Done: Endless Night

Usually, I write a very simple and short review under my umbrella Agatha Christie post (here), but I felt the need to post a proper length review for this one.

Endless Night is a relatively unknown piece of work from Agatha Christie, or at least it was to me. I’d never heard of it before, and I only found the title when I was desperate and searching through lists to find more interesting Christies to read. I’m so glad I did.

It’s a first-person narrative told by the main character, Michael Rogers, one of your typical young men who can’t seem to hold down a job, and simply want to spend their time as a ‘rolling stone’ (someone who floats here, there, everywhere with no goal or purpose in life). We first meet him when he is rhapsodizing about a beautiful piece of land in a small town, Kingston Bishop, with a house on it called Gipsy’s Acre. He is warned by a local gipsy, Mrs. Lee, that he has bad luck and should get away from Gipsy’s Acre as soon as possible. However, there, he meets a girl by accident, Ellie, and they soon fall in love and get married. It soon turns out that Ellie is not just a rich girl, but a tremendously rich girl, one of the richest in America, in fact.

They buy the land and house at Gipsy’s Acre, pull down the old house and build a new one, designed by his friend, Rudolf Santonix. The gipsy, Mrs. Lee, repeats her warnings to Ellie, and begins to visit Gipsy’s Acre occasionally to deliver the same threats and warnings to Ellie to leave the house and property. More and more characters begin flitting in and out of the narrative at this point, mostly Ellie’s relations though they are not related to her by blood. One of them even flits in to settle in their new marriage home, Greta Andersen, a half-Swedish Valkyrie of a girl who served as Ellie’s companion and on whom Ellie is largely dependent on. However, strange things begin to happen at Gipsy’s Acre, and Michael and Ellie begin to wonder if the curse is true.

So far, the whole premise of the story doesn’t seem to have an ounce of mystery in it. In fact, the actual mystery only comes into view rather late in the book, but it is testament to Christie’s writing that she is able to create a thick atmosphere of suspense and tension throughout the narrative despite there being nothing actually unusual happening. Every character left me guessing as to what their motives were, whether it was Ellie’s pretentious stepmother, or even her shrewd lawyer, Mr. Lippincott. Everyone seemed to be hiding secrets. Christie expertly conveyed through a narrative in which nothing much actually happens the falseness of the veneer of tranquility and bliss in the newlyweds’ country life, as well as the sense of something sinister just beneath the surface.

I felt also that Christie paid a lot more attention to character development in this book. The first half of the book or more felt like a case study on the social and psychological aftermath of a poor man who happened to fall in love with and marry a rich girl. She fleshed out the psyche of the main character, Michael Rogers, rather well. I liked that it differed from her usual style of concentrating largely on the mystery at hand rather than the characters involved. Here, I felt that I understood their human predicaments much better than her usual sort of characters. One thing to note, as well, is that Christie is a lot less censored in this book. She talks about, mentions and alludes to sex more than she usually does, and even uses ‘bitch’ a few times. It added to the freshness of the tone of this book.

But the mystery also did not disappoint! I had a fleeting idea of the true solution at some point halfway through, but had immediately dismissed the idea as impossible and had nurtured other more likely hypotheses. I was then happily bamboozled by the plot twists that came thick and fast at the last lap of the book, feeling that urge to go back and re-read certain segments of the book that would now be read in a different light now that I know the solution – and this urge is always a good sign.

This book had a very good mixture of two things: first, the comforting familiarity of Agatha Christie’s style of mystery, intrigue, as well as the reassurance that the ending is going to be something really unexpected, and therefore I didn’t feel too much like I was wandering into disturbingly unknown territory; secondly, a freshness despite the familiarity in the way the narrative was handled. It was undoubtedly an Agatha Christie style, but yet it was still surprisingly a breath of fresh air from her usual formula, which I have gotten used to by now, having consistently read most of her books over the past year.

Absolutely loved it. I wonder why it’s not more well-known!

Spoilers ahead!

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Done: Death On A Pale Horse

I have been strongly attracted to this cover for some time, but the reviews on Goodreads didn’t seem great so I had passed up on this book until I decided to throw caution to the winds and give it a go.

I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, and this means that I could be nitpicky about contemporary writers written unofficial “extensions” to the Sherlock Holmes canon. Thomas’s book has its own flaws such as an overload of details which boggles the reader and made me feel like giving up at some points. However, I stuck it through, and once Sherlock Holmes actually enters upon the scene (after a third of the book, probably) the action gains momentum and the tedium lessened. I found that his writing, during the more exciting parts of the book, was sufficiently in tune with that of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, so much so that sometimes I forgot that I’m not actually reading an original Sherlock Holmes story. This in itself is a great plus point for me, though it didn’t mean that I managed to sit through every word in the novel. I would certainly pick up more of Donald Thomas’s books in the future, and in fact I have already borrowed another one from his Lost Sherlock series, Sherlock Holmes and the Ghosts of Bly.

Spoilers ahead!

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