Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie

Information

Goodreads: Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: October 1, 2020

Official Summary

An all-new collection of winter-themed stories from the Queen of Mystery, just in time for the holidays—including the original version of Christmas Adventure, never before released in the United States!

There’s a chill in the air and the days are growing shorter . . . It’s the perfect time to curl up in front of a crackling fire with these wintry whodunits from the legendary Agatha Christie. But beware of deadly snowdrifts and dangerous gifts, poisoned meals and mysterious guests. This chilling compendium of short stories—some featuring beloved detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple—is an essential omnibus for Christie fans and the perfect holiday gift for mystery lovers.

INCLUDES THE STORIES:
– Three Blind Mice
– The Chocolate Box
– A Christmas Tragedy
– The Coming of Mr Quin
– The Clergyman’s Daughter/Red House
– The Plymouth Express
– Problem at Pollensa Bay
– Sanctuary
– The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge
– The World’s End
– The Manhood of Edward Robinson
– Christmas Adventure 

Review

Midwinter Murder is an atmospheric selection of Agatha Christie short stories that take place around the holidays or generally in winter. As someone who has never read any of her short stories (though “The Chocolate Box” seemed familiar; perhaps I read it in school?), I enjoyed the variety of tales, as they ranged in style and substance and featured a number of the protagonists from her longer works.

Personally, I have never solved an Agatha Christie mystery (though, to be fair, there are many I haven’t read), so I was thrilled to have multiple opportunities to finally become a worthy detective with this collection of short stories. However, it turns out that some of the stories are truly mysteries; there is some plot going on, and the reader might be trying to figure out what is going on, but mostly there’s a lot of talking and characters putting together an intriguing string of events. This is particularly true of the stories featuring Mr. Quin, who is a Christie character I am not familiar with, but perhaps that is in keeping with how the author normally structures his stories.

The first story, “Three Blind Mice,” is the longest and the most like what I would expect a mystery to be: there are clues the reader can pick up, multiple motives, multiple suspects, etc. Alas, I didn’t figure this one out anyway, but my friend who read it did, so really I’m just a terrible detective, and perhaps one day I will finally read enough of Christie’s work to figure out how her mind works and guess the culprit!

The other stories are still interesting, and I don’t think one needs to be familiar with the protagonists to enjoy and understand them; there’s generally enough exposition for one to understand at least generally that Poirot is a famed detective with a keen mind, that Miss Marple is an amateur who dabbles in solving murders, that Tommy and Tuppence are a young husband and wife detective duo. Anyway, characterization is never really Christie’s focus; it’s her plots, so who is solving the mystery hardly matters in some sense.

I’m not sure if these stories are commonly in other collections, but as someone who hasn’t seen any of them (or perhaps only one?) before, I thought it was a great anthology for reading in winter.

Briana
4 stars

At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

At Bertram's Hotel

Information

Goodreads: At Bertram’s Hotel
Series: Miss Marple #11
Source: Library
Published: 1965

Official Summary

An old-fashioned London Hotel is not quite as reputable as it makes out! When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she’s looking for at Bertram’s Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer. Yet, not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day!

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Review

I’ve enjoyed every Agatha Christie novel I’ve read so far, but At Bertram’s Hotel is a new experience for me because it is my first Miss Marple mystery. Christie’s Poirot is a classic intelligent, perceptive detective, and Tommy and Tuppence are brave and vivacious young adventurers willing to take risks to find the information they want.  So I was intrigued to read a book where the protagonist is, in many ways, not actually the protagonist.  Miss Marple notices things and has a sharp memory, but she is not actually solving the case in At Bertram’s Hotel.  That role actually belongs to a police chief who is more from the Poirot mold, while Miss Marple’s observations are integral to his being able to solve the case.  This seemed a unique spin on Christie’s mystery structure, and I’m intrigued as to whether this is true for all the Miss Marple books.

I also found it unusual that it is not immediately clear for much of the novel what exactly the mystery is, what exactly the police—and readers—are trying to solve.  There are people at the hotel doing unusual things, but much of the book is spent with the reader attempting to figure out what it actually is they are doing and what might be the crime.  Basically, “What is wrong?” is the mystery itself, more than “Who did the wrong thing?”  I’m not sure it was my favorite set-up for a mystery, but I found it unique, and, as usual, Christie delivered an outcome I was not really expecting.

I also thought the setting and atmosphere were wondering in At Bertram’s Hotel, something a bit hit-or-miss with her novels for me.  Here, however, Christie vividly portrays a respectable hotel with impeccable service that somehow masterfully balances both the old and the new.  Guests feel as if they’re stepping back in time, while still being offered modern amenities.  I admit it, I wish I could visit this hotel.  And apparently the muffins are delicious!

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend readers start with At Bertram’s Hotel as their first Christie novel, perhaps because it seems quieter than some of the others, but it is a very strong mystery and better than many non-Christie mysteries I’ve read.  She delivers engaging hard-to-solve mysteries so consistently that it’s hard for me to imagine she would ever write a book I didn’t enjoy and admire.

4 stars Briana

Death Comes As the End by Agatha Christie

Death Comes As the End

Information

Goodreads: Death Comes As the End
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1944

Official Summary

In this startling historical mystery, unique in the author’s canon, Agatha Christie investigates a deadly mystery at the heart of a dissonant family in ancient Egypt. Imhotep, wealthy landowner and priest of Thebes, has outraged his sons and daughters by bringing a beautiful concubine into their fold. And the manipulative Nofret has already set about a plan to usurp her rivals’ rightful legacies. When her lifeless body is discovered at the foot of a cliff, Imhotep’s own flesh and blood become the apparent conspirators in her shocking murder. But vengeance and greed may not be the only motives…

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Review

Last year it was announced that the BBC would be adapting Agatha Christie’s Death Comes As the End for a TV miniseries, so of course I had to read the book (even though I am unlikely to actually watch the miniseries….).  I enjoyed both Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None, so I was excited to see what Christie would do with a very different setting–Egypt in 2000 BC.  Christie says in in introduction to the novel that the setting is fairly irrelevant and the mystery could take place anyway (and, to a degree, sure), but I actually think the setting adds a lot in terms of atmosphere and in even in contributing to facets of the mystery.  Death Comes As the End is not necessarily the best Christie book I’ve read so far, but it certainly got me thinking about both who the culprit is and about life and death in general, which I call a success.

The one aspect I didn’t love about the book is that the characters are annoying, with about two of them as an exception.  The “main” character Renisenb isn’t given an exact age, but she says she was married for eight years before recently becoming widowed, though she was close to a child when she was married.  Presumably, this makes her about 22.  Yet she acts and thinks as if she’s 12.  She’s the one character everyone likes, the one everything thinks must be safe because, well, everyone likes her, but she drove me nuts with her simplistic thoughts and dialogue.  Though she left home, married, had a child, and lived her own life, she seems baffled by obvious facts of life like “people change” and “not everyone is what they seem.”  She’s immature, and frankly not believable as a character in her young twenties.  I’d say she’s so initialized that it’s almost insulting to women, but Christie can and does write more mature and complex female characters, so presumably she just wanted the main character here to be wildly naive.

Most of the other characters are equally irritating–often, intentionally, it’s true.  For example, Renisenb’s father is a pompous old man who like to talk about his own importance, hoard authority for himself, and constantly remind his children how much they depend on him.  Bringing home a concubine younger than his own daughter, the impetus for the plot, is indicative of his character.  In a book where I suspected a bunch of people were going to die, I was sort of hoping that some of them would, so I wouldn’t have to read about them anymore.  A sharp-witted grandmother and a perceptive family employee helped make the cast of characters more bearable, however.

I also did like the setting, and while Christie is perhaps correct that the mystery did not have to take place in Ancient Egypt, I think it helped.  This setting allows for things like the complex relationship between life and death related to the Egyptian culture, as well as for the specific family dynamics of an estate where multiple generations live together and for the complicated role of women, who don’t have obvious power but must grasp and wield it where they can.  All these things allow for various suspects and various motives related to the mystery.

As for the mystery itself, I did not solve it.  I think there are adequate clues that a reader who wanted to probably could (I’ve seen other reviews where people said they did).  I must personally not be great at being a detective, but I had a fun time trying to parse out what was happening and why.

Altogether, this is definitely worth a read for any Christie fan or mystery fans

4 stars Briana

Which Female Character from Murder on the Orient Express Are You? (A Personality Quiz)

Murder on the Orient Express

Quiz Instructions

To take the quiz, choose the best answer to each question. Write down the letter of the answer you pick for each question, or simply keep a running tally of how many of each letter you pick. After the last question, count the letters and see which you chose most often. Check the answers to see which of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express characters you have the most in common with! Be sure to share your result with us in the comments!  Check out our other personality quizzes here.

The Quiz

1. Which gem matches your personality?

a.) diamond
b.) ruby
c.) pearl
d.) sapphire

2. Which animal would you like as a pet?

a.) hamster
b.) large dog
c.) small dog
d.) cat

3. What color describes your personality?

a.) green
b.) orange
c.) purple
d.) blue

4. What type of story do you most like?

a.) classic
b.) mystery
c.) intrigue
d.) romance

5. What profession would you be good at?

a.) museum director
b.) publicity/marketing
c.) business
d.) nonprofit worker

6. What subject would you most like to study?

a.) literature
b.) history
c.) politics
d.) medicine

7. Where would you like to spend an afternoon?

a.) a garden
b.) concert
c.) art museum
d.) a park

8. What genre of music matches your personality?

a.) jazz
b.) country
c.) classical
d.) pop

9. How would your friends describe you?

a.) organized
b.) smart
c.) intelligent
d.) kind

10. Which board game would you be best at?

a.) Scrabble
b.) Outburst
c.) Chess
d.) Chinese Checkers

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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None

Information

Goodreads: And Then There Were None
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1939

Official Summary

First, there were ten – a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they’re unwilling to reveal – and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. And only the dead are above suspicion.

Review

My primary criterion for determining whether a mystery is good is whether I had a difficult time solving the crime (within fair boundaries; the author has to provide enough clues that it would theoretically be possible for a careful reader to figure out what’s going on).  And Then There Were None is only the second Agatha Christie book I have read, but she delivers complex mysteries in a way I haven’t encountered from any other author.  (Though I suppose the disclaimer here is that I read only a modest amount of mysteries to begin with.)

A friend recommended this book to me, informing me that he had not cracked the case.  Apparently this is common, and Christie got some irate letters from fans during her lifetime, claiming that the whole thing was unfair and impossible to solve.  The truth is that Christie does provide enough clues for one to go on, but, wow, this book is tough.  I only pieced together a reasonable working theory based on some prodding and hints from my friend.  Left to my own devices, I might have sat around, delaying reading the end of the book until I came up with a satisfactory solution, for a good week or so.  As it was, I basically threw out a theory I thought was alright but probably wrong, then tossed up my hands and let Christie tell me how the whole thing had been done.  If I wanted to come up with a theory I was more certain of, I’d probably have had to reread the book.

So, yes, I was impressed.

Other than that, the book has a good cast of characters.  Christie (again, based on the whole two books of hers I have read) seems to have a penchant for throwing together a largish cast of dissimilar characters; minor characters often remark that the group is diverse, spanning different social classes and professions.  This adds some variety to the book, and often some clues, if having money or social connections might make a difference as to which characters would have the means to commit certain crimes.  Christie does seem to rely on character tropes sometimes, but this does not really bother me.  Again, I’m really reading for the mystery, not in-depth character studies.

I think I’m quickly becoming an Agatha Christie fan after reading And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, and I’m planning to pick up more of her books in the future.

5 stars Briana

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express

Information

Goodreads: Murder on the Orient Express
Series: Hercule Poirot #10
Source: Purchased
Published: 1934

Official Summary

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…

Review

Murder on the Orient Express is my first Agatha Christie novel (which I read in anticipation of the movie release in November), and I enjoyed it immensely in spite of not being a particularly avid mystery reader.  (I do dabble in Sherlock Holmes, but Arthur Conan Doyle does have something of a pattern to the mysteries he presents.)

There is a fairly large cast of characters in this novel, in spite of the fact I momentarily worried that the action all taking place on a train, primarily in a single sleeping carriage, might make the book feel a bit claustrophobic.  On the contrary, Christie really utilizes the space and character pool, and she makes each character/suspect come alive for the reader.  Only a couple seemed to me to be missing much time on page, making it difficult for me to get a good handle on them.  The cast overall is varied and clearly presented to the reader for consideration.

I don’t want to say much about the mystery because it’s too easy to accidentally spoil the plot in these types of books.  However, I will say that it took me a long time and some hard thinking just to come up with what I thought was a reasonable solution to the crime.  The clues are so complex and well-laid that I was dissatisfied with several initial proposals I came up with and had to keep reading and reading to gain more information before I came with an explanation I was at least moderately happy with.  Mysteries that are too easily solved are disappointing to me, so I loved that in this book Christie really kept me guessing.  (No, I did not know the plot or ending of the book before I started reading, much to the surprise of some of my friends, who seem under the impression that the plot is basically as much a part of pop culture knowledge as Romeo and Juliet.)

I also found it really helpful that Christie includes, first, a diagram of the train carriage and where each guest is sleeping and, later, Poirot’s notes on what he has learned from each of the interviews he has conducted.  This is something a really dedicated reader and mystery fan might been inspired to jot down themselves in an effort to solve the crime, but personally I would not have been that invested myself and was pleased it had been done for me.

I enjoyed this book enough that I have put And Then There Were None on hold at the library, and I look forward to reading more of Christie’s work soon.

4 stars Briana