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Meringues of Murder Monday

Guess who has two thumbs and just pre-ordered the latest Charles Lenox mystery!

Home Before Nightfall is going to set the Most Comfortable Man in London in the middle of a taffy-pull of loyalties again! And oh no -- "his grieving brother"? What happened? It's nice to be attached to an ongoing series with new books to look forward to, though it's not as if I'll ever run out of things to read from the past.

Margery Allingham's Death of a Ghost did not take the path I hoped it might take with regard to the winsome young survivor-suspect whose face is a beacon of innocence for no clear reason, but what can you do?

It actually went a little worse than I was expecting at the very end, with one of my least favorite murderer types, but it was still all right. I couldn't help but feel that some of the characters had a lot of wasted potential -- Donna Beatrice in particular is a one-joke character whose joke just keeps on being repeated. I expected something to come of it, but nothing ever did. Allingham is reasonably good at sketching likable characters, even if she only manages one or two per book, but compared to Marsh, Sayers, and Christie, she is remarkably bad at being acid. Maybe she'll get better, or maybe she'll just start playing up her own strengths a little more. You don't have to be a mean girl, Margery! Her strengths seem to be more along the lines of cheerful absurdity with the occasional lean into menace. Campion's drugged odyssey, where he's struggling to stay conscious and remember why he's supposed to be following this guy he doesn't like (for some reason he can't remember) was the best part. This was the best book of the three Allinghams I've read so far, and it was the best by a wide margin, so it's probably safe to say she's improving. I'm going to read one more book in the series, Flowers for the Judge, before I decide whether to keep going or take a break.

You know who isn't afraid of making attractive young women with intelligent faces the killer? AGATHA CHRISTIE. The rest of you need to shape up. Shape up, detective novelists of the past!

Unfortunately, Christie is very far from her best in The Secret Adversary. The Bolshevik Menace is so paint-by-numbers here it's hard not to want to read it as a parody. Is it a parody? If it is, it's not quite good enough to work, at least not this far out of the Red Scare. I would probably have shut this book somewhere in the middle if not for my enormous fondness for Agatha Christie.

(Also, no, Jane, you can't just marry the first rando who saves you from Bolsheviks; it puts you in an awkward position of implicit obligation and what if he turns out to be literally the most annoying person on earth? Please take some time to consider this course of action).

Still, I can't help liking Tommy and Tuppence. They are utterly artificial and glib and somehow all the more lovable for it. I don't know; I just like the way they blunder around naively and call each other "old bean." And they cheerfully spill the details of their secret mission to almost literally anyone who will listen, so naturally one of their allies turns out to be the Secret Bolshevik Leader. Now they are getting married, because why not? It'll be a jolly adventure! I can easily believe that their marriage will be trouble-free, because they are frothy meringue confections of brightness and wit and it's impossible to care about who does the dishes or whatever when you are made of meringue.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 31st, 2015 07:50 am (UTC)
I think you sum up The Secret Adversary very well. I don't Think it's a parody, just Christie being out of her element.

I just started re-reading Partners In Crime which is a collection of short stories, framed with Tommy & Tuppence running a detective agency. Each story is a spoof on (then) well-known crime writers. I haven't read most of those, but evidently the spoofing isn't that well done anyway.
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:09 pm (UTC)
Awww. I'm trying to decide if I should read Partners in Crime now or try to read more of the spoofed detectives first. The only ones I'm really familiar with are Holmes, Father Brown, and Poirot.

I wouldn't necessarily expect Tommy and Tuppence to be the sharpest parodists in the drawer, to be honest. It's probably more in character for them to be a bit sloppy and OOC in their spoofing, and to crack each other up in the middle of important investigations with their slightly misremembered catchphrases.
Sep. 3rd, 2015 06:32 am (UTC)
Awww. I'm trying to decide if I should read Partners in Crime now or try to read more of the spoofed detectives first. The only ones I'm really familiar with are Holmes, Father Brown, and Poirot

About the same for me, but I enjoy them nevertheless.

T&T not being the best parodists are certainly true, but I also Think it's because spoofing really isn't Christie's best element. :)
Aug. 31st, 2015 03:03 pm (UTC)
I read The Secret Adversary recently. I didn't consider that it might be a parody - if so, it's not a very successful one! Perhaps an indication that Christie was better suited to murder mysteries than to espionage? (I'm pretty sure there are at least a couple of other books of hers that revolve more around espionage than murder, but I don't remember them clearly enough to know how successful I'd consider them to be now.) Or maybe she just improved as a writer?

Meringues is a very good way of describing Tommy and Tuppence! I think they're delightful.
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:02 pm (UTC)
I think it's a little of both: espionage isn't her strong suit, and she improved a lot as a writer -- especially with regard to characterization and tone balance. Tommy and Tuppence are a delight, but the rest of the characters are weak -- they exist mainly to push the plot along, which makes everything feel a little unreal -- and Christie hasn't figured out yet how to use judicious detail and character reactions to make her ludicrous plot developments feel like they have any weight.

I still enjoyed it, because T&T are adorable, and I like Christie so much that it's fun to see her this early in her career, trying things out and messing them up hopelessly and duct-taping it all together anyway to send to the publisher. I wish I had a fraction of her tenacity as a writer.

The politics of the book are pretty emphatically not my politics, insofar as they map to the real world at all (it turns out you don't actually need the machinations of an unscrupulous Bolshevik mastermind for people to occasionally vote Labour? WHO KNEW) but as with other straw-revolutionary plots from the same era, they map so imperfectly that I hardly even mind. It mostly just reads as a weird AU to me.

Well, eventually I'll run into another of Christie's espionage books & see if it's improved at all. I expect at least her minor characters to get a lot sharper in 10 years or so.
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:55 pm (UTC)
Tommy and Tuppence are always pretty fun! And, yes, I remember the plot being pretty much irrelevant in comparison, certainly on the first one. :-)
Sep. 1st, 2015 03:09 am (UTC)
They have won my heart, if not my suspension of disbelief.
Aug. 31st, 2015 10:46 pm (UTC)
Oooh, another Charles Lenox book! Hooray!
Sep. 1st, 2015 03:11 am (UTC)
I know! Can't stop the comfort!

The best part is, by November I'll have forgotten all about pre-ordering it, so it'll be like a magical surprise on my doorstep!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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