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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot's Christmas
by Agatha Christie
1939

"Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"

Is there a reason why Agatha Christie is said to be the best-selling author of all time? I'd be willing to bet that there are a few. But more than anything I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that she was really good at what she did and she did it a lot, turning out about eighty works of detective fiction in her lifetime. I'm no expert on Christie and I'd wager that there must be some duds in the bunch, but I have yet to run across them.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas, which was also published under various other titles (Murder for Christmas, A Holiday for Murder), is, for my money, a great example of Christie's mastery. The premise is a fairly standard one for the genre. A wealthy old man who's not particularly likable gathers his dysfunctional family members around him, along with a few others. Not long after he berates them for their perceived failings and threatens to re-write his will, he is found locked in his room with his throat cut.

I'm also no expert on locked room mysteries though I've vowed to read more of them. What I would say about the ones I've read is the word "farfetched" often seems to apply. There's the tiniest bit of that quality to this one but overall I think Christie handles this aspect of the book quite nicely.

Along with everything else, for that matter. By this time in her career, Christie had already turned out about two dozen books and it shows in the relaxed and concise manner in which she introduces the various characters, sets the stage for what's to come, sprinkles clues and red herrings all about and turns Poirot loose to pull everything together. About the only minor quibble I had with the book (a very mild spoiler cometh) is that the identity of the killer seemed to come from out of left field. Aside from that I'd give this one a very enthusiastic recommendation.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Trek Movie Rewatch: The Motion Picture

My peak Star Trek watching years came in the seventies. Those of us who were too young to catch the show when it first aired in the mid-sixties could gorge ourselves on seemingly endless reruns of three seasons worth of shows. It was a far cry from Netflix and calling up any episode any time but we made do.

As the seventies wound down my interest in Star Trek waned and I wasn’t really cognizant of what came along later — four more TV series and a heap of movies. I sought to rectify this in the early years of the new century, watching as many TV episodes as possible and some of the movies, but my intake of the latter was sporadic.

Read more at Black Gate.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

5 Tales from Tomorrow, T. E. Dikty

5 Tales from Tomorrow
Edited by T. E. Dikty
Crest Books (176 pages, $0.35, December 1957)
Cover by Richard Powers

T.E. Dikty edited a bunch of SF anthologies, mostly throughout the Fifties and many in collaboration with Everett F. Bleiler. Aside from Clifford Simak and perhaps one-hit wonder Tom Godwin, the names in this volume are not quite the SF A-list, but the results are mostly not bad.

Read more at Black Gate.

Christmas is Murder, by C.S. Challinor

Christmas is Murder
By C.S. Challinor
2008

"Do you think Henry might have choked on his dentures? He said they were always coming loose."

I read and reviewed one of Challinor's Rex Graves mysteries a while back. I hadn't planned on reading another one so soon but the premise of Christmas is Murder reached out and grabbed me. I have to admit to a special fondness for those mysteries in which the author strands his/her characters in some remote location and turns a murderer loose in their midst.

Challinor does this to great effect in what is actually the first mystery to star barrister Rex Graves. A motley crew is stranded by a blizzard at a remote Scottish hotel and one of the unfortunate characters goes down for the final count before graves even arrives. He won't be the last, unfortunately. There's a fairly sizable body count before it's all over.

The author really lays it on thick all the way throughout with clues and red herrings. Perhaps I'm not so good at sorting these things out because I had to admit that even as the end was nigh I wasn't quite sure what was up. My only minor quibble with the whole affair is that the motivations of the killer seemed a bit shaky. Aside from this point, I give this book high marks.