In an attempt to get into more of a Halloween mood, I decided to listen to some of Agatha Christie’s spookier stories last week. I was still doing a pretty boring task at work, so I needed something to lift my spirits. Nothing makes me feel better than a classic Christie audiobook. Seriously, I think even my least favourite Christie novels still bring me immense joy. She’s such a fantastic writer and has played with the supernatural in quite a few of her works. So, why not take advantage of the spooky season and indulge in a few?
The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
I started off with an obvious choice but a good one. This is a fantastic Christie standalone novel that really brings the supernatural to the forefront. It has a very different vibe to her other books but still has enough Agatha about it. Of course, it helps that we get a little cameo appearance from everyone’s favourite fictional writer Ariadne Oliver to put us on familiar ground. There’s also the classic Christie foreshadowing throughout this novel. Pay attention to every detail because it will, no doubt, come back to haunt you later.
The major plot involves a dying woman’s confession, the murder of the priest who heard it and a group of women who can apparently will death upon somebody. It’s a very interesting and juicy concept that is really brought to life by the writer. Christie plays with the idea of witchcraft although it is never meant to be convincing. I know this was meant to be a selection of spooky Christie stories but I don’t think this is actually spooky. It’s just a different take on the usual murder mystery. And one that is mostly successful.
The characters are as well written as we’ve come to expect and the opening of the novel is pretty juicy. There’s nothing like starting a novel with the murder of a priest in the London fog to keep you engrossed. Then there are the literary references to Macbeth and the obvious Biblical reference of the title. It’s a clever book and Christie really does do a lot with it. There are a lot of twists and turns before we finally get to the end but it’s a pretty enjoyable read.
My main issue with this book is the structure. I’m not a massive fan of the pacing or the way she splits the story up. There’s just something that feels a bit off about the structure and the way the narrative is split up. I guess it doesn’t help that there end up being quite a few loose ends to tie up. Christie is juggling a lot of characters and a few subplots. She does so pretty successfully but I do sometimes find myself wishing she’d have tried something simpler.
By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie
In my years of enjoying Agatha Christie novels, I’ve never really given enough time to the Tommy and Tuppence books. It just never appealed to me as much. However, this one was always something of a fascination for me. Instead of Christie’s usual cosy crime, she turned her hand to the more thrilling word of spies and espionage. It’s all very exciting but not my cup of tea I guess. The first 3 books featuring the characters see the pair going off on adventures and helping British Intelligence. The fourth book is something a little different.
By the Pricking of My Thumbs introduces us to Tommy and Tuppence when they’re older. Their adventure days are long behind them and their children have grown up. Tuppence in particular is facing a normal and dull kind of life. So, when a mystery arises at the retirement home where Tommy’s Aunt Ada lives, Tuppence can’t help but follow the clues. Of course, that only leads to danger and mystery. Can the couple come together to figure out what’s been going on?
I do think that this is a really interesting and fun novel. There are so many aspects of it that I enjoy and I think it’s a refreshing change of pace from her other books. However, I also think that it suffers quite a bit from poor pacing and narrative structure. I mean, Tuppence is meant to be brilliant but falls into so many traps. Then there’s Tommy who sometimes seems useless and others very insightful. The narrative doesn’t necessarily flow the way that I would have expected. It feels a bit all over the place.
Then again, I always finish this story with the urge to approach people and whispering “was it your poor child? Behind the fireplace?”
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
I admit that I’m not the biggest Miss Marple fan but there are a few of her cases that I really like. This is definitely one of them. I think it always helps when she doesn’t play a huge part in the actual investigation of the murder. That means that she doesn’t have time to get the plot too far off track. This time, she plays second fiddle to newlyweds Gwenda and Giles Reed and I think the story really benefits from having Jane on the outside of the story. She tuns up at just the right points and imparts her wisdom. Then she goes off and does a bit of weeding. Perfect.
This is the kind of story that didn’t need any more twists and turns than it already has. When Gwenda arrives in the UK for the first time, she goes looking for a house. After finding the perfect house on the South Coast, she finds herself having visions of a woman being murdered inside the house. When she starts successfully guessing things about the house, it becomes clear that Gwenda might be on to something. But how is she so aware of the death that took place when she was in another country?
The setup to this book is definitely engaging. I love the ghostly vibes it gives off. Of course, these start to dilute as we get deeper into the actual mystery but I think it still counts as spooky Christie. As with a lot of the Miss Marple books, I think this loses its way slightly in the middle as we introduce more and more characters. Though, I also don’t think it suffers too much because of this. It’s still fun and an enjoyable read. Not Christie at her best but definitely one of the stronger Marples.