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What I've Finished Reading

If I say that Murder on the Orient Express doesn't hold up as well on re-reading as Roger Ackroyd or Death on the Nile, I hope you all know I don't mean it in a bad way. Orient Express is an extremely efficient machine for producing a couple of very impressive experiences in the reader, and once that result has been achieved, you can only revisit the process from outside it. I don't mean "now it's ruined," any more than fireworks are ruined when you light them; some things are single-use on purpose.

That doesn't mean it's dull reading it a second time. I don't think the characters are as sharp on re-read as those in Ackroyd or Death on the Nile, but it's not because they're badly drawn; it's because Orient Express is so efficient that every interaction is a piece of the puzzle. I was impressed again by how much atmosphere Christie manages to create with how little active description, and by the long-distance train as a vehicle for suspense: narrow, sealed, moving inexorably forward, and full of strangers. What could be better?

There's more to Orient Express than that, of course. But one of the difficulties of a mystery this perfect is that I don't know how to talk about what it's about without giving away the ending, which is genuinely spectacular and which it may only be possible to experience once. I'm not going to tempt any of you with a spoiler cut, or any hints, on the off chance you haven't read it. Just read it! I don't say this very often, because I don't really trust my own tastes, but Murder on the Orient Express is one book that everyone should read at least once, if they are interested in books at all. A familiar plot is peeled back slowly to reveal a sadder and stranger one; every new piece of evidence seems to make the case more hopeless, until the picture is complete.

I'll be going to see this movie, how about you? (One reasonable complaint I've heard so far: Poriot wouldn't indulge in the false modesty of calling himself "probably" the greatest detective in the world; there's no question about it and no other candidates to consider).

What I'm Reading Now

The Apple in the Dark (by Clarice Lispector) includes both murder and mystery but is not a murder mystery (even though it was shelved with the murder mysteries at the bookstore). Martim is an engineer who has either killed his wife or can't tell whether he killed his wife or not. In any case, he's escaping across the countryside at the beginning of the book. Isolation, heat, and thirst send him into the Lispector Zone, where every action and every inaction are equally painstakingly atomized and made strange.

Aunt Dimity's Death is a very light mystery with no murder in it, a cozy so cozy that its vestigial ties to murder have been severed completely and the traces almost disappeared. Lori Shepherd is a reasonably likable everywoman whose mother used to tell her funny bedtime stories about a character called Aunt Dimity. One day, after Lori's mother has died and Lori herself has suffered some disappointments, she gets a mysterious letter from a very oddly run law firm informing her that Dimity Westwood, a real person, has left Lori some things in her will, and also requests that she turn the Aunt Dimity stories into a book.

It's interesting. Everything about it is very artificial, like a sitcom, but it's comfortable enough in its artificiality that I don't mind at all. The rambling mansion/law office where Lori is given dinner and a change of clothes, for example, is not really "English" or "anachronistic" as Lori describes it, but frankly and openly fictional; it's like a twelve-year-old's daydream. There's even a live-in staff made of (allegedly happy) law-school interns, neatly solving any "servant problems" our daydreaming twelve-year-old might have read about in the works of Christie et al..

So Lori, luckily unemployed and unencumbered, is being sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to England to live in Dimity's cottage and edit the original manuscripts of the bedtime stories she grew up with, with the help of a couple of friendly lawyers she's just met. Well, why not? Except that Bill, the younger partner in the fictional law firm, has just offended Lori by giving her a closet full of new clothes without warning or prior consultation! Who does that? And now she's learned that Bill is being sent to England with her as her assistant, and she can't say no because it's one of the terms of the will! Oh, no! Now they'll be stuck together in another prize specimen of daydream architecture, in a daydream of England! What if he tries to give her more presents?

What I Plan to Read Next

I feel like my plan to read all of Christie in order is having some disappointing results, not for me, but from the standpoint of anyone reading. I'm having a good time, but it seems like all my reports are coming out the same: twenty-odd variations on "Hah, Christie, you fooled me again and I liked it!" Any suggestions? Things you'd like to see? Questions I should answer? The next book on my list is Parker Pyne Investigates, a short story collection I know nothing about.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 7th, 2017 12:51 pm (UTC)
I will certainly be going to the new Orient Express film! I remember thinking a couple of years ago that we probably wouldn't get another Christie film for years, as the Poirot and Marple TV series were fairly comprehensive. But I suspect Kenneth Branagh might share at least a little of Poirot's self-esteem, so it makes sense he would be the one to do it. It will be interesting to see what he will do, when the audience (or this audience member, at least) pictures David Suchet as the definitive Point. (He's certainly gone all-in on the moustaches.)
Jun. 7th, 2017 01:26 pm (UTC)
But I suspect Kenneth Branagh might share at least a little of Poirot's self-esteem, so it makes sense he would be the one to do it.

My thoughts exactly! :D

I love the giant moustaches, and I think the movie will be fun, whether or not it turns out to be a great adaptation. His Poirot is certainly different from what I'm used to picturing, but not, I think, overwhelmingly wrong.
Jun. 7th, 2017 03:15 pm (UTC)
Nooo, you can't have Poirot without David Suchet! That said I've been meaning to watch the one where Poirot has a girlfiend;p
Jun. 8th, 2017 08:57 am (UTC)
Orient-express is one of my favourites, but then I'm slightly train mad, and that may be part of it. I've actually travelled with the Orient-express a couple of years back, and I kind of half-expected to bump into Poirot. :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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