and leave Robin in the UK while Sarah moves to the States.
I’ve always been fascinated by what if scenarios in fiction, and the one explored by this Norwegian author is devastatingly simple: what would happen to the human society if the bees went extinct? Spread across almost 250 years and three stories, all involving bees to some degree, Lunde’s book finishes with a tentative note of optimism but not before taking the reader on a dark ride of dashed hopes and bleak prospects for our world.
Other than a cautionary tale, the major thread of the novel is the bond between parents and children, the joy and heartbreak it brings, and the different legacies we leave behind. While Lunde doesn’t experiment with style to the degree of, say, Cloud Atlas, the novel is a mix of historical, modern and speculative fiction, only spelling out the direct connections between the three narratives at the very end.
This was the first book club reading that, I’m sorry to say, turned out to be a complete dud. I still finished it because the central mystery kept my interest, but it’s not a good sign when you start cringing a couple of pages in.
There is a potentially interesting if harrowing story at the heart of the novel. In a small USA town, a teenage girl called Jenny Kramer is brutally raped at a high school party. Her parents agree to an experimental treatment that erases Jenny’s memory of the event; in theory this should spare her from PTSD and allow her to return to normal life. But Jenny’s trauma finds its way out regardless, and she decides that she wants to recover her memory of the rape. The novel’s narrator, Dr. Forrester, is the psychiatrist who treats Jenny as well as her parents who deal with their own emotional fallout and deep-seated issues. There’s also the question of who committed this horrific crime.