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Mediocrities of Murder Monday

Begun recently: Agatha Christie's An Overdose of Murder is not bad. A dentist apparently shoots himself in the middle of the work day, but why would he do that? Hypothesis: He probably wouldn't? So far there is not much to say about this book except it has lots of Poirot being Poirot. This is not always the most important thing in a Poirot book, but sometimes it is. Here it's too early to tell.

And. . . another Margery Allingham? I was going to take a break, but The Case of the Late Pig is super short and enough of a departure (surprise first-person narrator! Sudden mysterious death of a childhood bully!) to be interesting. It's ok so far. The first-person narration makes less of a difference than you might expect. I still find Albert Campion somehow simultaneously boring and annoying. But it took me forever -- well, about five books? to warm to Inspector Alleyn, and he had fewer disadvantages to overcome, so I figure Albert Campion deserves another book or two to sort himself out. I am sorry to say that he suffers from the same difficulty with intrusive dialogue tags as his author.

Well, and part of me is just mad that M. Lugg is not the protagonist, given that his background and attitudes are approx. 50 times more interesting than Campion's at any given moment. Lugg has a background, for one thing. I'm not sure, but I suspect that Campion's pseudonymous Mystery Posho thing, and the resulting lack of a stable friends-and-family cohort, is part of what's causing my eyes to keep sliding off the page. This might improve in the future and it might not. On the other hand, I would probably enjoy reading about an ex-burglar valet who draws on his experience to solve crimes despite the interference of an overbearing employer who thinks he's a detective. Maybe that's what I am reading? Whatever it is, it's not quite sticking together.

Late Pig's premise is good, and even promises some character development for Campion: the dreaded bully of his school days turns up in the obituaries; Campion goes to the funeral and sees him buried; a few days later, the same man turns up in another town, newly murdered. What's going on? I guess we'll find out.

I finished Head of a Traveler, which was a mixed bag. It has decent bones as a mystery story, but it's fleshed out badly. Maybe because the writing is technically smoother, I expect more? But no, I think it's just a little sloppy, particularly about character motivations and interactions. There's that constant undercurrent of -- probably not misogyny, exactly, but a carelessness about most of the female characters, so that the more we learn about their motivations, the flatter and more indistinct they become.

The Importance of Art conversations are sparse and the investigation is convoluted without gaining much momentum. We learn a little more about Finny, the Significant Dwarf, but spending more time with him just underscores how badly he's handled by the narrative (as a bundle of Grotesque Gothic Disability Tropes rather than a character). There were a couple of pages in the middle where I started to really like Nigel Strangeways -- it's when he has a talk with Vanessa, the teenage daughter of the poet, and tries to help her feel less anxious and responsible for the stress in her family -- but the book's poor handling of a character's rape trauma a chapter or two later kills it again. This was meant to be a similar character moment -- "Helpful Nigel helps a stressed-out young woman with his detectivey intuitiveness and judiciously applied wrist-grabbing!" -- but in execution it was extremely off-putting, and contributes to the overall flattening operation.

Other than that, I have no feelings at all about Nigel Strangeways, which gives me the familiar suspicion that I am missing something. I will probably read one more of these books at least -- sometime. I'm not in any hurry.

Not the best week for murder, except for Poirot, who can always be relied on to be himself no matter how improbable the rest of the world gets.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2015 09:41 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure I've read the Agatha Christie one, but recall very little if anything about it...not a good sign :(
Sep. 15th, 2015 02:09 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's going to suddenly turn into one of her best books, but it's all right so far! Some of the writing is curiously choppy, but Poirot is in excellent form, so it evens out, more or less.
Sep. 15th, 2015 09:47 pm (UTC)
I get the feeling (from Ariadne's rant in one of the books) that Christie really got tired of Poirot at some stage, but there's no doubt he was a great creation (and to be fair, she's not exactly rated highly FOR her characters, but I like enough of them to argue she was better at characterisation than critics like to say)
Sep. 15th, 2015 10:16 pm (UTC)
There are different ways of being good at characterization. Christie's characters are not usually built for change and growth, but neither are most characters in most books in any genre. Poirot is an excellent invention whose voice is always recognizable and distinctive (though I don't blame Christie for being sick of him sometimes).

And even the most stock of her stock characters usually have sharp, clear outlines and take up space on the page -- and they usually manage enough of an illusion of depth to be plausible murderers, which you can't always say for the characters in a mystery novel. I've read enough mediocre ones by now to have a healthy appreciation for Christie's characters.

Edited at 2015-09-15 10:17 pm (UTC)
Sep. 15th, 2015 04:05 pm (UTC)
First I thought you read a Christie I have managed to miss, but then I realise that my copy has Another title; One Two Buckle My Shoe. No, not really one of her best.

Have you noticed that is Christie describes clothes in detail, it very often means it has some bearing for the plot. :)
Sep. 15th, 2015 04:25 pm (UTC)
Ah, true. The nursery-rhyme title is really better (An Overdose of Death is a bit redundant -- isn't any death more than you want or need?) -- and the chapter titles are all lines from the nursery rhyme anyway

True! Though to Christie's credit, it isn't at all out of character for Poirot to notice that someone's shoe buckle has come off, or to frown deeply when he sees the same shoe later and it still hasn't been fixed. So untidy. :(
Sep. 15th, 2015 05:14 pm (UTC)
Yes, I quite like her use of rhymes. She does it several times, so I guee she enjoyed it too. :)

Poirot would notice something like that! :D But there are a number of books when the solution lies in a costume detail.
Sep. 15th, 2015 04:36 pm (UTC)
Ah, I was trying to remember which book that actually was - One, Two, Buckle My Shoe was what I had in my head & I see it is. It isn't one of the best, as I recall. A pretty late one, and it shows, I think.

I'm sorry your detectives are disappointing you! Bad detectives. Or worse, bland detectives! With Campion, I always feel rather as if there must have been a Book 1 with all the origin stuff in that I missed, but I enjoyed some of them quite a lot anyway. I just have no idea which ones.
Sep. 15th, 2015 04:49 pm (UTC)
Poor old Campion. I think my hopes for him were just too high. Plus he always seems to get about one funny scene per book, and then I think, "Ah-ha! Now the good times will begin!" and then the good times do not begin.

I keep hearing that The Tiger in the Smoke is the best Campion book and takes the series in a different/interesting direction, so I am contemplating just reading that next and then doubling back later if I decide it's worth it.
Sep. 16th, 2015 07:11 am (UTC)
All I can remember about individual Campion books is Dancers in Mourning and if they had Amanda in. (I don't remember a single thing about The Tiger in the Smoke. But then unless I re-read books, this is true of nearly everything I've ever read these days.)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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