Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Bears Discover Planking

The bears tend to be a little behind on Internet memes, but they discover them, they go all in.

Maureen isn't pleased with their planking. As me, I find it mildly amusing but figure it doesn't really impact me much.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Agatha Christie - Reading the Dame Part5: The 1960s

Reading the Dame Part5: The 1960s

This a continuation of my series of posts about my project to read all 79 Agatha Christie mystery books in order of publication (more or less). As usual, this is not just summaries of Christie’s work but also my middle-aged thoughts inspired by reading (or in some cases re-reading) these books.

The other parts of the series:
Reading th Dame Part 1: The 1920s
Reading the Dame Part 2a: The 1930s
Reading the Dame Part 2b: The 1930s continued
Reading the Dame Part 3a: The first half of 1940s
Reading the Dame Part 3b: The second half of the 1940s
Reading the Dame Part 4a: The first half of the 1950s
Reading the Dame Part 4b: The second half of the 1950s

I’m starting to hit the home stretch now. With her down to only publishing one book a year, I’m knocking out the decades much faster and the frequency of my posts are increasing.

I believe I have read almost all of these before, since they were the most current (about as old as me) when I originally started reading her books back in my teens. Being the most recent at the time, they were also more numerous and readily found at the library.

I wrote this post over several months. When I set it up with all of the books for the decade, I started writing what I recalled of the ones I read previously. Some I updated as I reading them and then I came back and wrote more everywhere. So the tense shifts from past to present and then back. For that I’m sorry, sort of. I think it sort of works, so I’m leaving it this way.

For this segment Agatha Christie is in her 70s. Her pace is now a single book per year. Her life and places of residence revolve around her writing schedule. She is still in solid form, though showing her age. She’s an old lady who doesn’t quite get the present day.

“Vouchsafed” makes an appearance or two, as do pinc-nez.

1961 The Pale Horse
This an interesting one. Mrs. Oliver is in it, but Poirot isn’t. Instead this time her friend is a 30something archaeologist who is writing, or trying to, write a book. The archaeologist stumbles on a what seems to be a murder for hire business. Murder for hire by witches. It sounds really out there but Christie makes it all work. A good read.

While Teddy Boys, like the Bright Young People from the 1920s, make an appearance, this book is fairly timeless. The mystery is sort of mostly solved before the ending. The ending while surprising to me shouldn’t have been.

As usual the single protagonist gets paired off by the end. Another good one.

1961 Double Sin and Other Stories
This collection of short stories, starts off with the title story, which dates from 1929, and features Poirot and Hastings. It’s a bit of a disappointment to fall back through time. It was even more disappointing that Double Sin is an especially poorly executed story. I had little idea what happened and didn’t care enough to go back over it. Even the title of the story, Double Sin, is pointless. No wonder it didn’t make it into book form until 1961. The real mystery is why they picked this story, easily the weakest in the collection, to be the title story.

The second story, The Wasp’s Nest, is from 1928 and in very much in style of her 1920s short stories. It’s also a weak one and not surprising to have been omitted from being compiled in book form for so long.

The third story, The Theft of the Royal Ruby, dates from 1960 and it’s pure gold. Poirot, Christmas, an English country house, a murder, missing jewels... it’s all of Christie’s themes and motifs in the one tightly wrapped little package. If you wanted to give someone a brief introduction to Agatha Christie, this story would be it.

The Dressmakers Doll, from 1958, is a bit of supernatural, something Christie never really did much of, or did well. That didn’t change with time. Not bad but not great either.

Things pick up again with Greenshaw’s Folly, from 1957. It’s a well executed Marple story.

The Double Clue is a Poirot/Hastings story from 1925. It’s rather good but suffers from being in the same book with later, much better stories. in comparison.

The Last Seance, from 1926, is another supernatural story rather than a mystery. As I mentioned above, she never did these well. Rather well written and readable but quite unbelievable.

And then back to the 50s with 1954’s Sanctuary. Another super solid Marple story; it brings back a lot of characters and places I should probably remember from past books but didn’t really.

The juxtaposition of old and new stories here really shows how much Christie grew as an author. So while the older stories do a great job of illustrating that, they do sort of extra suck in comparison.

1962 The Mirror Crack'd
We left 1959 with a Poirot book, since then there was a Poirot-less Mrs. Oliver book, and a collection of short stories, so we are due for a Marple.

Miss Marple here is feeling her age, which is in her 80s at this point. Not allowed to garden and forced to have a very tedious live-in companion,. Miss Marple is not having the time of her life. Lots of characters and places from past stories are mentioned. Some I remembered, some I didn’t.

I recall when this came out as a movie in the 80s with Elizabeth Taylor; I didn’t see it. One of the characters seems to have been sort of based on Liz Taylor, so you have to give Liz credit for being a good sport. After I finish reading this, I’ll see if I can Netflix the Liz Taylor movie through the Wii. (I didn’t, but maybe I will now that I’m rereading what I wrote a few months ago).

We saw the Mystery version of this a few months before I read it, but I might have drifted off during it. I needed Maureen to remind of the ending. Turns out it was pretty faithful to the book.

1963 The Clocks
I recall reading this one in high school over summer break. Maureen and I saw the Mystery version last week. It was a particularly good adaption. The TV version takes place before World War II, while I sort of recall the book taking place in the time it was written (1963). It will be interesting to see if the book is closer to my memories of reading the book 30 years ago (Jesus, 30 years?) or closer to the TV version I just saw. Definitely closer to my memory but quite different too. I may have lumped it together with an other book from the 60s or 70s in my memory.

Turns out the Clocks was set in then present day. Maureen was surprised that all of Christie’s books took place in the then present time. That just seemed natural to me reading them, but in retrospect, setting some of them in the past would have let her have some fun with Poirot as a younger man in Belgium.

It is also odd that with all the traveling she did and of all places she set her novels and short stories, none ever took place in Belgium. It’s as though she never even visited there. I know she wasn’t a drinker (neither beer nor the harder stuff), but besides great beer, Belgium has chocolates and waffles too.

1964 A Caribbean Mystery
This was rare late Christie that I hadn’t previously read. Miss Marple’s successful writer nephew and his wife send her to the Caribbean for a holiday. As usual, it’s not good to have Marple around since someone gets killed. And as usual then someone gets it as well.

An interesting read. Now that Christie in her 70s, she obviously isn’t getting around as much. Her vacations which later become scenes for her mysteries become less exciting.

After being less obvious of the last few decades, class still plays a part in this one, as one character, a valet/nurse, is generally snubbed by most of the rest of the characters, including a widow who’s working for the same boss as a secretary. She considers herself superior to him even though she is treated as inferior by pretty much every one else staying at the resort.

Definitely an interesting mix of characters, and good plot.

1965 At Bertram's Hotel
This is rare, back to back Marples. This time her rich writer nephew and wife send her to a hotel in London. They wanted to send her to a seaside resort, but she requested a London hotel she stayed in as a girl, if it wasn’t too expensive and it still existed. Surprisingly the hotel still existed and even more surprisingly it hadn’t really changed at all. Maybe too surprising.

I read this one long ago and it sort of stuck with me. Bertam’s is a very expensive hotel. I was a poor student at the time and a pricey hotel seemed very exotic. I had yet to stay at a pricey hotel, and this book sort of colored my expectations for a Ritz or Plaza style hotel for over 25 years. So it was a little odd, rereading it now, after all these years and few nights in a couple of pricey hotels (which don’t really suit me anyway).

As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that, our Miss Marple never worked a day in her life, and usually had a servant. How amazing that England could have supported such a large number of gentle people who were, to be honest, very useless for so long. Over the 40+ years of Christie’s work so far, this class has had to finally start taking care of themselves. Or have a rich nephew.

An old man mentions The Beatles in a list of confusing present day things.

1966 Third Girl
The note in front says I read this 19 years ago in the summer of 1982. That would have been between my junior and senior years of high school. I started work at Chuck E Cheese that summer and went to the swim club that my family was members of. I probably mostly read this book there. I don’t remember any of it.

Rather a good read and I figured out most of it. The plot held together well.

Again an old man refers to The Beatles but in rather confused way. I was a big Beatles fan at the time as was wondering if they would get a mention in an Agatha Christie book of that era, and they did.

1967 Endless Night
This is rare late Christie that I hadn’t previously read. Maureen and I were supposed to watch the Mystery version of this one, but it may have gotten deleted for space before we watched it.

I am about 3 chapters in and this book is pretty fascinating. She writes this book in the first person from the point of view of a 22 year old working class male. At the time, Christie is 77 a year world famous author and a Dame of the British Empire. This should be an utter disaster but three chapters in, it’s utterly believable. At least so far.

So how did Christie write so believably as 22 year old man in 1967? It made me wonder how old her grandson (and eventual sole heir) was at the time. It took a little googling. An archived People Magazine article has Matthew Prichard the grandson as 34 in 1977, which means he was born in 1943, which made him around 23 when she was writing the book. I suppose Christie must of chatted a lot with Matthew and/or his friends. Maybe reading all of these Agatha Christie mysteries has taught me to both figure out the questions and find possible solutions.

A little more googling.... oooo this is neat (well at least to me, hopefully you will find it interesting too). Matthew Prichard was asked by something called “The Browser” to choose his favorites of his grandmother’s books. His first pick was Endless Night. He says:

The book is about three young people; my grandmother was well into her 70s when she wrote it. As a young person myself in the early 1960s, I saw more of my grandmother than at any other time because I was studying at Oxford, not far from where she lived and worked at the time. I used to take my friends to see her, often for Sunday lunch, and I think I even took my first girlfriend. She didn’t seem like an old person at all. She was always interested in what we were doing and fascinated by our relationships with each other. She never judged us.

There are, fortunately, no characters in Endless Night that she ‘copied’. But she does say somewhere in the book that it’s all about relationships. To me, it’s an astonishingly modern and human book. To write about people 50 years younger than herself was a tour de force.

I am a good detective! Anyway the full article is here.

Prichard says his grandmother had a good sense of humor. This is frankly surprising as her books are devoid of any real laugh out loud humor, unlike say Dickens or Twain who remain funny in print to this day.

1968 By the Pricking of My Thumbs
I remember this one. It’s a Tommy and Tuppence story, and it was my introduction to these characters, who by this point are in their 60s. At the time, I wound up reading The Secret Advisory shorty after, when Tommy and Tuppence make their debuts as 20somethings. Experiencing the characters at such different stages in their lives so close together may be what really endeared them to me. Catching them later in their 40s (pretty much my age now) when I read N or M? for the first time as part of this project was fun too. After not having any news of them since, I look forward to rereading this one. All is recall of it is that I really liked the characters when I read it high school.

Now that I’ve read it, it has held up. Not Christie’s best work, but solid.

1969 Hallowe'en Party
I recall reading this one back in the 80s. Maureen and I just watched the Mystery version. When I started this post in late June while reading Double Sin, looking at my spreadsheet of Christie books and when I read them, I estimated it would take 3 months to get around to reading this book. I finished it in late September. My reading speed seems rather constant.

When I first read the book, I just assumed hallowe'en was the English spelling. Doing a little Googling, the spelling difference seems to be more due to time than nationality.

Not a bad one. Mrs. Oliver and Poirot again. The TV version wound up being very similar to the book.

Two kids die in this one. I read somewhere that Stephen King regretted having the dog kill the kid in Cujo and that he wouldn't do ever that again. Christie had no problem killing off kids in her books.