The Tuesday Night Bloggers are a group of crime fiction fans who choose a different topic each month, then write a weekly post on it. Our current theme is 'A is for April, A is for Anything'. We can take the A any way we want to. So look out for some varied blogposts.
And of course please join in if you would like to – one-offs and casuals always welcome.
This month I am collecting the links, so just let me know (in the comments below or on Facebook) if you have anything to add.
THIS WEEK'S LINKS:
Kate, over at cross-examining crime has done a post on Accidental and Amateur Sleuths.
And Brad, at his Ah Sweet Mystery blog, chose Acrimony! Agatha and Adaptations as his theme.
Bev at My Reader’s Block has actually read The April Robin Murders for her post - that's the book she (as ever) found and cleverly adapted for our logo.
For my first post, I looked at Anna Where Are You?, which turned out to be one of Patricia Wentworth’s best books, as well as having a nice big A at the beginning of the title. Other contributions to the Tuesday Night Club are on the same page.
Given the A theme, there really wasn’t any chance that I wouldn’t do Agatha Christie in some form, as she is such a favourite of mine (and now with her own tab above so you can easily find all the many many entries on her). It occurred to me that I had never written about her first detective story – time to put that right.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christiepublished 1920
[Captain Hastings has gone to visit old family friends, while on convalescent leave from serving in the First World War]
We drew up in front of the fine old house. A lady in a stout tweed skirt, who was bending over a flower bed, straightened herself out at our approach.
“Hello, Evie, here’s our wounded hero! Mr Hastings – Miss Howard.”
Miss Howard shook hands with a hearty, almost painful grip. I had an impression of blue eyes in a sunburnt face. She was a pleasant-looking woman of about 40, with a deep voice, almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible square body with feet to match – these feet encased in good thick boots.
commentary: So Captain Hastings arrives, narrating, and will shortly introduce us to his old friend Hercule Poirot. It is the beginning of a trail that will continue for more than 50 years. If you’d read this book in 1920 I imagine it would have seemed a routine detective story, nothing to make it stand out from many others. It has clues, and red herrings, and a dramatic court case, and burnt documents (and so fragments of paper), and a lot about wills.
The relationship between Poirot and Hastings is already set:
“We must be so intelligent that he does not suspect us of being intelligent at all… There, mon ami, you will be of great assistance to me.”
We see women grabbing the chances offered by the war – some freedom, and jobs on the land or in nursing or a dispensary. Christie herself worked in such a dispensary during the War, gaining her invaluable knowledge of poisons, shown off with clear emphasis in this book.
I was pleased with the compliment.
The life of the country house goes on – there are only 3 gardeners now instead of 5, including a woman gardener in breeches. The large, comfortable house is run by a team of servants – but there is no electric light upstairs, and remarkably few bathrooms. A woman coming by car from the next town arrives swathed in motoring veils.
As ever there is a lot of emphasis on impersonation and disguise – Christie is starting on her lifelong affirmation that one person can become another, or become unrecognizable, with a few simple changes. (Best just to accept this before moving on to the next 70 books.) The house dressing-up box comes into play here.
As in many of the later books, the main crime is at times obscured by the various other shenanigans in the vicinity, often unrelated to the main murder. There is an interesting exchange when someone is arrested as a spy:
“The blackguard!” I cried indignantly.
“Not at all. He is, on the contrary, a patriot. Think what he stands to lose. I admire the man myself.”
Surely most of Christie’s British readers would have agreed with Hastings, not Poirot.
But I could not look at it in Poirot’s philosophical way.
The plot is intricate and clever, but not a standout. I think it would have taken a prescient reader to see exactly where this young woman author was going…
The clothes in the book are minimal and done in Christie’s straightforward and undetailed style. I liked the unpopular man who is a
“rotten little bounder… an absolute outsider… he wears patent leather boots in all weathers!”Proper tweeds are a Christie banker throughout the oeuvre, for both men and women: men in a suit, women in what was then called a coat and skirt, but what we would now call a suit. She usually attached the words ‘well-cut’ or ‘shabby’ to the description, while particularly admirable down-on-their-luck toffs might be wearing tweed that was ‘well-cut but now shabby’. So a ‘stout tweed skirt’ is a nice change.
The picture is of silent movie star Dorothy Gish, and shows how very unflattering tweeds could be. Dorothy was famously beautiful, nearly as much so as her sister Lillian, but I don’t think you’d know that from this photo, which is from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.