I say quite unashamedly that I am a detective story fan and something of a geek as well. I like British and American detective stories of every age (well, obviously not all) and get extremely angry when I see ridiculous comments made by people who have clearly not read much in the genre. No, not all British novels are cosy and not all American ones are tough; and no, Christie did not write silly mystery stories about country houses, which figure very rarely in her works; and yes, there were a good many excellent male detective story writers in the Golden Age on both sides of the Atlantic as well as a number of women thriller writers.
Luckily for me, there are other fans and geeks on Facebook and we have great discussions. Good thing like blogs, collections of essays and conferences grow out of those discussions or around them. Recently it was suggested by Curtis J. Evans that we should have a Tuesday Night Club to imitate the first Miss Marple stories. Several of us posted five Tuesday Night (or, in my case, sometimes Wednesday morning or afternoon) blogs about Christie. The link to Curt’s blog will lead you to all the other bloggers who took part in this enterprise but I thought that just for fun I shall post the links to my blogs here.And you must admit that is a very different them from my usual ones as well as a much happier one.
My first posting, on September 29, was about Miss Marple’s somewhat mysterious nephew, Raymond West and I think I really succeeded in unravelling certain puzzling aspects of his life and relationship with his aunt.
Then, on October 6, I wrote about Christie’s excellent understanding of social changes in Britain during and after the Second World War as well as her attitude to servants, very different from the way it is characterized by people who have heard of her novels but not read all that many of them.
Then I took one Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who appear in four novels and a collection of short stories. In my opinion, two of the novels are quite good, one passable and the last one is a complete mess. The collection of short stories, Partners in Crime, remains one of my favourites for reasons of entertainment rather than superior detection. On October 14 I wrote about the Beresfords in general and on October 21 I dealt with the Beresfords’ reading matter, which reflected Christie’s own to some extent and revealed some interesting facts.
My last posting as part of the Tuesday Night Club on October 27 was about archaeologists in Christie’s work. She knew a great deal about them, having married one and having accompanied him to a number of digs in Iraq and Syria where she took part in the work of uncovering the past. I have to admit to an egregious error: I omitted Signor Richetti (Death on the Nile) from my list of fake archaeologists.
It has been suggested that the Tuesday Night Club carries on with blogs about Ellery Queen, a seminal figure in crime writing, particularly in the US. I have read a number of the novels and short stories but have never been able to work out much enthusiasm for them, considering the atmosphere too hysterical, the character of Ellery too annoying and that of his father Richard, a New York police inspector, too stupid. I may sit the whole month out. Certainly, I have no time to do a posting this coming Tuesday but when I have read what my colleagues have written I may well think of something to say. In the meantime, have fun with Agatha Christie whose 125th birthday we are celebrating this year.
13 thoughts on “And now for something completely different”
I have not read her work and have not much interest in detective stories, aside from Sherlock Holmes who I memorized in my teens. I am a great fan of Helen MacInnes who does not write detective stories as a genre but whose better novels have some similarities.
I do like Daniel Silva and have read a couple of David Baldacci’s books.
I’ll take your suggestion and try Agatha.
My wife loved the archaeologist detective Amelia Peabody in the Elizabeth Peters books.
I have theorised that murder mysteries are more popular in areas that have lower murder rates.
Silly as it sounds, I also enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes novels and have read them several times. I think more for journey into late Victorian England than the fun of the mystery. I gave my oldest daughter a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes when she was about 19 and she loved it.
I tried reading a collection of Agatha Christie novels but couldn’t get through it. A little too slow and genteel I guess and it didn’t keep my attention. Maybe you can suggest one in particular.
On the other hand, I have enjoyed Raymond Chandler’s work, and for the same reason. It recalls a world that just fading away when I was child, an older America of tough people, people who’d survived the war and the depression. They had an appreciation for the privilege of regular meals and clean clothes on their back, but were going to enjoy their new prosperity and didn’t care whether you approved or not. And for all their rough edges, were often far more decent and responsible people than the current crop of ‘enlightened and tolerant’ who are usually anything but.
Chandler was an alcoholic. It shows in his novels. His most pathetic characters are often alcoholics. You can see how he despised them – despised himself – for it. A child in the 1890’s in Chicago, he crammed more lives into his 70 years than most people would live in five lifetimes. I think that accounts for his uncanny knack capturing such disparate people and places. He’d known them.
I always loved the hard boiled dicks – Hammett and Chandler and that general film nourish style. But some of them had more body in the films (The Maltese Falcon has density). When I was young I loved the concept of Nick and Nora Charles, but as I came to read Hammett more closely and see his relationship with Hellman as more an anti-model than a model, my affection fell apart.
I haven’t read Christie so closely nor repeatedly (and I have to to get much out of these – the first time I go through them pretty fast for plot), but over the years I’ve read a lot of them and what I like about her is her wisdom about human nature and her sense that the world is full of characters that aren’t identical to those in her village – but, as they say about history, rhyme. There’s more drama in the deaths, of course, but we recognize human nature.
Raymond Chandler is an historian of 1930s Los Angeles. Hammett is similar about San Francisco which has changed less than LA with the years. I once stayed in a small hotel across the street from the spot where Miles Archer was shot by the Mary Astor character. Chandler’s novels, especially “The Big Sleep” which was Bowdlerized in the movie, is a treasure hunt of old Los Angeles locations. There are still a few names that indicate where they were, like “Bay City Cafe” in Santa Monica.
When I was a boy of 13 or so, I had nearly memorized the Sherlock Holmes stories. A few years ago, I came across my copy of the “Complete Sherlock Holmes” and found in it some of the additions I made. One was an attempt at deciphering the code of “The Dancing Men.” I had written down a cipher to track the code.
I had also read all the Edgar Allen Poe stories, which really began the detective story genre.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles” is, in my opinion, the best of the novels although “A Study in Scarlet” introduces the characters. I have visited the hospital, “Bart’s” also know as St Bartholomew’s. I could not find the chemistry lab, however.
There is of course, no 221B Baker Street but I have been by the spot and the Northumberland Hotel where Sir Henry Baskerville stayed in London is there and has a Holmes museum. It is called “The Sherlock Holmes Pub” and is a shrine.
Once when I was on London with my sister and niece, she signed us up for a walking tour of Jack the Ripper and we visited all those locations from the story. True, not Holmesian.
My old mum used to like Ngaio Marsh. When we lived in NZ we took the opportunity to visit Miss Marsh’s house as an odd sort of homage to my mother. Very agreeable it was.
For anyone wanting to witness the odd business of an author falling in love with one of her own invented characters, there’s always Dorothy L Sayers.
I discovered this one a year or so ago and you may also find it worth a look. It’s an interesting variation on the usual formula:
Sometime in the early 1970s there was a feature story in the LA Times weekly supplement (IIRC) with pictures and evocative excerpts from Raymond Chandler, with pictures illustrating those various places which Chandler had written about, and which were then still in existence. It was a wonderful piece, and I went and read all of the Marlow books, and began spotting those remaining bits of 1930s and 1940s Los Angeles that were still here — even more than had been included in the article.
He got it so right, you see. One of those artists or writers who sees so acutely, that one is sensitized from exposure.
It was the same way with me visiting southern France, after seeing van Gogh’s paintings. “Oh … THAT’S what he was seeing!”
>>I had also read all the Edgar Allen Poe stories, which really began the detective story genre.
I did too, about the same time I was reading my way through Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov.
BTW, Billy Wilder hired Raymond Chandler to help him turn James Cain’s book Double Indemnity into a film. Wilder and Chandler wrote the screenplay together. Great little movie if you’ve never seen it.
My daughter works for a very high end art gallery in Santa Monica. The owner is building a collection of paintings by Monticelli, who was a great influence on Van Gogh. His thick paint application intrigued Van Gogh and he adopted it and altered the colors of the palette.
The owner had purchased a number of Monticelli paintings this year and Claire found that one was a forgery. She told me a few weeks ago and wondered how her boss would react when she told him. Today we had lunch for her birthday and she told me that the gallery owner had had her send an email describing the evidence of forgery (which apparently is not that rare) and he cancelled the sale. The auction house did not contest the evidence, suggesting they knew about it before hand.
Interesting view into the art world.
We drove by the “Bay Cities Cafe” on the way.
Mike, This is excellent. It’s a look into the world of forged paintings.
A NY art dealer purchased a painting and after studying it considers it may be a Da Vinci. The number of experts and the methods used to determine if was genuine was fascinating.
Mystery of a Masterpiece: http://video.pbs.org/video/2189483449/
I read one Agatha Christie mystery, a Miss Marple story. I couldn’t possibly tell you which one. As I recall, in order to trap the killer, Miss Marple was suddenly revealed to be an expert mimic. My recollection is that this was a total deus ex machine and put me off Agatha Christie pretty much permanently. A deus ex machine is always cheating and what’s the point of a mystery if you’re going to cheat.
On the other hand, if you have any idea of the book I’m talking about, and I’m wrong, do let me know.
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