Tag Archives: mystery

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

Review (Amazon): 

“Ten . . .”
Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious “U. N. Owen.”

“Nine . . .”
At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.

“Eight . . .”
Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . as one by one . . . they begin to die.

“Seven . . .”
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: creative

Whoa. It’s been almost 2 months since I posted a review. O_O Part of that is because I tried reading One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest for book club and failed dramatically. I tried multiple times, but just couldn’t get into it. So I skipped that and moved onto this one which I read in a weekend!

I’m not sure why, but the book made me think of the board game Clue. I guess because there were so many people who were all suspects.

An island recently changed ownership and there was lots of gossip and speculation of who bought it. Was it a Mr. Owen or a Hollywood film star? It has previously been owned by an American millionaire who had the most lavish parties. So naturally when people get invites to Soldier Island, no matter how obscure the invite is, they go! Specifically Justice Wargrave from his acquaintance Constance Culmington, who he hadn’t seen in 7 or 8 years. Or Vera Claythorne who was offered a holiday secretarial post, or Phillip Lombard who was offered 100 guineas to keep an eye on things on the island. Or Emily Brent, who was offered a stay at a formal guest house (not one of those modern places with gramophones). She couldn’t even determine who the letter had come from, but it was so appealing, she went anyway. General Macarthur was invited to have a chat with some buddies from old times. Dr. Armstrong was invited by Mr. Owen who worried about his wife’s health and offered a large check to ensure the best. Tony Marston was invited out for a party. Mr. Blore…

They arrive to the island and find that Mr. and Mrs. Owen are nowhere to be found, but Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the servants, have already arrived in advance for preparations. The house is very nice, and each room has a framed copy of “Ten Little Soldiers” (much more racist in previous versions of the book) as well as a series of ten figurines on the dining room table.

After dinner, a record is put on by Mrs. Rogers, as instructed by the owners, and it goes around to accuse each and every guest, including the Rogerses of murder. Everyone is shocked and aghast (some are in denial). They compare stories and realize that none of them know who the Owenses are. In fact, the name itself suggests from various letters to be U. N. Owen or Unkown. After the reading, Tony Marsten finishes his drink and collapses on the floor dead. One of the ten figurines is broken.

It then follows quickly that the next morning Mrs. Rogers does not awake due to an overdose, and later that day, General MacArthur is found dead from a blow to the head. The deaths follow the nursery rhyme, and each time someone dies, a figurine is broken from the table. It is decided that some of the men should go out on a search party to find the killer, but they come back empty handed. There’s no one on the island but themselves.

The following morning, Mr. Rogers is found dead out where he was chopping wood to start the fire for breakfast. Later that afternoon, Mrs. Brent is dead from a hypodermic needle (to resemble a bee sting) to the neck. The men then decide that they ought to round up all weaponry and lock it up so to do so, they search everyone’s rooms as well. Later when Vera goes up to take a bath, she finds that someone has hung seaweed from the ceiling in her room. She screams and then men run up to see the commotion. When they return downstairs, they find that Judge Wargrave has been dressed like a judge and shot, presumably using Lombard’s revolver. Again, like with the other deaths, Dr. Armstrong confirms death.

When they go to bed that evening, Lombard is surprised to see his gun back in his nightstand. Blore awakes that evening to hear steps outside. He sneaks out to see a retreating figure, and when Blore and Lombard find that Armstrong is not in his room, they and Vera assume that he is the killer (particularly because that part of the rhyme says that the soldier was eaten by a red herring). The remaining three stay together the next day, even trying to send out an SOS to the mainland, until Blore separates from the other two to go back into the house for some food, and he is killed by a large clock being pushed out of the window from Vera’s room (but Vera is outside with Lombard. Vera and Lombard assume that the missing Armstrong is who killed Blore until they find Armstrong well decomposed washed up on the beach.

At this point, they both assume that each other is the killer. Vera manages to get Lombard’s gun from him and shoots him. Then in a state of shock, she returns to her room and in a delusion, her former love entices her to hang herself with the seaweed on her ceiling.

The epilogue follows that Scotland Yard is investigating the homicides, and they are going through the records of each person. The Rogerses were thought to have let a previous employer die from neglect. Justice Wargrave convicted a likable man who most thought was innocent although after the hanging, information came out to prove that he had been guilty. Vera was the governess for a family whose child had drowned. She had swam out to save him but it was too late. Dr Armstrong had had a patient die in his care due to clumsiness. Miss Brent had a servant who had gotten pregnant. Because of the stigma, Miss Brent fired her and the girl drowned herself. And Marston hit and killed two children due to reckless driving, but they were poor and he was let off with just a fine. Lombard, MacArthur, and Blore, they weren’t too sure about. The order of deaths is recorded in the diaries and notes of various people on the island. It is confusing though that when the police found the murder scene, the chair under Vera’s body had been placed back upright. They have no idea who was the killer.

The book ends with a note in a bottle which was sent to Scotland Yard from the island from Justice Wargrave admitting his guilt. His time on the bench made him hunger for justice, and even murder. He himself being sick allowed him to create an elaborate murder and then kill himself in the process. Through talks with various people, he found 9 people who were guilty of crimes that the result was too difficult to prove. And then he killed them one by one, rigging an elaborate system to shoot himself in the end.

Verdict: 3 stars

I liked the idea of this book, but I found the ending to be a bit weird. It seems odd that the Justice sent a message in a bottle instead of just leaving a note, and also if one is going to fake a murder, I’d think killing by poison rather than an elaborate use of rigging up a way to fire a gun at yourself makes a lot more sense. It also didn’t make sense that Armstrong had agreed to tell the remaining others that Justice Wargrave had died when he hadn’t. I didn’t understand that at all. I also found the death of Vera to be very unrealistic and bizarre. I have read one other Agatha Christie book which I liked much better. My mom has read every one of Christie’s books which are still available, and she mentioned that she thought this one was kind of mediocre in comparison.

 

 

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Filed under 3 stars, Book Club, Book Review

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

2052

Review (Amazon): When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: familiar

We picked this book as our mystery for the year, however, I’d say that it’s not so much a mystery as it is a detective story. Apparently this book was the start of the noir genre, and reading it after being exposed to so many stories which have used this theme, it seems a little cliche. It was written in 1939 so it is obvious that it was what created these cliches, but it is still strange to read.

The detective/main character of the book is Phillip Marlowe, and this was his first book appearance. He’s a sharp talking, scotch drinking, lady ogling sort of guy. You know the type. He’s the original. He’s hired by General Sherwood to find out who is blackmailing Sherwood’s youngest daughter Carmen. Sherwood is on his death bed, and is very wealthy. When Marlowe meets with him, Sherwood mentions that his older daughter, Vivian, was married to Rusty Regan, but Regan has disappeared. Marlowe likes Sherwood and agrees to take the case of investigating the man who is blackmailing Carmen. Carmen has been blackmailed before, by a man named Joe Brody, but this time it’s by a bookseller named Arthur Geiger. When Marlowe’s leaving the house, he meets Vivian who is convinced that he has been hired to find Regan.

Marlowe heads to Geiger’s bookstore, and realizes after asking the clerk, Agnes, a few questions that the book store is definitely a front. While he is there, a man came in and dropped off a package which was then delivered to the back of the store. Marlowe follows the man and realizes that the store is a front for pornographic books. Marlowe stakes out in front of the house to wait for Geiger and eventually sees him enter and eventually leave the store. He then proceeds to follow him to his home. Eventually a woman pulls up to the house and goes inside. The car window is open allowing Marlowe to determine that it’s Carmen’s car. Marlowe continues to wait, and he sees a flash of light and hears an odd scream from the house. He goes to the door and as he’s about to knock, he hears three shots fire out followed by footsteps running away.

Marlowe lets himself into the house where he finds Geiger dead, and Carmen naked and completely dazed. There is a camera set up pointed directly at Carmen although it has no film in it. The flash of light Marlowe saw was obviously the camera, and the shots were someone’s response to it. Marlowe dressed Carmen and takes her home and then walks back to Geiger’s. When he returns, the body is gone. He takes a little time investigating the house, but the only real thing of interest is Geiger’s notebook of customers.

The next morning, Marlowe is awakened by a phone call from a cop friend to let him know that one of the Sherwood’s cars is being pulled up from the pier. And there’s a guy inside. Marlowe immediately assumes it’s Regan so he heads down to see. He finds that it’s the Sherwood’s chauffeur.

Marlowe heads back to Geiger’s shop to talk to Agnes. He asks if Geiger’s in, and she stammers and tells him that Geiger’s out of town. He notices the boy who was driving Geiger’s car loading some boxes of books into a truck, so he gets a taxi to tail them and finds out that the boxes are going to someone named Brody. He heads back to his office where he finds Vivian awaiting him. She continues to press Marlowe about why her father hired him, but he doesn’t relent. She then shows him the envelope that she received of the picture of Carmen from the previous night. It accompanied a phone call asking for $5000 (~$85000 today). They discuss what happened with the chauffeur, but Vivian doesn’t know anything. It wasn’t his night off, and she was gambling at Eddie Mars’ casino. Everyone thinks that her husband ran off with Eddie’s wife Mona which is why he’s nice to her.

He returns to Geiger’s house where he finds Carmen snooping around. Carmen tells Marlowe that it was definitely Joe Brody who shot Geiger, but she’s just playing along. While they are there, Eddie Mars arrives. They talk about what happened to Geiger, Eddie playing along in hypotheticals to see what Mars knows.

From there, Marlowe goes back to Brody’s and gets Brody to talk by offering up the customer list. Once he’s inside, he realizes that Brody and Agnes are in on it together. Marlowe’s pressing him hard about the pictures of Carmen when she arrives there too. Between the two of them, they manage to get the pictures from Brody. Carmen leaves and Marlowe questions Brody a bit more to learn that he blackmailed Vivian because he’d already hit up their dad before and he’s short on cash. The chauffeur found out about the blackmail and because of his crush on Carmen, went to Geiger’s and shot him. Brody was there and followed the chauffeur, but didn’t see how he ended up off the end of the pier (No one knows who killed the chauffeur or whether it was suicide.) and took the opportunity to take over Geiger’s dirty business. As Brody, Marlowe, and Agnes are wrapping up the story, there’s another knock on the door. Brody answers the door thinking it is Carmen and is shot twice. Marlowe races out the door and after the perp, eventually finding the boy from Geiger’s. Turns out he was Geiger’s gay lover who kept a secret room at Geiger’s house. (seems quite scandalous for 1939).

Marlowe instructs him back to Geiger’s house where they find Geiger’s body which the boy hid to keep him protected. He believed that Brody had killed Geiger so he decided to take matters into his own hands. Marlowe reaches out to his police friend who takes over from there.

And then with the real mystery over, Marlowe decides to look into what happened to Rusty Regan which is where the story gets a bit confusing in my opinion. He goes to talk to his cop friends to find out what came out of the missing person investigation which isn’t much. No one saw him take his car out and the only lead is that Eddie Mars’ wife also went missing. So Marlowe goes to speak to Mars. Vivian is at the casino winning big.

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Filed under 3 stars, Book Club, Book Review

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

  Summary (Amazon): After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

My Review (Spoilers!!!):

Executive Summary: engaging

My mom bought me this book for Christmas (as well as the 3rd book in the series but not the second!). I hadn’t heard of it at all which is surprising because I feel like a book by J.K. Rowling would have caught my attention, pen name or not.

Even without wizards, Rowling is a great author, and the book definitely kept me engaged. The characters were very well developed, and I felt as though I knew them. The one limitation however was that I felt as though certain aspects of the solution of the case were a bit of a stretch.

The main character of the story, Cormoran Strike is a detective. He isn’t doing so great in the detective business but manages to catch a break with the case for this book. Our first interaction with him is by way of the second main character, Robin who crashes into him on her first day to work as his assistant. We learn through the story that Cormoran is the son of a famous rock musician and a groupie mother. This helps him at times because people know who his father is. He is also a large man who was in the military, losing part of his leg in Afghanistan. He has an emotionally tumultuous longtime relationship with the most beautiful woman in the world, Charlotte, and shortly after the book starts, they break up.

We don’t learn too much about Robin except that she’s new to the city, recently engaged, and really enjoys her work at the detective agency (I suspect she will be further developed in the subsequent books.)

The case that arises is one that everyone knows. Beautiful supermodel Lula Landry crashed to her death one snowy night from her bedroom window. The police determine it to be suicide, but her adopted brother, John Bristow, suspects otherwise. He is a lawyer and is willing to pay whatever is needed to find the answer. He comes to Strike because his name is familiar–Strike was childhood friends with their other sibling, Charlie, who died in at a young age from riding his bike too close to the quarry. All three of the children had been adopted into a very well-to-do family, and Lula was adopted shortly after her brother’s death.

Strike and Robin investigate seemingly everyone in Lula’s life–her friends, colleagues, and family. He starts with the security guard at Lula’s building who also invites her personal driver. They go through the night of the incident. Wilson noted that some packages came in that night, including clothes for the rap star Deeby Macc and handbags for Lula all from Guy Somé, the designer. Flowers also arrived for Deeby from another of the building’s residents, Freddie Bestigui, a filmmaker. Wilson goes over who came and went that day and noted that the door to the pool was unlocked. The driver, Kolovas-Jones had driven Lula earlier that day to visit her mother. Lula was very agitated when she left, and started scribbling a note onto some blue paper. She had him drop her off at this boutique to meet her friend Rochelle, and reappears only fifteen minutes later. Jones didn’t drive her later that night because he had been assigned to pick up Deeby Macc from the airport.

Strike’s next stop is to try to track down Rochelle, a friend Lula had made in rehab. She lives at a halfway house, however, when he stops by, she isn’t there.

He then touches base with one of the cops who worked the case who reviews the footage from that night with him. There are two separate runners leaving the area of the crime, one who can be seen heading that direction previously. As the temperature was well below freezing, they are bundled up beyond recognition. They also speak about the only so-called witness, Tansy Bestigui, who lived in the same apartment building who heard Lula fighting with someone before she fell. The police poked holes in her story, as she couldn’t have heard what she said based on where she said that she was. They also found drugs in her place.

They then discuss an obvious suspect in the case–Lula’s boyfriend, Evan Duffield. He and Lula had a fight at the club, she left, and he left shortly thereafter, wearing a wolf mask to evade the paparazzi. He sees paparazzi around Lula’s place so instead goes to his dealer’s house and eventually goes to Ciara Porter’s house as it’s close and he has to walk there.

Strike meets Tansy Bestigui (the witness) with her sister and John Bristow. She retells the story that she told the police, and Strike believes that the underlying story is true–she did hear Lula arguing with someone before she went out the window.

Strike makes a deal with the policemen to get a copy of the case files, and he sifts through them thoroughly.

He and Robin decide to make a jaunt to the boutique where Lula stopped briefly on her last day. Robin puts on a command performance pretending to be Strike’s sister and gets some intel by gossiping with the employees. They find that Lula was speaking to someone on the phone, presumably Duffield, and telling him to come by that night. Robin and Strike part ways and Strike is supposed to meet Bristow for lunch. He is instead greeted by Tony Landry, John and Lula’s uncle, who minces no words about how he feels about that part of the family. Tony thinks that John is weak, Lula was spoiled, and that the Bristows should have never been approved to adopt another child after Charlie died. He thinks that the additional investigation is foolish, and is in general an angry man. Once Tony leaves, Strike runs over some stuff with John, specifically that in the case files, it says that Ciara Porter stated that Lula told her that she was leaving everything to John. John thinks that is silly because Lula would have never cut her mother out of things.

Meanwhile Robin has been tracking down Rochelle Onifade, the mysterious friend who was not at the halfway house. She has an appointment at the hospital, and Strike goes to meet her. She’s a short stocky black girl wearing a very expensive magenta jacket. He offers to buy her lunch, and she agrees. She doesn’t know about the phone call or the blue piece of paper despite being with Lula at the time. She also seems to hate just about everyone in Lula’s life. She does offer that she knows that Lula connected with her because she wanted to feel connected to her own heritage, but she doesn’t think that Lula ever found anyone except her birth mother. After Rochelle leaves Strike, he walks past her and she’s talking to someone on the phone about their meeting. He asks who she was speaking to, but she won’t tell him. He tells her that she might be at risk from the killer too if it is that Lula was killed, but Rochelle gives a grin like she knows that she is completely safe.

Next on Strike’s list–Guy Somé. Somé arrived back in town the night that Lula died. Strike asks about the other people in Lula’s life to get opinions of them. Somé thinks that Rochelle was a gold digger, and Duffield is worthless. In Somé’s opinion, Duffield is the most likely candidate. He didn’t think that she would have killed herself because they had a pact that if they were in a bad place, they would have called the other. Somé told Strike about the gifts that he left for Lula and Deeby that were dropped off the day that she died, and then he organizes a time when Strike can meet Ciara and Bryony.

Strike visits Lula’s house finally, and speaks to the maid. John calls, and Strike informs him that there was a folder of photos that was deleted from Lula’s computer after she had died suggesting either the police or Mrs. Bristow (or one of her nurses). Srike and Wilson walk through the events that happen after Lula died. He went into Lula’s place, looked under the bed, didn’t see anyone, ran out and pushed the elevator button. Nothing inside. He heard the Bestiguis yelling and cut around the corner to go back downstairs and slipped on some drops of water.

Strike then goes to speak to Lula’s real mom. Marlene wavers between humility of giving a child up for adoption and using Lula to sell her story to the press. Lula had stopped coming around. Marlene couldn’t supply Lula with much information about her father except his name was Joe and he was African and he was going to school somewhere that was attached to a museum. Marlene, similar to Rochelle, criticizes all of Lula’s family and friends, and basically her herself.

Next, Strike returns to Somé’s to speak to Bryony and Ciara. Most of Bryony’s information was second hand, but Ciara offered a bit more. When she saw Lula that afternoon, she confirmed that Lula was in a bad mood after leaving her mother’s. When Lula was unwrapping the gifts from Somé, Ciara joked whether Lula would leave her one of them, to which Lula responded quite seriously that she was leaving everything to her brother. Strike tells Ciara that he hasn’t yet been able to connect with Duffield, and she helps him by taking Strike to the club where he will be. Duffield is a bit broody, but he tells Strike that he had seen Lula’s mother after the funeral, and mentions that he thinks her brother John is a money grubbing asshole. Most importantly, he mentions to Strike that he met with Freddy Bestigui recently and oversaw an email from his wife which said that if he wasn’t going to offer more money in the divorce, she would tell everyone where she was when Lula died.

In the meantime, Robin has tracked down Lula’s father. He died five years earlier, leaving a widow and a son is in the army based in Afghanistan. Robin also followed up on Tony Landry’s statement that he was staying in a hotel that weekend but left to come back to visit his sister who had had surgery. They begin to review the police photos of the building from the day of the incident versus the ones from now when the police call. Rochelle is dead.

Strike goes in to speak to the police and gets police assistance to follow up on the rest of his leads. They contact Deeby Macc to find out which hoodies were in his possession from Somé, and he gets an appointment with Bestigui to confront him about locking his wife out onto the balcony during -10° weather. It also comes out that Tansy’s sister Ursula was having it on with Tony Landry explaining the jetting out of the hotel stay mysterious alibi. He also mentions that he heard footsteps on the stairs after Wilson had left on the night of the murder.

The last piece to the puzzle is speaking to Mrs. Bristow. John must be in attendance for the interview, however, he gets detained, but Strike is already there so he decides to go in anyway. Yvette Bristow remembers telling Lula about Charlie during her last visit. She told Lula about his death and how distraught she had been although she partly thought it was her own fault for spoiling her children, but she can’t exactly remember what all she had said because of the drugs that she was on post-surgery. As Yvette begins to fade (she has taken more pain killers), Strike excuses himself to the bathroom, and en route stops into the walk-in closet where he finds all of the brand new handbags that Somé had given her. He checks their linings and finds the mysterious blue note.

Putting the pieces all together (SPOILERS), on the blue note paper was a bit of a will. Lula had decided to leave everything to her real brother–Lt. Jonah Agyeman. He was the man in the video footage who was going to and coming from Lula’s place the evening that she died. And then, Strike tells John who the killer is–John. He has killed before; out of jealousy, he killed Charlie as a child, pushing him off his bike into the ravine. His uncle Tony suspected and that is why he has never liked John or that family. He was against them getting another child, and of course this one now has also been killed. John went to Lula’s earlier that day (known) and then instead of leaving, he hid in Deeby’s apartment until later that night when Lula returned. He stole a few of the roses (the drops of water on the floor) that had been delivered, put on one of Somé’s sweatshirts which he had delivered to Deeby, and then went up to Lula’s . They then argued about money and he pushed her out the window. Rochelle had some inkling of what had happened, and John had been paying her bribes. Once she got too entwined in things, he killed her as well. When Strike gets to the end of things, John attacks him. Luckily Robin just happens to appear to call the ambulance and the police.

Verdict: 3.5 Stars

I loved the story, and I loved the characters. I just thought the ending was a bit contrived. I figured out how you got into Lula’s apartment by just a few drops of water on the steps. They couldn’t have been a leak or sweat? Where did these roses end up? And Robin randomly bursting in at the end just in time. It just fell a little flat for me. I love Rowling’s (er, Galbraith’s) writing though, and I will eventually read the others in the series.

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

 Summary (Amazon): STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

My review (major spoilers!):

Executive summary: creative

This book is SO good. I thought it was really creative, and I hope that this author puts out more stuff (Claire North is a pen name for Catherine Webb).

As you can probably guess from the title, there’s a reason why Harry August has had 15 lives. He cannot die. Every time he lives out his life, he is reborn into the exact same situation where he began with all the memories from his previous lives. His biological father raped (coerced?) his mother and Harry was born in the women’s bathroom of a train station in Northern England. His mother died during childbirth. Each life, Harry ended up being adopted by some close relatives who could not have children, and in general treated Harry just fine.

During his fourth life, he realizes that there are others like him (unfortunately too late) and upon starting life #5, The Cronus Club (made up of other ouroborons like Harry) begin to take him out of each of his lives early under the guise of special scholarships and the like so that his 100+ year old mind doesn’t have to sit through middle school over and over again. The Cronus Club operates in a sort of pay it forward type of way in that a scholarship fund of sorts is set up (they do a lot of betting on horses and the like since they know who will win) and older members are responsible for pulling out new members at the correct age when they are reborn.

Throughout lives 5-11, Harry learns and learns and learns. He travels, learns seemingly every language there is, and meets a variety of other oudoboron. They all spend their lives differently. Some prefer to engage in very risky behavior like fighting in wars. Others prefer to maximize their fun since there’s no consequences. Harry in general is fairly straight laced. He loves to learn. Sometimes he marries, other times he doesn’t. He typically lands in some sort of science-related field.

Nearing his “death” at life number 11, he is visited by a young oudoboron (he always dies for a similar reason at approximately the same time, but the only thing that is always exactly the same in every life is his birth) who passes along a message. “The world is ending, as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster.”

He doesn’t really think too much of it because really, what does that mean? So he spends his twelfth life doing a lot of research. And he finds that technology is indeed speeding up. Following some leads to Russia, he finds a man who he had met in life #5 when he was a professor. The man, during that life, was a student named Vincent Rankis, who had big ideas even then and even bigger ideas now. Scientific curiosity convinces Harry  to join Vincent on his mission to develop a quantum mirror–something which would allow comprehension of the entire universe.  During this time, he discovers that Vincent is a mnemonic, a oudoboron who never forgets (this is quite rare as most of the others eventually begin to forget their early lives). It turns out that Harry, too, is a mnemonic, but he does not reveal this detail to Vincent.

Eventually Harry realizes that he and Vincent are the cause of the message that he received at his death bed. He decides to take a few days away from the lab (he hasn’t left in 10 years) and finds the Leningrad Cronus Club is gone. He tracks down the tomb of the one woman from there who he knew, and finds a cryptic message saying that her death was violent and unexpected (members of the Cronus Club always left messages and clues for each other throughout time). Harry knows in his mind who was behind this (Vincent) and is conflicted as to what to do. He decides to return, and Vincent confirms the suspicion. He doesn’t like the Cronus Clubs because in his mind, they don’t do anything new or different, just live the same lives over and over.

Harry decides to flee, but Vincent foils it. He restrains Harry and questions and tortures him about his point of origin. (The only way to truly kill a oudoboron is to prevent them from being born, and the only way that you can do that is to know where the person is born and who his/her mother is.) Harry refuses to give in. He convinces the main torturer to bring him poison, and Harry manages to take enough to not be able to recover. In his slow death, Vincent decides to perform a Forgetting on Harry. (This is an uncommon thing performed on oudoborons when they have had a particularly traumatizing event.) When he awakes, he realizes that the treatment didn’t work, but it doesn’t matter, Vincent has him killed.

When Harry awakes in life #13, he still remembers everything from the previous lives. And he knows that he needs to find Vincent. At six, he sends a letter, as he always does, to the London Cronus Club to save him, but no one appears. He sneaks away to find that the London Cronus Club no longer exists. Eventually when he is older, he finds out that the Cronus Club ceased to exist in 1909 due to lack of new members. Harry suspects that Victor had done a mass forgetting and heads to Vienna and proves it. He becomes a professional criminal both trying to trace Vincent and also trying to glean any information from remaining Cronus Clubs. Eventually he finds one in Beijing and learns that the forgettings began in 1965 and the pre-birth killings started no earlier than 1896 and accelerated in 1931 (presumably when Vincent can help) which gives him a good timeline to find Vincent. The Beijing Club provides a name of the original person and Harry sets off. When he finds her, he is devastated to find the woman who originally saved him so many lives ago. He initiates a forgetting on her, but never encounters Vincent. It will have to wait until life #14.

In life #14, technology is so far advanced in this life, he knows that the Vincent has been hard at work for the last few years. He makes an ally with an oudoboron whose live begins a few decades before his to help carry out the mission of stopping Vincent. Harry randomly meets Vincent at a colleague’s house, and must pretend not to know him (he should have forgotten). Vincent eventually contacts Harry and begins to get Harry to work for him. Harry does to learn about Vincent’s past. Harry is good at pretending not to remember even during particularly difficult time when Vincent marries Jenny–one of Harry’s wives from a  former life (and the one who he loved the most and told his secret to…and then she left him.) Harry dies earlier in this life, and before he dies, Vincent performs another forgetting. Again, it does not work.

His two other oudoboron acquaintances help him early in life #15 knowing that Vincent must be stopped. They suggest a forgetting but Harry knows it won’t work. So they begin on a plan. At sixteen, Vincent finds Harry at school, and it’s then obvious that Harry is being tracked until he eventually bumps into Vincent again in 1941 during the war. Again Harry pretends that the forgetting has worked, and again Vincent keeps Harry close, having him help with the research. Vincent is very close this time to completing his quantum mirror. Luckily Harry sabotages him from completing it despite his knowledge. Harry and Vincent both begin to die from radiation poisoning from being too close to the mirror for too long. Harry is dying more quickly and as he is dying, Vincent tells him everything. He tells his mother’s name, when he was born, and Harry has already figured out where he was born. Vincent performs yet another forgetting, and yet again it does not work. He checks himself out of the hospital, contacts his allies, and writes Vincent a letter. The game is over.

Verdict: 4.5 Stars

I thought this book was awesome. It’s a creative story set in a really great time period of modern history (which is important because it’s relived over and over). There are few stories that seem not to follow a predictable idea, and this was one. It integrated science and mystery with human drama. (Particularly in the last few lives, Harry struggled with being friends with Vincent while also knowing that he had to destroy him.) There were also sociological bits such as the fact that Harry continued to kill a serial killer in every life (even before the man had made his first kill). It was fascinating and I would definitely recommend it.

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The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

  Summary (Amazon): 

Barcelona, 1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife, Bea, have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julián, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past.

His appearance plunges Fermín and Daniel into a dangerous adventure that will take them back to the 1940s and the early days of Franco’s dictatorship. The terrifying events of that time launch them on a search for the truth that will put into peril everything they love, and will ultimately transform their lives.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary:

This book is our mystery for the year and is also the sequel to the much loved mystery from last year, The Shadow of the WindFrom this book, it’s obvious that Zafon was not just a one-hit wonder. This book focuses itself more on Fermin and Daniel and their story. And it leaves it open for more! If you haven’t read the first book, you should go do that now!

The book begins at Christmastime in 1957 in Barcelona. The bookstore was being passed over by the holiday shoppers until Daniel’s father gets the bright idea to set up a nativity in the window to entice more shoppers. While he’s out acquiring the nativity, a strange old disabled  shopper comes in while Daniel is all alone. The shopper gravitates to the expensive case, and selects a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Daniel tries to dissuade him as he doesn’t want such a notable copy falling into such rough hands, but the shopper hands him a 1000 pesata note (3x the asking price) and tells him to keep the change. The stranger then takes the book and writes inside the front cover, “For Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future. 13”. He then leaves the book and walks out.

Daniel is so intrigued that he allows the man a bit of a start before closing up the shop to follow him. He ducks into a scribe shop, where he learns that the stranger had stopped in earlier the week for some writing. The stranger is missing some fingers, making it difficult to write. The stranger takes off again, and Daniel follows him to a shady rent-by-the-hour sort of establishment, where he asks the porter for information. The porter tells Daniel that the stranger’s name is Fermin Romero de Torres! Daniel hurries back to the scribe and finds that the letter that was written had mention of a key.

Daniel gets back to the bookstore and is relieved that his father isn’t back yet. It gives him time to ponder how to give Fermin the book. Fermin has been in a dark mood recently, and it’s suspected that perhaps it is because of his upcoming (February) wedding to Bernarda, but no one is for certain. Fermin comes in shortly before Daniel’s father returns with the nativity. Once Daniel is alone with Fermin, he tells Fermin about the stranger and shows him the book. Fermin makes Daniel promise to not say anything about it to anyone and then Fermin walks out.

That evening, Bea (Daniel’s wife) tells him that she ran into Bernarda (Fermin’s fiancee). Bernarda told her that Fermin had been refusing to fill out the church papers for the wedding. And that she is pregnant!

To add an extra secret in the mix, Daniel finds a letter in Bea’s jacket from her old boyfriend Pablo in which he professes his love for her and asks her to meet him.

Fermin and Daniel have dinner to discuss their predicaments, and Daniel manages to get Fermin to talk. Fermin does not want to sign the wedding papers, in fact he can’t, because Fermin Romero de Torres is not his real name as he told Daniel in the last book. During the war, Fermin had to abandon his old name and he chose the name of a bullfighter whose name he saw. And the additional problem is that the second, non-bull fighter named Fermin Romero de Torres died in 1940 in the prison of Montjuic Castle, cell number 13. Like the dedication that the stranger left in the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. 

Fermin proceeds to tell Daniel how that happened. In 1939, Fermin arrived at the Montjuic Castle. When asked for his name, Fermin Romero de Torres was the name he provided. When he is put into his cell, he finds that the previous tenant is still there. In a body bag. He takes the clothes off the dead body on the advice of the person in the neighboring cell, David Martin. Martin is an author and of special interest to Governor Mauricio Valls, who thinks he is also an author. Martin is not faring well in prison, having poor health and many moments of delusion, and is nicknamed “The Prisoner of Heaven” by the doctor in cell 12 who is tasked with keeping him alive.

Martin had come to the prison at the request of the governor himself because of a series of crimes he didn’t commit (a common occurrence). The governor made a proposal to Martin, asking Martin to review his writings as Martin was more in touch with the common man. Martin agrees to protect his friend, Isabella. Isabella and her husband run a bookshop that holds a special place for Martin.

After six months, Fermin gets a cell roommate, Sebastian Salgado. Shortly thereafter, he is taken to speak to the governor. The governor wants him to spy on Salgado because he killed a family of jewelers and stole money and jewels and to spy on Martin for anything unusual, particularly the mention of a cemetery of forgotten books. The governor also tells Fermin to encourage Martin to do the job that the governor has asked so that Senora Isabella, her husband, and her son won’t be penalized.

It’s at this point that Daniel realizes that he is the son that was referred to. His mother’s name was Isabella.

Fermin proceeds with the story. Salgado is taken away for “questioning” (aka torture). When he returns to the cell, Fermin asks him why he won’t just say where the money is, but Salgado insists that the money is his future. However, one morning, Fermin witnesses Salgado taking a key out of his um, internal pocket, and hiding it in the wall of the cell. Meanwhile, Martin is plotting Fermin’s escape. Salgado somehow realizes this and makes a deal with Fermin. Salgado will keep quiet if Fermin will tell Valls an exact story of how to get Salgado’s money. He also makes a deal with Martin that in exchange for his escape, he will promise to take care of Isabella and her family.

Fermin tells Valls that he must go to the old factory at midnight, find the old guards’ lodge and say “Durruti lives.” He also tells Valls the location of the Cemetery is under the Borne Market. While Fermin is talking to the governor, Martin has fainted in his cell. The doctor/cellmate attends to him, and later in the evening, he convinces the jailer to abandon his post to get more medical supplies. During the distraction, the doctor gets a bottle of (presumably) chloroform to Fermin who uses it to fake Salgado’s death. The jailer brings a sack for the dead body. Fermin switches his clothes with Salgado’s, gets the key that Salgado has hidden, and puts himself into the sack.

While this is happening at the prison, Valls has agreed to meet with Isabella. The lawyer that she hired for Martin has told her about the governor’s plan to have Martin write his work. He waits at a diner for her with two cups of tea, one which has been poisoned. She is obviously upset upon arrival and is easily convinced to drink the calming tea. She eventually realizes that something has happened and stumbles out of the restaurant. She lives only a few days more. En route home, Valls and his driver stop at the old factory where the driver, not Valls, follows Salgado’s instructions and is obviously killed.

The gravediggers come to pick up “Salgado” shortly before Valls returns to the prison. Valls is told that Salgado has died, but he demands to go to the cell where he figures out the slip. The gravediggers take Fermin to an open grave filled with quicklime and dump the sack. Fermin gets out as quickly as possible and heads toward Somorrostro, the city of the poor. Fermin rests and recovers there for a length of time, and when he has finally recovered, he find that he has been pronounced dead from falling into a ravine while escaping from the law. The man who attended to Fermin as he recovered also escaped from Cell 13, and he gives Fermin the name of a lawyer, the same one who helped Martin, to help him when he eventually returns to Barcelona.

When Fermin arrives in Barcelona, he goes to find Martin’s address, but it has been destroyed during the war. He decides to sleep in the rubble where he is found by a priest who takes pity on him. The following day, he stands up for Rocito who is being abused by her pimp, and she repays him with food and a place to stay. He finds his way to the lawyer’s office where he learns that Isabella is dead. Martin is still in prison, in solitary confinement. Fermin stays with Brians and helps organize and bring in new clients. One day Brians goes to check on Martin at the prison, but he is no longer there. No one is sure what happened to him. Fermin leaves Brians, returning to the streets where eventually Daniel finds him (book 1).

Back in the present, Daniel realizes that he knows who Mauricio Valls is. He had been the Minister of Culture until recently, well known as the great author and thinker of the time. Daniel is upset and wants to take vengeance on Valls, but he doesn’t know where to find him. Fermin and Daniel’s father both try to dissuade him from doing anything foolish.

Daniel and Fermin go to visit the strange old man who left Fermin the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo which the reader has now figured out is obviously Salgado. Fermin returns the key that he took to Salgado and after a brief head start, they follow him. They follow Salgado to a train station where he removes a case from a locker. He opens it, pauses for a minute, and then walks off leaving the case. Daniel goes to retrieve the case which he finds to be empty while Fermin follows Salgado. When Daniel catches up with them, Salgado is dead. He just keeled over. Fermin believes that the loot was stolen by Valls.

Daniel sends Fermin home while he takes on his second task–getting Fermin’s name restored with the help of Professor Albuquerque and the scribe he met earlier in the book. While speaking to Albuquerque, Daniel inquires further about what Valls has been up to recently, but no one really knows. Professor Albuquerque knew that Valls had set up a publishing house a number of years ago which is still active although no one sees Valls around there any more. Daniel continues digging about Valls and pinpoints the exact last time he was seen in public–1956.

Eventually the day arrives that Bea is supposed to meet her old love, Pablo. Daniel is an emotional mess. He decides to call the hotel where they are supposed to meet, and he finds that Pablo is reserved under a company name. The Ariadna publishing company–the same company that Valls started! Daniel decides to go to the hotel where Pablo is to meet Bea. Daniel finds him, but luckily Bea did not turn up. Upon physical pressure, Pablo confesses that one of Valls’ secretaries convinced him to write the letter, but he doesn’t know why, and he has never seen Valls in person. Fermion arrives and pretending to be an inspector, takes Pablo’s story to protect Daniel from charges.

Daniel manages to get Fermin his papers. He has a rager of a stag night, and first thing in the morning on his wedding day, Daniel takes Fermin to the cemetery of forgotten books. Fermin chooses a book written by David Martin. Isaac, the caretaker of the cemetery, alludes to them that he has seen Martin recently! And the last time that Martin was there, he left Isaac a package to give to Daniel–the book which he had written while imprisoned. It contains a note for Daniel telling him to not seek revenge for his mother’s death because Martin intends to take care of that task for him.

Fermin and Bernarda get married and the book ends with an epilogue showing a potential address for Mauricio Valls. To be continued???

Verdict: 4 stars

Zafon is such a great author. The books are so enchanting and keep the reader engaged to the end. I’m excited to read book 2 (the prequel) and I truly hope that there is a book 4. There are just too many loose ends to not have one!!

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The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side – Agatha Christie

  Summary (Amazon):The quaint village of St Mary Mead has been glamourized by the presence of screen queen Marina Gregg, who has taken up residence in preparation for her comeback. But when a local fan is poisoned, Marina finds herself starring in a real-life mystery—supported with scene-stealing aplomb by Jane Marple, who suspects that the lethal cocktail was intended for someone else. But who? If it was meant for Marina, then why? And before the final fade-out, who else from St Mary Mead’s cast of seemingly innocent characters is going to be eliminated?

My Review (Spoilers!! For real, it’s a mystery!)

Executive Summary: suspenseful

I have read exactly 1 Agatha Christie novel prior to this (Murder on the Orient Express). My mother has read approximately all of them (some of them aren’t in print any more but aside from that). Recently, a podcast I follow, Stuff Mom Never Told You, did an episode on female detectives, and one who came up in book form was Miss Marple. The podcast discussed how Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote was based off of Miss Marple. As I had never read any Miss Marple (Murder on the Orient Express was Hercule Poirot), I asked my mom for a good Miss Marple suggestion, and this was the book that she chose. I really enjoyed the book, and maybe once I get through some more of the books on my To Read list, I’ll fill in with a few more Agatha’s.

As I’ve never reviewed a true “who done it?” type of mystery, I’m going to try setting it up as “crime scene”, “potential suspects & testimony” and “solution”. We’ll see how it goes. So if you want to read the book eventually but don’t want to know the ending, don’t read the “solution” section!

The book begins by discussing some general information about St. Mary Mead, the town where Miss Marple lives. The quaint little town is changing now that a new housing area has been built called “The Development”. A lot of the other older ladies are a bit skeptical of The Development and the people who live there, but Miss Marple thinks you have to keep up with the times as human beings are always the same as they always have been. She even goes so far as to evade her annoying but well-meaning maid, Miss Knight, by sending her on a long shopping trip, and sneak off to see The Development by herself. While there, she gives some advice to a girl about getting not married to the man who she is with (he is a loser, so I supported Miss Marple butting in!) but as she is leaving, she falls. A nice lady from one of the nearby houses comes out to help, takes her inside, and gets her a cup of tea. Mrs. Badcock and her husband introduce themselves. Mrs. Badcock brings up the new favorite gossip topic of the town–Marina Gregg (a famous actress) and her husband are moving into Gossington Hall. Mrs. Badcock tells about how she once met Marina despite being sick, sneaking out against doctor’s orders.

Crime Scene:

Marina Gregg and her fourth husband, Jason “Jinks” Rudd, were hosting an event at Gossington Hall for the St. John Ambulance. An eclectic group of people were invited to this event including the Ambulance group volunteers, Marina’s friends and associates, and Mrs. Bantry, Miss Marple’s friend and also the previous owner of Gossington Hall. A greeting line for the VIP attendants was assembled at the top of the stairs to meet Marina Gregg and her husband. Just in front of Mrs. Bantry in line was the Councillor and Mrs. Allcock, and behind her, the vicar followed by Mr. and Mrs. Badcock (Mrs. Badcock is the secretary of the Ambulance committee.) As Mrs. Badcock meets Marina, she spills the story of how once in Bermuda, she sneaked out despite being sick, to meet Marina and get her autograph. In the meantime, Mrs. Allcock and Mrs. Bantry were discussing how the house had changed and convinced Jason to allow them to view the bathrooms. Marina had dazed off during Mrs. Badcock’s spiel and when finally finished, offers her a drink. Jason suggests a daiquiri, Marina’s favorite, and brings one for both of them. Mrs. Allcock and Mrs. Bantry mosey off to explore. As they are on their way back to the main party, commotion arises as Mrs. Badcock has taken ill with a seizure or something, and before anything can be done, she has died.

Potential Suspects & Testimony:

The following day, Mrs. Bantry comes by to see Miss Marple to tell her what has happened, but her housemaid, Cherry, spills the beans first. Cherry is a juxtaposition of the other maid Mrs. Knight, as Cherry lives in The Development and cares much less about how things are “supposed to be” (aka always have been). Cherry informs her that Mrs. Badcock died after having a drink at Gossington Hall despite her being of good health, and the death is suspicious because they are doing an autopsy. When the doctor comes later to check on Miss Marple, he notices that she is in good health and spirits now that she has a murder to solve! The Chief-Inspector in London, Dermot Craddock, is eventually involved in the investigation, and he and Miss Marple share ideas throughout.

Mrs. Bantry: She was at the crime scene, but didn’t witness the actual death. She tells Miss Marple who all was at the scene of the crime–Miss Ella Zielinsky (Marina’s social secretary), Hailey Prescott (Marina’s secretary), the vicar, the mayor and his wife, a reporter with a funny beard, a photographer, 2 Studio people, and the Grices. Mrs. Bantry observed that as Mrs. Badcock was telling Marina the story of their prior meeting that Marina became frozen like the Lady of Shallott “The mirror crack’d from side to side: ‘The doom has come upon me,’ cried the Lady of Shallott.” as she was staring at something beyond Mrs. Badcock–either someone else on the stairs or possibly a picture on the wall of the Bellini Madonna. (I have never read this Tennyson story so some of this was missed on me but obviously it’s where the book title came from)

Arthur Badcock: Mr. Badcock was the husband of the deceased. As the inspector and Mr. Badcock arrive at Mr. Badcock’s home, the inspector is surprised to find a widowed neighbor woman already inside making tea. The inspector asks Mr. Badcock if his wife had ever taken Calmo, the street name of the drug that Mrs. Badcock had been poisoned with, but he did not know of her ever taking any medication. They go over what happened at Gossington Hall, and Mr. Badcock mentions that after his wife received her drink, they moved away and were speaking to some other friends, when someone bumped his wife’s elbow and she spilled her drink down her dress. Marina helped her clean up and even offered Mrs. Badcock her own drink which she hadn’t touched. Miss Marple, based on her initial meeting of Mr. Badcock, does not suspect he would be capable of poisoning his wife although she thinks he will probably marry again soon.

Hailey Preston: Hailey was Marina’s personal assistant. Hailey tells the inspector that Calmo is very common around the household. He takes it sometimes because it calms you down and picks you up. There are bottles in most of the cupboards as Marina and Miss Zielinsky also take it from time to time. Hailey specifies that the reporter with the funny beard was Jim Galbraith, and that one of the “Studio people” was Ardwyck Fenn, a good friend of Marina’s second husband.

Jason Rudd: Marina Gregg’s husband, and obvious suspect #1 because…it’s always the husband! When asked about Marina’s freezing while talking to Mrs. Badcock, Jason doesn’t remember it. He suspects maybe because it’s so tiring hearing stories about people meeting her which to them is a very big deal but to her, it is not. He also suspects that perhaps his wife was the target of the poisoning, but it was an accident that Mrs. Badcock was instead. Marina has always been nervy, and has always desperately been looking for love, children, and happiness. Marina adopted 3 children, but then eleven years ago got pregnant with a child, a boy. (Miss Marple is very curious what happened to the adopted children.) The child was born handicapped and placed in a home. Marina never fully recovered. On the night of the incident, he poured his wife and Mrs. Badcock cocktails from a jug that was premade. While he saw his wife set her glass down for photographs, he did not see anyone poison it.

Miss Ella Zielinsky: Marina’s social secretary who was at the scene. Marina admits that they all take Calmo, and that perhaps it was just an accidental overdose. She claims Marina may have thought a drink was hers when perhaps it wasn’t. Apparently Marina is flitty like that. Working for Marina is difficult as she is prone to extreme ups and downs, and she becomes very sensitive when around children. Ella is also in love with Jason. She also suffers from hay fever

Marina Gregg: the actress. Marina has been married 4 times. First to a realtor, the second was a foreign prince. Third was a film star, and fourth was current husband Jason. Marina believes that she was the target of the poison as it was her drink that Mrs. Badcock had in the end. And she has also received messages. Recently one that said “Don’t think you’ll escape next time”. Another came when they had just moved in which said “Prepare to Die” and one came on the day of the party which said “Today will be your last day on earth”. Marina has no idea who they are from. When asked about her “mirror crack’d” look, she explains it away with just going through the gestures and then getting lost in the repetition.

Miss Lola Brewster: the other “Studio person” in the receiving line. She was apparently married to Marina’s 3rd husband, and Marina lured the man away. Despite Lola threatening Marina once long ago at a drunken party, there are no hard feelings between the two. Lola has no idea what happened to the adopted children.

Ardwyck Fenn: the “Studio person”. He and Marina have known each other for many years. He suggests that possibly the crime could have been committed by the understudy in Marina’s upcoming film, but the problem is that she wasn’t at the party. He has no real useful information.

Margot Bence: the photographer. She took photos of all the people in the receiving line at the party, and she managed to snap a photo of the exact “mirror crack’d” face that Marina was making. As Dermot continues interviewing her, he realizes that she is one of the missing adopted children! She took the job as a bit of a gag because she wanted to see if Marina recognized her (she didn’t). She and the other children were sent away with decent stipends and new families once the biological baby was made. She lost track of the others but assures Dermot that she has no reason to kill Marina.

Marina continues to be watched. Some coffee at her movie set seemed off, and after a sip, her husband took it and threw it out (saving just a bit to test). It came back poisoned with arsenic which is tasteless. She continues to get threatening notes. Ella Zielinsky is up to something. Mrs. Bantry sees her twice making phone calls from the public phone. First she tells Mrs. Bantry that the phone at Gossington Hall is out, but Mrs. Bantry phones there, and their line is just fine. She returns to the house, still suffering her hay fever, and takes cyanide-laced medicine just after telling Jason that Giuseppe has left for London. The Inspector receives a call from Ardwyck Fenn who says that he was being blackmailed by Ella–he recognized her sneeze.

When Giuseppe returns from London, he heads to his bedroom where a window has been left open. He is shot twice.

Miss Marple discusses the case with Cherry the next day, when Cherry reveals that her friend Gladys, a seamstress, was going to meet Giuseppe. Gladys had told Cherry something “funny” that she wanted to ask the butler about. Gladys had said that “she did it on purpose” to which Cherry asked “spilt the cocktail on purpose?” to which Gladys replied yes. When the inspector goes to speak to Gladys later that day, she is gone.

Marina continues to despair about the situation surrounding her. First the cocktail meant for her, then the coffee and the notes, and then the additional deaths of Giuseppe and Ella.

Solution:

Miss Marple requested again that all of the people who witnessed Mrs. Badcock’s story to Marina tell again what she had said. Comparing the stories, Miss Marple realizes that Mrs. Badcock had been sick with German measles when she went to see Marina. German measles apparently causes or birth defects. (I didn’t know this.) So as Mrs. Badcock is telling Marina her story, Marina sees the picture of the Virgin Mary and realizes that the reason that her child was born with disabilities and she is unable to have any more children is because of this woman who gave her the measles. So she poisoned her own drink, bumped into Mrs. Badcock forcing her to spill hers. Marina then offers up her own poisoned drink for Mrs. Badcock. Ella and Giuseppe were killed to cover up loose ends, and in the end Marina poisons herself, possibly with her husband’s help.

Verdict: 4 stars

I understand why Agatha is so well esteemed. Her story offers up just the right amount of clues and red herrings to keep you guessing until the end. I did guess it, but I wasn’t certain. I enjoyed Miss Marple as she had just the right about of sass and pessimism for my taste! I’ll definitely read another Agatha in the future.

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Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz

IMG_1195Summary (Amazon): The game is once again afoot in this thrilling mystery from the bestselling author of The House of Silk, sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, which explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls.

Internationally bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s nail-biting new novel plunges us back into the dark and complex world of detective Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty—dubbed the Napoleon of crime” by Holmes—in the aftermath of their fateful struggle at the Reichenbach Falls.

Days after the encounter at the Swiss waterfall, Pinkerton detective agent Frederick Chase arrives in Europe from New York. Moriarty’s death has left an immediate, poisonous vacuum in the criminal underworld, and there is no shortage of candidates to take his place—including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase and Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction originally introduced by Conan Doyle in “The Sign of Four”, must forge a path through the darkest corners of England’s capital—from the elegant squares of Mayfair to the shadowy wharfs and alleyways of the London Docks—in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

A riveting, deeply atmospheric tale of murder and menace from one of the only writers to earn the seal of approval from Conan Doyle’s estate, Moriarty breathes life into Holmes’s dark and fascinating world.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: uninspired

Maybe it’s just me, but when you know a novel is sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, and the summary states that the book is about what happened to “Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty”, you expect Sherlock Holmes to at least appear in the book. Spoiler, he doesn’t.

The book begins at Reichenbach Falls after “The Final Problem” (a short story by Doyle) where both Moriarty and Holmes argue and fall to their deaths.

Mr. Chase, the narrator, arrives in Switzerland to examine the body that was pulled out of the falls which has been identified as James Moriarty. Frederick Chase is American from Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, and he wants to examine the body to find a correspondence between an American criminal and Moriarty. In the morgue, he meets Scotland Yard detective, Athelney Jones. Jones is a cheap replica of Sherlock Holmes, using catch phrases such as “elementary” and costumes and powers of observation. (I was worried that it was going to come out later in the book that Jones was actually Holmes, and I would have thrown the book away at that point to spare others from reading it. However, that didn’t happen.) The two find a note that no one else found in Moriarty’s jacket lining which is presumably the note Chase is looking for, and also is in code.

Jones decodes the note and then meets with Chase to initiate a partnership. Chase tells Jones about Clarence Devereux, the American criminal mastermind who sent the letter to Moriarty. Chase is unsure that Devereux is his real name, as he has never seen the man. He is familiar with some of Devereux’s associates–brothers Edgar and Leland Mortlake and Scotchy Lavelle. Due to the work of one of his investigators (who was killed in duty), Jonathan Pilgrim, Chase believes all of these men to be in London to spread their crime ring across the pond initially to team up with Moriarty, and now to take his place.

The decoded note says “Professor Moriarty, meet me at the Cafe Royal, London. One o’clock, May the twelfth. Wear a red tulip.” They concoct a plan. Jones will make a statement saying that he believes Moriarty to still be alive, and Chase will go to the Cafe wearing a red tulip to see what happens. When he does, a boy arrives, but when Chase cannot answer his question of how many ravens flew out of the Tower of London, the boy threatens Chase and leaves with Jones on his tail.

Jones has followed the boy to Bladeston House that is currently being rented by Scotchy Lavelle, so Jones and Chase interrogate Lavelle at the house who assures them he has never seen the boy in question, nor does he know Clarence Devereux. The two leave only to return the following morning to the scene of a gruesome murder–everyone in the house had been drugged and killed in their sleep. They investigate Lavelle’s study and find a sheet in his diary which says “HORNER 13”. They are unsure what it means but it seems important. As Jones and Chase are leaving the house, Edgar Mortlake appears, and they question him too. He claims not to know what has happened there, and he also claims to not know who Devereux is.

Chase goes with Jones to meet with the other Scotland Yard detectives about the attack, and they decide to raid the Bostonian to attempt to locate Devereux. They find the Mortlake brothers there, unsurprisingly, but they don’t provide any information. The only thing of value that they obtain is an advertising card for Horner’s hair tonic, and they set on their way to speak to Albert Horner.

The barber, who has taken over the business recently for Horner, does not appear to know any of the people Chase and Jones are interested in. They meet up again at Scotland Yard later that day, and Chase sees Jones awaiting him, but he also sees the boy from earlier. The boy got into a brougham with an older man and heads off. Chase follows until almost struck by a bus, and as they are walking back to the station, they hear an explosion. A package brought by a messenger boy was left outside Jones’s office by the telegraph room. A few people died, and certainly had Jones been at his desk, he would have also. Chase agrees to not discuss the matter when he goes to Jones’s house for dinner that evening.

At dinner, Jones’s wife forces a situation where she is alone with Chase so that she can get real information. He tells her that the explosion was indeed very near Jones’s office, and she tells Chase that her husband became obsessed with Sherlock Holmes after Watson portrayed him in an unflattering light after their two cases together. Elspeth wants Chase to look after and protect her husband during this investigation, and he agrees.

Jones and Chase reconvene the following day, and Jones has tracked down the driver of the brougham (apparently these were fairly rare). The driver picked up the tall 40 or 50 year old passenger at the Strand and then took him to Whitehall to wait for the boy and then they headed to 123 Victoria Street–the location of the legation of the USA. Jones is not permitted to go inside as they don’t have enough evidence. However, they remember that there was an invitation to a party there in Lavelle’s things, so they decide to go as the party is the next evening.

They attend the party and meet Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son. This serves no other purpose, but I thought it was an interest inclusion. They try to avoid notice, however, they must be introduced to all the hosts during which time, they inquire about Devereux to no avail before their cover is blown by the Mortlake brothers who insist that they get arrested. The official comes to take them into a private room, and they discover that the shy, unremarkable man is actually…Clarence Devereux! However, they cannot arrest him, but they do leave of their own volition. However, Devereux still makes an official complaint to Scotland Yard about Jones, so he has a limited time before he will be on probation.

Working quickly to devise a plan to draw out Devereux, the two come up with a fairly convoluted scheme. They return to the barber’s. It turns out that the barber is being used by Devereux to tunnel under the street into the bank to steal from the safe deposit boxes. They use this plan to set a trap for the Mortlake brothers and Devereux. After the robbery was announced in the papers, Edgar Mortlake comes to collect for Devereux. Chase and Jones are waiting, but he gets away. They go to the Bostonian to question his brother Mortlake, and as Chase is escorting him out, he is killed by a poison dart.

In retribution, Jones’s daughter is kidnapped from a playground. Eventually Jones (and Chase) are summoned to meet the kidnappers at Dead Man’s Walk (an old cemetery which sounds quite macabre). They arrive and find Edgar Mortlake alive despite his daring jump previously. Jones’s daughter is returned but Jones and Chase are captured and taken to a meat freezer for torture and questioning. Devereux is also there. Jones manages to shoot Mortlake with the single bullet hidden in his cane, and during the chaos, Jones and Chase manage to get away with some help of some extraordinary circumstances including the power going out and an appearance by the strange recurring boy.

They return to the American legation to arrest Devereux, finding the book where the ransom note page was removed, having just cause. Devereux and his severe agoraphobia are loaded into a closed wagon, and Jones and Chase follow in a different vehicle. Suddenly the boy again appears and kills a police officer in the procession. Jones takes out a hidden gun to pick off the boy, when Chase takes out his own gun and shoots Jones in the head.

Chase is Moriarty. He was annoyed that Devereux moved into his territory so he faked his own death so that he could go through and pick off all of Devereux’s crew. The book proceeds to rehash the entire story showing how Moriarty fooled everyone.

Verdict: 3 Stars

Bah. I wanted to like this SO much more. But there were parts in the middle that dragged, and the ending was in no way a surprise. There were way too many clues. Everyone died after they had been visited by Chase & Jones. The random appearance of the boy during the escape from the meat cellar. The fact that Jones’s wife didn’t trust Chase. I wasn’t fooled, and I wasn’t emotional about it. I liked Jones (and apparently so did Chase), but he was still no Sherlock Holmes. When does the next season of Sherlock start? It’s one of the rare occasions that a TV show far exceeds a book.

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Filed under 3 stars, Book Review