The ABC Murders – 4/5 Stars
This is a great Agatha Christie novel. It’s from 1936 and it’s one of the earliest detective novels I’ve read that tackles the idea of serial killers, pattern killers etc. Hercule Poirot is called out in a letter challenging him to a kind of mental duel. A killer tells him the location of an upcoming murder and challenges him to stop him. Poirot and Captain Hastings take on the challenge with different mindsets. The first murder is a woman, an older shopkeeper named Alice Ascher in the town of Andover. Poirot investigates this murder but finds the limited amount of information too oblique to work with. When a Miss Barden in Becksford is killed, he has something to work with. As the murder happen, he pools together the various people leftover from each to enlist their help in a kind of crime squad.
Obviously nothing is as it seems.
In the way that too many Christie novels go, the novel never fully explores the concept, and I do think it’s brilliant in its own way, but could turn this into a much longer novel.
It’s the first Poirot novel outside of Murder on the Orient Express that I’ve really liked, and I enjoyed his references to Jack the Ripper and the connections between this case and that one, putting him within the context of crimesolving in a different way. It’s also a very Sherlockian kind of mystery, with Poirot of course being a very non-Sherlockian kind of detective.
Shake Hands Forever – 3/5 Stars
This is my second Ruth Rendell novel, the first one being The Water’s Lovely from 2005. This one is the first of hers I’ve read with her famous Inspector Wexford, and it’s from 1975.
A woman is found murdered in her house, all signs initially point to her husband, but as the case becomes more and more apparent it’s less clear if he was capable.
So some things that stand out to me here. I have no sense whatsoever of the character of the inspector. He seems kind of bland and maybe additional novels would flesh him out more for me. Also I found the mystery to be fine, but not very interesting.
What is interesting is to read about marriage, sex, sexuality, and clearly changing social mores in genre fiction as opposed to more literary fiction like I am used to. I can’t say I know a whole lot about 1975 London and greater England, but I’ve read a handful of novels that deal with this exact moment in their history (and American novels that do the same). So looking at the ways in which sexual mores are shifting, how every sexual relationship a) doesn’t have to conform to the same set of values and definitions and b) not every sexual relationships needs to be a marriage and c) sometimes marriages are awful and can be escaped and then having all these ideas not simply be in a kind of domestic drama like Iris Murdoch or a domestic comedy like Barbara Pym or Muriel Spark changes things.
I picked this novel because the title references one of my favorite poems, Michael Drayton’s “Since there’s no help” — a sonnet from one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries that is both curious and mysterious. The poem is more rewarding.