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What I've Finished Reading

I was a little surprised that I had no osmosis going into The Sittaford Mystery, because it's an ideal mystery in a lot of ways. It's not one of Christie's breathtaking feats of plotting, like Murder on the Orient Express, but it's very clever and brisk, and thoroughly enjoyable by all the standards of Country House Murder Entertainment. In the middle of a snowstorm, murder is committed that at first looks like an ordinary break-in, but it soon becomes clear that the break-in was faked. Who can have come out to the middle of nowhere over miles of snowed-out roads just to kill a guy? One of the victim's relatives gives a bad alibi and is arrested on suspicion, but Emily Trefusis, his energetic and efficient fiancee, knows perfectly well he's not guilty, just an idiot.

The back cover of this one emphasizes the instigating seance and "the spirit world," but this is partly misleading: post-seance, the plot is entirely about Emily teaming up with an Intrepid Reporter to solve the case before the police spoil everything. A good time is had by all, except maybe the hapless fiancee stuck in prison and the robust local population of red herrings with secrets of their own. Ok, a good time is had by Emily. And me.

Also presented for the connoisseur: a typical jaunty Christie romance (of the popular non-strangling variety) with a typical twist. Christie heroines are an opinionated bunch and I love them for it, though I can't say I always agree with or understand their opinions.

What I'm Reading Now


Giant's Bread begins with a short prologue showing the opening night of a wonderfully Thirties opera about Man and the Machine. We hit some bullet points about Modern Music: it's weird and cacophonous, some of the people pretending to like it don't really, but sometimes it's the only thing weird enough to express what it feels like to live on the threshold of an unimaginable and probably terrifying future. I can relate, fictional Thirties composer! There is some speculation and some confident guesses about the nationality of the mysterious composer, because of course you can always tell an Englishman (but you can't tell him not to generalize about National Character).

Christie isn't trying to hide her writing style at all here:

The musical composition given was The Giant, a new work by a hitherto unknown composer, Boris Groen. In the interval after the first part of the performance a listener might have collected the following scraps of conversation:

"Quite divine, darling." "They say it's simply the - the - the latest!! Everything out of tune on purpose. . . and you have to read Einstein in order to understand it. . . " "Yes, dear, I shall tell everyone it's too marvellous. But, privately, it does make one's head ache!"

"Why can't they open a British opera house with a decent British composer? All this Russian tomfoolery!" Thus a peppery colonel.

"Quite so," drawled his companion. "But, you see, there are no British composers. Sad, but there it is!"

"Nonsense - don't tell me, sir. They just won't give them a chance - that's what it is. Who is this fellow Levinne? A dirty foreign Jew. That's all he is!"

The prologue introduces two elements that will reappear throughout the book: a depiction of the prejudice faced by Jews in England, and a liberal application of the convention that all Jewish characters should speak with a lisp. Later we'll meet a sympathetic Jewish character (in fact, this fellow Levinne, a friend of Main Character Vernon Deyre) who also makes a lot of offhand comments about how much power the Jews have. He has a slight lisp, but it's not spelled out, only alluded to occasionally to remind you that it's there.


The Christie style works nicely for the episodic childhood perspective in Part I, where her simple diction and attention to detail get the chance to shine. Little Vernon is a lonely child with sensitive ears and a comfortable cohort of imaginary friends. His father is an unhappy philanderer who isn't good with emotions, his mother has a heart of custard. People think he's not musical because he's afraid of the piano, but there are hints (including the prologue and back cover copy) that he might just be musical in a different way. A GENIUS way? I like these kid-perspective chapters, even if the poor parents are a hopeless couple of caricatures.

Maybe you'd like to see the cover of my paperback edition? It's nothing spectacular, but I appreciate those helpful musical notes hovering in the air behind Vernon:

[Cut for being a picture]
whenever you are near me

i hear a symphony

What I Plan to Read Next

After Giant's Bread, I'm going to take a brief break from Christie and read some of the other murder tales I have in my TBR pile - there are a couple of Ruth Rendells, another P.D. James I picked up off a free books shelf on impulse, and Val McDermid's Common Murder - among other things. Peril at End House is next up in the Great Christie Mega-Read.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2017 03:59 pm (UTC)
I also like the random sleeping lady with the roses on the cover. A Sleeping Beauty reference? Is there some Sleeping Beauty pastiche going on in this book? Perhaps Vernon is writing an opera based on it, and his friend Levinne will help him get it published.
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:30 pm (UTC)
No Sleeping Beauty pastiche yet! There is a fairy tale that Vernon tries to turn into an opera, with mixed results. I am not actually sure what the roses are about. Or which of the two HIGHLY SYMBOLIC women in Vernon's life our drowsy friend there is supposed to represent.
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:23 pm (UTC)
Oh dear 1930s!

Is 'Giants Bread' going to go all 'Red Shoes'-y?
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:37 pm (UTC)
It's so very 1930s in every way. It's like one of those one-off jokes from a random roman-a-clef book party come to life, or one of the many books that Inspector Alan Grant doesn't want to read while convalescing.

Is 'Giants Bread' going to go all 'Red Shoes'-y?

I don't know! Because I was a lazy pretentious teen who never got around to actually watching The Red Shoes (film OR Kate Bush video project), so I'm not clear on what that would entail. He's almost certainly not going to find himself literally trapped by a piano that won't let him stop playing it, but beyond that I'm not sure.
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:43 pm (UTC)
I'm imagining Vernon writing an opera for the sleeping lady who he obsessively declares must star in it and then it ends tragically because she decides to marry a baker and give up singing, possessed footwear optional.
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:54 pm (UTC)
This sounds eminently plausible! Except there don't seem to be any bakers in the cards, but you never know! So far the bread is metaphorical - what sacrifices have been made, what bones have been ground, the opera-goers wonder, to make this thrilling genius bread? - but it wouldn't be too out of left field if it were to suddenly become real. The speaking characters are pretty much all either new money or impoverished gentry, though - no bakers on the immediate social horizon.

(Has there been any literal bread in this story? The physical details are pretty sparse in general - no, wait, a guy did eat a sandwich in one scene!)
Mar. 7th, 2017 03:22 pm (UTC)
I want an actual cottage sized cottage loaf, *wah!*
Mar. 7th, 2017 01:30 pm (UTC)
Heh, it sounds so far as if sticking to murders was a plan! (I wonder if the sleeping lady is a sneaky attempt to mislead people into assuming murder/death might happen anyway. Or possibly not mislead; this is Agatha Christie.)

How would you know he was musical without the notes? It's very thoughtful of the cover artist.

I have read The Sittaford Mystery several times and while I know the basic plot, I still can't really remember it. I think I was let down by the ending. (She probably marries the hopeless boyfriend; I'm not fond of the hopeless boyfriends, either. Definitely better than the stranglers, but I have a feeling that might have been it?)

(In the old 70s thing I am watching currently, Dr Quist got very angry about people judging other people by their DNA. You don't condemn people because of unreliable unproven scientific theory! I immediately thought of you and face science, because Dr Quist was around in the 40s and 50s and probably would have ruthlessly demolished anyone who face-scienced near him.)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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