has the dam broken open? also, a French TV show.

It's been a long strange winter, and I want to share all about it. But in no particular order. I might write 16 posts or 3 very long ones or change my mind and keep writing with pen and paper to no audience. But here's something.

I found this show on Acorn TV called Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie, and watched the first episode last night, "Les Meurtres ABC." The first eleven episodes of the show are set in the 1930s and star Antoine Duléry and Marius Colucci. Here's the Google translation of the Wikipedia.fr page: "The main characters are the Commissioner Jean Larosière, fifties seducer, poet and Epicurean and Deputy Inspector Émile Lantern, thirty, shy, bumbling and awkward, but very endearing."

Acorn TV has six of their eleven episodes available, and one from the newer series which began last year, is set in the 1950s, and stars "A new born duo: Blandine Bellavoir in the role of Alice Avril, a journalist Voix du Nord (that's a newspaper in Northern France where the series is set) and Samuel Labarthe in the role of Commissioner Laurence Swan."

Knowing that, I have mixed feelings. I wonder why they were released this way, instead of in two full sets with the second including the replacement cast, and carrying on from there.

Anyway, I didn't look too deeply into it, but apparently Duléry said it was time to move on while things were still swell, which is what they always say, and fan reaction was exactly the same as everywhere else, from the emotional "Oh, no, it will be terrible now!" to the pedantic "I have faith in the writers' creativity and will continue to watch."

I know what I'd have thought. "Oh. Labarthe isn't nearly as…well, maybe. We'll see."

So the show is very good. The production values are rich and thoughtful and thoroughly satisfying. I saw a couple of English language reviews stating "This isn't the real thing, sniff." Well, in a sense, it's more real than the adaptations we've seen lately, to be honest. I think Agatha Christie would be rather more pleased with these interpretations of her stories than she would be with, for example, the bizarre 2008 Murder is Easy, even if Benedict Cumberbatch was a somewhat inspired choice for retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam. I'm not saying it's terrible. But a purist would hate it.

The ending of "Les Meurtres ABC" struck me as a bit too entangled and even more improbable than the original ABC Murders ending, until I thought it over. I believe the subtitle translation influenced my view of it, and so now I also believe the writers actually made a little more sense of it, rather than less.  And I think Christie'd have preferred the somewhat gratuitous (but not actually! it was a power grab! and kind of hot...) love scene between the deputy inspector and the substitute commissioner, to the perpetual BBC notion that every single unmarried woman of a certain age in her stories was a lesbian.

I wish I could just watch without subtitles, but there's too much I'd miss. You have to immerse yourself in a spoken world in order to pick up the speed and rhythm of speech, and I've never had that opportunity. I think possibly I read French well enough that I could follow closed captioning instead of subtitles, with a certain amount of pausing, but that isn't available.

Here, for my Twitter/Tumblr friends who have not seen it, a talk show segment with Antoine Duléry and Jean Dujardin.

The Great Christie Read 2012: Sad Cypress

Sad Cypress is another Poirot story, though, like Miss Marple in Moving Finger, he's brought in later in the story by a concerned party who thinks outside counsel is needed to set things straight. 

It was published in 1940, and it's kind of a melancholy story. In certain respects it's more formulaic than the others I've mentioned so far, as a setting is created, tension develops, a crime is committed. The difference is, the accused is known from the beginning, and the story unfolds to show events leading up to the trial. Sound familiar? This is how Dorothy L. Sayers set up Strong Poison, and the similarities don't end there. Strong Poison is a better book, in truth, because it has more guts to it, but Sad Cypress is fairly gripping, and it has that enjoyable characteristic of making you feel you are collecting clues all the way through, except that the mind of Poirot is required in order to put them together correctly. While it isn't one of Agatha Christie's best books, even her "average" ones are enjoyable and well worth reading.

Two fun things to know: first, the character who brings Poirot into the picture is Dr Peter Lord, and that is definitely a cheeky nod to the Sayers story featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, and second, the 2003 Poirot adaptation of this story is actually pretty good, and faithful to the original. This cannot be said of all of them...

Here's a fun cover from 1951. It has a clue on it! Screen Shot 2012-10-21 at 11.25.17 AM


The Great Christie Read 2012: The A.B.C. Murders

This is a remarkable book for several reasons, among which are that it foreshadows at least three other books, and mentions events from another earlier one. One foreshadowing is basically a very simple rewrite of the story itself. Not to say improved...each has a different personality, so they aren't quite comparable side by side. Nonetheless, nearly identical murder motive, with similar clues leading to the solution. 

It's intriguing because it does not quite follow the general story pattern that Agatha Christie herself invented. I will not say more about that other than it is very important to the enjoyment of the tale, and that, as is often the case, things are not as they appear to be.

This is a Hercule Poirot adventure from the very first page, and features one of Agatha Christie's favorite elements, the train. And if you are paying attention, you learn some very important truths about Monsieur Poirot in the first chapter of the story. 

The A.B.C. Murders, first published in 1936, is a little longer than some of the others; in order to have about the same number of pages, my edition has smaller than usual print. But check out the first U.S. edition!


The Great Christie Read 2012: The Moving Finger

It's time to launch The Great Christie Read 2012. I do this every couple of years. I was going to be all completionist as usual, and start with the first book,The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but as I get older, I become more laid back about that kind of thing. So I'm being a bit serendipitous with it, reading pre-WW2 and then post, just pulling a book from the shelf and going with it. Tonight, for the first book, I pulled out The Moving Finger.  

The Moving Finger was published over 20 years into Agatha Christie's career, in 1942, and features Miss Marple in a supporting role. It's written in first person in the voice of recuperating war pilot Jerry Burton, and I enjoy subvocalizing it as I imagine his voice. I first read this one probably between 1976-1978, and it's still one of my favorites. 

If you've seen a screen adaptation of this book, you might like to know that they are usually significantly altered from the original material. It's easy to understand why; they like to build in a bit of romance onscreen, and also need to conflate material into a short span of time. But I like how this book somehow roams through the telling of a story, yet remains tightly on schedule. Christie was good at that. 

With some of my GCR entries, I'll be more descriptive about the book itself (and I will cover all of them this time, Anna,) but for this one, I'll just offer one of my favorite covers for it, which was printed in 1961. Screen Shot 2012-10-19 at 9.13.18 AM


The Great Christie Read 2010 conclusion

I decided to read At Bertram's Hotel (1965) before A Caribbean Mystery (1964,) so I could read the latter in conjunction with Nemesis (1971.) Nemesis is a sort of follow-up story to A Caribbean Mystery, though in no way a sequel. 

Screen shot 2010-09-05 at 5.55.15 PM  Screen shot 2010-09-05 at 6.02.54 PM   N285

While reading Nemesis, the penultimate Miss Marple story, it struck me more than ever that this should have been her last. The actual final story, Sleeping Murder (1976; it was being prepared for publication when Christie died,) is excellent. But it (along with Hercule Poirot's final story, Curtain,) was written over 30 years before it was published, when Agatha Christie was younger, and the world was not very sure of where it was headed. That made a great difference in the main character's role in the story. 

I love how, in Nemesis, Miss Marple is wistful about the changes she'd encountered during what was to be her final stay at Bertram's Hotel, as she heads toward her more reasonably-priced abode for the night. And I love how the end of that story puts a lovely period on her career, setting her up beautifully for however many remaining days she has left to enjoy. 

Sleeping Murder is a great story. Miss Marple provides a role I think Christie believed would make sense when she wrote it; that of elder counselor. But what's fantastic about Nemesis (though I do not say it is a better book,) is that Miss Marple is the most active she ever got to be, throughout all her stories. I'm always really excited for her as she goes along, not as sure of what's going to happen next as she always was back in St. Mary Mead. And in the end, a real triumph and reward. 

Similarly, I sometimes wonder if Elephants Can Remember, Hercule Poirot's penultimate case, might have made a better final case. I understand why Christie wrote Curtain as she did. Thirty years earlier, she was wondering what could cause Poirot to act out of character in a way that would be shocking but positive. But by the time it was published, shortly before her death, the world had undergone such material change, it might have stood more satisfactorily if Poirot himself had remained unchanged. 

Curtain (1975) isn't as good as Sleeping Murder. It's not necessarily as good as Elephants Can Remember, depending on how you like your murder mysteries. It's not bad, though. When it came out, my mother was very much upset by the ending, insisting Poirot, the Poirot she knew, could never behave in such a manner. For me, the first read as a teenager in the 80s was shocking. Reading it again last week, I had to be more philosophical about it. People can, and do, change in these ways. They can be driven to commit acts no one would think them capable of. Who knew that better than Agatha Christie? Still, throughout Elephants Can Remember, written much later, you get a sense that the entire thing is a metaphor for our nostalgia toward her books, perhaps even a bit of her own, though she was tired of writing them by then. That's illustrated by Ariadne Oliver's role in solving the mystery, and the fact that it, like the initial murders in Sleeping Murder and Postern of Fate, took place many years in the past. 

Posternoffatepb  Elephantscanrememberpb  81903
Postern of Fate (1974,) the final Tommy and Tuppence book, has a poor reputation. I think that's not quite deserved. It's not a great book. But it's a neat Tommy and Tuppence story. The worst thing about it to me is that they, like Miss Marple and Monsieur Poirot, are not as old as they would have to be after so much passage of time. But in their case, we know how much real time has passed, rather than just sensing the vague eras the others pass through, so it's harder to reconcile. However, it does a beautiful job of portraying nostalgia, bringing the Beresfords back to the time period in which they first met, and tying it all together with Tuppence's (and Christie's) love of old childhood books. Ultimately, I find it a satisfactory conclusion to their story, more so as I grow older myself. 

Now, on to Nero Wolfe. But that's another country, another sensibility, another post. 

this will always bear repeating

Close your eyes and listen. No, I mean it. Close them. 

In other news, there is very little news. I think about so many subjects I'd like to address, and muse over them during the endless drives to and from South Jersey homeschool baseball, then find myself too tired to actually key them in. I'm still reading the Christies, up to The Patriotic Murders, but don't know when I'll get back to posting in depth about them. Or anything else. 

I will say, on that point, that I still dislike Death on the Nile, and that it took me days to get through Murder is Easy, with Miss Wayneflete and Wonky Poo. I think a screen adaptation of that one ruined it a bit for me. Well, I say that, but have just recorded the latest version of it starring the new Miss Marple, Julia McKenzie. It might be good, OR IT MIGHT BE WEIRD SINCE SHE'S NOT IN THE BOOK. 

Today I read Sad Cypress, though, and still like that one very much. I've never seen a Poirot of it, but surely there must be one. I suppose Google knows. Anyway, I want to write about some of the issues that are presented differently before and after the War, so that'll be in just a few more books. 

No news about the garden plots, but I'm going to pop over there before the Little League game tomorrow to see if they've started staking. We had two days of rain, so today was probably set aside for drying out. 

Finally, a bit of randomness to conclude this post of nothingness, here is a fine picture of one of my old loves, Joseph Cotten. I love his long legs, crowded into the cab between two tough guys. 

Oh! Actually finally. Don't you just love the Eleventh Doctor? But I'm not cool with American TV dismissing Ten as Something Inferior Which Came Before. Poseurs. 

Great Christie Read lazy catchup

I was all set for The A.B.C. Murders, and suddenly had a huge pash to read all the Campions in order. This may have something to do with the huge pash I developed for Peter Davison, but after all, he's just an actor. The books are the books. I've read/reread about 10 of them, and now I'm back to Christie, only now I've misplaced that book! I can't think why or where, it was just here by my bed, and now it isn't. So I will proceed with Murder in Mesopotamia, which I like better anyway, and get back to the other one when it turns up. 

I did not report on the several previous books because I was far too busy reading them to talk about them. Plus, snow. Snow and reading and little else. So I have decided to mention them in sort of "themed" reports, first of which will probably relate to World War II, and the question of Jews. (I know, like, that was a question? But of course it was, and has been, and in some places, forever shall be, I guess.)

Off to read now. :-)

Christie Read: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I stayed up late last night reading The Secret of Chimneys. That book is so entertaining to me, and it's one that I remember exactly how it comes out, yet enjoy all along the way, anticipating each interesting reveal. There are a couple of notes about it I've taken in order to discuss later, in conjunction with another book. In the meantime, next up is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

This book is noteworthy for several reasons. It's the last book Christie wrote before her Troubles with Archie, her first husband. After that, she wrote several books through the rest of the 20s that just don't live up to the strength of this one at all, though I do find them interesting, myself. Then in 1930, after she met her second husband, Max Mallowan, she really came alive again, and wrote lots of great stuff over the next couple of decades, and more beyond that until her death. 

The story is told in first person, and includes Hercules Poirot, but Hastings is not the narrator. And the conclusion of it so startled contemporary readers, a number of them protested, as though they'd been taken for a ride. Well, they had been taken for a ride, and most reviewers consider it to have been a brilliant one. 

The problem with that is you can never forget how it plays out, so reading it again, even after a number of years, isn't like rereading most of the other books, which, with only a few exceptions, somehow manage to wind you up over and over again. Once you've read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, reading it over again is done with a leaning anticipation for the now-foregone conclusion. (You remember how I just said that delights me with Chimneys, don't you? I'm not contrary, though. The two books are done in a very different style.) Many people do not read books over and over again, so this wouldn't be a bother to them at all! But I will confess that usually when I'm reading through Christie, I leave this one out. I'm looking forward to enjoying it this evening, though, and do highly recommend it. It's a very good story, even though it is not one of my personal favorites. And if you don't know already how it's going to play out, you will probably, with 2010 sensibilities, really enjoy getting to the last pages and Poirot's denouement...

Christie Reading Catchup

I had a lot to share but would really rather be reading. It's been my intention to share different things about the books and the author as I go along. There's a lot you could say about Murder on the Links and The Man in the Brown Suit, which I managed to read last week, though ill and then attending to another sick child, the weather, and a ridiculous plumbing problem. 

Right now I am rereading Agatha Christie by Gillian Gill, and it reminded me of something I wanted to bring up. If you read these books in chronological order, you'll find that, for the most part, they have an every-other pattern to them. A basic detective mystery, fairly serious, then a more light-hearted adventure, then another detective story. 

Thus, Murder on the Links is the second Poirot book, and one in which he has to live up to the reputation he's making for himself,

and The Man in the Brown Suit is a fun, sometimes slightly silly adventure, more like The Secret Adversary, and narrated by the heroine, an 18 year-old girl. 

After that comes Poirot Investigates, which is a collection of short stories, and that's followed by a rather funny book called The Secret of Chimneys, full of mischief and mistaken identities. I'm actually going to read that one next, because I've decided to save all the short stories until the end. 

So I have a lot more to say about all this, but right now I really just want to get back to reading! 

Christie Reading: The Secret Adversary

Agatha Christie books take me about 2-3 hours to read. I could read one every evening, but probably will just cover 3-4 each week. Time will tell. 

I started reading Agatha Christie novels when I was 8. I do not say this to recommend that course of action or to promote the notion that I was a precocious reader. My interest in the books is informed largely by that fact, is the thing. 

My mom collected them, in a funny old bookcase I would love to now own. It was low and wide, with two open shelves at the top, and louvred sliding doors at the bottom, standing on 3-4 inch legs. Kind of a medium oak, dull finish, very sturdy, very MCM. The James Bond books were inside it, and a few of those Reader's Digest Condensed books, and some other things. Knowing my mother, none of them had been purchased new. 

I do have a bookcase, by the way, that I've had since childhood. Mom got it at a garage sale for me, painted it fresh in the backyard, and I've been using it ever since, though now and then it's been in a kid's bedroom. It's been half a dozen different colors. Right now it is just sort of beige. It's in the dining room and holds cookbooks. 

So Mom was on a Christie jag one summer, and I was out of things to read. I'd already filled out several of those "read 20 books/choose a book to own" lists at the library. I never had enough to read. I asked her if I could read an Agatha Christie book, and she said she would have to approve my selection. So I chose Hallowe'en Party, because it had a girl in it, and people bobbing for apples. 

I'm not sure she thought I'd finish it, but she agreed I could read it. I did manage to finish it, and another one, And Then There Were None, before moving on to other book interests, and didn't pick them up again for a couple of years. When I was about 10 or so, I started reading them again—I think it was because of that Agatha Christie movie mini-trend going on just about then (which I will touch on another time)—and Nero Wolfe stories as well, and have kept it up ever since. The order in which I read them had mainly to do with my age at the time, but also I  just started with whatever was in our bookshelves at home, then moved on to the selection at the library.

When I first read Hallowe'en Party again as an adult, I had to wonder if my mom actually noticed or reflected on the lesbian subtext. It would be interesting to ask her. Also, what titles, if any, she'd have said no to back when I first wanted to read them.

In 1991, shortly after I was married, I told the eventual LP that I'd like to collect Agatha Christie books, because I mourned the loss of Mom's collection. He let me parse out a bit of grocery money at a time for them, and over the next few years I ended up with all of them. Now and then one goes away, and has to be replaced. But I still have most of my original copies. 

I couldn't find this exact cover on the web, so I scanned it and a few others today. It's pretty worn, as it's one that has been read by several members of the family. I'm not sure why it has paint on it. Most of my "nice" books are in very good or excellent condition, but these things are made to be carried around and loved, you know? So they get wear and tear. 

The Secret Adversary is on my "definitely recommend" list, especially for anyone who enjoys reading about the World War One era and the years immediately following it. It is the first in a series of five books about Tommy and Tuppence. If you look them up, you will see that they take the form of four novels and one short story collection. But that's misleading; the short stories are in a simple plot framework and read like novel chapters as well as individual stories. So you can read the five books in order and watch how they progress. 

Tommy and Tuppence are very young in their first story. I think Christie already realized that by making Poirot so old in the beginning, she'd limited him to a pretty narrow space. So Tommy and Tuppence get to grow up and grow older in their stories, and that informs their behavior and decisions. Also, their stories are more specifically related to the time period in which they were written. 

The Secret Adversary is a bit slow, action-wise, through the first half. There's a lot of chatty dialogue, mostly light and engaging. It doesn't read as much like a detective novel as many of the other books; it's more like a very lightly romantic adventure. The other characters are pretty stereotypical, but I think Christie had a lot to do with defining those stereotypes, which is kind of fun to consider. 

You don't—at least I don't—read these stories in order to figure out "whodunit" as quickly as possible. You read them the way you watch an old favorite movie while savoring a tub of quality ice cream. The experience is in watching it all play out, not in seeing how clever you can be in a competition against the author. I think many people will figure out whodunit it in this story well before they have finished. But it's still a fun and charming ride to the end, and there are a couple of neat little twists in the conclusion.