Arthur Hastings

Peril at End House

perilPeril at End House is my latest read Agatha Christie novel. I read The Mystery of the Blue Train earlier this year, but I did not write a review. That is the sort of novel that does not really need to be looked into any further. Christie’s personal troubles during that novel do seem to have spilled over into her writing of it – it is not a very good novel. There really is not much I can add to what has already been said about it dozens and dozens of times. However, Peril at End House was very good and seems to represent Christie back to form.

Peril at End House was published in 1932 and it is the sixth novel featuring Hercule Poirot. The story takes place in Cornwall, which is a place I have never been, but suspect would be nice to visit. In other words, I am immediately more kind to a novel that is set in a location I am interested in. Hastings is in this novel, too. He was sort of written out of the novels for awhile, so the fact that he is in this one makes me a happy reader.

There is an involved and heavily-populated storyline here. Lots of characters, it seems, which means a lot of suspects.  But I think a strong argument can be made that a large part of the novel depicts the relationship between Poirot and Hastings. I hesitate to say that in 2017. Makes it sound untoward. Poirot is very insufferable in this novel – to those that find him annoying. No matter how obnoxious or arrogant he is, Poirot never seems to get on my nerves. However, I can see how he vexes others, including Hastings. The interactions between Poirot and Hastings are often the best parts of the novel. I do feel bad for Hastings – whenever he gets the upper hand on Poirot, Poirot quickly redirects their attention to something else instead of conceding defeat.

Hastings is so naive and harmless, sometimes I wonder how readers are not more annoyed by him than Poirot?

“You would say that! It would appeal, I know, to your romantic but slightly mediocre mind. Buried treasure – yes, you would enjoy that idea.”

Poirot is tough on him, but only because Christie is trying to be tough on the reader. Hastings sometimes represents that reader that wants their stories to be as fantastic and outrageous as possible. On one hand a reader seeking for wild entertainment and romantic elements – on the other, Poirot seeking methodological deductions. Describing Hastings to another character (in front of Hastings), Poirot says:

“He is, to begin with, reluctant to see evil anywhere, and when he does see it his righteous indignation is so great that he is incapable of dissembling.  Altogether a rare and beautiful nature. No, mon ami, I will not permit you to contradict me. It is as I say.”

That does describe Hastings perfectly and succinctly and it is significant to note that Poirot calls this both “rare” and “beautiful.”  Its also aggravating and appalling. But Poirot seems to enjoy having this personality around him, even though it frustrates him. Just as, we know very well, Hastings is sometimes thoroughly frustrated with Poirot.

The situation in the resort town St Loo is that it seems someone is trying to kill “Nick” Buckley. Buckley is a rather rambunctious young lady who has ownership of End House, a dilapidated old home around which the resort area has developed. Buckley is called “Nick” as reference to her grandfather, who owned End House, and their close relationship.

Nick has a number of guests, friends and acquaintances, that seem to revolve around her home. The lives of these folk has a rather bohemian feel to it, they are all in this little town drawn there because of some connection to Nick, but yet, it does not seem that they are really there because of her, either.  There is a feeling of lazy, youthful socialites.  This is the most difficult part of the novel for me:  why are all these people here? It feels like some weird parasitical group-up with these people.

Christie pulls off something like what she did in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but not exactly. It works, though, because it does suit the character’s temperament, making it seem genuine and obvious. In reality, Christie is really skilled at making the reader fall for whatever she wants them to. The reader will follow Christie like a lemming and then be surprised whenever Christie pulls the curtain aside.

Overall, the storyline is interesting, the characters are really well written and distinct, and Poirot is totally obnoxious. It is not the greatest mystery ever written, but it is a charming read.

4 stars

The Murder on the Links

The Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie

The Murder on the Links is the second “Poirot” novel by the famous author Agatha Christie.  It was first published in 1923.  I read the first Poirot mystery last year and I finally acquired and finished this novel.  I think that the novels are both good – but this one is somehow more developed.  For one thing, the most significant development is that Poirot is more vibrant, talkative, and active.  In the previous novel, there are moments when the reader might believe that Christie expected the character Captain Hastings to be the major character, supported by the aloof and quirky Poirot.  In fact, in the first Poirot novel (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), Poirot is not even a really likeable character.

This novel starts off very interestingly – Poirot receives a letter requesting him to come to France under the employ of a man who thinks that his life is in grave danger.  Immediately, the characters are off and running, traveling to France.  One of the things I liked about this novel was that the action, so to speak, was immediate and was continued throughout.  None of the pacing was off.

My main complaint about the novel is that the twists and turns, red herrings and deductions seem a bit overwritten.  I feel that the latter half of the book has too many twists and turns for it to be a perfectly written mystery.  Nevertheless, the twists are explained fairly well and Poirot is always fun to follow around.  Still, I think the mystery was a bit too entangled and there were too many “deltas.”

I also think that the title is a bit deceptive.  This book really has nothing to do with golf whatsoever.  I do not know, really, what a mystery about golf might entail (I’m not really a golf fan), but I do think it would have to involve more than someone dying nearby a golf course that is being constructed.  Maybe even there could be a golf club?  Normally, I do not comment on book titles, but this one probably should have been entitled something different.

However, this is not to say that this is a bad novel.  It is a fast read – the pages fly by and the story is interesting and engaging.  Fast reads are not necessarily good reads, but it doesn’t really speak well of a book if one describes it as tedious or undeveloped.  I mean, honestly, who in 2013 would think that following a goofy detective and his sidekick around in the early part of the 1900s would be engaging?  Let’s face it, for the majority of the book, Hastings and Poirot do a lot of walking back and forth, traveling to and fro, and making general circles in the township.  Nevertheless, I was following right along and actually interested in where characters were walking to next!

Poirot has a little competition in this novel, as well.  Another “star” detective is called to the case.  This detective represents the very detail-oriented empirical approach to detective work. Poirot (as he will remind you endlessly) pays evidence only a fundamental concern, instead focusing on the psychologies involved in the case and working from cause to effect.  The detective, Giraud, is as obnoxious about his method as Poirot is about his own.  Therefore, there is a new twist to Poirot’s interactions, which is a neat counterbalance. I also really dig Poirot’s insistence against “sentimentality” and passion.  Although basing his methods on psychology, Poirot refuses to draw conclusions based on emotion, sentimentality, or passion.

Hastings is a bit of a fool, though one truly believes he has a good heart and really does his best.  This character’s role is to support Poirot, clearly, which sometimes means doubting Poirot.  The dynamic that develops between the two characters is worthwhile reading.

Overall, I am thinking this is not Christie’s greatest novel.  Still, it is a very interesting and charming read. The novel is not perfect, but it is a satisfying read that allows the reader to build their study of one of the most famous detectives.  I would really recommend this to anyone who would like to read a short novel that has wit and charm. It probably is not something a person who likes a chance to figure out the mystery would read – after all, Poirot never gives you all the clues.

4 stars

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Mysterious AffairI finished Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  This is the Bantam 1974 edition.  This is actually Agatha Christie’s first published novel (1920) and it also introduces the famous Hercule Poirot. In 1990, an episode based on this novel was aired as part of the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series in the UK.

All things considered, this is a really good first novel.  I mean, let’s face it, some writers published dozens of books nowadays and never reach this level of novel.  Not that this is a great novel, by any means, but there is an inherent quality to it that seems almost lacking in a lot of the mass-marketed novels.  I am not trying to be overly critical, but I really can appreciate the efforts of Christie in this novel.

The plot is really kind of lame – especially in 2012.  But it is necessary for the reader to at least try to keep in mind that the setting and culture of Christie’s novel is very different from our own.  This novel takes place at Styles Court.  This is a manor house on a large property.  Again, not something that many Americans in 2012 have a referent for.  It takes place during the time of WWI, which does not overweigh the novel, but hints of the effects of the war pepper the novel nicely.

The novel is narrated by the main character, Arthur Hastings.  He is invited to spend time at Styles Court by his friend John Cavendish.  And this whole part of the novel seems really strange and foreign.  Inviting people to stay – for almost an entire summer – at one’s house is rare.  Particularly if these people are not even close family.  And then, after a murder occurs (or any like tragedy) for those houseguests to stay onward and not leave also seems odd by today’s standards.  I feel a lot more awkwardness and discomfort would be called for.  But being a houseguest at a country manor during WWI is not exactly something I have experience with.

We are introduced to Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot – and he is enigmatic, weird, and arrogant.  He also comes across in this novel as loveable, intelligent, and quirky.  He’s actually quite loveable as a character.  And often Hastings gets frustrated with Poirot, but remains drawn to this Belgian eccentric because Hastings, too, has a mind and heart for the detective scenarios. Poirot is probably the descendent of Sherlock Holmes – the odd, brilliant, English detective – but there’s no fun in comparing the two at this point.  Poirot and his Belgian-French are a whole lot of fun and though the reader, too, is frustrated with Poirot’s antics (he constantly hints and misdirects, but never really unfolds all of his ideas) the reader also learns to cherish the character’s exuberance.

As I mentioned above, the plot is lame.  And the whole thing is a bit convoluted.  Poirot is frustrating.  And there’s really no way the reader can guess early on who is the murderer and why.  So why am I giving this four stars?  Because the writing is so erudite – Christie’s prose leaps from the page.  The writing is beautiful – not stilted or cluttered.  There are no unnecessary pages of descriptions, purple prose, or filler chapters.  The author’s actual use of language is very good.  None of this seems carbon copy from “How to Write a Novel in a Month,” so to speak.  In laymen’s terms:  it’s just a really charming read.  And now, it’s actually kind of become a classic in it’s own right.  I recommend this to everyone. It’s short enough that it won’t tax anyone, nor put them off whatever else they are reading. Don’t fret too much about the details of the case, but relish the novel as a cool vintage enjoyment.

4 stars