Getting to know Agatha

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Agatha Christie has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, yet somehow, I’ve never really pursued my curiosity in any depth. As I’m reading a Poirot mystery a month this year for one of my 2019 bookish goals, this felt like the perfect opportunity to get stuck in to all things Christie! I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with so far- I’ve stumbled upon some proper AC treasures😊

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The Shedunnit podcast: I came across this podcast by sheer coincidence recently and it is as if  the creator and host, Caroline Crampton, has created a podcast just for me – themed episodes focusing on the golden era of crime fiction – yay! Each episode is so thoroughly researched, so interesting and beautifully broadcast – I highly recommend a listen. Anyway, the podcast episode titled The Lady Vanishes, is one based on the much-deliberated disappearance of Agatha Christie for 11 days in December 1926 and it was a great way into Christie’s world.

Two fascinating articles online: “How Agatha Christie’s wartime nursing role gave her a lifelong taste for poison” (The Guardian) and “Agatha Christie shaped how the world sees Britain” (BBC Culture). Both were incidentally recommended on twitter by @ShedunnitShow.

The Agatha Christie website: quite an obvious one to mention really but an informative source for all things Christie, including themed reading guides and a Read Christie 2019 challenge.

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A graphic novel: Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau and Alexandre Frank. When searching for books on AC and wanting to go beyond the usual biography type affair, I found this promising looking graphic novel – I’m really getting into reading graphic novels as portals into non-fiction. I’ve only had a quick flick through so far but the artwork in itself is fabulous. I shall report back.

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The autobiography: Well, it’s got to be done hasn’t it! I’m really intrigued to see what she wanted people to know about herself, her writing and the life she led. I think I’ll borrow this book from my local library (because libraries are fantastic places for finding non-fiction if you’re not by nature a non-fiction enthusiast and book funds are lacking).

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Just for fun: Agatha Christie as a special agent! I’ve just started listening to the first audio book of a series by Andrew Wilson, called A Talent for Murder. I love the premise so much and am keeping everything crossed that this is a series I can get addicted to. Book two, A Different Kind of Evil is out now in the UK.

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One last thing: The Mousetrap is coming to Nottingham at the Theatre Royal -I’ve never seen it nor know anything about it despite its status as longest running West End play. Time to purchase a ticket I think 😉

A Cloak and Dagger Christmas

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So, here’s the second catch-up post for the end of last year – I’m on a roll! Though 2019 is in full swing, I really want to mention what a lovely time I had reading murder mysteries back in December. I was more than ready for some murder mystery goodness last month, so the Cloak and Dagger Christmas Challenge 2018 was absolutely perfect timing. Hosted by the lovely booktubers Kate (Kate Howe) Mel (Mel’s Bookland Adventures) and Kate (The Novel Nomad), this was such a fun way to connect with other readers, find new books and discuss old favourites. Because of course, nothing quite says Christmas like a good murder!

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The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie. This is a short story collection with 4 short Poirot cases and a Miss Marple at the end. Of course, I read it for the Christmas pudding story, and it was glorious.

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I have it as a BBC audio drama and usually listen to it throughout December each year, but I thought it was about time to actually read the words! I bought myself a Christmas pudding scented candle from Good Book Hunting to enjoy whilst reading – what a treat 😊

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A Christmas Case: A Posie Parker Novella by L B Hathaway. This is such an underrated series in my humble opinion. I’d read the first two books, Murder Offstage and Tomb of the Honey Bee, and thoroughly enjoyed them both. They are well written, witty and imaginative. Plus they are set in the 1920s and feature an independent and spirited female private detective – just my cup of tea. This novella was absolutely brilliant, my favourite Posie Parker mystery yet and, because I gobbled it up in one sitting, I had to read the next book in the series, Murder at Maypole Manor straight after!

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Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan. A classic crime novel written in the 1940s. Lots of snow, strangers snowed in at an old country house, a suspicious death… what’s not to love I thought. And enjoy it I did, although it just wasn’t all I hoped it to be…the characters fell a bit flat, I didn’t engage with any of them especially and there were parts of the plot that were so far flung that it took away some of my reading pleasure as it all felt rather disjointed. Nevertheless, the setting was fabulous and as we had a lukewarm Christmas here in the Midlands without a snowflake in sight, it gave me that winter feeling I craved.

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The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle. I listened to this on Audible with Alan Cumming as a brilliant narrator. Sherlock Holmes stories are a bit hit and miss for me and I often find myself liking the idea of them more than actually reading them. I also find that audio versions suit me far better – yes, I’ve got the collection read by Stephen Fry (that man could read me the shipping forecast and I would be happy). Anyway, this was a short, quirky and entertaining story, perfect for a cosy listen on Boxing Day with a glass of port and a rather too much cheese 😉

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Last but definitely not least, I enjoyed my yearly re-listen to the audio book version of Mistletoe and Murder, one of the Murder Most Unladylike books by the very talented Robin Stevens. It is one of my favourites from the series so far and the descriptions of Oxford and Christmas time make my heart sing each time I listen. This is middle grade fiction at its finest, set in my favourite period of history, the 1930s, and with two sparky, incredibly intelligent and unique girl detectives – plus I love how relevant the themes are throughout the series and how great the representation is. Check out Robin Stevens’ booktube channel by the way – she has so many great recommendations and is just a joy to watch.

 

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I requested Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan on NetGalley in return for an honest review. A bookshop, a mystery told through book clues, a complex and quirky main character, a dark past that won’t quite let go- my kind of book! I absolutely loved it and devoured it in a day.

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We see the world largely through Lydia’s eyes. A young bookseller at The Bright Ideas Bookstore, she is a listener and a watcher and has a wonderful talent for seeing the special qualities in her customers- who are often people living on the outskirts of society, finding refuge. I absolutely loved her observation of the men she calls bookfrogs, who remind her of Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fischer:

‘And when Lydia saw them folded into the corners for hours at a time, looking monastic and vulnerable, she thought of Beatrix Potter…. They were like plump and beautiful frogs scattered across the branches of the store, nibbling a diet of poems and crackers.’

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But then Lydia’ life is turned upside down when one of these young bookfrogs, Joey, commits suicides upstairs at the bookstore, leaving behind clues for Lydia to follow as to why he chose to end his life. This event brings back memories for Lydia, of a story in her past that she has tried so hard to move on from but which hasn’t let her go. Sullivan drip feeds the mystery of Joey as well as Lydia’s past until they both intertwine; he sprinkles information and subtle hints brilliantly.

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I must also mention how much I enjoyed Sullivan’s writing style generally; real, observant often quirky and utterly engaging.

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It is hard to write about what I thought of the plot itself as I don’t want to give anything away. However, I will say that it is an exploration of the many layers of family dynamics, of the connection we human beings need to thrive, of love lost and found and sometimes lost again, of navigating grief, of what courage looks like, of books and book shops as lifelines. And when it comes down to it, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a gripping story and I do love one of those.

 

This Side of Murder

I requested This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. It is the first in a new series – the Verity Kent series – and is set in post-World War I England. Mystery, murder, the promise of a strong female lead and one of my absolute favourite periods in history; perfect.

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When it comes to a first book in a series, I tend to be more patient and allow for them often not being as rich as books further on. The writer and her characters need to get established, find their own groove. This is essentially how I see This Side of Murder. It wasn’t incredible but I certainly liked it a lot and I will definitely read the next in the series as I do see so much potential.

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When it comes to a first book in a series, I tend to be more patient and allow for them often not being as rich as books further on. The writer and her characters need to get established, find their own groove. This is essentially how I see This Side of Murder. It wasn’t incredible but I certainly liked it a lot and I will definitely read the next in the series as I do see so much potential.

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The plot centres around an engagement party on the fictional island of Umbersea in Poole Harbour. Verity is invited as a guest of the groom to be, who had served with her husband in the trenches. Alongside the invitation, she receives a mysterious letter hinting that her husband wasn’t the honourable officer he was portrayed to be and that the answer lies on Ubersea island. And of course, a series of murders occur as the island is cut off from the mainland by a raging storm. I do love this type of plot and thoroughly enjoyed this one. Although I saw some things coming (and remember that I have read a lot of murder mysteries), there were a couple of twists I didn’t predict and Huber is wonderful at making you second guess each character in turn.

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What I loved the most about this book was the back history of Verity Kent, a young, upper class war widow, trying to find her way in the post war world. She had been part of the Secret Service during the war and I have a feeling that this will provide a lot of interesting story lines in future books. It also means she is fiercely independent and her intelligence coupled with her experience, mean that she is ideal as an amateur detective.

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I felt the writing itself was at times very strong, especially when dealing with World War I subject matter and the complex emotions of the characters, trying to come to terms with the many consequences of war. I liked that it dug a little deeper, was more serious than the average cosy crime. However, at times the language tries too hard to be 1920s, the characters speak a little unnaturally at points. Some descriptions have the same problem in my opinion, it is there to be a 1920s cosy crime. This relaxes as the book goes on and I have high hopes that the second book in the series will read more fluidly, especially as there were such glimpses of strong writing.

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So, all in all, a really enjoyable read with the potential to be a brilliant series.