twenty.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)
10 people are invited to a lonely island owned by U. N. Owen. But the funny thing is that none of the invited, truly know this person. And as their host hasn’t arrived on the first day, they have to wait for him. But then, a loud voice accuses each one of the party of intentionally letting someone else die. And then the members of the party start to die, one by one is killed, just as in the old nursery rhyme 10 little soldiers…
This is the first Agatha Christie I have read where Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot aren’t involved, and I’m sort of disappointed. The plot is great, but it’s really rather impersonal. You don’t get to know the characters as well as you do in the other stories I have read. And I definitely didn’t like how the crime was solved.

thirteen.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
Flora Poste was orphaned at the age of 19, but it didn’t cause her much grief as her parents had always been travelling and she had spent time out of school at a friend’s house. Declining her friend’s suggestion that she should stay there, she writes her remote family to see if any of them want to take her in. And this is how she ends up at Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.
There has always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort, and they are currently being ruled by Aunt Agony Ada Doom. The woman who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was young and has never been right since. The Starkadders are not allowed to leave the farm and they live in gloom until Flora saves them.Because that’s what she is scheming to do. Save the Starkadders from their own misery and Aunt Ada.
What a wonderful book! I loved it from the first page and until the last. It is witty and full of amazing portraits of the characters and the English countryside. The Starkadders are strange, even without Aunt Ada. I think my favourite part is where Flora goes to the hired girl, Meriam, who has just popped out another baby and Flora tells her how to avoid getting pregnant when the spring time lust comes over her and Seth. The sexual desires in this book wasn’t something I expected in a novel written in the 1930s by a female author. I also loved how Flora compared a lot of things to African wildlife and especially lions. 
This book was a part of Line’s 1001 books challenge and I’m glad it was because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have read it. Stella Gibbons has written more about Cold Comfort, and I will put those books on my long list of books to read.

fifty-three, fifty-two, fifty-one, fifty: poirot


Lord Edgware Dies (1933)

Lady Edgware, a famous actress who left her husband years ago, asks Hercule Poirot for assistance. She wants a divorce so badly that she utters that she will even murder him. And then the murder happens, and witnesses say they saw lady Edgware at the scene, but she has an alibi.

The ABC Murders (1936)

Hercule Poirot receives a letter warning him of a murder in a town called Andover. After the murder happens, he receives another one, warning of another murder in the town of Bexhill-on-Sea. Will Hercule Poirot catch the murderer before it’s too late?

Dumb Witness (1937)

Poirot receives a letter from an old lady who believes she has had a narrow escape from death. When Poirot and Captain Hastings go to investigate, they learn that the lady passed away months ago. The lady has also changed her will just before dying, and everything went to her companion and not her relatives.

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975)

Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot, now a cripple and on his deathbed, have returned to Styles to solve a final mystery together.

These four stories can be found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume 2 omnibus.

Having read the last of the Poirot stories, I feel kind of sad. Hercule Poirot (and Captain Hastings) has been a great companion for a long time. I am still shocked over how things ended in Curtain, but at the same time that’s the first time Agatha has disappointed me.

I have been trying to compose a list over my favourite Poirot stories, but that has proven to be impossible; I seem to get a new favourite every time.

forty-nine, forty-one, forty: poirot

the Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

Hastings is visiting an old friend, John Cavendish, at Styles. While he’s there, the old lady of the house is murdered; poisoned behind locked doors. Everyone in the household believes it is her husband who killed her, but he has an alibi. So who in the family killed her? Luckily, Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee and famous detective, is in the village and he takes the case.

Murder on the Links (1923)


(read in 2010, so copy and paste)
Hercule Poirot receives a telegraph from France asking for urgent help as a man believes he is in grave danger. But Poirot and Hastings arrive too late, the man is already murdered, a grave has been dug but the body is laying outside of it, and his wife was found tied and gagged in bed. A letter indicating blackmail is found, there is a mistress, and clues suggest that South Americans are involved. There is also a famous French detective on the case and the two famous detectives are not very fond of each other. And then a stranger is found murdered in a shed on the property.

the Big Four (1927)

Hercule Poirot is convinced that an international gang of four members is behind all evil in the world. He is on the right track, but the gang is too smart for him and he and Hastings often find themselves in great peril. And then the gang manages the impossible; to kill Hercule Poirot.

Peril at End House (1932)


Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are on a holiday when they meet a young woman who has had a few near-death accidents in the past few days. Poirot is convinced that the woman is in immediate danger, but despite their close watch over the girl, her cousin is murdered by mistake at a party. What will the murderer do when he realises his mistake?

It’s been wonderful reading about Hercule Poirot from Captain Hastings’ narrative. Captain Hastings is not half as clever as Poirot, but his narrative is a delight to read. The Big Four is so different from any other Poirot story, more like James Bond really.

All four stories are found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume One omnibus.

thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-five, thirty-four: poirot

“‘Do you know, Poirot, I almost wish sometimes that you would commit a murder.’
‘Mon cher!’
‘Yes, I’d like to see just how you’d set about it.’
‘My dear Japp, if I committed a murder you would ot have the least chance of seeing – how I set about it! You would not even be aware, probably, that a murder had been committed.’
Japp laughed good-humouredly and affectionately.
‘Cocky little devil, aren’t you?’ he said indulgently.

the Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)


Roger Ackroyd, the wealthy owner of Fernly Park is found murdered in his study. His niece asks Poirot, a retired detective to take the case and he agrees. And with the help of the small village’s doctor’s narrative, he solves it.

the Murder on the Orient Express (1934)

Hercule Poirot is travelling on the Orient Express when he is awoken from sleep by some strange noises in the compartment next to him. The man in the compartment is found murdered, stabbed 12 times, the next morning. As the train is stuck in a snow storm, no police can get aboard and the murderer must still be on the train.

the Murder in the Mews (1937)

A woman is found dead in her bedroom, and while it looks like a suicide, Inspector Japp is not so sure, so he asks Poirot for help. Did Barbara Allen kill herself or was it murder?

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1939)

Mr Lee gathers his family in his house for Christmas, he hasn’t seen some of his sons for years as they have fallen out. And also, his only grandchild, Pilar, will come from Spain. Once the whole family is together, tension sparks and Mr Lee announces that he needs to change his will. But shortly after dinner, Mr Lee is murdered in his locked room and the murderer has vanished. And then it is time to call in Mr Poirot.

It has been almost a year since I last read any Agatha Christie and it is such a pleasure to do nothing all day but read wonderful stories with my favourite Belgian detective (or the only Belgian detective I know). Murder on the Orient Express became an instant favourite, but then I read Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and I think I liked that one even better. And as always, I never guess the murderer.

These three novels and one short story was found in the Perfect Murders omnibus. Now I only have seven wonderful unread Hercule Poirot stories left.

thirty-six.

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) (1937)


“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”

Karen Blixen lived on a farm in Africa for almost twenty years. She came out to live with her husband, but they divorced in 1925 and Karen was the owner of the farm for the remaining years. She tells about the daily life on the farm and its many squatters and their guests.

Although it is a biography, it is never personal. It rather focuses on the farm, instead of Karen’s personal life, which I think is a pity. I was lucky to find a short biography attached to the copy I bought at a market in Oslo, and she certainly lived a fascinating life, and I would love to read more about it.

I really enjoyed reading about the farm and the joys and hardships of the people who were involved. She writes with great insight and it is a joy to read about the landscape and wild life surrounding the farm. This is the way I wish an other book about an African farm was written (the Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer). But one chapter in the book annoyed me – instead of following the pattern of the other chapters, this one was full of short stories in no chronological order and many seemed written down just to be remembered and had little to do with the rest of the book. I skimmed many of them as I saw no point in them being there in the first place.

I’m looking forward to watching the film version of this once I’m united with my tv again.

sixty-eight, sixty-seven, sixty-six: twenty thousand streets under the sky

Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton
– a London trilogy

the Midnight Bell (1930)

“The kiss of a wicked woman – the kiss of Sin… The sweet, brief, virginal kiss of Sin! A miraculous and exhilarating contradiction! It remained on his mouth like a touch of violets. There had never been such a kiss in the history of the world.”

Bob is a waiter at the Midnight Bell, a small pub in London. One a very busy night he meets a prostitute, but she is the prettiest girl in London. She is in a poor state, owing a few shillings on her rent. Bob has never lent money to strangers before, but the pretty Jenny, although she protests, gets the money and promises to pay him back. Bob cannot stop thinking about Jenny and starts walking the streets of West End in hope to see her again. And then he does and fell in love. He spends an awful lot of money on Jenny who hardly ever shows up on time, if at all, and is always in a miserable state. Bob is proud of the 80 pounds he has in the bank, but the more he sees of Jenny, the more money gets withdrawn from his account. But he loves Jenny and she is going to pay him back.

“And how could he complain? Languishing husbands might love her to distraction; authors might give her books. She might go to Paris. But she was here now, forgiving him with little pressures – his ‘girl’. She had said she loved him”

the Siege of Pleasure (1932)

“‘All through a glass of port,’ Jenny, the girl of the streets, had said. She had said it in jest, but who shall decline to surmise that she had stumbled upon the literal truth? If Jenny had not taken that first glass she would not have taken the second, and if she had not taken the second she would not have taken the third, and if she had not taken the third she would not then and there have resolved to abandon herself to the pleasures and perils of drink. And if she had not done that, she would not have become involved in the events which lost her her job, and set her going down the paths of destruction.”

The second book in the trilogy is all about Jenny, Bob’s love interest, and that fatal night that made her late for her new job as a maid in service at the age of 18 and thus made her a girl of the streets.

the Plains of Cement (1934)

“‘Doesn’t the lake look lovely?’ said Mr. Eccles, for by now they had walked right round into view of the lake. ‘I shall never forget this lake’.
‘Won’t you?’
‘No. That was where we walked when we first Knew, said Mr. Eccles, giving her another nudge, while Ella concentrated on gropingly on a Letter. A postman alone could curb this prodigious man.”

Ella is the barmaid at the Midnight Bell and one day an older man, Mr. Eccles, asks her on a date to the theatre. A few weeks later they are engaged, but Ella is never sure of her feelings for this much older man with such a temper. And who she really loves is Bob, but he is unaware of her feelings.

Such a strange trilogy, not in chronological order at all and the second book doesn’t really correspond with the other two. I think that if the part about Jenny’s past had been left out, it would have been a much better book. But such lovely language and style of writing.

I agree with Doris Lessing; ‘Hamilton was a marvellous novelist who’s grossly neglected’. I’m definitely going to read more Patrick Hamilton, and I urge you to do the same.

sixty-one.

Coming Up for Air by George Orwell (1939)


George is a fat middle-aged man who feels like he has lived a very boring life. He reckons he hasn’t been happy since he married Hilda, and why did he marry her anyway? He remembers his happy childhood with fishing and reading, he never went fishing after 16. At that time he had to leave school and get a job and then the great war happened and he was shipped to France. And after that it was hard to get a job, he ended up in the insurance business and then married. He decides to go back to the village where he had his happy childhood and go fishing in that pond with the giant carps that no one else know about.

The beginning of this story really depressed me, so I didn’t continue reading it for a couple of months. And then I sensed that it was richly detailed sarcasm. I kept hoping that something exciting would happen to George or that he would do something completely out of character, but alas. And what the hell was that end? It left me disappointed.

fifty-two.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)


Addie Bundren dies and her family is going to bury her in another town. The book follows them some time before and after her death and on their journey to Jefferson for the burial.

This was a very difficult book to read, it has many narrators and most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about. I was very close to throwing the book at the wall when I came to a chapter with only four words; My mum is a fish. I also wanted to find a red pen and mark every incorrectly spelt word and grammatical error. And I felt defeated as this is supposedly one of the best novels of the 20th century.

I should reread it in twenty years and see if it makes more sense then.

fifty, forty-nine, forty-seven: poirot

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (1936)


Hercule Poirot receives a strange dinner party invitation from an acquaintance. When they are finished playing bridge that evening, said acquaintance is found dead; stabbed in a room with four other people. One of them is the murderer and all of them claim that they have seen nothing suspicious that evening.

This was not the best version of Poirot, he was a bit vague in this story and I’m curious to get to know this Ariadne Oliver more.

Mrs McGinty’s Dead (1952)


An old lady is murdered and a man is found guilty for the crime. But the police in charge of the investigation is not satisfied, but as he is now retired, he asks Poirot to help him out. Poirot quickly links the murder to an article about women who have been linked to criminal activities in the past. While investigating he also bumps into Mrs Oliver who happens to be in the same town. And together they solve the crime.

Dead Man’s Folly (1956)


Mrs Ariadne Oliver is asked to make a murder mystery hunt for a party. She calls Mr Poirot before the hunt takes place because she doesn’t feel right about it. Then the game becomes real, the girl who is playing the victim is found murdered exactly the way Mrs Oliver planned it.

These three stories are found in the Complete Ariadne Oliver volume 1. Also included in it are two short stories; the Case of of the Discontented Soldier and the Case of the Rich Woman. These stories are about Parker Pyne, a private investigator who makes people happy. The stories are as unlike Poirot as possible, the only thing they have in common is Ariadne Oliver.