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: The Case Is Closed

It was all right. I skipped over some pages with what I found to be unnecessary details. Not sure if I’m just an impatient mystery reader or if I’m just not used to Wentworth’s style of writing. I’ve been reading tons of Agatha Christie before, so while there are elements of similarity, the narrative style and plot structure are significantly different.

The mystery in itself was somewhat interesting. I agreed with the main character Hilary when she said, “Too many alibis all over the place”. A man is shot ostensibly by his favourite nephew, the case is closed and said nephew has already served his jail sentence for a year before the action of the novel begins. I found that the details of the mystery was repeated just a tad too much, though. I get that things have to be clarified and details emphasized for the reader (also so they might have a go at picking out fishy loopholes for themselves), but I found myself skipping pages because the repetitions were getting tedious and boring.

Regarding the characters, we have Hilary, who is this nephew’s cousin-in-law, and her on-and-off-again fiance Henry Cunningham, are the main characters. Hilary and Henry’s relationship dynamics tended toward a chauvinist male and trying-to-be-spunky-but-failing female which was a common enough trope in the 1940s, but it wasn’t overly irritating to me. I particularly remember a line where Wentworth described Hilary as having flashes of thoughts about the inquest: “There was of course no logic in this, but Hilary had not a very logical mind.” Couple this with the fact that Hilary is impulsive and reckless, apparently heedless of potential dangerous situations, constantly getting herself into scrapes, and then generally requiring the assistance of her man, Henry, to get her back to safety… I guess I shouldn’t expect much more from a novel from the 40’s.

Miss Silver only appears in the middle of the book. While Christie’s detectives tend to have some point of interest or memorable quirk that engages me and gives me a pleasant pattern to look forward to in future stories, Miss Silver appears to have none of these. I don’t mean to say that Christie’s detectives are the only allowable type of detective characters, but I found nothing about Miss Silver to engage me or make me interested in reading more of her cases. The plot and action really revolves around the main characters, who certainly won’t be recurring in other novels and therefore also give me no reason for me to continue.

My review sounds unfavourable so far, but the book redeemed itself in enough moments of suspense and excitement. The plot twists were somewhat good, though few in number. Though some points about the two main characters chafed me, it wasn’t to the point where I found them outright annoying and difficult to swallow. Miss Silver was almost a non-entity besides providing an input for plot twists, so while she made little impression on me, she didn’t annoy me either. I’m not sure whether I will continue to read more Miss Silver stories, I would recommend this book for those who love mystery stories from this era.

Done: The House of Silk

While I was reviewing Death On A Pale Horse, my attention was frequently directed to what a lot of reviewers viewed as a superior Sherlock Holmes canon extension – this book: The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz. Luckily, I had already borrowed it from the library and had lined it up behind Death On A Pale Horse on my reading list.

In many ways, The House of Silk would definitely come up as superior if you’re a bit of a purist. This is a good old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes romp, with our dear bungling narrator Dr. Watson, Holmes landing himself in trouble, the story setting never leaving England (unlike Death On A Pale Horse) and barely leaving London, a quest to uncover what lies behind a secret conspiracy and all that. I was very entertained throughout, and the plot chugs along at a pace, never leaving a boring moment.

There are two things I’d like to point out about The House of Silk, though.

Firstly, like most other spin-offs of famous works, there is a self-conscious way in which defining characteristics of Holmes are brought up, or canon stories are mentioned. For example, the novel begins with Holmes deducing Watson’s thoughts, then Watson exclaiming at the devilry of it all, Holmes explaining his logical processes, and Watson finally admitting that it was simplicity itself. This famous scene from the canon is so frequently used in spin-offs, adaptations and anything depicting Sherlock Holmes that I could honestly have done without it. It was done once, and brilliantly, in the original books. Enough of that. It is too fantastical to assume that such a specific scene could be replicated so many times in real life between two people. If I had been Watson, if Holmes tried to intrude upon our thoughts in such a manner for the second time, I certainly wouldn’t have been as surprised and incredulous as the first time, and would’ve been less than polite in extricating his methods from him. In my opinion, if a spin-off work aims to fit itself into a canon chronology of an original work, then it should note that these little references and scenes, of which the original work is famous for, is really unlikely to happen again at another time period, even if one would’ve liked to use it as a signifier that hey, this is the famous mind-reading Sherlock Holmes that we’re writing about.

Secondly – and this isn’t a negative point this time – Horowitz injects certain points of reflections in the story which I found interesting. In the novel, Watson is supposed to be writing about this adventure of the House of Silk from his declining years, when his wife, all his friends, including Lestrade and Holmes, have passed on. As such, it is realistic to assume that Watson would be looking back with a broader perspective of a wizened elderly man, so I liked this bit. It also served as a reason for Horowitz to criticize Doyle and the times he lived in. The poignant reflections I can remember off hand are: 1) the state of the London child beggars, treated as part of the streets itself and handled almost thoughtlessly by Doyle in the canon; 2) the personality of Lestrade, described as incompetent by Doyle, but Horowitz redeems him here and portrays him not only as being effective and resourceful for someone who doesn’t have a brain like Holmes’s, but also someone who, though he is frequently a mildly antagonistic competitor, is also a firm ally of Holmes to the end; and 3) the flitting presence of Mrs Hudson throughout the canon – Horowitz’s interpretation of Watson acknowledges that he barely took the time to get to know his landlady and didn’t know much about her beyond her showing in clients at Baker Street. I enjoyed reading these little points, though it pertains to the author’s own interpretation and criticism of the Holmes canon, but it ended a nice extra dimension and food for thought for fans reading this book.

All in all, I would recommend this book for lovers of mystery novels, and especially those who are already fans of the Holmes canon. It wouldn’t disappoint.

Spoilers ahead!

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Done: The Anatomist’s Wife

The Anatomist’s Wife is a period mystery semi-romance novel set in 1830, Scotland. The writing was all right, wasn’t tedious, though can sometimes be bogged down by superfluous descriptions or scenes that I scanned through and skipped over. The style of the narrative and dialogue were not particularly true to the era (I wouldn’t expect most contemporary novelists to be able to pull that off anyway). In a sense, I was almost thankful that Huber didn’t even try that hard to make the language more fitting for the time the story was set in. From what I’ve read so far, contemporary novelists who attempt that tend to fall flat on their faces and make it that much harder for me to digest the story. The characters were generally believable, most of them were not extremely in-depth or versatile, but they worked for what they were meant for. What’s more important was the mystery! It kept true to its word, with the plot firmly centering around the mystery instead of sidelining it in favour of pursuing romantic subplots which some novels may do. The mystery itself, though not difficult (I guessed the solution at around 45% of the book, though it might have to do with me reading so much Agatha Christie recently), was at least intriguing and engaging enough to press me forward to finish the novel.

(Spoilers ahead!)

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