Silkworm (2014) by Robert Galbraith

SILKWORM

I made a quick lunch-break dash to the library in order to pick this up and still had enough time to read some of the first chapter on a park bench before heading back to the office. It was a lot of effort to go to for a book I hadn’t really planned on reading so soon after The Cuckoo’s Calling – usually I get a bit bored if I work my way through a series too quickly – but the recent TV adaptation was getting discussed in great detail in my office and it was driving me kind of nuts. I was worried that if I didn’t read it soon then someone was going to spill too many beans and ruin the ending.

(Incidentally, I am currently a week behind on ‘Bake Off’ and having a very similar problem. I have to go make a cup of tea whenever my colleagues start discussing it.)

In Silkworm’s opening chapters, private detective Cormoran Strike takes up the case of missing author Owen Quine. Quine’s last act, in the days before his disappearance, was to send draft copies of his latest bizarre novel to everyone he knows including his wife, his mistress, his editor, his agent, his biggest rival and his publisher. Unfortunately for them the novel contains some vicious, thinly disguised poison-pen portraits and reveals some deep, dark secrets they’d probably rather not share. Under the circumstances it’s clear that there are several people who might have liked to get their revenge on Quine, or prevent him revealing further unpleasant truths, so Strike and his assistant Robin have to work out precisely who appears in the novel, who read it and who has the most to hide.

It’s a much darker, grittier novel than The Cuckoo’s Calling but I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much. The plot is cleverer and just like Cuckoo it’s carefully put together with no worrying loopholes or loose ends. I’ve said before that I really love the way that Rowling builds vivid, believable worlds around her characters and this isn’t an exception. I particularly like the way that she describes real London places; it makes Strike’s world feel tangible. Similarly, however, I’ve also said before that I wish some of Rowling’s later novels were shorter and I stand by that here too. I think this novel wouldn’t have started to drag so much if Rowling was better at staying on topic. She wastes too many precious words on scenes that don’t matter, that slow the pace and become an annoying distraction from the real story. I liked Silkworm but would have enjoyed it even more if it had been a few pages shorter.

I’m also starting to wonder whether Robin might be a better central protagonist. Strike’s ok but I think telling the story from Robin’s point of view might actually feel just a little fresher. At the moment her relationship with Strike is straying into clichéd territory and I’m scared it’s going to get a bit predictable in the end. I’ll keep on with the series, since I’m quite enjoying them and they’re very easy to read. Maybe Rowling will surprise me.

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Nemesis (1971) by Agatha Christie

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I thoroughly enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling and fancied something similarly entertaining and, well, murdery for my next read. All I could lay my hands on at short notice were the trusty Agatha Christies I’ve accumulated over the years and which are dotted about on various shelves and in various cardboard boxes around the house. Nemesis just happened to be the first one I found. It’s the last Miss Marple novel Christie wrote although I didn’t find this out until later. If I’d known beforehand I might have been careful to take my leave of dear old Marps properly and with the respect she deserves, instead of flinging the book to one side in disgust as soon as I’d finished the last sentence.

Oh well.

The book opens with the death of an old friend, Jason Rafiel, who apparently helped Marple solve A Caribbean Mystery a few books previously (not that I’ve read it). Rafiel kindly leaves Marple a generous gift in his will but only on the very strict condition that she solves a murder first. He clearly has a specific murder in mind, of course – not just any will do – but the will is very vague on all the essential details, like who exactly has been murdered and when and where and so on. Fortunately it transpires that Rafiel has also left Marple a ticket for a coach holiday in the southern counties so she grudgingly goes along for the ride in the hope that the subject of her investigation will make itself known during the trip.

There are, I think, some good reasons why I was so disappointed with the last of Marple’s adventures. Firstly, while I initially enjoyed the elaborate set up it didn’t really add a great deal to the plot, apart from giving the story an unusually slow start. The rest of the story felt quite sluggish, formulaic, a little tired even, and there were some vague plot holes that worried me, although I won’t go into them here in case I spoil the book for someone else. I was convinced quite early on that I’d guessed the identity of the killer and then was horrified to be proven right. I really hate it when that happens.

On a more disturbing note, at first I was quite pleased to notice that there didn’t seem to be as much of the latent xenophobia in this book compared with some of the others, although it’s true that poor Mr Caspar is briefly suspected of committing the unknown crime on no grounds whatsoever besides looking a bit foreign. Later on, however, I found the absurdly bigoted victim blaming a little hard to take. This is one of the more obvious examples of a sentiment that is repeated on a couple of occasions:

“Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape.” 

If the best that can be said about a novel is that for once there’s more misogyny than racism then you’re on worrying ground.

I’m wondering whether I seem to notice these regressive views more in the Miss Marple novels or whether it’s simply the case that I’ve read more of these recently. Did Christie make Marple say this awful stuff because she was supposed to be elderly and, therefore perhaps, more likely to have some outdated and old fashioned opinions? Does it necessarily reflect Christie’s own views? I’m not sure, but I think I might stick to Poirot (whom I prefer anyway) for a bit to see if they’re any better.

The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) by Robert Galbraith

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“How easy it was to capitalize on a person’s own bent for self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then to stand back and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic, catastrophic life.” 

I came back from France with a nasty cold and was pretty much useless for anything requiring an upright position (or breathing) for a few days after our return, which put a very definite stop to my Doctor Zhivago reading plans. Something light, entertaining and plot driven was in order so I reached for The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first in the J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith mysteries. I have vague memories of having bought this at a library book sale when I was still at my old job so it’s probably been lurking in the unread pile for about two years at least. It was clearly high time to knock this one on the head.

As I said, The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in the series and introduces us to Rowling’s private investigator Cormoran Strike who, as the book opens, is newly dumped, broke and living in his office. Strike is asked to investigate the supposed suicide of a world famous supermodel and – no surprises – it quickly becomes clear that her family were right to suspect foul play all along. Over the course of the investigation Strike interviews anyone with a known connection to the victim and meticulously reconstructs her last movements, all this while his disastrous private life disintegrates around him.

This is fairly standard detective fare but, for all its occasional sweariness and talk of rap megastars, Twitter and Boris Johnson, The Cuckoo’s Calling feels somehow endearingly old fashioned. There’s no pathology or forensics here but a lot of time is spent combing over minute details gleaned from interviews with witnesses and there are some traditional red herrings to misdirect you along the way. Strike is an old school private detective with a background in the military, woman trouble, a fondness for drink and the ability to handle himself in a fight. He’s not, however, such an enormous cliché that he feels derivative or that you can’t believe in him; in fact, I warmed to him quite a bit and particularly enjoyed his interactions with Robin, the fresh faced secretary from the temping agency who arrives on page one. Their mutual embarrassment and wariness of each other was kind of heartening and I’d consider reading the next in the series just to see how this relationship develops.

Like the later Harry Potter books this suffers from a lack of editing and I couldn’t help thinking that a little careful cutting here and there might have made this novel feel a little tighter without necessarily sacrificing any of the momentum or atmosphere that Rowling is so good at creating. And she does that exceptionally well here, I think; The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t an astounding work of art but it is engrossing and the world she creates for her characters is vivid and believable. In spite of its flaws it succeeded in cheering me up at a time when I was feeling pretty rubbish. It got me through my cold, its after effects and the depressing post-holiday return to work which, in all honesty, is the worst. I was grateful to have this book to look forward to on my lunchbreaks during that first week back.

Sparkling Cyanide (1945) by Agatha Christie

SparklnigCyanide

It should be a literary crime to give rather ordinary mysteries such evocative titles as this, especially when there’s already a particularly intriguing blurb on the back to hook the reader in. I was decidedly underwhelmed by this book – unusually so for an Agatha Christie – and now I can’t decide whether it’s the fault of the book, the title or just the fact that I was pretty spaced out on Lemsip at the time of reading. Probably the latter. I’d already been in bed sick for two looong days by the time I reached for this; I was cranky, bored and lacking both the energy and the will to read anything too demanding on the old grey cells. Usually Christie is ideal at times like these but she didn’t really do the trick on this occasion. I suspect I’m being a trifle unfair.

Sparkling Cyanide reunites several acquaintances for a rather tense dinner party at the Hotel Luxembourg. Gathered together are staid businessman George Barton and his young ward Iris, George’s doting secretary, a mysterious American businessman, a devious politician and his dutiful but very posh trophy wife. They’re all there to mark the passing of George’s late wife Rosemary who very publicly committed suicide at this table in this restaurant in front of these very same guests a year previously. It’s a macabre excuse for a gathering and of course, of course one of the guests is poisoned during dinner in an almost exact recreation of Rosemary’s death. Of course.  

“I’d like to give these detective story writers a course of routine work. They’d soon learn how most things are untraceable and nobody ever notices anything anywhere!”

There’s no Poirot or Marple in this one and I missed them both. It’s down to George’s old friend Colonel Race to identify the killer and determine whether Rosemary may also have fallen foul of a sinister plot. He does a fair job, Colonel Race, but without the flair or humour I might have expected from his more regular counterparts. Overall this felt like a fairly formulaic mystery: the set up was quite laboured and there was less of the wit and double bluffing that Christie usually employs to liven up the more mundane stories. I did fall prey to one red herring for a time but in the end I’d more or less guessed the killer anyway and instead of feeling triumphant I was left with the flat, dissatisfied feeling I always get when I’ve been proven right. Ho hum.

In my headachey, fuzzy haze I took Christie’s failure to keep me sufficiently entertained too personally. I decided that if she couldn’t offer me something decent to read at this difficult time then I would just have to resort to something more reliably cheering. I reached for I Capture The Castle which appears to be my go-to book when I’m sick. I’m so predictable.

His Bloody Project (2016) by Graeme Macrae Burnet

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I’ve probably mentioned a hundred times before that I’m a sucker for an unusual narrative style and particularly for stories told in letter or diary format. This book caught my eye last year, before it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, because of its subtitle: “Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae.” Hang on a second there, sunshine. Documents? Just my cup of tea. After that I fully intended to pick this up at the next opportunity but, as so often happens, promptly forgot about it as soon as something else came along. That’s just typical really. I spotted it again during some impromptu bookshop browsing a few weekends ago and then managed to read the whole thing before the weekend was over. That should tell you how daft I was to delay reading it for so long.

“One man can no more see into the mind of another than he can see inside a stone…”

In the preface to his novel Burnet describes this as a true story uncovered while he was researching his own family history in a Scottish archive. I don’t believe that’s actually true but it’s a clever layer to the fiction and adds a certain gravity to the tale he goes on to tell. The story he’s uncovered is that of seventeen year old Roddy Macrae who, we’re told, was charged with a horrific triple murder in a remote Highland crofting community in 1869. In this novel Burnet brings together all the original evidence relating to the trial that followed: the witness statements, post mortems, expert opinions, court transcripts and, most remarkably, Roddy’s own lengthy account of the events leading up to the crime. Roddy’s defence claims that he was suffering from a sort of temporary insanity at the time of the murders but would an insane man know he was insane? And if so, can you really trust anything he tells you?

This isn’t a straight forward crime/detective genre novel. Instead, as Burnet applies layer upon layer of information he leaves the reader to decide how far the evidence can be trusted and whether Roddy was really in his right mind at the time of the murders. I think the ‘documents’ format works really well in this respect as it means the reader can see the same man, and the same crime, from several different angles, each one with its own agendas and prejudices. Burnet’s restraint in handling all these different layers is evident here and it never feels disjointed or jarring. With hindsight I’m not sure that Roddy’s own account of the crime feels quite as historically authentic as some of the other reports but in some ways this works in the novel’s favour. It certainly creates a really atmospheric picture of this tiny, isolated community with its ancient customs, language, feuds and tensions.

It took me a while to realise that Burnet was deliberately leaving the ‘facts’ of the case open to interpretation by providing conflicting opinions and omitting certain details from Roddy’s memoir. One key piece of information mentioned briefly in a post-mortem report had me scratching my head for ages as it didn’t tally with Roddy’s own account, which I wanted to be truthful. It was at his point that I realised that there was clearly more to this tale than initially meets the eye and I spent much of my time from hereon waiting for a twist, a big reveal, that would suddenly make everything fall into place. However, I think by refusing to hold your hand or provide all the answers Burnet makes this a much more gripping, though unnerving, read. It’s the kind of book that will either leave you disappointed by the lack of answers or raking over the details in your head for days following. My response was much more like the latter.

Top Ten Tuesday: Some Agatha Christie favourites

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish. 

This week’s TTT is a Halloween freebie. I don’t read a great many spooky things – and it’s still early days with those Victorian ghost stories – so I plumped instead for a murderous theme rather than a supernatural one. I know Christie isn’t particularly fashionable these days but I love a good, old fashioned Golden Era murder mystery, much, much more than their grim modern equivalents. Here are some of my favourites:

1. The Hollow (1946). On the face of it, this is a fairly typical example of the Christie country house murder but the characterisation is particularly good and the suspects are surprisingly sympathetic. I didn’t really want any of them to be guilty. Full review here.

2. The ABC Murders (1936). Christie takes a pretty silly premise – beginning with the murder of Alice Ascher in Andover – and turns it into something weirdly compelling. Is there an alphabetically obsessed serial killer on the loose? Or is it all a cover for something a bit darker?

3. Murder in Mesopotamia (1936). The murder here takes place amongst a remote community of archaeologists working on an ancient site in the middle of the Iraqi desert. I particularly enjoy Christie’s non-English settings and I remember finding this one particularly atmospheric.

4. Death Comes as the End (1944). A murder mystery set in ancient Egypt was always going to catch my eye. Christie’s expertise shines through and although it never feels particularly authentic I love the idea. Full review here.

5. Five Little Pigs (1942). Poirot is asked to solve a sixteen year old case by the daughter of a woman wrongly hanged for murder. I was pretty happy that I’d caught the murderer with this one, and then absolutely enraged when I got it wrong.

6. Death on the Nile (1937). The murder of a honeymooning heiress on a cruise down the Nile sparks Poirot’s investigation here. There’s some good double and triple bluffing in this one and it’s all so much more complicated than it may first appear.

7. Murder on the Orient Express (1934). Poirot is trapped in a train carriage full of suspects when an infamous child killer is found dead in his compartment. It’s wonderfully tense and another one of those morally ambiguous cases where you don’t really know whether you want the detective to succeed.

8. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (1960).  A short story from late in Christie’s career, this one gets a mention because it was the very first of her works that I read. I was hooked.

9. Sleeping Murder (1976). It all rests on a fairly unbelievable coincidence; what are the chances of returning to the country of your birth and unwittingly buying the house in which your mother was murdered all those years before? But still, I like the creepiness of the first few chapters when Gwenda can’t quite work out why everything feels so familiar and so wrong at the same time.

10. A Pocket Full of Rye (1953). Christie takes her nursery rhyme references quite literally with this one; there is an actual pocket full of rye, some blackbirds baked in a pie and a ‘Queen ’ eating some bread and honey at the time of her death.

You’ll see that there are some notable omissions here, such as And Then There Were None, 4.50 From Paddington, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and so on. It isn’t that I don’t like them or rate them highly – just that I haven’t read them yet!

As always, recommendations are welcome 🙂

 

The Hollow (1946) by Agatha Christie

This book was ringing alarm bells in my memory from the start. It was only when I got to this scene…

the-hollow

…that I remembered having watched the TV adaptation a few years ago. Bummer. I very nearly gave up right then – who wants to read a murder mystery when you already know who committed the dirty deed? – but I decided to continue and, with hindsight, it was absolutely the right decision. This isn’t a bad book at all.

At first glance, The Hollow is a pretty typical country house murder mystery; a group of friends gather at the home of a mutual acquaintance only for one of the party, the dazzling Doctor John Christow, to get bumped off near the swimming pool just before lunch. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? When famous detective Hercule Poirot stumbles on the murder scene moments after the shot rings out he’s immediately convinced that things are not all they appear. Is this a carefully staged scene arranged by the guests as part of the afternoon’s amusements? Or is there something more sinister at play here?

What I haven’t yet said, of course, is that by the time Poirot arrives on the scene the story has really been underway for quite some time already. It’s unusual for Christie to leave the arrival of the famous detective to such a late stage in the novel. I think I’d almost expect it of Miss Marple but for Poirot it seems quite out of character. Apparently – according to Wiki – Christie herself was irritated by Poirot’s tardiness and felt that his sudden appearance out of nowhere was jarring for the reader and spoiled the flow of the plot. I can’t say I agree but it did have the odd effect of making Poirot seem almost superfluous to his own story.

In spite of this, I have to say that I think this is one of the best Agatha Christie novels I’ve read in a little while. All the usual ingredients are here – the red herrings, the witty dialogue, the double bluff – but this time there seems to be an extra layer of character development and a more careful set up. The philandering Doctor Christow who, I suspect, would usually be condemned to only the briefest of introductions, is given a good few chapters of background story and there’s a reasonably thorough analysis of his relationships with some of the other characters. When they describe the late doctor as the most ‘alive’ man they ever knew, you can almost believe them.

The character development isn’t limited to just the victim and I was surprised to find that I really quite liked a few of the suspects. Usually Christie peppers her stories with some thoroughly nasty characters; people you can easily believe would be capable of committing the crime. But she doesn’t really do that here; on the whole they appear pretty harmless. I was particularly pleased with the victim’s mistress, the sculptress Henrietta Severnake, and the scatter-brained hostess, Lady Angkatell. They made me almost hope that there wouldn’t be a murderer after all, that whoever it was would somehow end up getting away with it.

It’s all very odd and not what I was expecting at all. But I enjoyed the twists and turns of this novel and wish there were more like it.

Whose Body? (1923) by Dorothy L. Sayers

“Bunter!”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Her Grace tells me that a respectable Battersea architect has discovered a dead man in his bath.” 

“Indeed, my lord? That’s very gratifying.” 

WhoseBodyBy happy chance this book, which has been on my mental TBR list for ages, came free at the library just as I was coming to the end of Daughter of Fortune last week. After DoF it was just what the doctor ordered: short, entertaining and containing no inane references at all to ridiculous love affairs in which young women know instinctively how to please a man in bed in spite of their youthful years and cloistered upbringings. Thank goodness for that.

This is the first in the Lord Wimsey series so I was half expecting some sort of backstory or introduction to the aristocratic detective. But no, we jump right on in with the news that the body of an unknown man – wearing nothing but a pair of gold pince nez – has inexplicably been discovered in the bathtub of a total stranger. Of course on hearing this Lord Peter is determined to visit the scene, where he hears that on the same night as the body mysteriously appeared a wealthy banker vanished from his home a short distance away. Could the body in the bath belong to the missing financier? Is it just an unlikely coincidence? Or is an unknown hand trying to put the investigators off the scent?

Thankfully Lord Peter is pretty adept at handling these sorts of situations and he does so with the charm and finesse that I’ve come to expect. I’m not too worried about the absence of a backstory, especially as we’re instead treated to such brief, throwaway gems as this:

“His long amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola.”

Of course, I had no idea what the man was talking about half the time but I’ve come to quite like that about Lord Peter.

Whose Body? is clearly the work of an inexperienced novelist and I don’t think it’ll become a fast favourite. The plot is interesting enough but it’s fairly easy to solve the crime and the motive, I thought, wasn’t very clear at all. Occasionally Sayers rambles on at length, proving points that could just as easily be made in a few paragraphs and then, to twist the knife, it’s all wrapped up neatly with a confession letter at the end. Oh for shame, Dorothy! I expected better. But, in the end, we can forgive a novice writer who was still finding her feet and I think it’s a fair foundation for the rest of the series.

Weirdly enough, my lasting memories of this book will probably not involve Lord Peter but will relate entirely to Reuben Levy, the missing banker. There are a couple of snide remarks at his expense and, on one notable occasion, Lord Peter’s mother goes on at length about how there’s really absolutely definitely nothing wrong with Jews, even if they do have some funny ideas etc etc. I think it was probably well intentioned on Sayers part – perhaps to show that we’re all much too modern and open-minded to hold with anti-Semitism round here – but all the Duchess really goes on to do is repeat a load of ignorant and backward ideas. I’ve read more offensive comments in literature (these views were pretty common at the time after all) and I don’t believe Sayers intended it to be anything more than a joke at the Duchess’s expense, but I was a little bemused by it all the same.

I’m pleased to say, anyway, that Lord Peter expresses absolutely no opinion on the subject.

 

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Unpleasantness

“Books… are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ’em, then we grow out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.”

I didn’t plan on reading this but I finished Perfume last week and the copy of The Quickening Maze I’d ordered was taking ages to arrive at the library. This seemed like a nice way of filling the time while I waited. Of course, no sooner had I checked out The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and walked back to my office then my phone pinged with the notification that my requested library book had arrived and was now awaiting collection. Not to worry. I can’t say that being forced to read some Dorothy L. Sayers in the meantime is any sort of hardship.

This is only the second of Sayers’ books that I’ve read so I’m still a very new convert.  This one doesn’t begin as a murder mystery but as a discreet investigation into the death of Old General Fentiman, who passes away quietly in his armchair by the fire at his gentleman’s club, The Bellona. His lawyer calls in Lord Peter Wimsey, the suave aristocratic detective, to determine a precise time of death and thus avert a legal dispute over the General’s estate. The case is of particular importance to Lord Peter as one of the legatees is his friend George Fentiman, whose mental health and livelihood are both at stake if the time of death is decided unfavourably. It takes a few twists and turns, this story, but I think most readers will guess pretty early on that the old General didn’t die quite as peaceably as Sayers leads us to believe at the beginning.

You can tell that this is a little earlier in the series and in Sayers’ writing career: it’s not quite as polished as The Nine Tailors, the plot ambles along slowly at times and there’s not nearly enough Bunter in it. This last one is probably the worst crime of all. Her scene setting is pretty perfect though and I can never get enough of the dialogue, particularly any scene in which Wimsey uses the phrases “What rot!”, “Jolly good!” or (my personal favourite) “Bung ho!”. He brings such humour to everything, without spoiling the sombre mood.

“Take him away!” said Fentiman, “Take him away. He’s been dead two days! So are you! So am I! We’re all dead and we never noticed it!” 

I love the fact that Sayers’ characters are not merely plot devices, as Christie’s can be sometimes. Few of the characters in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club are black and white, nor are they as wicked as you might suspect at the beginning. George Fentiman is the first to spring to mind here. I imagine it would’ve been quite easy for Sayers to portray George quite simply as a comic figure, a misogynistic brute and a layabout, but instead she treats the emotive subject of his shell shock and poverty with real feeling. Lord Peter’s sympathy with George, and his reluctance to involve himself in the case at all, is quite touching.

I guessed the culprit before the end (just as I did last time) but I didn’t really mind. More shocking, I thought, wasn’t the unmasking of the villain but the way in which Wimsey dealt with the situation.  These were very different times indeed.

Death Comes As The End (1945) by Agatha Christie

Death Comes as the End

I have a little pile of old Agatha Christie paperbacks that I turn to every now and again when I’m stuck for ideas or just want something quick and easy to read. I don’t tend to hang on to them afterwards, most get returned to the Oxfam shop when I’m done, but I’m tempted to keep this one, just because it’s a little bit weird. And that makes me like it.

Some of Christie’s standalone novels have ended up becoming fast favourites so I was all geared up to like this one from the start. As an added bonus, this one is set in the Middle East and has a bit of a historic bent, just like Murder in Mesopotamia which I have very tender memories of. As far as I’m aware Death Comes as the End is the only one with a non-contemporary setting and in fact I thought that made it sound pretty interesting in itself. Plus, it’s Agatha Christie and I am yet to ever find myself bored by one of her mysteries. It’s just never going to happen.

This strange little book is set in Egypt in 2000BC and centres on a bickering family who are thrown into turmoil when the patriarch takes a new wife. The beautiful Nofret makes herself unpopular from the start so when her body is discovered at the bottom of a cliff she’s not mourned by her step-children. Soon, however, the bodies are piling up and it’s clear that there’s a murderer in their midst. I’m always reassured when there’s a high death count as I sometimes think that Christie is at her best when she’s extreme, when everyone dies or everyone is guilty.

In some respects this is probably quite an ordinary mystery. You could play these events out in an English country house in the 1920s and you’d just need to remove some references to pyramids, hieroglyphs and gods for it all to make perfect sense. But it’s well constructed, as you would expect: the plot is tight, there’s an interesting cast of wicked and unlikeable suspects, some clever misdirection and a nice little reveal at the end. I never quite shook off the expectation that Poirot would waddle in to solve the murder but in the end the mystery was solved by the very character I had pegged as the murderer….. Ha.

If I had to find something to criticise about this one I’d say that the Egyptianness sometimes felt a little forced, a bit like she’d shoehorned in some stuff about pyramids and the Nile to make it feel more authentic. I enjoyed this book too much to dwell on it very much though.

To finish, here’s a photo from the inside cover of my copy of this book:

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I hope Rose had a nice time wherever she went (Egypt maybe?).