I made a lot of progress this week, finishing books for Amateur Sleuth, Trick or Treat, Lethal Games, Splatter, Halloween and Psych.
Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie: I read this one for the Halloween square. I had been planning to read one of Ngaio Marsh’s “theater” mysteries, because this particular square includes a fancy dress component, but my library holds didn’t cooperate. This is a perennial favorite, and I have read it for this square before – Ariadne Oliver is always worth reading.
The Family Plot by Megan Collins: I read this for Psych, although it would have fit in a number of places. It was okay, but not my favorite type of book. People who enjoy the “domestic thriller” genre will probably enjoy it more than I did.
Five Red Fingers by Brian Flynn: this Anthony Bathurst mystery is set in the world of horse racing, so it was a great fit for Lethal Games. I enjoyed it, although the solution was silly.
The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson: I read this one for Trick or Treat, which is the square that combines YA mystery & horror. Johnson is very obviously a Christie fan, and this one was very entertaining.
Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly: I am a Harry Bosch fan. I’ve read the entire series a couple of times, and anything in the Harry Bosch Universe (except for the Mickey Haller books, which I find meh) are an autobuy for me. This is the third book, and is where the series really hits its stride. A fantastic entry. I read this one for Splatter.
The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor: Female vicar named Jack, and her daughter Flo, are exiled to a weird little town steeped in darkness after Jack gets into some sort of trouble at her last parish, and someone immediately begins trying to kill them. I read it for Amateur Sleuth, and liked it a lot.
I only have four more squares and I’ll black out my card. I’m hoping to complete the card by October 1!
Week 3 was spent mostly on vacation at the Pacific City, on the Oregon Coast. It is a very beautiful place, and there was a lot of walking on the beach, craft beer, visiting tide pools with my kids, and playing ball with my 16 month old Golden Retriever pup, Gus. There was, also, plenty of time for reading!
I finished several books:
Falling Star by Patricia Moyes for the Vintage Mystery square: this was the 5th book in the Inspector Henry Tibbets series. It was first published in 1964, but was only a mediocre installment. The solution to the mystery was a bit too clever, and it was told in a first-person narration through a thoroughly unlikeable narrator. I think he was supposed to be a bit of a Bertie Wooster type, but he was just ugh.
My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart for Romantic Suspense: Mary Stewart is a longtime favorite author. Her books were released for the kindle a few years ago now, very inexpensively. I bought them all and have been parceling them out bit-by-bit rather than just going on a binge. I always love her beautifully rendered settings, and this was no exception, being set in Greece.
Relic by Preston & Childs for the Free square: I bought this book for my husband years ago, and hadn’t read it. I was hoping that it would fit my Relics & Curiosities square, but it really didn’t – title notwithstanding – so I dropped it into the Free Square. I could juggle my squares a bit and move some things around to put this one in Dem Bones, but I think I’m just going to leave it be.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman for Dem Bones: This book was a lot of fun. It’s been sort of everywhere recently, and I understand why. I also read that it has been optioned by Spielberg – as I was reading it, I was imagining what a wonderful movie it would make.
Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris for Darkest London: I started reading Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscolo for this square, but DNF’d at about 20% because it really wasn’t working for me at all. I’ve been reading this historical mystery series for years, and am still about five books behind!
Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece for Southern Gothic: This was one of my anticipated Halloween Bingo reads, partially because of the gorgeous cover. It was good, but not great – I felt like it was trying to do too any things all at once. I liked the story about the town and the wisewomen and the magical realism, but when it came to the murder mystery and the cartoon villains, I was very meh.
And that’s it for the vacation week! Fifteen books done, ten to go!
Last update, I had finished 3 books. I had a very good reading week this week (as is the norm when I’m playing Halloween Bingo – I just can’t read fast enough!) and finished an additional 5 books.
The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald: I read this for my Noir square. I’ve been reading quite a bit of hardboiled/California noir fiction recently and MacDonald does it really well. Lew Archer, MacDonald’s PI, is the natural heir to Philip Marlowe, and operates within the same Los Angeles as Marlowe. The plotting in this one had some weaknesses, and the reader is blindsided at the end by a character who behaves entirely out of the character that had been built through the entire novel, but overall, very enjoyable.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley: This has been on my TBR for ages, and I’m trying to bring more diversity to my Halloween Bingo reading, which is why I selected this one. It was terrific and I highly recommend it. The inclusion of the black experience in a piece of noir fiction was really intriguing. I used a Double Trouble card so I applied this one to both Diverse Voices and Film at Eleven.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow: I also really loved this book. It’s a piece of historical fiction set in Colonial America, that has a strong connection to fairy tales and feminist themes. This is the second book I’ve read by Harrow, the other being The Ten Thousand Doors of January, a portal fantasy, which I also loved. Harrow is an auto-buy for me at this point. I used this one for A Grimm Tale.
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke: I thought I had read everything Locke has published, but it turns out I was wrong. This is an early stand-alone, and is my least favorite of all of her books. That doesn’t mean it’s not good, but I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. I used an Amplification card (Locke is a Black author) to fill Fear the Drowning Deep.
Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham: I am not knowledgeable about the Campion books, and I picked this one more or less at random, and because I could get it for free from the KU library. Mistake. This is an amnesia book, and I don’t know the series well enough to feel anything other than completely confused when dropped into a book where the MC doesn’t know his own name. I will probably revisit it when I have read more of the series. This one checked off the Paint It Black card, with its predominantly black cover.
I am on vacation for the week, and am headed over to the coast tomorrow, so I’ll still be reading, but not probably posting.
I switched up my markers a bit. The owl is the marker for “read” squares, and the moon/cat is the marker for “called + read.” There is also a marker for “called but not read,” but I don’t have any of those yet. The only call that has been on my card so far is Ghost Stories.
I have finished three books so far:
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik: I read this for the Dark Academia. It came pretty close to a DNF, because I wasn’t crazy about it at the beginning. I didn’t find any of the characters very engaging until about 40%, when it hooked me. I ended up really liking it, and I will definitely continue with the series.
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie: I read this for Country House Mystery. This is a beloved Christie, and it will get the full review treatment sometime this month.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: This is another take on Dark Academia, although I read it for Ghost Stories. It was another slow starter, but I really loved the second half. It’s a twisty tale set at Yale, in New Haven. It is pretty much begging for a television adaptation.
I started a fourth book, The Quincunx by Charles Palliser, but I’m just not feeling it right now, so I’m going to set it aside. It’s definitely the sort of thing that I like, so I’ll come back to it eventually.
Publication information: this is Agatha Christie’s 11th full-length mystery, published in the UK by Collins Crime Club on September 7, 1931. It was published in the U.S. that same year by Dodd, Mead & Company under the title Murder at Hazelmoor.
The Sittaford Mystery is a stand-alone, with only a single character who appears in more than one Christie – Inspector Narracott also makes an appearance in a radio play called Personal Call, which is part of an audio anthology called Agatha Christie: the Lost Plays. If you are interested, you can find it on Audible here.
I have read The Sittaford Mystery several times – four at least. I always enormously enjoy it, and this was no exception to that rule. Agatha is at her most playful here, incorporating a number of Sherlock Holmes-ish elements, including a seance, an escaped convict and the Dartmoor landscape.
She sets the book during a notable snow-storm – the book opens on a snowy evening party at Sittaford House, which is being rented by a mother-daughter pair of Australians. This makes The Sittaford Mystery a perfect winter reading escape – I was actually reading it at the wrong time of year altogether. I do remember that my last reading of the book occurred as part of a family winter holiday. My daughter & I listened to it on a drive between our home in the Portland area and the Bend area of Oregon, which was sheer perfection. The roadsides were white and piled with snow, and we drove in a very light snow, so that there weren’t safety issues, but there was added atmosphere for the Hugh Fraser audiobook.
Back to the beginning of The Sittaford Mystery, though. Looking for entertainment, the party, which introduces many of the characters, decide to indulge in a spot of table-turning. The “spirit” who contacts them claims to be Captain Trevelyan, the owner of Sittaford House, where the party is taking place. Captain Trevelyan is spending the winter in a nearby town, because he wanted the money offered by Mrs. Willett to take Sittaford House for the winter. He is supposed to be very much alive at the moment of the table turning. The spirit’s announcement becomes even more dramatic – with a claim that he, Captain Trevelyan, has been murdered.
This all happens very early in the book, so it’s not a spoiler. It’s a cracking opening, though, and is immediately intriguing.
The announcement that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered has quite an effect on the table-turners. His best friend, Major Burnaby, who was reluctantly drawn into the table-turning enterprise, is shaken against his will. He decides that he needs to get to Exhampton to make sure that Trevelyan is all right. The conditions are terrible, deep snow and more snow falling with a blizzard expected. The roads are impassable so driving to Exhampton is out of the question. Nonetheless, Major Burnaby is the sporty type, so he takes off on foot, for the two and a half hour walk through the snow. He finds Captain Trevelyan murdered.
I’m not going to spoil this book because Agatha’s puzzle mysteries are such fun. I almost never figured them out the first time through. I don’t remember if I figured this one out or if it was wholly baffling.
I want to talk about bit about two of my favorite characters in the book, though. First, a mention of Inspector Narracott, our Inspector du Livre, who is very well-drawn and likeable. He is no bumbler – he comes to Sittaford to solve the mystery, and is quite capable. It’s a bit of a pity that Agatha never really used him again.
The life and soul of this book, though, is Emily Trefusis, whose fiance, James Pearson, is one of Captain Trevelyan’s heirs. It seems that the good Captain is quite well-off, and, as well, is a woman-hater so he has no wife or children to stand in the way of his siblings – and their children, inheriting a packet. Each of the four heirs are quite hard up, and they all stand to gain approximately 20K pounds.
This is a tidy sum – according to a calculator I just used, 20K pounds in 1931 had the equivalent purchasing power of 1.4M pounds today. For American readers, that’s almost 2M dollars.
Motives everywhere! Anyway, back to Emily Trefusis, who is delightful. Over the many years that I have read Christie’s books I have found that some of her best characters are young women, and Emily Trefusis is a firecracker. She is resourceful and, at times, manipulative. She is a very capable young lady who is determined to clear her boyfriend’s good name, as he has been arrested for the murder. He’s a weak, albeit attractive, young man and is but clay in her hands – her plan is to marry him and make him into a success.
I have no doubt that she will prevail in any endeavor she undertakes. Because Emily Trefusis is a force of nature. Not everyone will connect with her character, but I absolutely do. There was a time in my life, before I raised kids, had a career for 30 years, and was worn down by life, when I, too, was a force of nature. I didn’t need to manipulate a man to fulfill my ambitions, because I have the good fortune of having been born in 1966 instead of 1911 and could do for myself. I don’t hold Emily’s fierceness against her, even when she uses it to manipulate the men around her. Which she does, very effectively.
This being a Christie, there is a love triangle between Emily and her two suitors: the afore-mentioned, somewhat wet, James Pearson and the not-at-all-wet Charles Enderby, a journalist who comes to town to deliver a prize to Captain Trevelyan for winning some sort of a puzzle competition and stays for the murder investigation. Emily very openly uses Enderby to accomplish tasks that she isn’t able to manage by dint of her status as a young woman. Also this being a Christie, Emily chooses between them by the end, and will go off and be married, never to be seen or heard from again (which is really too bad. A mid-career visit from a mature Emily Trefusis would have been a sight to behold).
The Sittaford Mystery isn’t Christie’s best work – but it’s an enjoyable mystery with a great setting and some wonderful characters.