Friday, 21 February 2014

Agathon #14: The Sittaford Mystery (1931)

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. We spoil all the things!

Yes, it’s been a while, but we’re still going! The Sittaford Mystery is also sometimes called Murder at Hazelmoor.

KATHRYN: First I need to say that I didn’t actually note the giant spoiler on the front cover, until I was photographing it for the blog...

The Sittaford Mystery This feels like a fairly ‘typical’ Christie murder mystery, although it has the distinction of including neither Miss Marple nor Poirot. Instead the detective in charge of the case is an Inspector Narracott, who is described as competent and intelligent, but doesn’t have much in the way of defining features otherwise. Indeed for the first ten chapters of the book I was wondering if Christie had written a mystery in which the detective had no personality at all. Come chapter eleven, however, it becomes apparent that Inspector Narracott is not the star of the book at all. Enter Emily Trefusis, determined to clear her fiance, Jim Pearson, who has been wrongly accused of the murder.

Normally I would be thrilled with a plucky young lady intent on solving a mystery (think Tuppence or Bundle) but I did not warm to Emily. Yes she is a capable young lady, but one of her primary methods is to fool men into thinking that she is less capable than she is, so they help her. Maybe if I was reading this in 1931, this would appeal, but here in 2013 the idea makes me weary. Can’t she just be capable and awesome without hiding it? Emily also seems to be very brittle, which I guess might be the case if your fiance has been accused of murder. She doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor and it is really not clear why she wants to marry Jim Pearson in the first place, as he seems to be completely incompetent and not even in an adorable way. (It is explained away by Emily declaring she needs someone to giude and look after. Again, this doesn’t appeal to me as a 21st century woman. Too much work!!)

I’m not sure any of the characters in this book rang true, nor were any that likeable. Instead we get a series of cardboard cutouts - old retired army men, grumpy invalids, flighty young women, and anonymous policemen. And while there are clues scattered through the book, and tied up neatly in the end, it felt a bit like an anticlimax. There didn’t seem to be much at stake, and I didn’t really care who had done it.

Even the ‘red herring’ sub plot, which involves an escapee from nearby prison on Dartmoor, is fairly abruptly resolved - to the extent that once the escapee is (spoiler alert) recaptured, his daughter’s response can be pretty much boiled down to ‘Oh well, he’s got pneumonia now. It’s probably just as well if he dies...’

I noted in ‘A Murder at the Vicarage’ that Christie used a first person narrator to good effect to mask the identity of the murderer until Miss Marple chose to reveal him. So just for the record, ‘Sittaford’ used 3rd person/omniscient narration, and the reader follows more than one character. Once Emily works out who did it, we get a few vague descriptions of what she has found, including a declaration of ‘I know who did it now, but not why’, and then that scene fades to black until the final reveal. This kind of felt like cheating…

TANSY: My apologies for the long delay on this one, I read it back when I had pneumonia last year, really enjoyed it and then never got around to writing it up!

I liked Emily a bit more than you did, K. I found her quite likeable in that Bundle-Tuppence sort of way. I also very much enjoyed the way that her detective work revolved around the exchange of confidences - she feels a lot like a junior Miss Marple. I also liked the journalist she dragged around with her, Charles, and enjoyed their banter.

It was a bit odd that the murder mystery seemed to be less central than the ongoing theme that everyone could see there was something romantic going on between Emily and Charles, and that despite working to save Jim from prison, she was *obviously* going to ditch him for our hapless young reporter. The idea of course is that Emily is herself in denial about this - and the rather odd sort of punchline is in fact that she was right all along about her feelings for Jim and not actually fancying Charles, thank you very much, and she planned to marry the man she was actually engaged with.
While I agree with you that Jim was totally uninteresting, I did find it amusing that Christie was playing with (and debunking) the trope and that Emily did not in fact change her mind purely because Charles was in love with her. Almost like she (Christie) thinks that unrequited love isn’t remotely romantic and doesn’t deserve to be rewarded…

(I have an unfortunate glitch in my programming that responds far too sympathetically to unrequited love stories, and have been trying to debug myself for years to no avail, so I must admit at this point that I was shipping Emily and Charles like mad, damn it).

I think this book might be the point where Christie has realised she’s a bit too sharp and cynical for the genre she’s writing in - it’s set up almost as a parody of her own previous works, with all the details about the murder and the trick to it and so on. But maybe that’s just because she is using so many elements that are used in more iconic books or indeed dozens and dozens of her imitators? This is the first Christie set in a snowbound manor, yes?

It was all terribly clever with the trick to it, but there was something that felt a bit off about it - like a short story worth of plot held together with banter and flirting. Still, I did find it very readable even with a lung that didn’t work, so there’s that.

Coming up:
1932: Peril at End House, Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp
1932: The Thirteen Problems, Miss Marple Shorts
1933: Lord Edgware Dies (also Thirteen at Dinner ), Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp

Sunday, 2 February 2014

What Baby Read (2014)

  1. Hide and Seek, Clara Vulliamy (library, good flaps to open, story is brief though there are some nice 'extra' elements for counting. Muffin is a boy)
  2. Buster's Farm, Rod Campbell (library, reborrowed touch and feel but still a bit boring. Buster is a boy)
  3. Dancing feet, Lindsey Craig (library, reborrowed. great rhymes)
  4. Mouse is small, Mary Murphy (library, great for page turning, and we loved the spider, non gendered)
  5. Hairy MaClary from Donaldson's Dairy, Lynley Dodd (from F, first 'proper' story book, lovely rhyming and great before a nap)
  6. The Other Ark, Lynley Dodd (library, good rhyming, but too long for a 10 mo old)
  7. That's not my frog, Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (library, another touch and feel book. possibly jumping the shark)
  8. My Friends, Taro Gomi (birthday present, a firm favorite!)
  9. Bus Stops, Taro Gomi (birthday present, really lovely)
  10. Spring is Here, Taro Gomi (birthday present, a bit weird...)
  11. Sense and Sensibility: A BabyLit Opposites Primer, Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver (birthday present, very nice but really for mummy)
  12. This is Not My Hat, Jon Klassen (birthday present, delightfully subversive)
  13. A****** P***** and the Cheeky Monkey, (birthday present, personalised book with hilarious pictures)
  14. Giraffes Can't Dance, Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees (birthday present, lovely colours and rhyming)
  15. Slinky Malinki, Lynley Dodd (Birthday present, lovely rhyming a bit long for now)
  16. I Like Peas, Lorena Siminovich (library, actually great book about vegetables)
  17. Elusive Moose, Joan Gannij and Clare Beaton (library, beautiful art, rhyme is a bit lame but it might be more successful when she can look for the moose)
  18. Hairy Maclary's Caterwaul Caper, Lynley Dodd (library, lovely to read, fabulous rhymes, but sad that is has been confirmd that all the dogs are male... Reread at 14 mo and baby can now pick out objects)
  19. Hairy Maclary Scattercat, Lynley Dodd (library, lovely to read, fabulous rhymes, and some girl characters, but all recurring characters male - AFAIK. Reread at 14 mo and baby can now pick out objects)
  20. Five Little Meercats: A Counting book, Marcia Piwowarski and Sally Hopgood (library, the 3D meerkats are fun, but the rhyming in this is very hard to read! it doesn't scan very well)
  21. Zoo Time Colours, Ruth Owen and Emma Randal (library, cute but simple)
  22. Hairy Maclary, Shoo, Lynley Dodd (library, a bit long for now)
  23. Animals should definitely not wear clothing, Judi Barret (library, good fun)
  24. Quentin Blake's ten frogs, Quentin Blake (library, nice counting book)
  25. Where is the green sheep?, Mem Fox (library, a big favorite)
  26. Wiggle, Taro Gomi (library, fun read and very pretty)
  27. Ten little fingers and ten little toes, Mem Fox (library, very sweet but we didn't read it much)
  28. Yoo-hoo, Ladybug, Mem Fox (library, fun read and very pretty, reborrowed as baby loves to pick out the objects and find ladybug- about 13/14 months)
  29. Hide and Seek, Taro Gomi (library, a bit more advanced than other Taro Gomi books)
  30. Baby bedtime, Mem Fox (library, very sweet but we didn't read it much)
  31. Don't let the pigeon stay up late, Mo Willems (library, I loved it but a bit advanced for baby)
  32. These are my feet, Judy Horacek (library, sweet rhymes, a bit advanced but it showed me baby knew what her feet were!!)
  33. Where's Walrus?, Stephen Savage (library, lovely illustrations, no words but baby loved picking out the walrus)
  34. Pip and Posey: Look and Say, Axel Scheffler (library, a great book for searching for objects)
  35. My first busy home, DK Publishing (library, good pictures of objects, though most were a bit advanced for baby - 15 months)
  36. All aboard the pirate ship!, Munro, Fiona (library, lots of objects to ear for and flaps to open)
  37. Tiny little fly, Rosen, Michael (library, great fun to point out the fly)
  38. Maisy's rainbow dream, Cousins, Lucy (library, great colours - love Maisie!)
  39. Slinky Malinki, early bird, Dodd, Lynley (library, didn't read this much...)
  40. Incredible animals : explore real habitats around the world
  41. Push the button, Begin Smart books (library, probably too simple and the button is very hard to get a noise out of!)
  42. Good night, sleep tight, Fox, Mem (library, a bit long but lots of good old fashioned rhymes)
  43. Maisy's plane, Cousins, Lucy (library, great board book - still love Maisie!)
  44. Game day, Parton, Daron (library, football touch and feel)
  45. Search and find : fairy tales as children have never seen them before, Itoiz, Mayana (library, probably a bit to advanced for !7 months - lots of object ot find but they're a bit obscure)
  46. From head to toe, Eric CArle (library, fabulous interactive book to learn body parts/actions)
  47. Alice and Aldo / Lester, Alison
  48. Dr. Seuss's Oh, baby! Go, baby! / Seuss, Dr.
  49. If all the animals came inside / Pinder, Eric
  50. Jane Eyre / Wang, Jack
  51. Where the wild things are. / Sendak, Maurice.
  52. Little bear's colours, Hissey, Jane
  53. Alfie's alphabet, Hughes, Shirley
  54. Nest , Hurley, Jorey,
  55. Harold and the purple crayon., Johnson, Crockett
  56. Mr Darcy, Field, Alex (library, in no way true to the original 'Pride and Prejudice', though Caroline Bingley is literally a cow...)
  57. The short giraffe, Flory, Neil (library, has unsettling similariries ot Giraffe's Can't Dance - i.e. stalking insect)
  58. Rosie's walk, Hutchins, Pat (library, apparenlty a classic and acutally very popular)
  59. Frankenstein : an anatomy primer, Adams, Jennifer (library, great body parts book)
  60. An Australian 1, 2, 3 of animals , Bancroft, Bronwyn (Library, lovely pictures - goes to 12 for some reason)
  61. Boo to a goose., Fox, Mem (library, beautiful paper artwork)
  62. Giving, Hughes, Shirley (love these Shirley Hughes books
  63. Touch and count with Peter Rabbit.,
  64. Growl like a tiger, Lester, Alison (Library, nice boardbook with animal noises)
  65. There are no animals in this book! (only feelings), Sanchez, Chani,
  66. I want my hat back, Klassen, Jon
  67. The cat and the dog, Dahan, Andre.
  68. Never smile at a crocodile, Lawrence, Jack
  69. This is my digger, Greenwell, Jessica.
  70. Hide-and-seek penguins , Watt, Fiona.
  71. Mister Seahorse, Carle, Eric (library, not as successful as other Eric Carle's)
  72. Today is Monday, Carle, Eric (library, not as successful as other Eric Carle's)
  73. A book of sleep, Na, Il Sung
  74. Old MacDonald had a farm, Toms, Kate
  75. The wheels on the bus, Foot, Mandy
  76. Where is the green sheep?, Mem Fox
  77. Hairy Maclary's Bone, Lynley Dodd (xmas present)
  78. Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack, Lynley Dodd (xmas present)
  79. Hairy Maclary's Rumpus at the Vets, Lynley Dodd (xmas present)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Book List 2014

What I read in 2014:
  1. Invisible Kingdoms, Stephen Utley ()
  2. The Back of the Back of Beyond, Edwina Harvey ()
  3. Everything is a Graveyard, Jason Fischer ()
  4. Assymetry, Thoraiya Dyer ()
  5. Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott ()
  6. This Mutant Life, ed. Ben Langdon()
  7. This Mutant Life: Bad Company, ed. Ben Langdon()
  8. The Great Unknown, ed. Angela Meyer()
  9. A Killer Among Demons, ed. Craig Bezant()
  10. Fearsome Journeys, ed. Jonathan Strahan()
  11. A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness (great history and science in fairly standard romance)
  12. Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch (a bit wish washy and an UNEXPECTED CLIFFHANGER)
  13. Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell (not 100% sure I haven't read this already, but very interesting)
  14. Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (i think i need to read this again - the soundtrack is amazing)
  15. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (simple, slight, odd )
  16. The Patternmaker, edited by Lucy Sussex (random 90's anthology of no obvious significance)
  17. Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth (amazing scholarship, fantastic intertwined stories)
  18. A Dance with Dragones, George RR Martin (good story progression, several cliffhangers, now I can complain with everyone else!)
  19. When God was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman (unexpected, delightful)
  20. The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal (indulgent, but still an amazing story)
  21. The Biographer's Tale, A. S. Byatt (loved the concept, but had trouble getting into it until quite late)
  22. New Moon, Stephanie Meyer (look i read it ok)
  23. Eclipse, Stephanie Meyer (still reading...)
  24. Breaking Dawn, Stephanie Meyer (this one particularly felt like fan fiction)
  25. Quintana of Charyn, Melina Marchetta (may have enjoyed 'Froi' better, but this was a very satisfying end *sniff*)
  26. Divergent, Veronica Roth (fast paced, but it's no Hunger Games)
  27. The Secret Lives of Books, Rosaleen Love (simple, complex, beautiful)
  28. Black Painted Fingernails, Steven Herrick (short, sweet, *ok*)
  29. Midnighters: The Secret Hour, Scott Westerfeld (fine story, but don't feel the need to read more of the series)
  30. The Thief-Takers Apprentice, Stephen Deas (ehh)
  31. Bound, Alan Baxter (yeah... not great)
  32. Cottillion, Georgette Heyer (my first GH! was ok, but I may need to read more to really get into them)
  33. The Secret Diary of Lizze Bennet, Bernie Su and Kate Rorick (*love* great accompaniment to the video series)
  34. The Godless, Ben Peek (really really good big fat fantasy)
  35. The Fault in our Stars, John Green (fantastic, intense, cryfest)
  36. Destroy the Joint, ed. Jane Caro (great selection of essays which both inspired me and made me angry)
  37. A Thread of Grace, Mary Doria Russell (interesting, important topic, but heavy going)
  38. We are all completely beside ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (amazing story about an amazing family)
  39. Angel Dust, Ian McHugh
  40. Captives, Angela Meyer
  41. The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter
  42. Difficult Second Album: more stories of Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell, Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey (eds)
  43. 200 Shorter Stories, C. H. Aalberry
  44. Other Stories', and Other Stories, Adam Browne
  45. Last Year, When We Were Young, Andrew McKiernan
  46. Death at the Blue Elephant, Janeen Webb
  47. Stories of the Sand, Dirk Strasser
  48. The Cursed - Volume 1, Brett Kiellerop
  49. Dying Embers, M. R. Cosby
  50. Mist and Mirrors, John Stolarczyk
  51. Phantazein, Tehani Wessely
  52. Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Alisa Krasnostein (ed) and Julia Rios (ed)
  53. Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan
  54. Use Only As Directed, Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey (eds)
  55. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eight, Jonathan Strahan
  56. Kisses by Clockwork, Liz Grzyb
  57. Suspended in Dusk, Simon Dewar
  58. The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, P.S. Cottier and Tim Jones
  59. Fearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan
  60. SNAFU, G. N. Braun (ed)
  61. The World To Come, Patrick West
  62. Focus 2013, Tehani Wessely (ed)
  63. Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, Dominica Malcolm (ed)
  64. Legendary, J.F.R. Coates
  65. 18, Meghann Laverick (copy editor)