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What I've Finished Reading

The Headless Lady was kind of a wash, for me. I'm not sure what went wrong: I enjoyed the gabby argot infodumps and there was nothing to prevent me from enjoying the setting. The plot was full of twists, most of which I didn't see coming. I just didn't care. Whenever I have a feeling like this about a book, I start to suspect that it's my fault for not paying enough attention, so I'm putting Clayton Rawson on my "give another chance" list, though I'm not in any hurry.

I didn't end up liking Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of the Careless Kitten at all, either. I wanted to like it because it was so completely transparent: all the characters just sit around lobbing exposition at each other, when they aren't spinning internal monologues setting out their motives for murder. But it turned out to be a slog. There's a lot of racism toward a Korean character (the story is written and set in the US during World War II, so there is a great deal of arguing about whether he is really a Japanese spy in disguise) intended as an aspect of the villain's villainy, but the depiction of the character is so cluttered with racial stereotypes in general that you hardly notice this valuable anti-racist message. I can take a lot in stride (too much) for the sake of an otherwise entertaining book, but The Case of the Careless Kitten was too dull to bother with. I regretted reading it all the way through, not because it got particularly worse at the end, just because it was a waste of my time.

By contrast, The Big Four, which is not a good book by any means, left me with no regret at all. The Big Four is really ridiculous, not tiresomely ridiculous by half measures. At one point, Poirot claims to have a tiny blowpipe made in the shape of a cigarette, loaded with tiny deadly darts. This is how he convinces the latest evil international conspirator to untie him when he and Hastings are in a tight spot - by threatening her with his deadly cigarette blowpipe. I know Poirot is a made-up person about whom there is no fact of the matter, but I still don't believe that Poirot carries a tiny blowpipe around in his cigarette case. Would it even work as a blowpipe? Therefore, it must be a cleverly improvised bluff. The Big Four is another Christie adventure in which everything would be perfectly all right if certain deranged geniuses would only stop forming secret international cabals and riling up the working classes: a world I can't believe in even provisionally, the way I might believe in cigarette blowpipes or Monte Cristo's superhuman marksmanship and magical life-in-death potions, for the sake of a good time. I didn't exactly enjoy The Big Four, but there were no hard feelings, either.

What I'm Reading Now

The Scoop and Behind the Screen by Members of the Detection Club.

I bought this early Detection Club round-robin a while ago but didn't get around to reading it until now. I thought it might make a good antidote to my malaise re: Rawson and Gardner, and I was right. The Scoop follows some reporters plus Scotland Yard in pursuit of the facts in a sensational murder case. Nothing too spectacular here so far, just Christie and Sayers and Anthony Berkeley having a good time being clever with their clever friends. Lots of snarky dialogue and breezily described modern inconveniences. One of the highlights of The Scoop (brought to you by Freeman Wills Crofts): a witness survives a murder attempt in their own home, because the would-be murderer forgot to put a coin in the gas meter.

The Little Stranger had me hooked from before the beginning, since I knew it was a response to The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey's most vicious novel. I don't want to make any guesses about where it's going, since the only other thing I know about Sarah Waters is that she's famous for her plot twists -- but I bet it's somewhere good.

What I Plan to Read Next

I've been putting off Tana French's In the Woods even though I keep hearing how good the Dublin Murder Squad is, because I've also heard that it's grim and sad and I'm not really in the mood for grim and sad. I think I'm going to listen to my heart and put it back on the shelf for now.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 26th, 2016 02:47 pm (UTC)
The Case of the Careless Kitten really ought to be the title of something good. Alas!

Also I cannot imagine Poirot carrying a tiny blowpipe of all things, so clearly this must be a bluff.
Dec. 26th, 2016 10:24 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, I bought it because it had a picture of a kitten on the cover. And the kitten was ok in the end, despite being (accidentally) poisoned! But I didn't care about anyone other than the kitten. I wanted to care about the lawyer-detective's plucky assistant, Della, but she just kept making these prefab plucky quips and I gave up trying. But not reading the book, for some reason. Oh, well.

I can't quite see Poirot bluffing about having a tiny blowpipe, either, but it's still more likely than him actually carrying one around in his cigarette case. . . and desperate times call for OOC measures, I guess.
Dec. 26th, 2016 06:14 pm (UTC)
Nah, Poirot isn't a tiny blowpipe man.

A mixed murder bag!
Dec. 26th, 2016 10:26 pm (UTC)
EXACTLY. I like to think I know Poirot a little better than that, after all this time!

They usually are!
Dec. 26th, 2016 11:08 pm (UTC)
Yes, The Big Four is one of Christie's sillier novels. So silly that I wonder if she perhaps did it deliberately. Did you see the TV version? It was very different - it never left England and there was no phoney Poirot "twin brother".
Dec. 28th, 2016 04:30 am (UTC)
The line between "deliberately silly" and "not as deliberately silly" is a little hard for me to see sometimes, with Christie. I always assume that some portion of the silliness is deliberate, but how much? I just can't tell. Much better when the machine is in perfect working order and the question never comes up. But I always enjoy Christie in one way or another, so maybe it doesn't matter.

I've never seen the TV version - do you think it's better? Or just different? SOMEDAY I want to get around to watching more of the TV Poirots, but I don't know when it's going to be.

I wanted Poirot's brother to be real! I love the idea of this pair of weirdo Belgian genius brothers with their heroic names. It made me wonder about their childhood, and their mother, in a way that it doesn't normally occur to me to think about.
Dec. 31st, 2016 03:09 am (UTC)
The TV version is just different. It doesn't make much more sense, but at least it skips the international conspiracy - at least, it isn't a REAL international conspiracy. It's always worth seeing David Suchet as Poirot - he is the definitive Poirot.
Jan. 1st, 2017 06:49 pm (UTC)
David Suchet is a gift. ♥
Jan. 2nd, 2017 09:43 pm (UTC)
He sure is! And actually, I read somewhere that in a radio play of a Christie story, he played the role of Inspector Japp! Must have been some time ago, before he did Poirot.
Dec. 27th, 2016 01:54 pm (UTC)
Those first two had such good titles, though!!

Dec. 28th, 2016 04:33 am (UTC)
True! But if good books followed inevitably from good titles, the world would be a very different place. Oh, well!
Dec. 27th, 2016 03:16 pm (UTC)
"The Case of the Careless Kitten" would have piqued my interest by title alone! Sorry to hear it was dull. An actual kitten would have been entertaining, at least.

Dec. 28th, 2016 04:35 am (UTC)
The actual kitten was perfectly kittenish and charming every time it showed up, though unfortunately it spent a lot of the book recovering from being poisoned. It was only the human characters who lacked a certain spark.
Dec. 29th, 2016 05:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, The Little Stranger! I loved that book.
Dec. 29th, 2016 11:14 pm (UTC)
I'm enjoying it a lot so far! Good pacing and good creepiness.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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