The Little Grey Lists

I have just finished watching the last season of Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” mysteries starring the brilliant David Suchet.  I wanted this week’s list to be a tribute to this ending, but how to do it?  By the Poirot books?  I went through these many years ago and most have blurred together.  All Christie books?  Some of my favorites were not Poirot, although he was by far my favorite.  By the “Poirot” series?  All Poirot adaptations?  In the end, I couldn’t choose.

Top Agatha Christie Mysteries:

1. Five Little Pigs

-This one was by far my favorite.  With the crime in the past there was nothing to get in the way of the psychological study.

2. And Then There Were None

-This is the first Christie book I read and one of the few books ever that I kindof wish had been withheld from me til I was a few years older…it still plays vividly in my mind, compelling, brilliant, and incredibly creepy.

3. Crooked House

-The tone and ending of this book just stay with you.

4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

-Seeing the crime through the villain’s notebook while still not knowing who it is….thrilling.  The adaptation of this was one of my only true letdowns-no cinema can do it properly.

5. The Man in the Brown Suit

-This is a novel where I actually remember the characters more fondly than the mystery-it’s great fun and my favorite of Christie’s matchmaking moves.

6. Dead Man’s Mirror

-Another Poirot mystery I found particularly clever and memorable.

Top Suchet “Poirot” adaptations:

1. Five Little Pigs

-I was surprised at how faithful they managed to keep it.  Love it!

2. Evil Under the Sun

-They managed to add humor and suspects with more depth without losing the tone of the original.

3. The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor

4. The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge

5. The Chocolate Box

-All of these are just delightful to watch….I’m sure this list will change often, but David Suchet’s Poirot just shines.

Top non-Suchet Cinema Adaptations:

1. Thirteen for Dinner

-This Peter Ustinov one just has more time to flesh out the characters and what I found to be a more believable Lady Edgeware.  Plus, Suchet does appear…as Japp!

2. Witness for the Prosecution

-This Hitchcock film feels like a real Agatha Christie, and is well acted!

3. Death on the Nile

-This one I include because, although I feel the Ustinov version and the Suchet version are both excellent shows, I prefer the Ustinov one simply because it has more time to develop various motives and has a memorable montage showing how practically everyone could have committed the crime…On the other hand, I prefer Suchet’s Poirot here, as usual, and find his portrayal much closer to the books.  Still, whichever way you go, I recommend it.

Poirot would hate these mini-lists for being uneven and a hodgepodge of preferences rather than one, orderly list…I know, shall blame it on my need for gastronomic nurturing and plead that I have not yet eaten.  What about you, mes amis, which novels, episodes, or crimes do your little grey cells prefer?

Mysterious Heyer

I haven’t read a great deal of Georgette Heyer’s mysteries.  To be frank, the couple I read before were not encouraging.  Nevertheless, Behold, Here’s Poison sounded like a good time.  I’m taking time out at about the two thirds mark to say: IT IS.  Thus far my favorite sentence is: “He was dressed with the most finicking care, and nothing could have been more symphonic than the blend of his shirt with his silk socks and his expensive tie.”  Note the use of the word “finicking,” which wordpress is currently claiming is not a word (they also have a problem with “wordpress”).  I have for a long time now believed that “finick” should be able to expand and be used in more ways than “finicky.”  This, right here, is evidence my instinct is correct.  For this alone, this book would be delightful.

However, it also has more to recommend it.  There was a fairly meager start where we meet the staff first (not to figure prominently again, it seems), and the victim is already dead.  Then it picks up, and Georgette Heyer is running with it.  There’s less manners and social conventions than normal, but the twists and turns of the detective’s struggle to find answers are actually unexpected.  Even though there’s a lot less urgency than I’ve found in most murder mysteries, Heyer still contrives to make her insinuations and subtle hints pop up in your head with explanation marks:  Well, it wouldn’t have been her!  SUSPICIOUS!!  So, he’s shady!  And so on.  Unlike an Agatha Christie novel where you feel you’re just trying to keep up with Poirot, or making sure to latch onto everything important, Behold, Here’s Poison is a languid read.  You make more of the connections and predictions yourself without feeling you’re constantly behind.  The detective’s there to do the grunt work and draw out clues-the real stuff thus far remains the reader’s.  (I have my money on X turning out to be innocent in order to become romantically involved with Y.)  When I finish I may draw up an official review, but as I’m enjoying it right now, I wanted a finicking ramble about the experience of it.  After all, a good mystery story really is mostly about the middle, as that is where the suspense, and the draw lies.  The ending is obviously essential, but it doesn’t last as long, and so even a disappointing reveal can’t keep something from being a good read once (providing it’s merely disappointing, not awful).

I’ve called you here to name the mystery.

Blotto, Twinks, and the Ex-King’s Daughter
By: Simon Brett
Felony and Mayhem Press 2011
A fictional mystery review

The fine tradition of committing crimes in style while residing in a grand British manor continues in Simon Brett’s Blotto, Twinks, and the Ex-King’s Daughter. When playing host to an exiled king and his entourage, the aristocratic family of Tawcester Towers become embroiled in foreign politics, and of course, murder. Both are highly inconvenient, but with his brilliant sister Twinks at his side, Blotto is good-natured enough to investigate. Through kidnappings, traitors, and a lack of cricket playing, the aristocratic siblings work their way through the twists and dangers of the plot.

The plot of Blotto, Twinks, and the Ex-King’s Daughter adheres severely to the tropes and necessary attributes of a British manor house mystery: dull policemen, significant details, and elaborate unveiling of perpetrators. Brett cheerfully exploits them, with tongue firmly in cheek. The comedic tone is amplified by overly romantic declarations, foreign word substitution, and a writing style reminiscent of Wodehouse.

While some might consider the mystery to be predictable, the humor of situation and tone makes up for it. Blotto, Twinks, and the Ex-King’s Daughter might not exercise the “little grey cells” the way an Agatha Christie novel does, but it’s a fairly quick read that does hit the funny bone, the wits, and the British manor house comfort zone.