By the Pricking of My Thumbs –
One of the last of Agatha Christie’s novels, and specifically the second to last of the five Tommy and Tuppence novels. It had been about 20 years since we got N or M? the WWII spy novel, and about twenty or more years in Tommy and Tuppence’s lives as well. We find them in their sixties, too old to even be looking back to youth, so much as at their middle age, when they were asked to help the war effort in a very specific way. They are transitioning now to old age, in a way, as caretakers to an elderly aunt in her final years. She, along with a group of pensioners in a carehome become the focus of this novel. As with a lot of Christie novels, her concerns are her characters’ concerns.
“I don’t particularly want to think of your funeral because I’d much prefer to die before you do. But I mean, if I were going to your funeral, at any rate it would be an orgy of grief. I should take a lot of handkerchiefs.”
Postern of Fate –
|I feel like everyone listened to that one episode of Radiolab where they discussing the digital coding of Agatha Christie’s later novels and saw a sharp decline in syllables per 100 words and the lowering of the number of unique words within the text as a whole. Because of her declining health, this makes perfect sense. She probably died of Alzheimer’s but that’s not definitive, but what is true is that this book, and Elephants can Remember specifically make use of declining memory and aging as part of their makeup.
In mystery, we get the closing of the door on Tommy and Tuppence, our youth Lustania survivors cum-spies cum-detectives, who go into middle age, age, and old age throughout the last three of the novels, to end up here, looking on quite clearly at the end, toward death.
“England was in a funny state, a different state from what it had been. Or was it really always in the same state? Always underneath the smooth surface there was some black mud. There wasn’t clear water down to the pebbles, down to the shells, lying on the bottom of the sea. There was something moving, something sluggish somewhere, something that had to be found, suppressed.”
The Seven Dials Mystery – 3/5 Stars
It’s funny how much more jaunty and punchy the pre-WWII spy novels from Agatha Christie are. I just got through reading the last of the Tommy and Tuppence novels, and the second of those N or M? is a mid-war spy novel where Tommy and Tuppence both feel a patriotic zeal and kind of existential angst about the war. In this novel from 1929, where WWI is the reference point for geopolitics, it’s almost spritely when the various character unravel an international conspiracy and work toward undermining what we would more or less call a terrorist group now.
This novel reads more like a GK Chesterton novel or fitting the tone of something like Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent than the post-war WWII novels. Crazy how the presence of Hitler in the world, and the subsequent scariness of the homegrown terror of someone like Moseley to really dampen the mood. I suppose it’s what happens when ideology supplants patriotism. Hmmm, wonder what that must feel like….