Dumb Witness and the start of TBR 2015

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Title: Dumb Witness
Author: Agatha Christie
Published: 1937
Challenges: TBR Pile 2015, Reading the Twentieth Century and Reading England
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis
After a serious fall down her stairs, Miss Emily Arundell writes to Hercule Poirot with suspicions that someone is attempting to murder her. Her fall is blamed on the dog, Bob and the ball he likes to push down the stairs, however with her money hungry family visiting, Emily is convinced the real culprit is among them. Could it be the fashionable and out-spoken Teresa? Or is her rakish brother, Charles to blame? There is always quiet, unassuming Bella, who has married a Greek doctor, but then again. After all she remembers putting Bob’s ball away herself. Unfortunately by the time Poirot reads Emily’s letter she is already dead, not from the fall, but from the liver disease that has plagued her for many years. Of course Poirot isn’t entirely convinced this is the case, especially when he discovers that Emily’s family do not benefit from the will, instead her companion, Miss Lawson does. He is anxious to discover the true culprit behind the fall and ensure that no one else comes to any harm; he is adamant that the guilty criminal could strike again.

My Thoughts
I love Agatha Christie and I find she is one of my go to authors; when life is getting a tad stressful and I need some light relief I know I can depend on a Christie novel to cheer me up. Of course Dumb Witness is no exception. It is a novel I have never come across before, having never seen a TV adaptation or heard it mentioned in various readings. As always I failed to guess the murderer, well I had an idea but only in the last twenty pages and my motive was completely wrong. As I have said before this is part of the beauty of Christie’s writing, I like the idea of guessing and hoping that one day I will get it right. Perhaps the most memorable characters were Teresa and Charles, both of whom seemed to exude an attitude of rich and spoilt which contrasted well the the Victorian morals of Emily Arundell. The differences in attitudes and opinions of generations is always interesting and I quite like the idea of a rich, disapproving, old aunt in the country – it reminds me of Jeeves and Wooster, although slightly less jovial. A great read and one less book from my Poirot reading list.

Challenges

Dumb Witness ticks boxes in three challenges; TBR Pile 2015; Reading the Twentieth Century and Reading England as some of the novel takes place in Berkshire. It is the first book on both my TBR Pile for the year and for Reading England so I am pleased to have gotten off the ground with these two challenges.

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Peril At End House

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Whilst on holiday on the Cornish Riviera Hercule Poirot is alarmed to hear the pretty Nick Buckley mention her recent ‘accidental brushes with death.’ A painting nearly crushed her in her bed, a falling boulder narrowly missed her and the brakes on her car failed on a particularly dangerous hill. Buckley brushes these near misses aside, but when Poirot notices a bullet hole in her hat, Poirot is convinced she is in danger and is determined to find the killer before another attempt is made on Buckley’s life.

And for my second Agatha Christie holiday choice I went for a Poirot novel and I was happy to read of the Belgian detective’s latest case. I mentioned in my previous review that I missed the familiar sleuth in a Christie novel so to discover Poirot fully involved in this case was great. This was a cleverly plotted novel (when is it ever not clever with Chrisite?) and I liked how the previous attempts on Buckley’s life gave a clear starting point with which to begin my own deductive skills and created a sense of mystery and time running out right from the start. Poirot was a little stumped by this crime and wrote a very handy list of suspects with possible motives and questions he needed answering which was fantastic as a reader as it helped focus on the suspects and evidence for when I tried to guess the murderer. In terms of reading I found this novel more engaging towards the end and I certainly experienced the whole ‘can’t put it down until I know who dunnit’ feeling. Of course I didn’t guess the murderer, but I did enjoy the novel and the gathering of suspects that is associated with Christie novels.

Challenges

Reading the Twentieth Century

Ordeal by Innocence

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It wouldn’t be a trip to Devon and more specifically Galampton and Greenway House without at least one Agatha Christie read (the latter is the country home she purchased with her second husband, Max). I came to this part of Devon last year with Mum and two dogs, but this year we left pug at home, mainly because she likes to bark at sea gulls, the wind, small children etc. Now of course I bought some new books, especially as I’m on a mini mission to read all Poirot books, but I opted for a book that doesn’t feature the famous Belgian detective…or the elderly Miss Marple…or even Tommy and Tuppence, two less well known Christie creations.

Ordeal By Innocence is the third and final book in my Greenway Collection, a series of books that were inspired by Christie’s time at Greenway. The first two (Dead Man’s Folly and Five Little Pigs) both feature Poirot, however Ordeal by Innocence is one of Christie’s novels that does not include a returning detective. Dr Arthur Calgary has the proof to show that Jacko Argyle did not murder his mother. However as we arrives at the family home he discovers he is too late; Jacko died of pneumonia six months into his life sentence. The Argyles do not show the expected delight in discovering Jacko’s innocence, they know that his innocence means that one of them is guilty. But who?

I love Agatha Christie and whenever I read one of her novels I am quickly engrossed in the mystery and trying my hardest – and failing – to guess the murderer. Ordeal by Innocence was true to form. However I was missing something. I kept expecting Poirot or Miss Marple to appear on the next page to come along and solve the crime. Obviously they didn’t! There were amateur detectives in the form of Dr Calgary and the brother in law of the wrongly accused, but they weren’t the same as a character you come to know and love over a series of novels. There were some interesting ideas regarding nature and nurture in the raising of children, as the victims five children were all adopted. This seemed to be more of a red herring and although I know very little about psychology I imagine this was a relatively new or popular theory during the time of writing this novel which is why it plays such a key part of the narrative. I did enjoy Ordeal by Innocence but this is not one of my favourite Christie novels.

Challenges

Reading the Twentieth Century

The Murder on the Links

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The Murder on the Links is the second Agatha Christie novel to feature her infamous detective, Hercule Poirot. Having solved The Mysterious Affair at Styles Poirot has been summoned to France in the form of a mysterious plea from a man who is in fear for his life, but refuses to say what it is he is so scared about. However when Poirot – with Captain Hastings in tow – arrives in France he finds the dead body of his client and a perplexing mystery that has more twists and turns than a hedge maze. Poirot is beginning to pick up clues, clues that the French detective dismisses as ridiculous, but before he can make any dramatic revelation, another body turns up to throw a spanner in the works.

As always with Christie novels, this is going to be a review centred on how much I love Agatha Christie and how I can always rely on her novels to cheer me up and provide a cosy, comforting read. I broke from the norm slightly with this book and although I didn’t manage to guess the murderer, I did a good job at theories about why the man was killed in the first place. Actually as I look back on that last centre, I guess it isn’t really breaking from the norm, as is usually guess something, but never come to the real conclusion, which in guess is the beauty of Christie’s writing in the first place.

The Murder on the Links did open my eyes a little to the character of Hastings. It is told from Hastings’ perspective, as is the first novel, and having read both of them fairly close together, they have changed my perception of Hastings. From the TV programme, I have this image of Hastings as bumbling English gentleman sidekick to Poirot, I certainly never had him down as a flighty lothario. In the first two novels Hastings falls in love and proposes to two different women, one of whom makes him lie to Poirot – horror upon horror! I find it interesting how TV adaptations can influence your perception of literary characters and I certainly wouldn’t have thought this of Hastings from the times I have seen him in the programme, but then again maybe I’m too involved in the crime to pay that much attention to his love life. And again as I type this I am thinking that maybe I did have an inkling of his romantic liaisons, it is just reading that has brought this to the forefront of my mind.

Overall an enjoyable read, just as I expected. I am curious as to why The Murder on the Links is one of the novels said to be inspired by Christie’s time in Devon, but I’m sure I can solve my own mystery when I go on another holiday there in the summer.

Challenges

Reading the Twentieth Century>

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

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The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the novel where Agatha Christie first introduces her infamous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Hastings is visiting a childhood friend in the country and lo and behold who is living in the village, Poirot! It is not long before a murder is committed and thus ensues the usual searching for clues and gathering of suspects. As the first Poirot novel I was particularly pleased that the murderer chose poison as their weapon of choice, considering Christie’s expertise in the area.

I love Chrisite’s novels, both reading them, watching them and listening to them and The Mysterious Affair at Styles didn’t disappoint. It was full of everything I expected from a Christie novel; a choice of suspects; a few red herrings; numerous clues and as usual I failed to guess the murderer. Shocking when I think I went through every single character. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with Agatha Christie, her writing is pure genius and I know whenever I pick up any of her work I will be gripped and thoroughly enjoy it. Her work is comforting and nostalgic which I think is why people still love it to this today.

I am going through a complete Christie phrase at the moment. I am off to London to see The Mousetrap in half term, which I am really looking forward to. During the Christmas holidays I bought the audio book for Dead man’s Folly, one of the novels inspired by her country house in Devon, Greenway. Listening to this reminded me of my holiday last August and the lovely time I had in Devon with my mum and the dogs and filled me with a longing for lazy summer days moseying around the countryside and reading in the sunshine…so I have booked a return holiday for this August! Yay!

Five Little Pigs

I feel as though I have been away from my blog for weeks and in truth I have. This does not mean I haven’t been busy reading, I have just been swept away preparing my Year 11s for an early entry exam and all the other hectic little dilemmas that come from a new term at school. I have written a guest review for Dot Scribbles , which I will post once it has appeared on her blog and then, as I wanted to avoid anything too taxing I decided a return to Agatha Christie was in order.

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I visited Greenway House, Christie’s home in Devon, back in August and I came back loaded with many new crime stories and mysteries to escape into when work inevitably became a tad stressful. Five Little Pigs is part of The Greenway Collection, three books for which Greenway was the inspiration and as I reflect on my reading I am instantly transported back to the lazy, warm summer days of my holiday, strolling, well being pulled around by two enthusiastic dogs, the grounds of Greenway and the surrounding area. Alas I am sat on the sofa, candles lit, watching the heavy raindrops pound the window and the wind twist and turn the leaves of the trees and bushes, what a difference!

In Five Little Pigs Poirot is called upon to prove the innocence of a woman accused of poisoning her husband sixteen years earlier; unfortunately Caroline Crale died shortly after her trial. Their daughter, Carla, learns of her parents’ fate on her twenty-first birthday and is determined to discover the truth, thus enlisting the help of the most celebrated Belgian detective. And so Poirot begins to piece together the parts of the puzzle; how Amyas Crale was falling in love with a younger woman he was painting; how he was planning to leave his wife and young daughter for this woman and how he was discovered dead on the battery in the grounds of his family home, poisoned when he was so close to completing his masterpiece. On learning of the details of this murder, Poirot soon identifies five possible, living suspects, the five little pigs of the title, thus the mystery commences.

How can one not enjoy an Agatha Christie novel? Her writing and characters are so deeply ingrained in modern British culture that it is difficult for me to criticise them. Whenever I pick one up I know I am guaranteed an enjoyable read, full of intrigue, red herrings and a great who dunnit! Five Little Pigs did not disappoint. I particularly liked the narrative style; we were given all the facts in the first section of the book, then each of the five suspects sent Poirot a written account of their memories of that fateful period and then we ended with a typical gathering of the suspects and a great reveal. I couldn’t ask for anything more from a cosy murder mystery. As I have mentioned reading Five Little Pigs evoked memories of my summer holiday in Devon, especially as the murder took place on the battery, a small balcony type feature in the gardens overlooking the river, and this added to my enjoyment when reading this particular Christie novel.

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Agatha and her second husband Max on the battery at Greenway.

So there has been a murder in the boathouse and one on the battery, I wonder what the third and final book from The greenway Collection has in store.

Agatha Christie and Greenway House

Back in the Spring I booked a holiday down in Devon for myself, Mum and the two dogs, Coco the Labrador and Pixie the Pug. Mum had her eye on a certain place and she continued to talk about the fact it was incredibly close to Agatha Christie’s holiday home, which certainly grabbed my attention. And so I have just returned from my week away with six new books, a revived interest in Agatha Christie and a need to return as soon as I can.

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Coco and Pixie reluctantly sat on a boat to Dartmouth

As far back as I can remember I have been aware of Agatha Christie and her most famous detective, Poirot. I’m not sure if it is because my Mum is a great lover of murder mysteries or the fact that there are always different adaptations on telly, but Christie has always been a subtle literary presence, despite the fact that I have probably watched more of the stories than I have read at this present point in time.

Greenway House is situated deep in the Devon countryside by the River Dart, just outside a village called Galmpton and within driving distance of Paigton and Torquay. It is a National Trust property and is open to the public and looked after by the Trust for future generations to enjoy. As we had brought Coco and Pixie with us there was only a certain distance/amount of activities we could do as we didn’t want to keep them out too long or go anywhere too hot or over crowded, therefore we spent a lot of time at Greenway, which was very doggie friendly and had lovely, shady walks for us to amble/race along depending on the dogs’ moods.

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Greenway House

I worked for the Trust for many summers throughout sixth form and university so I have a keen interest in visiting different properties and I can honestly say Greenway is one of the best I have visited. The staff in all areas of the property were friendly and knowledgable, especially the volunteers in the house, who were full of fantastic and interesting information about Agatha Christie and her daughter who owned the house after her. The gardens are beautiful and a tad complicated; there are many routes you can take, up and down many steep, winding paths, past the boathouse, the battery, a few little ponds and a tennis court; there is always something interesting hidden behind each corner.

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A view of Greenway House from the river

Of course I couldn’t visit Agatha Christie’s home without purchasing a few books and I have returned with five new novels and her autobiography and Mum bought two books herself, so we can definitely swap. Christie grew up in Devon and was inspired not only by Greenway but Torquay and the surrounding area; there is even a special Greenway boxset of the three novels based in the grounds which I just had to buy, which leads me to the book element of this post.

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In Dead Man’s Folly Poirot is summoned by an old friend down to Nasse House; the Summer fete is about to be held and Ariadne Oliver, hired to create a murder hunt, is suspicious that something sinister is going on, she just doesn’t know what. And so begins a typical, cosy crime novel with a few murders, red herrings and several clues for Poirot, and the reader, to try and solve the infamous ‘who dunnit!’ Greenway House and its grounds are clearly the inspiration for Nasse House, which made Dead Man’s Folly the perfect holiday read. It was great to read a few chapters before bed and then go for a stroll around Greenway Gardens the next day, visualising exactly where Poirot and Ariadne discussed the crime and where the body was discovered. If only I could do this with all novels. It certainly brought the story and the characters to life and I can imagine this would be a great way to inspire others to develop a love of reading.

And the all important question; did I solve the ‘who dunnit’ before Poirot and the end of the novel? Well I am pleased to say I guessed the murderer, but I had completely different ideas as to why they might have committed the dreadful crimes. I certainly feel a revival of Chrsitie’s writing in my own reading habits; crime stories were certainly my first love when it came to reading and I think I might be embarking on a whole new journey into the world of murder and mystery, starting with another Poirot adventure in The Clocks.

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The Agatha Christie Bus Tour! Unfortunately I didn’t get to go on it this visit.

Cat Among The Pigeons

Before I get on to the book I must talk about where it came from… a mobile library! For me this was a shocking first, and I love the idea of moseying to some village pub carpark to hop on a bus to collect my chosen book. I think it is such a quaint novelty and also an important part of the community; a fabulous way of bringing literature and enjoyment to those who perhaps aren’t as mobile (!) as others. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact I was the youngest person by at least 50 years. And the best bit about the nearest stop to me – if I miss it I can just go further down the village. I can’t believe I have never used a mobile library before, I fear this will be dangerous as I tend to get a bit book happy in libraries.

Now on to the book. I began watching a TV adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons last weekend and saw as far as the first murder (I am sure I’m not giving the game away when I say there was a murder). This is potentially fatal, in more ways than one, as I miss out on the whole ‘whodunnit’ aspect that Christie is famed for. This is where the hankering to read this particular novel came from, and why I needed to venture to the mobile library, as my local library didn’t have it.

Cat Among the Pigeons was everything I expected and wanted from an Agatha Christie novel; there was a crime or two, the classic gathering the suspects scene, a few red herrings and Poirot! Not that I have anything against any other Christie sleuth. The novel is set in an exclusive girls’ school, but flicks between Meadowbanks and Ramat, a Middle Eastern Country ravaged by a recent Revolution. Shortly before the Revolution, the Prince’s family jewels mysteriously disappear and various parties are interested in the whereabouts of said jewels; a quest that leads them to the school. Events centre on the school, and Poirot doesn’t make an appearance until the end of the novel, just in time to do a little investigating, gather all the suspects and pinpoint the murderer.

Overall I really enjoyed this novel; it was a thrilling, easy read, just what I wanted for the weekend, mainly because I was visiting friends and relatives and I ran Race For Life. I enjoy having to use my deduction skills to try and guess the murderer/criminal before they are revealed (something I didn’t do this time) and I love the comfort of returning to much loved characters, especially if they are in a mystery I have yet to read, hear or see on telly. A few years ago for Christmas I was given an Agatha Christie boardgame as a joke present and I have yet to play it, so maybe this return to Christie will help and inspire me to read more of her work and hopefully beat someone when I eventually play the game. And the best bit? The library always have LOADS of Agatha Christie novels on the shelf!