Surfing and the Duchess of Death

Honouring International Women’s Day with Agatha Christie. Here she is in 1922 on a global tour where in Africa and Honolulu she became one of the first Britons to learn to surf.

A real achievement for the 20’s when surfing wasn’t considered a sport for ladies and particularly a lady from Agatha’s class. This social more didn’t deter the plucky novelist who wrote in her memoir, ‘Surfing looks perfectly easy. It isn’t. I say no more.’

 

 

And later she said despite the physical pain that surfing was one of the most perfect physical pleasures she had known. May we all challenge our own social mores. 📸 via The Christie Archives and  The Official Agatha Christie Instagram 

#amreading 2017

2017 was a challenging year. It had some shining moments: our January trip to Heron Island and our Easter break in England, but overall it was a frustrating year on several levels for my family. And politically and environmentally everything was bleak.
But even in the bleakest of years, books always provide solace and soul medicine.
Below are the books I read in 2017. They are mainly crime and psychological thrillers – not surprising as I’ve always found crime and mystery to be the ultimate comfort reading. Tana French’s books came in for some re-reading.
I tried to review books as I read them but it wasn’t always possible due to my own writing schedule.

This is not a complete list; I’ve omitted some that I forgot to record at the time.
I really enjoyed all the books below with the exception of one twisty psychological thriller that had the world’s most ridiculous ending – WTFthatending indeed.
I wish you a prosperous and joyous 2018 with books that keep you turning pages way past the witching hour.
Books read in 2017:
1/ The Grown Up by Gillian Flynn
2/ The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple by Anne Hart
3/ Re-read The Secret Place by Tana French
4/ The Locksmiths Daughter by Karen Brooks
5/  The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel
6/ The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
7/ Re-read In the Woods by Tana French
8/ Behind Her Eyes by Sara Pinborough
9/ The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman
10/ Hourglass by Dani Shapiro
11/ Re-read The Likeness by Tana French
12/  Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
13/ Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary
14/ Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
15/ After by Nikki Gemmell
16/ The Good People by Hannah Kent
17/ The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
18/ Wimmera by Mark Brandi
19/ The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
20/ The Golden Child by Wendy James
21/ The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer
22/ You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
23/ Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott
24/ Arrowood by Laura McHugh
25/ The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
26/ The Cunning Man by Celia Rees
27/ Re-read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
28/ Hunted by Amanda Holohan
29/ Goodwood by Holly Throsby
30/ Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
31/ Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
32/ The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase
33/ Re-read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
34/ Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah
35/ No Picnic at Hanging Rock by Helen Golic
36/ Beyond the Rock: The Life of Joan Lindsay and the Mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock by Janelle McCulloch
37/ The Secrets she Keeps by Michael Robotham
38/ Crooked House by Agatha Christie
39/ A Spot of Folly: Ten and a Quarter New Tales of Murder and Mayhem by Ruth Rendell
40/ Sleep No More : Six Murderous Tales by P.D James
41/ Re-read The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
42/ Re-read 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
43/ Re-read Endless Night by Agatha Christie
44/ he said she said by Erin Kelly
45/ Re-read  My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
46/ The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox
47/ Dart by Alice Oswald
48/  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

CROOKED HOUSE

I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but I either blocked Crooked House from my mind – or I’d never read it.
 Crooked_House_First_Edition_Cover_1949
A Christie I haven’t read? Scandalous! It’s hard to believe I could’ve forgotten this chiller. Crooked House was the Agatha Christie Book of the Month for November. There are no spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t read it, I vow to Keep the Secret.
CROOKED HOUSE PAN EDITION
Crooked House (1949) was one of Agatha’s personal favourites and I can see why. I always enjoy her standalone novels, like Endless Night – see review HERE. Free of Poirot and Marple, her work enters interesting shadows. I love both detectives, but it must have been refreshing for Agatha to write without them. She claimed Crooked House was pure pleasure to create. She mused over it for years and felt it one of her best. It is also pure pleasure to read.
Agatha Christie Life Magazine 1940

Agatha Christie Life Magazine 1940

The novel is set just after WW2 in 1947. Narrator Charles Hayward returns to England to marry his fiancée Sophia, whom he met in Egypt where she was working for the Foreign Office .
Sophia’s grandfather Aristides Leonides presides over The Three Gables (the Crooked House) where several generations of the family live. But he’s murdered when his insulin medication for diabetes is swapped with his eserine eye medicine. It’s a perfect set up for lots of simmering tensions and family secrets. Everyone, from Sophia herself to 12-year-old Josephine is a suspect, and everyone appears to have a motive. Classic Christie!
Crooked House signed copy image via Pinterest

Crooked House signed copy image via Pinterest

Here’s an extract from when Charles asks ‘The Old Man’ (his father) what murderers are like:
‘But some people, I suspect, remain morally immature. They continue to be aware that murder is wrong, but they do not feel it. I don’t think, in my experience, that any murderer has really felt remorse… And that, perhaps, is the mark of Cain. Murderers are set apart, they are ‘different’ – murder is wrong – but not for them – for them it is necessary – the victim has ‘asked for it,’ it was ‘the only way.’
CROOKED HOUSE SHOES
Charles’s father is the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, so Charles is allowed to unofficially investigate under the eye of Chief Inspector Taverner.
I really enjoyed the characters in this novel. Their flaws are shown but there is depth to every person Christie has created. An example is Laurence Brown, the tutor looked down upon by the family for being a conscientious objector. He was, as he admits to Charles, afraid to go to war, afraid to have to pull the trigger on what might appear to be a Nazi but is actually just a decent German village boy swept up in the conflict. Laurence believes war is wrong but is despised for his beliefs. Now he is under suspicion of murder along with the rest of the household. Laurence tries hard to do the decent thing and is always failing. He rushes into a burning building to save a woman but became unconscious with the fumes, earning the scorn of the fire-department when they have to rescue him as well.
CROOKED HOUSE NEEDLE
Christie doesn’t have a lot of time to let us get to know characters, but is skilled at giving us a full person in a few strokes. It is obvious that Christie, like Miss Marple is a keen observer and can pass a shrewd eye over people without judgement.
Also enjoyable is the goblin-like, horrible child Josephine. She enjoys playing detective, listening at doors and lives in ghoulish expectation for the ‘second murder to occur’. As we do – knowing it is coming. For as  Josephine points out: ‘Someone who knows something is bumped off before they can tell what they know.’ And – ‘Sometimes it’s something that they don’t know that they know.’
This book is one of my own special favourites. I saved it up for years, thinking about it, working it out, saying to myself: “One day, when I’ve plenty of time, and want to really enjoy myself – I’ll begin it. 

Agatha Christie

The tension really escalates at the end. I had a sense of dread of what was coming:
‘Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces – and suddenly the faces change – and it’s not someone you know any longer – it’s a stranger – a cruel stranger.’ – Sophia, Crooked House.
The denouement (which I didn’t see coming but my husband did pick) was one that her publishers wanted her to change the ending. Thankfully, she refused and had enough clout that they conceded to her will.
Crooked House reminds me of some of Barbara Vine’s/Ruth Rendell’s work and is a wonderful forerunner for the twisty, psychological genre.
crooked house nursery rhyme
The title is taken from the nursery rhyme Crooked House, which is a trope that Agatha used in several of her novels. Yes, nearly everyone in the novel and that strange, rambling mansion is crooked in a psychological way. And it refers Aristides not permitting his family to grow independent and rise or fall on their own merits. By his over-control of their lives, the family members have grown crooked, under the crooked man, in his crooked, strangely proportioned mansion on the outskirts of London.
IMG_7952
Have you read it? If so, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. And if you know any fan of mysteries, or psychological thrillers, please share this post. I think Crooked House has become one of my new favourite Christie’s.
#keepthesecret.

Endless Night

I recently re-read Agatha Christie’s Endless Night (1967), for the Instagram Agatha Christie bookclub Maidens of Murder.
22858021_730085363853603_7436238704789684224_n
Agatha wrote Endless Night in her seventies, and it’s one of her most chilling and accomplished books. It was one of her personal favourites, and her grandson Mathew Prichard recently voted it his favourite in a survey to mark the 125th anniversary of Agatha’s birth.
ENDLESS NIGHT ONE
Endless Night received some of the Queen of Crime’s best reviews and I wish she had written more standalones, as it is as strong as anything by Daphne du Maurier or Ruth Rendell.
From the film Endless Night

From the film Endless Night

It’s a psychological thriller, with no iconic detective or whodunnit, a beautifully crafted examination of evil and madness with a shocker of a twist. Even though I already knew the denouement, I was still hooked into the story. The prose is tight, the characters intriguing and it demonstrates how Agatha, in her later years was still able to pull off an accomplished piece. This is a crime writer on top of her game!
ENDLESS NIGHT THREE
I finished the book at 3am in the morning with a storm outside – appropriate for the menacing Third Act.
endless night seven
The narrator is a young working-class man Michael Rogers, who marries the fabulously wealthy Ellie. He first sees Ellie at Gipsy’s Acre, where a house, originally known as the Towers, is up for auction. Michael knows his dream of living at Gipsy’s Acre is impossible, but he fantasies about his terminally ill architect friend, Rudolph Santonix, building a modern house on the site. However, the land is cursed by gypsies and it’s said anyone who moves there will have bad luck.
ENDLESS NIGHT SIX
When Michael and Ellie fall in love, the impossible dream of owning Gipsy’s Acre is within reach. But Michael has to learn the rules of the privileged world he has now joined – and deal with a cast of characters who threaten his happiness, including the capable and controlling Scandinavian beauty, Greta. Then there’s the suspicion of Ellie’s family, who see Michael as a fortune hunter. Ellie’s guardian and trustee Andrew Lipincott is one of my favourites, but there are many well-written characters including Michael’s mother, Mrs Rogers, who doesn’t appear a lot, but is realistically drawn.
endless night eight
The Gypsy curse is always shadowing their new home and life. Neither Michael or Ellie are superstitious, until the local village gypsy, Esther Lee, begins predicting Ellie’s death.
The Endless Night of the title is taken from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake, and is suitably sombre, haunting and mystical.
ENDLESS NIGHT TWO
In the Youtube clip Mathew Prichard made announcing his choice for the World’s Favourite Christie, he explained how his friends would visit Agatha with him and how she was always curious about their lives and choices. Through his friends, Agatha became familiar with the mood and tone of the 60s and he believes she gleaned influences from her conversations with those young people that went into the book.
agatha christie ten
A movie of Endless Night, released in 1972, starred Hayley Mills, Britt Ekland, Per Oscarsson, Hywel Bennett, and George Sanders. I have the DVD and really enjoy it. It has recently been turned into a Miss Marple adaptation, which I think is disappointing as the book doesn’t feature Marple. I’m a huge Miss Marple fan, but she doesn’t belong in Endless Night.
For readers who love psychological thrillers, domestic noir and the awful sounding grip-lit – if you haven’t read Endless Night, I highly recommend it!
endless night nine
Endless Night has gothic overtones and, as with several of Agatha’s books, a nod to the supernatural. But the haunting in this isn’t from any wraith within the pages, but from how the book plays with your mind afterwards. It is one of my favourite Agatha Christies and a perfectly suitable book choice for the October Spooky season.

WHEN BONES CRY

Poet’s Cottage has been attracting some lovely reviews this week. Thank you very much to Auckland Library for their review HERE. It was most interesting to see how the reader picked up the Enid Blyton influence in the book.

I should say, however, that Pearl Tatlow in Poet’s Cottage is NOT Enid Blyton in any way shape or form. I was always fascinated by how Enid Blyton’s two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, had totally opposing views of their mother. I knew one day I would write about this theme and it simmered away for years.

It interested me greatly because I knew of other families besides Enid’s – including my own – where children with identical upbringings have totally different accounts of events. It really made me contemplate truth, memory and history. How do we know what the bones are really singing?

Whether Enid Blyton was a good mother or not never affected how I feel about Blyton. I know she made my childhood magical and I still love curling up with a Famous Five or one of her boarding school stories. But I was fascinated by the family set-up where you have to try to uncover whether the bones are lying or being truthful – or both at the same time.

My writing friend, Jen Storer posted a lovely blog on Enid Blyton and Johnny Cash HERE.

And my other writing friend Kate Forsyth was in the Spectrum this weekend with a beautiful photo of her reading to her daughter HERE. I was thrilled to see Kate also loves to collect the vintage editions of Enid Blyton rather than the sanitised versions. I agree that writers should be read as products of their time and not have their words reshaped to fit the mindset of later generations.

The images of Enid Blyton in this post I found HERE. They are from an interview that Enid gave shortly before her death and I find them moving and poignant. They capture the fragility of the woman behind the words.

I’m so grateful for all the lovely reviews of Poet’s Cottage and that so many people have taken the time to discuss their thoughts on the characters and the set-up. It has been fascinating to see how the book has really delighted people from a range of backgrounds and ages.

Fellow Sydney writer Elisabeth Storrs posted a lovely and thoughtful piece on Poet’s Cottage HERE. I love the final paragraph because Pearl’s gramophone also haunted me for quite a long time.

Poet’s Cottage is an accomplished, engrossing novel with fine language and powerful descriptions of the small town inhabitants of Pencubbit in both past and modern times. Most of all, in creating the damaged and damaging Pearl, the author has created a character so compelling and complex that the image of her lingers just as surely as the strains of music from her gramophone drifted through Poet’s Cottage both before and after her death.

I shall post links to some other reviews as soon as I get a chance.

Life has been hectic here in the Little Brick with my daughter home on holidays. She is writing more than I am able to at the moment. I do love seeing her happy and creative and able to stay in her pyjamas all day if she wishes.

We went to see the movie Brave, which was a wonderful film showing the power plays between mother and daughters. I shamed myself by weeping over the final scenes and my daughter had nightmares that night over the bear but still, a glorious couple of hours in the cinema. The writer based the character Merida on her own feisty-daughter and it’s easy to see why so many mother/daughters are enjoying this holiday movie. An added bonus for me was the whimsical and beautiful trailer before Brave, La Luna.

I really enjoyed this charming short film.

Sydney Cast onstage for The Mousetrap

David and I saw The Mousetrap, which is now touring as part of its 60th Diamond Anniversary year. I had been looking forward to seeing for ages. It’s my third viewing of this iconic play (I originally saw it in The West End). Although nothing can compare to the romance of seeing Agatha Christie’s play in London, the Sydney cast did a really terrific job. I was pleased they kept it in a very traditional style and didn’t camp it up too much. Although a couple of times the accents were a bit forced, I still felt as if I was really at Monkswell Manor.

cast rehearsal image via Mousetrap Sydney website.

From the eerie opening of the play where the child’s rhyme, ‘Three Blind Mice’ is sung to the shock denouement at the end where a lot of the audience gasped at the twist – to the actor requesting we keep the secret (and of course we all will) – I thought the spirit of Agatha Christie’s play (which she did not expect to run for a few months) was honoured.

the original 1952 production

It’s proof of how people love a good cosy mystery and Agatha is top of her game in this sly and haunting play. You can read about the horrible true story HERE that inspired Agatha Christie to write her dark and elegant play. Terence O’Neill and his brother, Dennis in 1945 were fostered out to a pair on a farm in Shropshire, England. The brothers were beaten and abused by the foster parents and sadly, Dennis died. Agatha followed the case which made headlines in the UK and helped to change laws to protect children and used the case for a short radio play, Three Blind Mice (which later became The Mousetrap). Terence O’Neill has since written his own book of the events, Someone To Love Us.

the devious mind behind The Mousetrap. Hats off to Agatha.

Enjoy your week and stay creative. xx