Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cards on the Table by AGATHA CHRISTIE

Book:  Cards On The Table
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication Date: 1936

Mr Shaitana was a  person of dubious character. He was attending a snuff box exhibition when he ran into our own detective Hercule Poirot. Shaitana was quick enough to invite him for dinner and lured him to meet some strange invitees.

There was something peculiar about that invitation. A collector of many strange things, Shaitana also nurtured a macabre habit. Some of the invitees to the dinner invitation were none other than people who have gotten away easily after committing murders. He had a strange talent of extracting hidden secrets from people and he used his talent arduously to find such people and bring them together to a dinner table at his house.

Finally, the fateful day had come. After the dinner, the guests decided to play bridge and divided themselves into two groups.

When the first group consisted of Dr Roberts, Major Despard, Mrs Lorrimer and Miss Anne Meredith, the second group consisted of Hercule Poirot, Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, detective fiction writer Mrs Adriane Oliver and Colonel Race, a retired secret service operative.

Both of the groups sat in two different rooms while Shaitana, the host did not take part in the game but sat in the first room by the fire, observing the players.

When they approached their host to bid good bye, after the bridge, to their utter shock, they found him murdered in his chair. He was stabbed in the neck with a stiletto.

In no time, Superintendent Battle took charge of the situation. It was then, the players in the second room realised that Shaitana had carefully picked his guests. While the guests in the second room were associated with investigation and authority, his choice of guests in the first room was a hint from Shaitana that they were possibly murderers who had gotten away after committing it. Shaitana had suggested the same thing to Hercule Poirot when they met at the snuff box exhibition.

Never in the wildest of his dreams, he might have thought that by inviting such people he was inviting his own death.

According to Christie, this was Hercule Poirot's favourite case though Hastings, his companion found it dull. For a change, she had come up with three other sleuths as well along with Poirot to nab the culprit from among the four possible murderers. It's not mostly the clues which had helped the four detectives in their sleuthing but pure psychology.

Though I understood the basic plot, the reading became a bit strainful when Poirot decided to analyse the suspects from their bridge scores. Because I don't know how to play bridge. Besides, there were many twists and turns.

Like most of her novels, Agatha Christie in this novel too was adamant that the reader shouldn't find out the culprit before she discloses it to them. Even though she had offered a clue in the foreword of the novel that there were four possible murderers, I failed miserably in detecting the real one. But that's the fun of it and that makes her the " Queen of Crime ".

To talk about the character Mrs Adriane Oliver, the 'whodunnit' mystery writer, she was full of energy and fun and Agatha Christie did leave no stones unturned to poke her.

Long and short, in her 25th novel, her plotting abilities were at its zenith.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Monday, August 21, 2017

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P D JAMES

Book: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
Author : P D James
Publication Date : 1972

Cordelia Gray was just 22 when she had to take up the responsibility of a detective agency run by her partner, Bernie. He killed himself as he was ailing from cancer. The detective agency was not a huge success. It was then a famous scientist Mr Ronald Callender approached her to solve a case for him.

His son, Mark Callendar who was a dropout from Cambridge committed suicide. He wanted to know why he did so. After opting out of Cambridge, he had taken up a job as a gardener in the house of Markhlands. He was living in a small cottage in their compound. It was there he hanged himself.

When the police found his body, he was wearing jeans and had a smear of lipstick on his lips. Cordelia decided to shift to this cottage so that she could investigate the surroundings including the Cambridge. From Miss Markhland, she came to know that a girl had visited him before his death. Inside the cottage, she found freshly prepared stew and a coffee pot with coffee, definitely not the signs that indicated that he was contemplating suicide. It dawned upon her that it was not a suicide but murder.

Let me tell you, in the beginning, this is not a typical murder mystery. It can mar the fresh perspective, this particular one could offer. I did the same and it was when I reached the middle of the story  I realized that it had much more to it. It’s a Cordelia Grey mystery though Adam Dalgliesh would make his entry in the end.

What I liked about the book was the sheer sincerity of the character. Cordelia was not an expert like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple and she knew that she was vulnerable and lacked experience. But that did not deter her from doing her bit.
Besides, it was also her story of survival. It was clearly said in the title of the book ‘ An unsuitable job for a woman’. Though many pointed out to her that the job was unsuitable, she was adamant about taking it up.

She did not have the experience but she was shrewd and knew how to confront a person during an investigation. Since his boss was dead, there was nobody she could rely upon with her instincts and intuitions. Still, she went ahead and did what she had to do.

This is my first P D James book. I am happy to know that this book comes first in the list of her works which one shouldn’t miss reading if one is a fervent murder mystery fan. I have watched many of P D James’ interviews and I would proudly call my teacher for she had taken me to a different level of the genre called the mystery.

I am sure that I will read this book again. Her writing was like honey dripping from the comb.

By Shalet Jimmy

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Book : Rebecca
Author : Daphne Maurier
Publication Date : 1938 ( Great Britian)

Crime fiction writer P D James was right when she said " A novel is a good novel or not. It's foolish to say you can't write a good novel as a mystery."

Of course! There's an element of mystery in it. Just because of it, confining Daphne Maurier's Rebecca only to the genre of mystery would be a great injustice to this wonderful literary piece of work. It has everything - intrigue, romance, beautiful prose, in - depth and round characters. It had all the qualities to become a classic just like ' Jane Eyre', ' Wuthering Heights' etc.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." 

She was narrating her dream about Manderley. She was nameless and was living with her husband, an exile's life.

In her dream, she saw, Manderley was deserted and abandoned. The shrubs, the trees, the plants had encroached the drive and all around from their usual place giving it a ghostly look. Like any other bride, when she came to Manderley dreamt of a quiet life with her husband. But there was something sinister going on in Manderly.

Every wall of Manderely was yelling a name ' Rebecca'. She was the first wife of Max de winter who died of drowning in the sea. Mrs Danvers, an ardent devotee of  Rebecca intimidated the narrator.

 It was not that she had to fight with humans, but with the haunting and all pervading presence of Rebecca, the first Mrs de winter who died of drowning in the sea.

Rebecca was dead. But Manderley retained her daunting spirits. Mrs Danvers, had kept Manderley as if she had just gone out for a brief vacation and would be back anytime. The narrator did not do anything to alter the situation as she did not want to risk losing Max, her husband, whom she thought was still in love with his first wife.

She met him in Monte Carlo, France, where she was accompanying a wealthy American woman called Van Hopper as a paid companion. Her employer's illness gave her the opportunity to spend more time with Max and eventually, they ended up marrying.

Everyone compared her with Rebecca. Beatrice, Max's sister told her that she was nothing like Rebecca, and when she met Max's grandmother who also in her senility insisted on meeting Rebecca, leaving our narrator all the more perplexed. When Rebecca was alive, they had their bedroom in the western wing of the Manderley whereas; the second Mrs de winter and Max used the rooms in the eastern wing which was comparatively smaller in size for he did not want to go to the western side.

Mrs Danvers had gone to such an extent that  she was almost successful in convincing our narrator to commit suicide by saying on and on that she was unwanted in Manderley and her husband did not love her. It would have happened if the rockets were not fired, indicating that a ship was aground in the sea  near to the mansion with Max ordering everybody to offer help to the people in the ship.

A year ago, after Rebecca went missing in the sea, a dead body of a woman had washed up on the shore and Max identified her as Rebecca. But, to everybody's dismay, when the divers dived in to check the condition of the stuck ship, they came across a boat with a woman's body stuck in its little cabin. The boat was of Rebecca's.

No doubt! There would be an inquest. It was then our narrator heard something from her husband which she never expected. He was not in love with Rebecca and he hated her to the core. She was a woman of loose morals. That one sentence just changed our narrator in a trice.

“The moment of crisis had come, and I must face it. My old fears, my diffidence, my shyness, my hopeless sense of inferiority, must be conquered now and thrust aside. If I failed now I should fail forever," she told herself.

From that moment onwards, she had taken over Manderley. Mrs Danvers could not shake her anymore and nothing in the world could prevent her from adorning the title Mrs de winter. She was there lending her full support to her husband during the inquest.

Why was the narrator nameless? Was it the author's attempt to show that she never had any identity? Even after marrying Max de Winter, the owner of the famous Manterley, she was reduced to a shadow of his first wife. Perhaps yes!

She was living in her own world of imagination. Except for Mrs Danvers, everybody liked her- Maxim, his sister Beatrice, Frank even the insane Ben, living near the cottage near to Manderley.

"“I had built up false pictures in my mind and sat before them. I had never had the courage to demand the truth," she told herself.

The revelation of Max that he never loved Rebecca came as a pleasant surprise to her though it came with a heavy price to pay.

Kits Browning, Maurier's son says that her mother did not know what to call her. The only thing a reader could make out from the book was that she had a beautiful surname and she was very young than Max who was in his forties.

Then, as the story progressed, Maurier took it as a challenge to complete the whole story without giving the narrator, a name.

The book was a study in jealousy, according to Maurier. Before marrying Daphne, her husband Browning was engaged to a lady called Jan Ricardo who had a dark hair like Rebecca. Ricardo committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train but the incident was not in any way related to Maurier's and Browning's marriage. At times, Maurier had felt there was no lessening of her husband's attraction to his late fiancee.

Maurier had also put some of her qualities in both the female characters though it were the traits of second de winter that could be seen in her mother, said her son Browning.  But like Rebecca, she was also good at sailing and had all the toughness just like her.

Mrs Danvers was a woman who was absolutely mesmerized by Rebecca. They were alike in spirits -absolutely inconsiderate of other's emotions. She considered Rebecca's audacity to continue her clandestine relationships under the nose of everybody at Mandereley as something heroic.

Mrs Danvers was a cruel soul who lacked judgement. According to Mrs Danvers, Rebecca loved only herself and Mrs Danvers was her ally, the only confidante. Even she was ditched by Rebecca before she died.

Max, on the other hand loved his second wife. But he was smarting over his own pain that he could not explicitly express that he was in love with her. The death of  Rebecca was hovering over his head like a dark cloud.

The Gothic mansion, Manderley will stay in your literature mind just like Thrushcross Grange of” Wuthering Heights' and Thornfield Hall of " Jane Eyre".

Maurier conceived the idea of Manderley from Milton Hall and she adopted the settings of Menabilly, her own house which was hidden away in the woods.

I am still at Manderley. Loved the book.

- by Shalet Jimmy

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Death at the Opera by GLADYS MITCHELL

Book: Death at the Opera
Author: Gladys Mitchell
Publication year: 1934

It was the realisation on the importance of reading golden age crime fiction which led me to various renowned authors such as Daphne Maurier, Dorothy L Sayers, G K Chesterton, Gladys Mitchell etc. And it was 'Death at the Opera' by Mitchell, I chose to read first.

Since I was accustomed to the writings of certain authors whom I read incessantly, I always found it a bit difficult to adjust to the style of new authors at least for a couple of pages. To my surprise, Mitchell's writing did not pose any such hurdles before me. I was totally engrossed in the book right from the first page.

Miss Calma Ferris was dead. She chose to commit suicide on the night of opera in the Hillmaston school where she taught. She was found sitting in a chair with her head drowned in a wash basin full of water. Miss Ferris was supposed to play the potent role of ' Katisha' in the opera called ' The Mikado'. Since she was found missing on that night, her part was enacted by another staff, Mrs Boyle.

The coroner's verdict said it's suicide.  But Mr Cliffordson, Headmaster of the school had his doubts as he found the pipe of wash basin was tampered with. It was blocked with clay.

Without wasting much time he sought the help of an elderly and sly psychoanalyst Mrs Bradley to investigate the case. The first few chapters were devoted to showing the kind of person Miss Ferris was. She had none except an aunt who was running a lodge. Though kind on her face, the aunt never had a sincere liking for Ferris.

 Her life was colourless and moral values very high. But she was a sort of person who could be happy with all the goodness happening to others. Her life was sans expectations with little time for rantings and ravings.

It's rather surprising to know that an inoffensive woman like Ferris could get murdered.

Through her analysis, Mrs Bradley came across people who had the opportunity and motives to kill Calma Ferris. But she was caught on the horns of a dilemma for the people who had the motives to kill never had the opportunity and those with opportunity did not have the motives.

 Even the motives did not seem like substantial ones that could make a person take somebody else's life. For instance,
 1) Ferris had destroyed a clay statuette, Mr Smith, the art teacher was making, not deliberate of course. He was given compensation by Mrs Boyle, later.

 2) She had witnessed Miss Cliffordson, another staff and Hurstwood, a student kissing. When the student was head over heels in love with Miss Cliffordson, she never forbade him from seeking any intimacy with her. She never loved him, though.

3) She had discovered the clandestine relationship between two senior staff Mr Hampstead and Mrs Boyle. The former's wife was an alcoholic and was admitted to an asylum and the latter was a widow. They were in a relationship for the past 11 years.

Just a few days before the opera, Ferris' aunt had sent a telegram warning him of a person called Helm whom she had met while staying in the lodge run by her aunt. That was the only clue which could make the reader think there was more to the plot. This took Bradley to Bognor and there comes the twist in the tale - Two more murders by drowning. ' An epidemic of drowning' as she would like to call them.

I cannot talk about my dislikes for the book I am reading her for the first time. Mrs Bradley is new to me and I am sure I will get to know the kind of person she is through her other stories. I like the method  Mrs Bradley employs to deduce who's the culprit. It's helpful for a reader who wants to be a writer.
Even though Mrs Bradley was noting down the causes that could make someone a potential murderer, which also gave the reader a feeling that she/he was moving along with her in finding out the culprit, I failed to pinpoint the real murderer.

 I was clueless who the murderer was until the end. But what I could not come to terms with was the motive that made the culprit commit the murder. It sounded flimsy. But I would like to think that a human being cannot be expected to behave in a certain way. Sometimes feelings and emotions can be betraying.

by Shalet Jimmy

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Happy Birthday Baroness Baroness James of Holland Park ( P D JAMES )

Happy Birthday

I am an ardent fan of crime noir, religiously reading Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. A few months ago, I stumbled upon an interview of P D James alias Phyllis Dorothy James.
 It just made me look at crime fiction from a different angle and soon she was added to my aforementioned list of favourite authors. I am currently reading her ' An unsuitable job for a woman' and have got a copy of ' Death comes to Pemberley'. Yesterday, watched the BBC adaptation of her novel ' Death in the holy orders'

A big Jane Austen fan, she passed away at the age of 94 in 2014.

Two links from Paris Review and Telegraph to know more about her and her works:-

Paris Review - Interview P D James
PD James' 5 novels you should read ( Telegraph)