Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Agathon #11 - Partners in Crime [1929]

Tansy and I started out with a challenge to read every book written by Agatha Christie, in order of publication – we’re blogging as we go along. Sometimes we blog twice in one month! (Sometimes. At least once, anyway...)  

Oh, Tommy and Tuppence. I wasn’t expecting this at all!

I’ve been fairly meh on the Christie short story collections in the past, compared to the novels, but this one is splendid largely because it is a short story collection pretending to be a novel! Or possibly a novel pretending to be a short story collection.

The premise is basically that six years into their marriage (they are now in their early 30’s) Tuppence is bored and Tommy’s government job suddenly throw them a magnificent bit of espionage to play with. It is vital for King and Country that the cute married couple take over a detective agency (after the unfortunate death of its real owner) and play at being detectives until a Vital Piece of Espionage comes their way.

 And play they do. Every chapter represents a new case to solve, and Tommy and Tuppence throw themselves into their roles with great glee, impersonating and parodying every famous detective they know. I only recognised a few of them to my shame, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Tommy and Tuppence’s indulgences.

Some of the cases are silly and some very serious, but Tommy and Tuppence are never ever serious (well, maybe a little towards the end) and are indulged in their fancies by a remarkably tolerant Detective Inspector, and their rather theatrical new footman Alfred who takes to their life of crime with such joy.

 Buttered muffins! Cheese Cakes at the tea shop! And oh, those little grey cells. How much do I love the fact that Christie parodies Poirot in this book every much as Holmes and the many other detecting gentlemen of the paperback novel set.

 This is one I suspect I shall come back to and read with joy several more times in my life. Possibly while eating buttered muffins.  

KATHRYN Partners in Crime

Ok, this is interesting, because I really didn’t like ‘Partners In Crime’ (and potentially this is the first major difference in opinion that Tansy and I have had!!). Granted, I did not find it as tedious as the first short story collection that we read as part of the Agathon (Poirot Investigates) but I did find the premise of Tommy and Tuppence taking over a detective agency to be a fairly contrived and shallow way to string a series of short stories together. Don’t get me wrong, they are both still charming and I find their interactions still *mostly* delightful (if sometimes a bit forced here), but I am yet to read a Christie short story that I find as satisfying as her longer works. A bit of internet research shows that all the stories in ‘Partners in Crime’ had been published before, though it’s not clear whether Christie intended to publish them all together in the end, or whether it was simply expedient to do so.

The one component I did like of this book was the on-going homage to other famous detectives. Most of these went over my head (because most of the detectives referenced are no longer as famous as they once were) but there were some nice references to Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Missing Lady’ – and Christie’s tongue in cheek references to Poirot’s little grey cells in the final short story did thrill me much more than it should have!

The Mysterious Mr Quinn (1930)
The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)... and finally MISS MARPLE!!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Agathon #10 - The Seven Dials Mystery [1929]

Tansy and I are reading every book written by Agatha Christie, in order of publication – we’re blogging as we go along. We spoil all the things! (Tansy's post is here: )

How much do I love Bundle in this story? She’s quite my favourite kind of character in old-fashioned novels: the relentlessly sensible young lady with a sense of humour and an adventurous spirit. I actually loved most of the characters, and would happily have read book after book featuring Bundle’s bumbling gang of chums and reprobates as they solve! Crimes! Together!

I’m rather in love with Superintendent Battle too, and was convinced until right at the end that he and Bundle were destined for each other. I was quite cross that her line about how it was a good thing he was married came AFTER she had got engaged to Bill, as I could have done with it much earlier so as not to get my hopes up.

Also, house parties. I think all novels should have house parties in them.

Plotwise, I was slightly in dread of another Agatha take on secret societies after The Big Four, but this one was actually clever and well executed. The twist as to who was the missing Number One, and the double twist about what the society were actually up to worked so very well, and just as I was breathing a huge sigh of relief about Battle not being a bad guy, I got whomped in the jaw by Jimmy.

Oh, Jimmy. You were so adorable and feckless. I wanted you and Bundle to fight crime together in a vaguely inept fashion forever. And NONE OF IT WAS TRUE.

I had been spoiled for Roger Ackroyd, but this is the first time a Christie has socked me with a revelation that made me seriously consider going right back and reading the entire book again from scratch. Because, JIMMY. He can’t be arsed getting out of bed in the morning, and he’s a criminal mastermind? Also his doe-eyed wench, whom we were told couldn’t be trusted, but in such a ‘oh she’s going to be cute and jump into the investigation too’ way as opposed to ‘by the way, she’s evil.’

I am a bit sad about Jimmy. Also that Bundle has now been married off and so probably won’t turn up again. Sigh. I would trade Poirot for 20 more Bundle novels in a shot.

My absolute favourite scenes were those between Bundle and her father, so witty and warm and teasing each other. His response to the boring chap asking for her hand in marriage was hilarious too. If we can’t have Bundle back, I’ll have Lord Caterham! He’d be a splendid amateur detective, doing everything from his armchair at the club, in between long naps and the occasional hand of bridge.

I have to say that this is my absolute favourite introduction to any of the Agathon books we’ve read so far. Hjinks with alarm clocks! House party! A girl inexplicably named Socks! (Subtle). And all leading quite effortlessly into the first murder of the book. The humour in the introductory chapters – and indeed most of the book – lies within with Christie’s excellent character studies of, not only the gay but scatty young people who are staying at Chimney’s, but also poor Lady Coote and her inability to deal with the servants she has inherited with the lease to Lord Caterham’s (and Bundle’s) stately home.

And (pending Bundle’s arrival on the scene), there’s Jimmy. Charming, sincere, and incompetent Jimmy, who I’m sure I’d find completely irritating if I knew him in real life, but is marvelous to read. Possibly one of the most shocking things for me about Jimmy turning out to be the villain was that he did not commit his crimes for some ideological reason. He was not part of some international spy conspiracy. Instead he committed theft and murder purely for financial gain. And, despite this being the most logical reason for Jimmy to be the criminal, it just seemed to totally at odds with his carefree nature. It broke my heart a little (though I guess that might be the point…)

Like Tansy, I was a bit in dread of the possibility that the ‘Seven Dials’ would end up being a copycat of the ‘Big Four’, so was relieved when we got to the twist and found out that the Seven Dials are the good guys. Still, like many of Christie’s conspiracy/spy books (as compared to her more cerebral who-dunnits), the mystery is a bit over the top and the plot somewhat haphazardly gathered together at the end. This story is not as well crafted as ‘Roger Ackroyd’ and I think Christie has simply removed most of Jimmy’s dastardly deeds to off-stage, such that there wouldn’t be too many pointers even on a reread, even in the sections of the story told from Jimmy’s point of view.

Still, this kind of action suits the characters, and I don’t actually think the main point of this book is the who-dunnit. For my mind the real value of this book is the charming characterisation of Bundle, Jimmy and their pals, as they race around making themselves useful (even though they often don’t get up until 11 am).

Partners in Crime (1929)
The Mysterious Mr Quinn (1930)