The Hollow – 4/5 Stars
This is one of the mid-career Poirot novels, and it’s one of the ones where Poirot begins to revise and critique the ways in which crimes are investigated. We begin with a group of people on an estate swooning and hand-wringing about their wonderful, innocent, and sad friend Gerda, who seems to be married to someone who doesn’t love her. This is one of those Christie novels that takes place on a country estate, like several others, and like others, Poirot has been specifically invited to attend, where they will celebrate, as sometimes happens, by staging a murder for him to investigate to prove his talents. And like all of those novels, it turns out the murder is real. Poirot arrives to find the dead man in the pool, and the wife holding the gun, presumably having just shot him. The man is very much dead, but Poirot soon discovers that it would have been impossible for the wife to have killed her husband, which of course begins the process of Poirot doubting himself.
This novel involves Poirot with some significant self-doubt. He jumped to the very reasonable conclusion that the wife was guilty and must spend a lot of time and energy correcting his own mental record on the matter. This means that the facts of the actual case have time to act they way they’ve been planned to. How else could you explain the case without the false impression being a calculated event? Well, the novel of course spends some time dealing with this one. This novel came out in 1946, and represents a gap in the publication history of the Poirot novels and so I have to imagine for readers this novel was somewhat of an event.
Lord Edgware Dies – 4/5 Stars
The title of this one is a good one, and that is directly stated in this novel. A character literally says “Lord Edgware Dies, that would make a good title”.
So this novel ends up being a lot like The Hollow – or vice versa in fact, where a man is dead, his wife is implicated, and the facts just do not support her killing the man, apparently. The novel begins with Poirot being approached by Mrs Lord Edgware saying that she wants Poirot to “take care of him” and rightly Poirot says, umm what? And she kind of laughs and then explains, that her marriage is over and she wants to marry someone else but that her husband is violently opposed to divorce and needs some help. When Poirot goes to talk to Lord Edgware he surprisingly says ok to the divorce, which is surprising. But then the next day he is killed and his wife is apparently seen walking into and out of his house at the time of the murder. She’s also seen out of town at a restaurant at the same time, and has an alibi. Thus our mystery begins.
Like The Hollow this novel presents a mystery that clearly has been heavily planned, and Poirot feels manipulated throughout as the evidence tells one seeming story and his brain tells another. This is also one of the Captain Hastings books and Poirot hilariously tells Hastings he likes being around him because he’s such an aggressively average person, it’s nice to bounce ideas off of him.
See How they Run – no rating
This novella is a new Audible original by Rachael Howzell Hall, who is known for her other mystery novels like They All Fall Down, and the Elouise Norton novels. She’s also written non-mystery fiction as well too.
Our protagonist has been drinking a lot recently and that will come up a lot in this story. She has a pretty good reason for it. Her family runs a glamping/outdoor adventure company and in the recent past her brother led a rafting trip where our protagonist’s boyfriend fell out of the boat and drowned. Now some time has passed and the company has been on the constant end of bad PR, especially since the boyfriend was a vaunted football star. Our protagonist has been haunted by this death, and been harassment online repeatedly because of his death. She’s not actually responsible for his death, but she’s connected to it, but someone not actually being guilty of something never stopped online harassment from happening. So next thing: her brother shows up with a new fiance who seems very interested in the business. This is a kind of trial weekend, and then it turns out also a potential wedding while some online reviewing might also happen. Well, weird things start happening that keep disrupting things. It goes from there.
Stories of the Stalked – No Rating
A podcast on Audible that has six or so episodes. The podcast is made by a professional dancer and performer who was on tour with David Byrne and Brian Eno in the mid 2000s when she received an email from an admirer who gives the impression that he’s interested in a collaboration. It’s initially convincing in part because he seems to know what he’s talking about, but then when subsequent emails started showing up that get weirded, enraged, and then more enraged she understands that instead of an admirer or potential collab, she has a stalker. The stalking remains mostly online, but grows in intensity. What she knows is that the stalker is much older, male, and likely British or from the UK. He also begins to track her movements online and then in some ways in the real world. She begins to look for possible solutions to this problem including working with security officials, the police, and even David Byrne’s production company offers her legal help with cease and desist letters. This leads to among other things the stalker apparently showing up at the production company’s offices.
This series of events follow her for around a decade and include the building and ultimate falling apart of a legal case against the stalker, who is able to escape legal justice by way of a psychiatric evaluation. The story ends with the basic implication that this is something that will continue to follow her, and that this podcast may or may not lead to additional events. The podcast is very scary and mostly high production (though the episode intros get weirdly annoying), and shows how difficult something like stalking is to deal with, especially when it crosses over with mental health protections.
Free Billy – No Rating
This is a short story audiobook production written by Don Winslow, who among being a well-known novelist, makes those absolute Liberal-bait videos as part of the Liberal twitter machine, it’s weird to me. This story is also read by Ed Harris and is solid fun. Free Billy is a local surf aficionado in southern California who is famous for being a total cheapskate. But more than not wanting to spend money, he goes to outrageous lengths to avoid spending money. We’re told a few times that he’d be a perfectly capable software engineer if he wanted to work, so it’s not a matter of him having specific needs or issues not being addressed, or at least, not like that, but simply a way of being. This means he’s always looking for free food, looking for places to crash, looking for free dates, and ultimately what he’s looking for is a free ride with a kind of sugar mama. And well, he might have just found one. He meets a woman in the bar who he becomes smitten with. They hang out, they go back to her place, and well, she’s loaded. She also wants to wait for a second date, which presents him with a problem.
The story is goofy and fun and does something that I usually enjoy, using the structure of a thriller/suspense, but with no actual stakes.
Approval Junkie – No Rating
A good reminder that “comedic” and “solo show” are not the same thing as stand up comedy. This is a solo show based off of Faith Sallie’s memoir. She’s known primarily for being on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, a show I really don’t like because NPR is weirdly never funny and weirdly insistent on how funny they are. Anyway, the show is mostly fine and deals with many of the same topics that solo shows and memoirs tend to — death, work, life etc. But it ends on the most sourly obnoxious rich New York liberal way of her making a pleading (and not self-aware or funny) case for her four year old to be treated as an individual when she’s trying to get him into an expensive private school.
Out of Bounds – No Rating
Another Audible Original podcast, specifically about money in college sports. I grew up watching college basketball and college football, and still watch a lot of college basketball. I root for a team that projects the image (to themselves, to their fans etc) of “doing it the right way”, which is total crap first of all because I know people who went to the school and got money and benefits to play there. Anyway, I was raised with that sense of fair play and amateurism and all that nonsense. Watching other people continue to argue the ways that paying college athletes will ruin everything is annoying at the very least. It’s weird because I grew up in a house that talked about free education as being payment enough while also being a liberal pro-labor house too. Anyway.
This podcast spends its time between recent events with the installation of NIL rights to college athletes, which basically means that college athletes have the right and ownership over their name and likeness and depending on their state laws and college policies make money from them. Ultimately this means that schools and donors can be much more public about what is offered for players to come to those schools, and reduces the number of circumstances that can lead to violations. I think it’s not very much different from the legalization of marijuana. It takes something that should never have been barred, brings it out to the open, and probably has positive and negative consequences as a result.
The podcast then goes back to look at specific cases of athletes who challenged the system in different ways over the last few decades.
Island Nation – No Rating
This short story is written by Peter Heller, who I know specifically for the novel The River, which is about a north Canadian camping trip that first turns into a mystery, and then a thriller/suspense. It shares a lot of the same story beats as something like Deliverance. This short story takes place in a future version of the US in which amon other things California, New York, and a few other states have voted on secession, but not in confederacy but as separate nations. Our story takes place on an island off the coast of Maine where a family of two parents, a tween (our narrator) and some animals live. It’s becoming increasingly clear that mainlanders are organizing for potential succession as often happens this is leading to sporadic violence, mainly against their perceived enemies, tourists. If this sounds cheesy, I think it mostly works in the story, as the tightly focused narrative spends very little time investigating the larger world changes, and instead on how the locals are hurting people. This reads accurate to me, knowing what I do know about domestic terrorism, etc. The story then begins with the father taking the sailboat toward to mainland to investigate what looks like the disappearance of some neighbors and friends. When he also fails to return, the mother goes looking for him, and that leaves our protagonist by herself on the island with her animals, namely a dog and some chickens, for the remainder of the story.
The story is generally well-done, but it’s a blip mostly, in that it’s short and focused, but not part of a larger narrative in a compelling, but scary world
Song of the Northwoods – No Rating.
This audioplay begins with the bantering back and forth of two friends who up until recently hosted a late night radio program as well as a true crime podcast. The podcast is still happening, but one of the friends, Song, has been let go, while Lucy is set for nation-wide stardom. Lucy has offered Song up use of her parents’ cabin up north as a way to lay low and lick her wounds, but they’re still podcasting. They received an email tip to investigate an old cold case about teen boy drowning or disappearing in a lake, that just so happens to be the lake the cabin is on. Song is interested but Lucy mostly brushes it off. Song begins to investigate and starts running into different kinds of interference as it’s clear there’s a lot to the story, that it connects to larger events in the town, and that she might not have every reason to trust her friend.
It’s a solid two hours of listening that I won’t ever remember. There’s an element of “first as tragedy, then as farce” in the use of true crime podcasting as a story trope these days, but that’s the market for you.
Dogs of Venice – No Rating
Paul is in Venice by himself because his husband Darren used the lead up to the trip as the perfect time to initiate a break up. So Paul sits in Venice, becoming friends with the local city dogs, and feels sorry for himself. In his search for meaning, he hooks up with a younger waiter who harbors an air of mystery or maybe just doesn’t speak English very well. Only time will tell. Obviously, there’s a connection here to Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, but with happier results luckily.
Fragments of a Young Conquistador – No Rating
This short story involves the journal of a young conquistador who after the return of his uncle Hernan Cortes from the Americas, where he has told Moctezuma that he is Quetzalcoatl, is sent to join him. When there, he’s told to impersonate another god, but he fails at it. He also has some adventures on board the boat where he is a nobleman among sailors and soldiers. In the Aztec court he falls in lover with the god emperor’s daughter and their love is apparently lost to history. The story is funny and ironic throughout and the narration and writing is both compelling and bizarre. It’s a weird story to float out there on its own, but I did enjoy it.