book review: Death in the Clouds, by Agatha Christie

the solving of an airplane murder soars above the average

When I started this book, I admit that I hoped what would happen is that someone would get killed and then Poirot would somehow solve the mystery before the plane ever touched ground. It would be like Murder on the Orient Express except … on an airplane. Which was just two Poirot books ago, which is probably one of the reasons Christie didn’t do that. (For an author so prolific, I find her wonderfully creative from book to book in her contexts and twists and even the flow of action.)

Instead, the murder takes place on an airplane in plain view of everyone, which narrows quite a bit both the field of potential murderers (tough to have someone stowed away on a plane) and the method. Poirot works through, candidate by candidate, until he reaches a wholly surprising conclusion.

I found it engaging, interesting, and the ending was satisfying.

book review: Three Act Tragedy, by Agatha Christie

a novel conceit but not among the better Poirot outings

A retired (but still youngish and handsome) actor holds a dinner party and – surprise! – a guest is murdered! (One thing I enjoyed about Christie’s book of short stories, Poirot Investigates, was that occasionally Poirot investigated something besides a murder. So much murder, quite exhausting.) The actor, his young and attractive admirer, and another friend play the detective. Although the famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is present at the first murder, he does not get involved in the case until more than halfway through the book. I found it a pity, as his special charm (and pleasant arrogance) always warms the page.

The ending of this case felt less resolved than many. We learn who the murderer is, and something of the reason, but it feels less tidily wrapped up; and Poirot seems to rely on that old method: Accuse the murder a few times until he confesses, even in the absence of very solid evidence. (We often see this in courtroom dramas: Bad guys always explode and say unwise things if righteous prosecutors badger them enough.)

Yet I still stayed up late finishing it. It’s not The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd, but then again, it’s also not The Big Four (horrible).  [The other month I was in Brazil and saw a copy of The Big Four translated into Portuguese, and I thought, Of all the Poirot novels to translate, not THAT one!]

(audio) book review: The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin, narrated by Jeff Woodman

It was better when I was a kid, but the climax is still pretty impressive

Millionaire Sam Westing dies and leaves a will inviting 16 potential heirs to play a game to find the murderer. I remember loving this book as a youth, and after being reminded of it in an episode of Veronica Mars*, I revisited it. My first complaint is that it never lets you forget that it’s Young Adult fiction. The characters feel a bit too caricatured sometimes, perhaps, something of which younger readers are often more forgiving. (I was.) This stands in contrast to some young adult fiction, notably Harry Potter books, in which I managed to forget that I was reading a book for a younger audience. My second complaint is that the ending is too indulgent. Hitchcock supposedly said, Always give the audience what it wants. And normally I’m a fan of epilogues that tell me how everything has played out, but with two epilogues and endings that are – to my liking – just a bit too clean (I won’t say more in case you haven’t read it), it just felt like too much dessert, leaving me uncomfortably full.

BUT although I think I missed some clues, I was truly drawn in as we neared the climax, and I was genuinely (and pleasantly) surprised by the way the puzzle played itself out.

I would definitely recommend this to a young adult. If you’re an adult, there are probably better puzzle books. (Or read this awesome science fiction novel I finished yesterday – The Day of the Triffids. It was exceptional!)

Note on content: The book is about the solving of a murder, and there is some talk about a corpse with maggots crawling out of its sockets.

* Season 1: The one where Deb from Napolean Dynamite finds her biological mom. Her younger sister is reading The Westing Game.  The episode is called Silence of the Lamb.