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The Medium is the Murder Monday

What I've Just Finished Reading

Third Girl was unexpectedly satisfying. Poirot Meets the Sixties was less jarring than I expected; the constant refrain of Girls These Days being Trouble was a little repetitive, but no more than usual for any Christie motif, and I don't think Poirot is actually any fussier or more judgmental here than he was in the Thirties. Poirot is uniquely suited to an improbably long active life in fiction, because you can count on him not to try to be hip. He knows what he likes and he's going to keep on doing what he likes, because why would he do anything else? (Miss Marple is similarly well-suited to all times and places, though her dominant mode is empathy and self-possession rather than complacency and self-possession). He's an almost completely static character whose stasis is a strength, not a weakness: Poirot may never get new, but he also never gets old. Here, he even learns a little from his mistakes.

Ariadne Oliver has a large and entertaining role in this book. At second glance, the solution is a little bit too neat and too thorough a relief, but it's a good one anyway. There's also a very weird and abrupt last-minute marriage at the very end, the only sour note for me, and so strange and out of nowhere that it barely had time to register.

What I'm Reading Now

Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh -- there is a fly-fishing tie on the spine, an early warning sign that the title will be a fish pun. Further fish puns arrive in the first chapter by way of Mr. Phinn, a cartoonishly eccentric Cat Bachelor who would seem to have wandered in from one of those cat mysteries, if cat mysteries had been invented yet (Have they? Scales of Justice is 1955; I don't actually know when the cat thing got going). So far, we have a conflict over fishing rights, the pursuit of a legendary large fish, a barely-submerged conflict over the local Plummy Colonel having accidentally shot one of Mr. Phinn's cats in an archery mishap, a second wife no one seems to like (for reasons that may or may not be fair, but who knows at this point?) and an unspecified scandal in re: some unspecified past malefaction that is currently being discussed in vague but animated terms in dark-paneled drawing rooms that have seen better days. So far, so good.

Cormoran Strike continues to be the best detective, and to recklessly stump all over town when his knee is already inflamed and he hasn't slept properly. TAKE BETTER CARE OF YOURSELF, STRIKE. :( The Silkworm is great so far: a faded ex-wunderkind novelist has disappeared, taking his latest manuscript with him; the manuscript is a gleefully disgusting, priapic roman a clef with lots of suppurating organs and repulsive but instantly recognizable caricatures, and everyone in "the publishing world" is furious with him (he's probably already dead). The idea that a roman a clef could cause such an uproar -- especially one as grotesque and dreamlike as the manuscript described -- seems a little fanciful, but I don't mind that. It's probably not the real motive? Well, we'll see.

I'm not any less annoyed at the way Matthew (Robin's too-patently scheduled for demolition Jerk Fiance) is being characterized. Because the relationship is clearly scheduled for demolition (presumably to make room for Eventual Robin/Strike Estates, a development about which I have mixed feelings at best), Matthew can do no right and receives no quarter from the narrative. There's plenty of straightforward jerkitude, but also plenty of character moments that could easily be sympathetic -- his insecurity about establishing himself in London, for example -- are presented as unambiguous flaws. Partly this is just the Strike POV being self-serving, but partly it isn't. And I wish Robin weren't so insecure about Strike's approval, either, though I love that she's doing all this work toward becoming an investigator in her own right. But we can't have everything we want all the time, and The Silkworm is entertaining enough to more than make up for all my little peeves. I already have (already had, from the first fifty pages of The Cuckoo's Calling on) enough goodwill toward Strike as a character that there's no telling what I might put up with over the next twenty years.

What I Plan to Read Next

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, a short-story collection that is, hopefully, exactly what it says on the tin.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
scripsi
Jan. 25th, 2016 11:45 am (UTC)
I agree with you on Third Girl. Probably herbest late book. :)
evelyn_b
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:30 am (UTC)
What would you say is her worst?

I haven't actually encountered any truly bad Christie yet, though I don't doubt they're out there. The Secret Adversary was incredibly sloppy in most ways, but also energetic and adorable. I feel like I've read some mediocre ones, but Christie's mediocre is still entertaining.
scripsi
Jan. 26th, 2016 06:28 am (UTC)
That would be By the Pricking of My Thumbs. It's a Tommy & Tuppence story and they are never buy her best, but the story is both a re-hash of things she used in other books and illogical turns. Funnily enough Posterns of Fate which is the last T&T book is much better. stillw eak, but better.

Elephants Can remember is pretty bad too. I like Ariadne in it and the plot, if far-fetched, would probably have worked in Christie's prime. As it is, Christie seem to not even remember what she has written in previous chapters, which makes for some confusion.

I hink Nemesis is the best of her latest book. Solid Miss Marple mystery. (I'm not counting Sleeping Murder and Curtain as they were written years Before Christie's Death. I like both of those.)

I'm not counting
evelyn_b
Jan. 26th, 2016 04:23 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed Elephants Can Remember despite its flaws and 9000 title drops, maybe just because Ariadne Oliver makes everything better. Plus, Poirot indulging in mild angst about old age = my favorite. But that's a fair criticism nonetheless.

For some reason I feel like I have to read all the other Poirots before I read Curtain, to be "fair" to Poirot or something, so I haven't yet. But Sleeping Murder is excellent.
scripsi
Jan. 27th, 2016 08:10 am (UTC)
I rarely re-read the whole book, but I occasionly read the beginning with Ariadne.

Sleeping Murder show Miss Marple much as she always was, but Curtain really IS the last Poirot book- I think it makes sense to save it to last. :)
lost_spook
Jan. 25th, 2016 12:15 pm (UTC)
I'd third (ha) liking Third Girl more than most other late Poirots, too. Although Ariadne Oliver is always an automatic plus!

Enjoy Scales of Justice! :-)
evelyn_b
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:37 am (UTC)
Ariadne Oliver is the best. I only wish she had more page time to complain about Sven Hjerson and her reading public.

Except for its regrettable lack of Ariadne Oliver (and Troy, but it's only fair that Troy would want to steer clear after the "relaxing European holiday" debacle), Scales of Justice is all right so far! I like the ruthlessly competent county nurse who rides around on her bicycle eavesdropping on all the suspects-to-be.

Edited at 2016-01-26 03:37 am (UTC)
lost_spook
Jan. 26th, 2016 12:53 pm (UTC)
One day fanfic will amend this, obv. :-)

I'm pretty sure I like Scales of Justice - the middle run of Ngaio Marsh always feels solid and enjoyable (I can't parse in my head that Spinsters in Jeopardy doesn't come later). Mind, I need to re-read that one because all I can think about is the TV adaptation and while it was one I enjoyed more, that was only because it had Elizabeth Spriggs and Francesca Annis in it. Otherwise, guess what it didn't need? Surprise Nazis! (TV Alleyn is very keen on extra Nazis, goodness only knows why. Not no. 1 on my list of things a person should add into a Ngaio Marsh adaptation.) I think there wasn't a random romance for them to kill dead, which was something. (I am a strange soul, I like those random romances! I did not want all of them killed dead and obliterated one by one in perfectly cast, slowly paced, bonus-Nazis filled, wrong-Troy adaptations. *cough* I have feelings. Sorry. If they weren't so beautifully made and amazingly perfectly cast (Troy aside), I might be kinder to them.)
evelyn_b
Jan. 26th, 2016 04:15 pm (UTC)
Aww, Spinsters in Jeopardy wasn't so bad (yes it was)

The Surprise Nazis are so strange to me. Like, there's just been a bizarrely complicated murder in your village! and suddenly a strangely nondescript polite man is in your parlor, threatening to uncover all your darkest secrets! Isn't that enough drama? What is gained from adding random Nazis to the mix?

I guess they make some sense as a substitute for random Bolsheviks if you've chosen to bump your time-setting forward twenty years, but still.

Your feelings are justified! TV Alleyn was so strangely dull for all its excellent production values. I like Wrong Troy and her little van, though I was baffled by how non-adorable they managed to make the Troy-Alleyn relationship after going to so much trouble to shoehorn it in to a non-Troy story. Why bother? Maybe it gets better later?

(Inspector Fox has the best casting of all, I think).
lost_spook
Jan. 26th, 2016 06:20 pm (UTC)
Like, there's just been a bizarrely complicated murder in your village! and suddenly a strangely nondescript polite man is in your parlor, threatening to uncover all your darkest secrets! Isn't that enough drama?

This is probably it, you know. They felt that Alleyn, lacking a serious quirk/eccentricity, needed surprise random Nazis and inappropriate tension with his boss. And to shoot dead any side romance as thoroughly as possible. Or something. I'm glad it's not just me that feels like this about them! Other people seem to enjoy them (which is nice for them, obviously, but then I feel unreasonable, like I need to learn the attractions of random Nazis and things).

Inspector Fox is great, but the best casting (after Elizabeth Spriggs) is for Hand in Glove when they cast John Gielgud as Mr Pyke Percival (or whatever his name is). And then the rest was awful. If you can cast John Gielgud and still make a mess, we have serious issues... /o\

(Btw, did you know that Ngaio Marsh at least once wrote for old TV herself? She apparently wrote an episode of Crown Court, although I don't think it's yet been made available by Network, who are working their way through many volumes of it. It was a TV series where there was a court case, but with the twist that they had two endings ready in each case and allowed a jury of ordinary people to decide the verdict. It was set in a small town called Fulchester, which was apparently inhabited by multiple copies of all the character actors in Britain, who kept committing crimes and turning up in a very beige court every other week, pretending to be completely different people with fake moustaches. Fulchester had three James Maxwells in it and at least two David Collingses. This seems unlikely to me.

But Ngaio Marsh must have liked it. Or some producer just had the nerve to write to her and ask her to give them a special episode. I am highly curious, anyway.)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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