I am filling the gaps of my print Christie collection. The top three - Elephants Can Remember, Nemesis and The Pale Horse came from Abe Books. The bottom 6 were snagged at the UBS with credit from selling books back! The one on top of The Mysterious Affair At Styles is The Secret Adversary - it's a bit difficult to read. I was really excited to see The Floating Admiral, since I've never read that one!
And, just for fun, a pic of one of my Christie shelves. I am shelving by publication date. I am still missing 13 of her novels and most of the short story collections.
Are the admins still here? Do they still care? At this point I feel like yelling.
You can't find books anymore that are "new". I don't mind adding new books, but I can see that BL's inability to pull books via ASIN, ISBN, title, or author is going to be an issue down the line if we all are expected to just keeping adding new release books because the search function is permanently not working.
I had to add every one of my new release books since January and it's aggravating to have to keep doing that here. I kept thinking if I even waited to the release dates for some, that BL would show it, but nothing doing. If someone else using BL doesn't add it, it just doesn't show in the search function at all. I am not too clear on how BL show up here, but at one point I recall an admin contacting me to let me know that BL pulls from Amazon. Or at least it used to. So I don't know if that went away or not. If it did, maybe bring it back?
I also loathe the face when I am adding a new book, BL decides it's going to try to merge authors when it's clearly not the same person. I typed in someone today and they linked to someone with a hypenated second name and it's pretty apparent that's not the same person based on my scan of the authors via Goodreads. I added a book by HJ Ramsay, well BL decided it's really Gordon Ramsay and after changing two times I got fed up and just sent a report to the librarians.
This isn't even getting into the the newer accounts that are rapidly disappearing. I sadly saw three accounts shut down permanently over the past month because each of the people said one of the following 1) no one is returning their emails, 2) they have weird spam/sex accounts following them, 3) there doesn't seem to be a way to meet other BL, 4) and the library database seems very limited compared to Goodreads.
I know that some of us suggested that BL when setting up an account needs to direct people to a FAQs page and also maybe to the new BL to follow discussion thread so they can have some of us older BLers to follow and we could follow back.
I miss the Friday Follows because that is how I found out about a lot of people. I remember when they did or talked about maybe (I can't recall) doing spotlight reviews every month for most number of comments or likes on a review. I know that they were doing author blog posts for a while. With the issue we had just recently about us not being able to comment on our own dashboard until we cleared our cache out shows that there may be a website issue too.
BL's website has been showing not secure for me since December. I have no idea what that means.
BL did a Facebook post on December 18 so at least someone is around.
Sadly, BL hasn't tweeted since August 2018.
I know that last time our sleuths went on the hunt to figure out if BL had been sold, and after all of us pestering them for about a week they finally popped back up again. That said, I am loathed do have to do that everytime. If the owners and admin don't step up to run the site, then I wish they sell it to someone who wants to maintain it and make it grow.
There were talks of an app that went nowhere. We were discussing the ability to link among multiple accounts which doesn't seem to be working very well. I had to unlink this book from my GR reading list since it kept messing up my shelves. I did link my Kindle to BL, but I don't know what that does exactly. It doesn't save my notes/highlights like GR does.
Anyway, that said, I want to stay here til the lights go off. I just want to make sure people can find me. I am at Goodreads and you can find me here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/35942740-obsidian
I haven't read Lucy Foley's newest book that is referenced in this Crime Reads article, but I thought that my fellow Agathytes would enjoy this:
She makes a lot of the points that we have, over here, been periodically making in our posts - and I agree with much of what she says, including her nod to the way in which Christie allows her female characters (murderers and victims alike) to present the entire spectrum of villainy, from the banality of a woman who kills her long standing employer with a hatchet because she needs a bit of capital to open a tea shop to a woman who shoots her husband because she can no longer deal with his emotional distance and his constant philandering, to a woman who is murdered because her extreme abusiveness has finally pushed one member of her family too far.
I also agree that most of Christie's mysteries only superficially resemble the "cozy" mystery. There is nothing cozy about the Lee family, even if we do spend Christmas with them, or the love triangles that she creates in Death on the Nile or Evil Under The Sun, where treachery and manipulation are the orders of the day. Neither families nor lovers are for the faint of heart in Agatha Christie's world.
I love the fact that Agatha is having a moment, as they say. And, even if the newer adaptations are not as faithful to the source material as we, the Agathytes (I've just coined this appellation, a corruption of acolytes, because I think we need a name, and it amuses me), hopefully the adaptations will introduce new generations of people to her books as readers.
As it turned out, I had read The Sleeping Murder. So, I've been down to one mystery for a while now. I'm filled with a weird sense of elation and sadness at the prospect of being done. Fortunately, there are always rereads. I've concluded, at this point, that in many ways, one should always reread Agatha, because there is more in the telling than is accessible on the first read. The first read is about the puzzle; the subsequent reads are about the people.
Here's the thing - the people who believe that Agatha Christie was *just* a mystery novelist, even if they agree that she was the best mystery novelist of all time, they are, in part, missing the point. She didn't just write mysteries - she wrote humanity through the prism of violence. And she did it with aplomb and a fresh appeal that continues to exist, even after all of these years. It was a remarkable achievement that I, 65 books in, have just begun to discover and understand.
Oh. My. God. SHE'S EVERYWHERE! AND SHE'S ALWAYS DRINKING MILK!!!!
"Saltmarsh House was set pleasantly about six miles inland from the coast. It had a good train service to London from the five-miles-distant town of South Benham.
Giles and Gwenda were shown into a large airy sitting room with cretonne covers patterned with flowers. A very charming-looking old lady with white hair came into the room holding a glass of milk. She nodded to them and sat down near the fireplace. Her eyes rested thoughtfully on Gwenda and presently she leaned forward towards her and spoke in what was almost a whisper.
“Is it your poor child, my dear?”
Gwenda looked slightly taken aback. She said doubtfully: “No—no. It isn’t.”
“Ah, I wondered.” The old lady nodded her head and sipped her milk. Then she said conversationally, “Half past ten—that’s the time. It’s always at half past ten. Most remarkable.” She lowered her voice and leaned forward again.
“Behind the fireplace,” she breathed. “But don’t say I told you.”
As I've mentioned, I have only 2 Christie mysteries left to read: Sleeping Murder and Why Didn't They Ask Evans?.
BrokenTune and I are going to buddy read my last hurrah! I will be reading Sleeping Murder sometime this week, and we are planning to read Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, aka The Boomerang Clue, in two weeks - not next weekend, but the weekend after - Saturday 2/23.
Join in the fun if you are interested!
My Hercule Poirot revisit has compelled me to the television, where I am spending rainy Sunday cleaning my living room and watching episodes of Poirot.
So far, I've watched The Clocks, which was I thoroughly enjoyed. The casting was terrific - Colin Lamb is simply Colin Race in the adaptation, intended to be the son of Colonel Race, (although there's pretty universal consensus that he's actually Superintendent Battle's son in the book), and Tom Burke is just the right physical type for the role. As is often the case, there is at least one other actor who make me go "oh, that's so-and-so" and in this case it's Guy Henry who plays Pius Thickness in the Harry Potter adaptations, and, of course, the spectacular Anna Massey plays Miss Pebmarsh.
They also did what is generally the best choice with these later Poirots - transplanting it back into the 1930's where it really belongs. In this one, there is a pre-WWII espionage plot that works better than most of Christie's espionage plots. However, they retained the heart of the book by keeping the dual narrative (spy vs venal murder for gain) intact.
All in all, a delight.
Now, I've moved onto Mrs. McGinty's Dead!
This was Elizabeth Gaskell's first book, and is the second book by her which I've read. It's really two books in one - the first, concentrating on John Barton (father of the titular Mary Barton) is a screed about structural inequality and capital versus labor, and the second, a literal courtroom drama focused around Mary Barton's romantic travails.
As is often the case with Victorian melodramas, Mrs. Gaskell took her time getting going - about the first third of the book, focused on John Barton and the plight of the laborers is fascinating, but not precisely action packed.
I can't overstate how relevant this book is to the conditions between capital and labor today - it's disturbing how so much has remained the same between the excesses of the industrial revolution and today.
At all times it is a bewildering thing to the poor weaver to see his employer removing from house to house, each one grander than the last, till he ends in building one more magnificent than all, or withdraws his money from the concern, or sells his mill to buy an estate in the country, while all the time the weaver, who thinks he and his fellows are the real makers of this wealth, is struggling on for bread for their children, through the vicissitudes of lowered wages, short hours, fewer hands employed, &c. And when he knows trade is bad, and could understand (at least partially) that there are not buyers enough in the market to purchase the goods already made, and consequently that there is no demand for more; when he would bear and endure much without complaining, could he also see that his employers were bearing their share; he is, I say, bewildered and (to use his own word) “aggravated” to see that all goes on just as usual with the mill-owners. Large houses are still occupied, while spinners’ and weavers’ cottages stand empty, because the families that once occupied them are obliged to live in rooms or cellars. Carriages still roll along the streets, concerts are still crowded.
We are quite literally having the same conversations in 2019 that Elizabeth Gaskell was describing in 1848 when this book was published. The single distinction is that there is at least a minimal safety net now, that didn't exist then. John Barton had a little boy, Tom, who starved to death because his father couldn't afford sufficient food to keep him alive.
She reminds us:
Remember, too, that though it may take much suffering to kill the able-bodied and effective members of society, it does not take much to reduce them to worn, listless, diseased creatures, who thenceforward crawl through life with moody hearts and pain-stricken bodies.
I've often thought to myself that "Conservatives" (at least as they self-identify in the U.S.) should better be called the "New Victorians." They are fine with this type of extreme economic winner vs. loser scenario, and with government policies that are intended to ensure that this economic Darwinism proceeds apace (so long as they are among the winners). I think often of Dickens and Gaskell when Republican politicians talk about dismantling our barely existent safety net - because history tells us what happens when we dehumanize the poor. Rich people most emphatically do not step into the breach to ensure that children don't die of starvation and anyone who believes otherwise needs to pick up a book written during that time.
Wealthy Victorians treated the poor and vulnerable with a harsh inhumanity that negates their very right to exist. Period. #notallrichpeople, whatever.
When we move into the second half of the book, Elizabeth Gaskell has written a pot-boiler and it becomes unputdownable. The only son of the mill owner, Henry Carson, is murdered and it looks like a completely different story. The motive is believed to have been over Mary Barton, who has been keeping company with Henry Carson, but who has spurned him when she realizes that he had no plans to marry her. Jem Wilson, the man she truly loves, is accused of the murder, and goes on trial.
It's hard to really talk about the genius behind this book without spoiling the story. Also, I am of a mind that people who object to spoilers in a book written in 1848 are a bit unrealistic, so here I go. Ignore what follows if you plan to read this book - and I do recommend that you read this book - and you want it unspoiled.
It isn't Jem who has murdered Henry, it is Mary's father, and the murder is in retribution for the mill owners ignoring the plight of the working men. The decision to murder one of the owners is a decision by a group of men who have just finished degrading themselves and begging the mill owners to put them back to work because their families are starving.
John Barton began to speak; they turned to him with great attention. “It makes me more than sad, it makes my heart burn within me, to see that folk can make a jest of earnest men; of chaps who comed to ask for a bit o’ fire for th’ old granny, as shivers in th’ cold; for a bit o’ bedding, and some warm clothing to the poor wife as lies in labour on th’ damp flags; and for victuals for the childer, whose little voices are getting too faint and weak to cry aloud wi’ hunger. For, brothers, is not them the things we ask for when we ask for more wage? We donnot want dainties, we want bellyfuls; we donnot want gimcrack coats and waistcoats, we want warm clothes, and so that we get ’em we’d not quarrel wi’ what they’re made on. We donnot want their grand houses, we want a roof to cover us from the rain, and the snow, and the storm; ay, and not alone to cover us, but the helpless ones that cling to us in the keen wind, and ask us with their eyes why we brought ’em into th’ world to suffer?” He lowered his deep voice almost to a whisper.
The owners respond, not just with a no, but with a hell no, fuck you, whatever your plight means nothing to us. They respond with mockery.
Mr. Carson responds to the murder of his son in exactly the way that you think he would - he is a powerful man who has had something he valued immeasurably taken from him. He wants vengeance, and he wants it now. And so Jem Wilson is fixed upon as the sacrificial lamb and Mary, who figures out that it is actually her father who is the murderer, is caught between Scylla and Charybdis, trying to navigate an outcome where she saves them both.
The ending of the book is almost unbearably melodramatic, but still effective. John Barton is a broken man - committing the murder of Henry Carson has destroyed him. This, yet again, demonstrates the deep humanity of the poor in contrast to the wealthy. He confesses to the elder Mr. Carson, and is truly remorseful for what he did, and then he conveniently dies. At no point, though, does he confront Mr. Carson with the argument that he was simply evening the score - that the exploitation of labor to the benefit of Mr. Carson was responsible for the death of his own beloved son. There is a symmetry there that is, I'm sure, intentional, but which is left unspoken. I really would've liked to have seen Mr. Carson wrestle with the reality that what he experienced was, in a sense, the "eye for an eye," which he was demanding. That an argument can be made that the murder of his son was a re-balancing of the scales.
I plan to read more Elizabeth Gaskell this year. She is so very timely.
In 1848, long before Ronald Reagan was born, she wrote this:
“We come to th’ masters wi’ full hearts, to ask for them things I named afore. We know that they’ve gotten money, as we’ve earned for ’em; we know trade is mending, and that they’ve large orders, for which they’ll be well paid; we ask for our share o’ th’ payment; for, say we, if th’ masters get our share of payment it will only go to keep servants and horses, to more dress and pomp. Well and good, if yo choose to be fools we’ll not hinder you, so long as you’re just; but our share we must and will have; we’ll not be cheated. We want it for daily bread, for life itself; and not for our own lives neither (for there’s many a one here, I know by mysel, as would be glad and thankful to lie down and die out o’ this weary world), but for the lives of them little ones, who don’t yet know what life is, and are afeard of death.
Which is one of the most accurate responses against the arguments behind "trickle down economics" and "rich people are job creators" that I've read. Perhaps the Democrats should start tweeting out Gaskell quotes when the Republicans talk about more tax cuts for the (already obscenely) wealthy.
Read this book. And then weep.
I actually did enjoy this one more the second time around, although I maintain that the puzzle aspect of the book is just not good. Before I get to that, though, I want to talk about what I liked.
Ariadne Oliver is very prominent in this book, as is Miss Lemon, which were the two things that I just loved about it. Miss Lemon isn't as prominent here as she is in Hickory Dickory Dock, but we get a fairly sustained appearance. And Mrs. Oliver is actually assaulted as part of this investigation as she is blood-hounding about after The Peacock.
This reread has solidified for me how much I love Christie's young(er) women. Every time I read one of her books, I find a side character that just fills me with delight. Hastings is actually one of my least favorite sidekicks, and Mrs. Oliver is absolutely my most favorite. Any book where Ariadne Oliver shows up - even if she's just mentioned - makes me smile. I even liked Norma Restarick, the putative victim, who grew on me throughout the course of this book.
I will say that the book IS better than the adaptation, which keeps the same murderer but not all of the murders. The best thing about the adaptation is Tom Mison as David Baker, aka The Peacock. He comes off much better in the adaptation than in the book, where he has no redeeming value.
This is also Poirot (and Agatha) at his most cerebral. Not quite so much as The Clocks, perhaps, but by this time in the series, Poirot is quite elderly (the timeline for Poirot is problematic, to put it as charitably as possible) since this book occurs during the swinging sixties. While he has slowed down physically, the little grey cells are still as clever as ever.
Which brings me to the primary weaknesses of the book - it just isn't plausible. The actual motive behind the murder is clever, and works well, but (and here I will venture into spoiler territory, so click the spoiler warning at your own risk)
Basically, if I don't read this one for the mystery, but read it for the interactions between the characters and the opportunity to spend time with a clever, elderly Hercule Poirot, I really enjoy it. The plot though, eh.
Poirot paid no attention to this plea. "Have we got a murder at all? You say - the stepmother - but I reply that the stepmother is not dead - so as yet we have no murder. But there ought to have been a murder. So me, I inquire first of all, who is dead? Somebody comes to me and mentions a murder. A murder that has been committed somewhere and somehow. But I cannot find that murder, and what you are about to say once again, that the attempted murder of Mary Restarick will do very well, does not satisfy Hercule Poirot.
I really can't think what more you want," said Mrs. Oliver
I want a murder," said Hercule Poirot.
Poirot might choose to sit in a chair, put the tips of his fingers together, and set his grey cells whirring to work while his body reclined comfortably within four walls. That was not the procedure that appealed to Ariadne Oliver. She had said, very forcibly, that she at least was going to do something. She was going to find out more about this mysterious girl. Where was Norma Restarick? What was she doing? What more could she, Ariadne Oliver, find out about her?
Along with Sleeping Murder and Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, I will be re-reading this collection of Christie mysteries. The Sittaford Mystery is especially appropriate, since I am snowed in today.
I am excited to revisit them!
I first encountered Mrs. Pilcher at a time of crisis in my life - my first marriage was breaking up, and I was struggling with the grief of finally giving up on something that had been dying for a long while. I picked up The Shell Seekers in the book rack at a Target, I think, drawn to the rich, floral cover.
I really had no idea what to expect from the book, and once I started reading, I was hooked. I plunged, headfirst, into Pilcher's world - of Aga stoves, and cauliflower cheese and furniture polish and cold white wine and sun-soaked afternoons in Cornwall. It was so extraordinarily British and it described a world where comfort and luxury were important, but also small.
Being American, and especially growing up in the conspicuous consumption 1980's, my impression of luxury had always been a sort of New York City, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" excess and materialism. Reading about this other sort of luxury, a bit shabby, not reserved for the extremely wealthy, but a middle class to upper middle class sort of sensible approach to comfort that many of Pilcher's characters value, was new to me. I fell in love with Penelope Keeling and her star-crossed love story broke my heart, but it was her hard work creating security and comfort for her children, in spite of her worthless husband, that really won me over.
I don't think I can pick a favorite - they've all been important to me at different times of my life. The Shell Seekers was my gateway drug, and I reread it many times. Then September became a favorite, and I would read it in the autumn. Winter Solstice is one that I read almost every Christmas season because I love the theme of chosen families. Coming Home hasn't ever made it into my "constant rereads" rotation, although I remember liking it very much.
Her shorter novellas aren't as good as her four doorstoppers, but they are still an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so. I had print copies of all of them at one point, and then I unwisely decluttered them. Last summer I realized that I wanted to read her again, and I've picked up as many as I can find at used book stores and library sales. I carry a list in my wallet, and when I find one that I don't have, I buy it for a couple of bucks. I can read them quickly, and will stack them on a table next to me and simply read them in succession until I get bored. This works best on a summer day, sitting on my front porch, with a glass of iced tea (or white wine, depending on the time) next to me. With fresh lemon, because Rosamund Pilcher would definitely put lemon in her tea.
I won't make the mistake of decluttering Mrs. Pilcher again - she has earned her spot on my shelves, along with Agatha Christie and Lucy Maud Montgomery and Jane Austen and, quite possibly (depending on how I feel about the next few books of hers that I read), Barbara Pym.
You may be a good publisher,’ Laura began, keeping the advantage which a standing position gave her, ‘but you are the world’s most blethering ass, Adrian Coates. If I really wanted to punish you, I’d accept you on the spot. Do you think I want a husband, and if I did do you think I’d want you? I’m old enough to be your mother, or at least I would be in India. And as for being a father to my boys, do you think three independent young men who are earning their own livings need a father? Bah! As for Tony he doesn’t require one. We get on very well, thank you. Bear my burdens, indeed. You great mass of incompetence and conceit, you revolt me. You really do. Here, drink that coffee.
What I read this week: Miss Silver Intervenes by Patricia Wentworth; By The Pricking of My Thumbs, Postern of Fate, Mrs. McGinty's Dead, Parker Pyne Investigates, Death Comes As The End; and The Clocks by Agatha Christie; The Iron Clew by Alice Tilton, The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning (Book 1 of The Balkan Trilogy).
High Rising by Angela Thirkell: I previously read this book, but decided to continue on with the Thirkell's Barsetshire books, so I decided on a quick reread. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell: I am about 30% done with this Victorian classic and I am as impressed by Elizabeth Gaskell as I expected to be given how much I loved North and South. Third Girl by Agatha Christie is another reread. I've been enjoying the later Poirots much more this time around than I did on the first read, so I'm interested in my response to this one. I really didn't like it the first time I read it.
In honor of Rosamund Pilcher's passing yesterday, I've decided to do a reread of this duology.
Continuing with Book 2 of The Balkan Trilogy; Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie; Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie