A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

A Caribbean Mystery

Information

GoodreadsA Caribbean Mystery
Series: Miss Marple #10
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1964

Summary

While vacationing in St Honoré, Miss Marple learns of the death of a fellow guest. The authorities assume it was Major Palgrave’s health that gave out, but was Palgrave actually ill? What was it he was saying to her just the night before? Miss Marple tests her wits once again as she tries to uncover who wanted the Major dead, and why.

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Review

A Caribbean Mystery adds a bit of novelty to the Miss Marple series by moving the amateur detective from her home turf of the village of St. Mary Mead to a tropical island. However, human nature, according to Miss Marple, is much the same everywhere. So when a guest at her hotel dies overnight, Miss Marple’s mind begins working. The authorities believe the death was natural, but Miss Marple believe something is wrong. Watching Miss Marple baffle the local police force is always rewarding, though, in this case, the culprit is unusually obvious from the start, making A Caribbean Mystery a bit more lackluster than other books in the series.

The fun of reading a Miss Marple mystery is, of course, that everyone overlooks Miss Marple because she is an elderly woman and they thus believe that 1) she is none too bright and 2) her gentle mind could never conceive of such shocking things as murder. The joke, of course, is that Miss Marple’s age is precisely what gives her the edge she needs. She has experience. She knows people. And she knows how the world works. Yes, some things change, and Miss Marple might lament the passing of old traditions, but human nature remains the same. And Miss Marple’s mind is as keen as ever.

Unfortunately, in A Caribbean Mystery I did not particularly feel like I needed Miss Marple’s keen mind. Though it feels gratifying to solve a mystery, often the best mysteries are the ones I could not figure out, but that seem inevitable once the solution is revealed. In this book, however, I knew who the murderer was right away. The rest of the book was just Miss Marple trying to figure it out, and I was baffled that she seemed so much less certain than herself than usual. One recurring theme through the series is that Miss Marple is pretty sure who it is, but wants further proof or to catch them in the act. Here, she does not seem to fully consider the true culprit until it is almost too late. Considering the nature of the crime she is trying to prevent, that seems odd because her options are more limited than usual.

Even so, a Miss Marple mystery always remains a pleasant read. I enjoy matching wits with Christie and watching Miss Marple confound the authorities time and again. I eagerly await Miss Marple’s next case.

3 Stars

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side

Information

Goodreads: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
Series: Miss Marple #9
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Publication Date: 1962

Summary

Heather Badcock is meeting her idol, the film star Marina Gregg, when suddenly she seems overcome by an illness. In a few minutes, she is dead. Poison is the cause, but was it meant for Heather or for Marina? Miss Marple matches wits once again with a killer as she tries to uncover the real motive behind the murder.

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Review

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side takes on a more somber tone than previous installments in the series, as Miss Marple finds herself aging and treated as a child by her disrespectful caregiver. Even though her mental faculties are as keen as ever, Miss Marple has to face the fact that her physical health is not quite what it once was. And that times are changing. Many of her old friends are gone, the village has grown with the addition of a new Development, and family-owned shops are being replaced by supermarkets. Miss Marple’s personal struggles receive almost equal weight to the murder mystery, adding a personal touch that is sometimes missing in other books, when her musings about the old days are treated a bit more like a joke. Indeed, I would say that Miss Marple’s aging gives the story more interest than the murder mystery, which lacks enough clues to make it truly engaging.

Miss Marple has always been a grand protagonist because she challenges stereotypes about the elderly. Ageism is rampant in many societies–despite the fact that everyone faces the possibility of growing old one day–and Christie’s Miss Marple books have always subtly challenged it by presenting readers with an old woman who whose wits are sharper than anyone else’s around her. But The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is not subtle. In this story, Miss Marple is even older than previously–the book is full of wistful mentions of her former cases, her former friends. And she is, while not bedridden, practically forbidden to leave her house, and at the mercy of a caregiver who treats her like she no longer has the ability to think clearly or make decisions for herself. The worst of it is that, the more she is treated with contempt, the more Miss Marple seems to start to wonder if perhaps she is not a bit too old, if perhaps she ought to give in. Readers, of course, know that Miss Marple can still vie intellectually with the best of them. But Miss Marple, as an old woman, is not allowed to speak for herself; there is no one to listen. The others always know better.

All of this gives The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side a bit of a melancholy air, as if Miss Marple is ready to say goodbye not only to solving mysteries but also to life. I admit I was more concerned about her emotional wellbeing than I was about the mystery, which lacked enough clues to make it really intriguing. The police turn up plenty of possible suspects, but I knew who the culprit was from the first. I just could not figure out the motive–and I do not know that there were really enough clues that I could have figured it out. Readers need Miss Marple to explain it all at the end. But my favorite mysteries do not rely on the detectives pulling out some obscure knowledge at the end, to cause wonder and surprise.

Still, I think The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side will be one of my favorite Miss Marple stories for the sensitivity and empathy with which it depicts aging. Christie, at the time of publication, would have been 72, and perhaps feeling herself the doubts of those around her. How long could she keep going? Would her writing still be up to par? Not often do the concerns of the aging get so much attention in literature. It is refreshing to see Christie remind readers that Miss Marple, even if seemingly funny with her old-fashioned ways, is still human and still worthy of respect.

4 stars

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile

Information

GoodreadsDeath on the Nile
Series: Hercule Poirot #16
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1937

Summary

Famed detective Hercule Poiret is approached by the young and beautiful socialite Linnet Doyle while on vacation in Aswan.  She wishes Poirot to stop her old friend Jacqueline de Bellefort from following her and her new husband Simon–previously Jacqueline’s fiance.  Poirot decides he can do nothing to stop Miss de Bellefort from appearing in the same public places as Linnet.  But then Linnet dies.

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Review

Death on the Nile is one of of Agatha Christie’s finest works, a masterpiece of characterization as well as a truly clever mystery.  Fans of the genre will delight in the plot’s intricacies and red herrings, its myriad of suspects and potential solutions.  Even though I had already seen the movie directed by Kenneth Branagh before reading the book, Christie’s incisive prose and compelling narration kept me engrossed to the very end.  A must read for every Christie fan!

Much of the fun of this book comes from the glamor and the atmosphere.  The setting seems practically dripping in diamonds, and I am not one to turn down a mystery set among the scandalously wealthy.  There is just something especially compelling about secrets kept by the upper classes, try as they might to maintain that they are superior to the rest of humankind.  And there is something especially poignant, of course, about a young life cut suddenly short–a life that seemed to everything before it.  Branagh’s luscious setting and slick production features are really the perfect fit for this story, if you are interested in watching the film (which does differ slightly from its source material).

The setting is spellbinding, but the characters are gripping, too.  Christie is a master at describing human nature, and she spares no one from her perceptive wit.  I was initially drawn in by the gorgeous and wealthy heiress, Linnet Doyle, but was eventually  absorbed by all the supporting cast, from the overbearing and haughty invalid woman to her downtrodden niece to the grumpy doctor.  Most of the people on board the ship have a secret, and it is always great fun disentangling them all when the investigation begins.  Who is guilty and who is guilty of…something else?

Altogether, I was delighted by this offering from Christie.  The prose, the characterization, the setting, and the puzzle all combine to make a thrilling mystery.  I have not read many Poirot stories, but this one assuredly has made me keen to read the rest!    

4 stars

They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

Information

GoodreadsThey Do it with Mirrors
Series: Miss Marple #6
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1952

Summary

Miss Marple’s old school friend Ruth confesses that she feels uneasy for her sister Carrie Louise, and enlists Miss Marple to investigate.  Carrie Louise, it turns out, has married a philanthropist whose dream was to set up a reform school for delinquent boys.  Now she lives with her husband, a servant, and an assortment of family members who may or may not resent having to share their home with a number of troubled youth.  Initially Miss Marple cannot quite seem to find anything wrong, however.  Until someone dies.

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Review

They Do It with Mirrors seems to break new ground with its unique–for Miss Marple–setting, a reform school for troubled boys.  Though the list of possible suspects might seem to be immense, however, Miss Marple and the detectives quickly narrow down the list of possible suspects to the immediate friends and family, thereby making the setting apparently superfluous; the same incidents could have taken place in just about any wealthy home.  Once readers realize that the boys are not particularly relevant, the steam in the engine runs down a bit, though readers will be eager to see how Miss Marple solves this particularly puzzling crime.

For me, the title of the book proved perhaps the most interesting part about it.  Miss Marple has, by now, solved her fair share of perplexing crimes, most of them involving her well-to-do acquaintances.  The formula risks growing stale.  However, the title promises some sort of sleight of hand, some unusual trickiness that the other stories perhaps do not reach for.  I am not sure that the book fulfills that promise, however.  Though Christie provides her customary surprise ending, I admit I was not dazzled.  Readers know from the start that some sort of distraction was put in place to enable the criminal to confuse the witnesses and I rather wanted something more.  It is a fine ending.  It is a Christie ending. I just wonder if Christie needs to start doing something that feels new?

Even so, however, I can help but enjoy each of the Miss Marple stories.  Christie has a real gift for characters, and her descriptions of the key players always prove a highlight of her stories.  She is both perceptive and wittiy, and gives readers a real sense that she is about to plumb the depths of human nature.  Her observations make for fine reading, even if no mystery were involved at all.

Though perhaps not a standout in the Miss Marple series, They Do It with Mirrors is still worth a read, especially for those who are avid fans of Christie or for those who have not yet many of her works and may find this one more surprising than a veteran reader.    I will certainly be carrying on with my goal to read all the Miss Marple stories!

3 Stars

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

450 from Paddington

Information

Goodreads4:50 from Paddington
Series: Miss Marple #8
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1957

Summary

Elspeth McGillicuddy is sitting in her train when another train runs parallel to hers. For a brief moment, she sees a man strangling a woman to death. Then then the train is gone. But, with no body to discover, the police do not believe her story. It is up to Jane Marple to bring the murderer to justice.

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Review

4:50 from Paddington proves a delight, largely from the addition of the capable Lucy Eyelesbarrow as a protagonist. Realizing that she may be too old to go running about the countryside looking for bodies, Miss Marple enlists the help of Lucy–a young woman who made her fame (and money) from being the perfect domestic help. The team-up of two strong, intelligent women is one I wish had been repeated in future works, even if the ending of this one seems a bit abrupt.

The capable Lucy really does prove the highlight of the story, as the rest takes on features familiar to avid readers of Christie. The basic premise is that Luther Crackenthorpe, a wealthy invalid and widower, has a will stipulating that his estate will be divided among his children upon his death. But, of course, the share due to each will increase should one or more of the children die, giving each of the potential heirs a clear motive to dispose of their siblings. The first murder begets more and more, as if the perpetrator of the crime simply cannot stop themselves–until the sensational climax. It is a formula that Christie uses with variations in several of her works, so she really does need to rely on characters like Lucy freshening things up.

The climax, one must admit, might be a little too sensational, even for a thriller like this. Miss Marple, as some of her fans might be sad to learn, sits rather quietly by in this novel, until the end. Lucy goes to her with clues and the two consult, but Miss Marple only takes action to reveal the murderer in the final pages, in a scene not entirely believable. And not only because the clues leading to the perpetrator prove lacking in this mystery, but also because the means of discovery is just so odd. I am not sure it would actually work.

On the whole, however, Christie always spins an engrossing mystery. Even her novels that are not her best always engage and perplex me. She can turn a phrase as well as she can craft a puzzle, and I look forward to continue reading more of Miss Marple’s cases.

4 stars

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

Pocket Full of Rye

Information

GoodreadsA Pocket Full of Rye
Series: Miss Marple #7
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1953

Summary

Businessman Rex Fortescue is found dead in his office after drinking a cup of tea. But why does he have a pocket full of rye? Only the mind of Miss Marple is keen enough to realize the significance of the action, and how it ties in to a decades-old wrong.

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Review

So far I have enjoyed my read through Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books immensely. Christie’s shrewd mind not only routinely provides readers with unexpected plot twists and seemingly unsolvable mysteries, but also offers keen observations of human nature. Sadly, however, though I found A Pocket Full of Rye a perfectly serviceable book, I do not think it one of Christie’s finest. I prefer mysteries that readers have a sporting chance of solving, but A Pocket Full of Rye ends abruptly with information discovered off-page by our amateur sleuth. The mystery thus starts out in a promising manner, but may leave readers ultimately unsatisfied.

Many of Christie’s mysteries seem to follow the formula of one murder begetting multiple murders, and A Pocket Full of Rye proves no exception. However, Christie’s trick is to take an old formula and so something new with it. In this case, the police (with the aid of Miss Marple) must figure out the connection between a pocket full of rye and a dead man. More clues emerge, but Miss Marple’s explanation still puzzles the police. Where is the method in the madness? I admit I could not figure it out and still think it a conceit that was created merely for novelty, and not because it makes a lot of sense in the story.

The characters sadly are almost all rather disagreeable, so there are few figures for readers to sympathize with or cheer on. Miss Marple and Inspector Craddock, of course, prove the exception, as the ones attempting to bring the murderer to justice. But the reality is that, once a person knows how this book ends, I am not sure if there will be enough to bring them back for a second read. Christie is a masterful storyteller with incisive prose, of course, but there is just no joy to be found in spending time with the characters here.

The ending itself is rather disappointing. Miss Marple seems to make several leaps of logic to scenarios that are highly implausible–but that turn out (of course) to be correct. Normally, a good mystery should give the reader an aha! moment, a sense of satisfaction and completion. A Pocket Full of Rye does not really do that because the solution seems to come from nowhere. The ending feels like it needs more lead-up, as well as a bit more to tie up the loose ends.

A Pocket Full of Rye is a solid mystery, certainly one worth reading by any fans of Agatha Christie’s. I do not, however, see myself prioritizing it for a reread in the future.

3 Stars

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

The Moving Finger

Information

GoodreadsThe Moving Finger
Series: Miss Marple #4
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1942

Summary

After an accident, Jerry Burton retires to the village of Lymstock along with his sister Joanna to recover. The doctor’s orders, after all, say that he should go somewhere boring where nothing ever happens. But something does happen. Villagers are receiving anonymous letters, each one accusing the recipient of the most scandalous deeds. Then one recipient dies in an apparent suicide. Neighbor is set against neighbor as all wonder who the poisonous letter writer could be.

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Review

After reading The Body in the Library, I was pleased to find that Agatha Christie returns to the first person narration in The Moving Finger. This time, however, the story is told by one Jerry Burton, a young man who retires to the countryside in order to heal in a quiet place away from excitement. Jerry should prove a witty and keen narrator, being an outsider in a small town, but, somehow, his account lacks charm. Though he may look at the locals as oddities, he never really seems to get them. So, while the mystery proves enticing, the flavor of the narration ends up lacking.

It is strange to me that Jerry Burton, as the narrator, should feel so lifeless. He is a carefree young man with money and independence, who can simply choose to move to a new place for a few months and observe the local going-ons. He should be interesting! Instead, he is the least interesting character in the book. For awhile, I could not even remember his name.

Jerry’s accounts of the other characters add a bit of color to his story, though he does not seem particularly perceptive. He draws some amusing character sketches, and readers know which locals he dislikes and which he finds entertaining, and which he actually enjoys. On the whole, however, Jerry really has no idea how life in Lymstock works, and gets very little chance to learn since he is partly an invalid. But the charm of the Miss Marple stories is really all the people who make village life fascinating! I wanted more local color than Jerry was able to provide.

Miss Marple, one should note, cannot really save the story by adding her own keen observations because she only appears towards the very end. As usual, an acquaintance of hers enlists her to solve the mystery and save the day before the village can devour itself in an agony of venom and suspicion. Miss Marple comes through, of course, but it would be more fun to see more of her detective work.

The Moving Finger is a worthy addition to the Miss Marple stories, and a mystery that will no doubt puzzle many a reader. I enjoyed trying to solve the case, and found I could not. Still, I am not sure this one will be one of my favorites. I think a Miss Marple story ought to have a bit more Miss Marple!

4 stars

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library

Information

GoodreadsThe Body in the Library
Series: Miss Marple #3
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1942

Summary

One morning, the Bantrys awake to find a girl dead in their library. No one in the household knows who she is. To stop the local gossip, Mrs. Bantry enlists the help of her old friend Miss Marple, who must solve the case before the scandal ruins the Bantrys’ reputations forever.

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Review

The Body in the Library is my second Miss Marple novel, and I had no idea what to expect. While Murder at the Vicarage is told in first person by the vicar, this follow-up takes a turn by presenting the case in third person inside. Perspective shifts between Miss Marple and the inspectors on the case remove some of the charm found in a more personal account, while also making some of the story feel a bit redundant. While I still enjoyed the mystery, The Body in the Library probably will not end up on the top of my favorites list.

For some reason, I had supposed that Miss Marple mysteries might be told in turn by various locals who know the keen spinster. I was not expecting the shift to third person in this book, and I found it much less engaging than the vicar’s narrative, which includes many insightful and witty character observations. The trouble is that Miss Marple, as an amateur sleuth, does not possess the resources of the police force and has to pursue her own lines of investigation. So, to ensure that readers understand how Miss Marple put her case together, the book will often describe how the police uncover information or evidence, and then switch to a chapter of Miss Marple finding out the same thing through her own means. Perhaps readers are meant to be charmed by how Miss Marple uses her wits to uncover clues, in contrast to the official way of doing things. But it all feels rather redundant.

Aside from this, however, the book contains the usual witty characterizations from Christie that make her books shine. Mrs. Bantry’s excitement over having an actual murder in her house, while quite inappropriate, also seems awfully true to life. As does a young boy’s fascination with the murder and his desire to collect mementos to show to his friends. People are not always pretty, but Christie is willing to show all their facets in a way that still feels incredibly modern. Change a few details about how life used to be, and such a story feels like it could be set in the present day.

While I am not convinced that The Body in the Library is a book I shall reread, I enjoyed testing my wits against Christie’s once more. Her works tend to surprise me more often than not, and I love reading mysteries where I have to remain in suspense until the very end. I certainly shall keep on reading through the Miss Marple stories, ready to see an overlooked spinster beat the professionals once again.

4 stars

The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie

Information

GoodreadsTuesday Club Murders
Series: Miss Marple #1
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1932

Summary

This book of thirteen short stories contains the first appearances of Miss Marple, the old maid who uses her life experiences in the small village of St. Mary Mead to draw parallels to tricky crimes that no one else can solve.  The first six stories have as a framing device a game in which each member of a small gathering must tell an unsolved mystery for the other guests to solve.  The next six employ a similar device at a small party, while the last story has Miss Marple ask for the help of her friend Sir Henry Clithering in saving the wrong man from being convicted of murder.

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Review

The Tuesday Club Murders is a short story collection in which Agatha Christie’s famous amateur sleuth Miss Marple first appeared. The device of having various guests at a party tell stories of unsolved crimes makes for satisfying and varied reading; readers can feel like they accomplished quite a lot in solving thirteen mysteries in such a short time! For my part, I enjoyed the variety of mysteries. Some I was able to solve and feel clever about. Some I wasn’t and I loved being shocked! Certainly The Tuesday Club Murders is a must-read for fans of Miss Marple and Agatha Christie!

Stories with framing devices always challenge me a bit because I tend to get immersed in the story-within-a-story and I resent being pulled back into the framing device–which is often more boring than the story being told. In this case, for instance, there are six people sitting around chatting in the framing device whereas the stories are being told are all about murder and crime! You see the dilemma in making one as interesting as the other. Christie, however, I must say, manages to pull this one off admirably.

Christie puts the bare minimum of writing into the framing device, basically just using it to set up the stories and then letting it go. I approve! However, she uses the small space she gives herself very effectively. Within a few sentences here and there in each short story, at the start and at the end, she not only manages to give very effective character portraits, but also manages to add in mini dramas such as an engagement and break up. The framing device thus proves interesting, but it never overwhelms the mystery-solving aspect. I even understood enough from it to get a good picture of all the characters for later Miss Marple mysteries!

The stories themselves have a good variety, so that even mysteries that seem similar to the others end up having unexpected or at least different solutions. Christie is clearly aware that readers may be catching on to her methods, and she tries to subvert expectations. A character in the framing device, for instance, will ask a question about motives that readers will probably be asking themselves once they have seen similar scenarios play out in a few stories. But the ending will not be the same in the future. Christie wants to keep readers guessing.

Altogether, The Tuesday Club Murders is a satisfying read. The only thing I really did not like was that Miss Marple has to expound on her famous village parallels in every story. But, we get it! She uses her observations of village life to extrapolate and make guesses because human nature is the same everywhere. Saying it once or twice would have been sufficient. Aside from that, however, I really enjoyed this one and intend to keep reading more Miss Marple!

4 stars

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