Monday, November 20, 2017

For Science!

Ironically, science really isn’t my thing.

Image result for galileo series
While I haven't mentioned him on this blog yet, I’m a fan of Keigo Higashino. To me, he does an excellent job of combining both the more modern mystery story with the classic ideas of old. He’s not perfect, and I’m sure that modern critics like him for very different reasons than myself, but I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve read of his so far. Such as two novels starring Manbu “Galileo” Yukawa, a physics professor who keeps getting involved in police investigations, mainly those involving the impossible. The novels didn’t really focus on this (barring Salvation of a Saint) but the short stories tend to focus more on physics part of things. But they’re all in Japanese. What’s a fan to do?

Watch the live action drama, of course.

Galileo is a J-drama consisting of eleven episodes, though episode four is not available due to something with one of the actors being involved in something criminal. The episodes star the Holmes/Watson team of Yukawa and police officer Kaori Utsumi. While I’ll end up tagging this as “Locked Room Mysteries” or “Impossible Crimes” (once I get the tags figured out, so sometime in 2020), only one of the episodes involves an actual locked room, the rest deal with phenomena that seems impossible, but can be explained by science (even though Yukawa scrawls math formulas on everything when he solves the case, even when they have nothing to do with anything). The two leads have the obligatory “will-they-won’t-they” chemistry, but it works well, with neither really having the upper hand on each other.

But then, you aren’t here for that.

(Disclaimer: I got these titles from the Viki.com subs. If they're inaccurate, inform me and I'll edit accordingly.)

The first episode “Ignite” opens with a bang, when the head of a delinquent catches on fire while he and his friends are trashing a dock. The audience sees who was responsible, but not how he did it. Yukawa finds himself called in, and deduces the truth, based on burn marks around the scene of the murder. Sadly, there’s almost no chance that the average viewer can come up with the solution, except by guessing. There’s an attempt to twist the plot at the end, but it’s too obviously foreshadowed and set up. Personally, if they had played with the sequence of events at the end of the episode, the twist would have had more impact. But that’s a spoiler.

The next “Astral Projection” is one of the more disappointing episodes for me. A woman is strangled to death and the police quickly zero in on a suspect. His alibi is that he was in his car hungover, but no one can back him up...or so it seems. A young boy claims to have seen the car as the suspect states, but he must have seen it while astral projecting, due to the large factory doors blocking his view. The idea is a good one, but the episode itself fell flat for me. I think this is because I expected more from the murder angle, but most of the episode was focused on the boy and his father’s attempts to milk his newfound fame. Though I have to ask: Did the police just announce that they needed help backing up a suspect’s alibi? Because I don’t know how the boy or his father knew about the case.

“Poltergeist” reverses the normal formula, as Yukawa comes to Kaori: The sister of one his students wants a police officer to look into her husband’s disappearance. He was last seen entering the house of an old woman who died of a heart attack after his visit. A late-night stake-out reveals the four people living in the house leave at nine every night...and an investigation reveals why: the house violently shakes at that time. Is it the ghost of the old woman? Obviously not, but Yukawa’s explanation for it is both unsatisfying and underclued. Still, the end wrings some genuine pathos out of the set-up.

The next in the line-up is “Fireball” and it’s a genuine locked room! A man is drugged and strangled in a hotel room under observation, and the only clue is a fireball seen buzzing in the room at the time of the murder. There’s some good bits, such as the deductions that Yukawa makes at the crime scene leading to his final solution, but the solution is one that I normally find very unsatisfying, and the lack of fair cluing doesn’t help. Also, why in the world does the office worker not mention <that important fact> until later? You’d think you’d bring it up first thing!

The next episode “Dream” is a flawed masterpiece (mild exaggeration there, but you get my point). A childhood friend of Utsumi’s is caught in the act of breaking into the home of a girl named Remi Morisaki, but is (non-fatally) shot by her mother in the process. Utsumi turns to Yukawa for help, mainly due the the odd backstory of the case. You see, her friend has been dreaming for Morisaki for twenty years….even though Morisaki is only nineteen. Combine that with words seemingly calling the friend to her appearing in ordinary water, and it seems that there’s more behind this case. And there is and I love it. Sadly, the execution stumbles. The trick with the words in the water isn’t fully explained (how did the words remain when the water was disturbed, for example) and the backstory is discovered off-screen by Yukawa. And one wonders if the motive behind this plan was worth the risk. And one would think that Utsumi would remember what she did much earlier.

Next up is “Sight.” A man is called on his honeymoon by the woman he’s having an affair with, and when he opens his curtains, he sees her ready to hang herself. Despite his best efforts, she takes the plunge and the fallout ruins his marriage. However, there’s still an unsolved question about the incident: A few weeks before the hanging, he saw someone else hang herself in that same apartment. A series of events brings the case to Yukawa, who seems oddly interested in it. In  fact, he and Utsumi more or less switch roles for this episode. It’s a good one, mainly just for Yukawa playing the role of a more traditional detective, though most will understand the plot pretty quick, even if they don’t get the mechanics.

Sadly, “Teleportation” is another weak episode. A woman is stabbed to death by a stalker a few hundred times before the attack is interrupted by a security guard. The man falls to his death in the escape, which would seem to make the case open and shut if it weren’t for the victim's sister, who claims to have seen the victim out her window...while she was being stabbed to death across the city. The idea is neat, but…

In my review of A Caribbean Mystery, I mentioned how different detectives deal with different cases, and that’s fine, in fact, preferred. Marple isn’t going to go traipsing all over the city to deal with ABC, and Poirot isn’t going to be challenged by what happens in A Caribbean Mystery, because they’re different people with different focuses and different styles, even if there are similarities. When it comes to series’ like Galileo, with a detective with a certain unique specialty, I expect the Great Detective to deal with crap that appeals to that specialty. This case does not. Really, Yukawa isn’t needed at all for this, Utsumi could have handled this on her own. The solution is simple, in spite of a mild trick the director throws at you.

The two part finale, “Burst Open” has an interesting hook. Utsumi and colleague, are doing a (under attended) presentation at a school when attention is drawn to a student’s art project “Death Mask of a Zombie” a realistic face of a dead man...then a woman runs in and identifies the face as that of her son. The student got the mask by modeling a weird metal faceplate he found in a river, and the investigation leads to a body. But how did the metal take that shape in the first place? The resulting investigation leads to more deaths, radiation and an old figure from Yukawa’s past. All of this implies good stuff, but the end degrades into cheesy Bond level of suspense, and in a way that doesn't even make sense when you consider the villain’s ultimate goal.

I admit, I wasn't sure about an adaptation of the short Galileo stories, since Ho-Ling’s reviews implied that they weren’t as good as the novels. Still, I had hope, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. There are interesting premises here, but the resolutions and the fairness thereof are usually lacking. If you’re going to watch, I’d recommend “Dream” and “Sight.” Otherwise, only recommended if you need something light, and are willing to watch it as a cheesy but fun J-drama and not a complex mystery series.

Also, apparently there's a second series out there, but I didn't know about it until I was looking up images to put in this post! I shall try and track it down then.

Next time: Ace Attorney!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Loop-de-Garou

Image result for the howling beast noel vindryA note to all French authors who want to use or imply wolves: I only have so many jokes I can make with this title. This applies if you’re dead. Or if a publisher puts a picture of a wolf on the cover of your book after you died.

Noel Vindry, known to some as the French John Dickson Carr, first came to the attention of the English-speaking world with Locked Room International’s translation of The House That Kills, and frankly he needed a better introduction. Not the worst book of whatever year it came out, and with some good ideas, but all in all it felt thin. This is much better.

The Howling Beast starts with M. Allou, magistrate, on vacation, ignorant of the recent happenings. This allows him to provide some assistance to the desperate and disheveled man he meets who says, “I have not eaten in three days monsieur.” Said man is Herry Pierre, who is currently on the run for a brutal double murder. M. Allou is willing to hear out his bizarre story, under the logic that a liar will surely trip themselves up…

JJ of The Invisible Event has stated that this is a book best left unspoiled, as the blurb gives too much away, which I suppose is fair (then again, those who read the back of The Crimson Fog or even The Seventh Hypothesis know better than to trust whoever does the blurbs at LRI.), but I don’t feel that it gives away anything else that anyone who’s read a mystery before can see coming. Still, in the interest of generosity, I shall stick to vague descriptions. The book is split into two narratives, one concerning events at the home of Comte de Saint-Luce, four years ago, and one concerning the events of three days ago and Allou’s unraveling of everything. Herry gives us information is perfect and exact detail, which is acceptable to make the plot work. The former narrative involves Herry more or less crashing at the fancy and creepy castle of a man he hasn’t seen in years. The result brings with it a Buddha statue, a love triangle, a pair of brutal assaults in the night, and the disappearance of one of of the guests, as well as a note implying murder.

Also, there’s the slight matter of those mysterious, barely audible howls in the night, that sound like no animal in France….

The second part is where the real meat is, but all I’ll say about it is that it involves a sudden double shooting, as well as attempted murder, with all shots fired by an apparently invisible murder inside a literal locked fortress.

All in all, a much better book than The House That Kills, though the two are similar, what with a group of people isolated in a fortress-like environment under siege from a seemingly unstoppable foe. Carr would have played it up for more horror, but Vindry does a decent job of showing the paranoia and isolation of the main cast, even as they go on and on about how brave they are. All the time. Herry brings it up to the point of nausea.

Still better characterization than The House That Kills.

The main gripe is that the shooting comes so late in the book, that there’s really not a chance to solve it, it’s more watching Allou piece the crime together, which he does without issue. The solution is a simple one, but because of how quickly it’s introduced and solved I don’t have an issue with it. The few elements of horror, such as the nature of the beast, are well done, though the reader doesn’t have much in the way of cluing for it.

All in all, I enjoyed it. It may not be the best thing to come from LRI, but it’s a very competent mystery/suspense story. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Cuckoo Clock of Doom

Image result for the clocksThe more I read Christie’s later books, the more I wonder if their reputation is at least partially undeserved.

The Clocks is one of her later Poirot novels, so it;s a novel that barely has Poirot in it (which can be either good or bad, please pick one). Most of the plot is told from the point of view of Colin Lamb, a marine biologist who doubles at a spy. The set-up is a solid Christie hook: A typist named Sheila Webb is told to go the house of a blind schoolteacher, who asks for Webb specifically even though Sheila protests that she’s never heard of the woman. Nonetheless, she goes to the house, finds it unlocked, and stumbles on a room where there. Are. Four. Clocks! One is off from all the others, a fact which is completely unimportant. What’s far more interesting is the dead man stuffed behind the couch.

As mentioned, Poirot is barely in this. Most of the book is the investigation of Colin and time-displaced 90s action hero turned police officer Dick Hardcastle. Colin is a fair enough narrator, even if he ultimately does very little. This is problem, because he’s supposed to be looking into espionage, but does very little towards that goal, mostly tagging along in the murder investigation. It’s the normal round of interrogating everyone and their dog, but it still feels more lively than the last Christie I looked at; people have actual personality to them, even if the characterization is quick and dirty. The problem is they lack page time. In Caribbean, the suspects had page time, but felt dry. Here they have more to them, but you don’t get time to suspect them.

While looking into this book, quite a few people complained about how Christie doesn’t live up to the very interesting hook she sets up. I’m glad to inform you that she does. Sort of. It’s the dang clocks that are the issue, you could remove them and end up with not a classic, but what would probably be a good late Christie. They serve no purpose. No, really, they don’t. Even after reading the book, I still can’t understand the reason they were shoved in. Poirot explains it, but it makes no sense, considering how it plays no role in the rest of the plan. I can understand planting that clock there, but Poirot doesn’t treat that as the reason. Really, if she’d cut them out you’d have a far better book.

However, the overall cluing of the book is rather weak. I admit to flip-flopping on this a bit. Everytime I think “Definitely not fair” I come up with a few more clues for it to feel fair, but then when I think it’s fair I start wondering if you could really solve it with what you have, and I have to conclude that you can’t, really. A smart reader can notice the broad strokes of what’s going on, and at least have an idea, but I would honestly be surprised if anyone can come to the conclusions Poirot does in the end, especially regarding the victim’s identity*. You might be able to guess at it, but Poirot has access to resources the reader doesn’t, in this case. Same with the clocks.

The “anonymous victim” idea can be a hard one to pull off, but Christie does well here. Admittedly, I’ll say that you have very little chance of figuring out exactly who the dead man is, but you can make a reasonable guess, and Christie does a good job of playing around with the identity, certainly better than 4:50 from Paddington. She leads the reader along well, and I felt satisfied with the final reveal.

That really sums up my attitude as a whole, “satisfied”. It’s not top-tier Christie, but I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, like with say Dumb Witness. It’s not the best, and it’s not my first choice for best Christie, but fans should like it. Recommended, with caveats.



*Fun fact! This isn’t the first time Christie did the “anonymous victim” idea. That was 4:50 From Paddingtion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Obligatory Beach Episode

Image result for a caribbean mysteryThis is probably one of the blander titles Christie has done. At least “Sittaford” sounds unfamiliar.
 
A Caribbean Mystery is one of Christie's later Marple novels, and already I was feeling a bit of dread going in. I like Christie, like all sane and rational people do, but very few can deny the quality drop in her later years. The fact that this was a Marple novel, which tend to be weaker on the mystery side of things, didn’t help with that. Still, I haven’t read a bad Christie yet*, so I had hopes.

Also I enjoyed Third Girl. My taste is already numb.

As the title states, Miss Marple is currently on a Caribbean cruise, courtesy of her nephew. She’s also bored out of her mind, and stuck listening to an old major ramble about his times in Africa and all that. At one point he mentions having a photo of a murderer on him, and is about to show it when he looks behind Miss Marple, freaks out, and suddenly shoves it back where is came from. Sadly, the tropical air has addled Miss Marple’s brain, and she doesn’t think anything of it until the Major turns up dead from high blood pressure.

Of course, while everyone knows he had it, no one can remember where they heard it. And the picture is gone.

Now, JJ at The Invisible Event took a look at this book, and did a post about nostalgia, Christie in her old age, and many thematic things, which is good and you should read. It also gives me an excuse to focus on the mystery aspect, which I’m fine with.

The main problem with the mystery is that Marple does very little in the way of investigating for half the book, only seriously getting involved after the obligatory second murder. To be honest, it doesn't even feel like her investigation accomplishes much, as little of the information she learns is important to solving the case. I think like one conversation is actually useful, in the long run. At one point, we learn that two characters conspired to poison another in the backstory. Do we learn this from Marple’s tireless investigation, or at the very least intuition? Nope, we learn it in third person narrative, and it proves to be of no importance to the plot.

Speaking of suspects, they’re...there. A mix of couples, nothing much interesting to say, barring Mr. Rafiel, a cranky old man who proves to be both entertaining and interesting. I’m not one who argues that Christie used 2-D characters, but the suspects here remind of The Body In The Library, mainly how everyone was more or less cardboard. The set-up off the story also limits the potential suspects, and while Christie makes a valiant effort to call into questions what we “know” to extend the net, it feels strained, especially when you consider we get this discussion almost halfway into the book.

Even the pure mystery aspect feels, perhaps not weak, but easy. I can’t imagine what goes on here challenging, say, Poirot for more than a day**. I read in A Catalog of Crime that this is more or less a short story as a novel, and I agree with that. It feels like a short story, from the lack of suspect focus to the more minor mystery to the way it’s resolved. The clue that breaks the case is a simple bit of reasoning, more suited to the shorter form. The culprit is also easy to see coming, thanks to a third murder that more or less gives everything away. And another….aspect that I can’t say without spoilers. It’s the sort of information that the author is assuming you’ll forget, which is fair in a 800-page beast, but not so much in a 200 some page book you can read in a few hours.

In spite of that, I still enjoyed it, to an extent. Most of the flaws I mentioned didn’t hit me until after I was done reading, so it was at least able to maintain plausibility. I attribute most of this to Christie's skill at plain writing, a skill all wannabe (and actual!) authors would kill to have. I would know. The narrative keeps moving, and it all passed by so quick that you don’t notice the flaws in the set-up until you’re long past.

All in all, slightly below average Christie. Of course, “slightly below average Christie” is still better than most, but nonetheless, this is Partly Recommended at best.

*except for Dumb Witness, and that was more boring than anything.

** This comes with the disclaimer that I expect two different detectives to have very different styles/types of cases, it only makes sense.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sitting at the Right Hand of the Evil Ouija Demons

Image result for the sittaford mysteryFor some reason, I find myself enjoying Christie’s non-series novels more than I think I will. I’m not sure why this is. Probably because I have a better track record with solving them.
 
The Sittaford Mystery is one of those non-series mysteries, taking place in the snowy countryside. A group of people have gathered at Sittaford House for a party. The guests include Major Burnaby, a well, major, and friend of the house's owner, Captain Trevelyan. Said captain is renting the place out to the Willetts, a mother-daughter pair from South Africa. The rent is confusing, as most of the characters can’t understand why people from a warm climate would chose to vacation in English winter, much less in an isolated house in a small village. Also attending the party would be Mr. Rycroft, who fancies himself an expert on criminology; Ronnie, a young man who’s (unsuccessfully) convince his aunt to leave him money; and the enigmatic Mr. Duke, whose identity is a minor plot point.
 
The party gets interesting in the Chinese sense when table-turning is brought up, and the Ouija board is pulled out. The result does not turn into Paranormal Activity 23, but does result in a disturbing message, namely that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered. This sets the group on edge, but everyone laughs it off...except for Major Burnaby, who sets out into the snow to his friend’s house. Three guesses who he finds bashed with a sandbag here, and the first two don’t count, nor does the third if you try to be clever.

Inspector Narracott is on scene, and Christie sets him up as the Great Detective(™) of the book, as he quickly sees through the set-up at the murder scene and deuces that it was not a burglary gone wrong, but a carefully planned murder. However, he’s soon led astray in favor of the most likely suspect in Trevelyan's murder. James Pearson is a weak-willed man who has committed embezzlement as his workplace, and needs money to cover it up. Money that was left to him by Trevelyan in his will. Combine this with the fact that he left town the night of the murder and lied about being there in the first place, and it doesn’t look good for him.
 
Enter Emily Trefusis, James’s fiancé and the true detective of the novel. She knows that Jim isn’t a moral paragon, but he’s not capably of murder, and sets off to the village to prove his innocence. She is assisted by a local reporter, who quickly falls for her, giving Christie a chance to play with a love triangle. Credit where credit is due: While this set-up is a tad cliché, Christie does play with expectations a little, and the result will either be pleasantly surprising or shockingly ridiculous, depending on what you think of the relationship's dynamics
 
The mystery, in and of itself, is decent, though marred by the book’s length. Most of the clues are delivered near the beginning, and after that, not a whole lot happens, mainly due to the amateur nature of the investigation. It still works, but that’s mainly due to Christie’s ability to handle prose that many current and wannabe authors (such as me!) would kill to be able to emulate. But it must be stated that there were a few times I was uncomfortable aware of the page count, and the interview happy nature of it does drag in places. Most of it, however, flies by quickly.
 
Back to the mystery, while it is fairly clued, most of it is near the beginning, as I said. The final “aha” moment is….weak. Mainly because I’m not sure how you can draw those conclusions based on this one thing. Still, the main “trick” at the center of the book is clever, and Christie's shows her talent for giving the reader insight into her character's thoughts and actions and still misleading you about why they’re doing it.
 
All in all, I liked it. Not top-tier Christie, but a pleasant read, though perhaps not the best book to start with. Recommended.
 
P.S. A possible flaw that only occurred to me after this was done, but when did the killer come up with their plan anyhow? The implication a that is was planned in advance, but they couldn't have set it up that way. Ah, I’m probably misreading.
 
 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mr. Monk On Deck

It’s a jungle out there, you know?


Image result for mr monk gets on boardMonk was a TV series on the USA Network that stared Adrian Monk, a consultant for the San Francisco Police Department, who used to be part of them until his wife got blown up, which most people agree can derail your career something fierce. The show, which ran for eight seasons, featured Monk's quest to find his wife's killer, as well as get involved in many murders. More the latter than the former, to be honest. One of the more common plot devices on the show was to have someone who could not have committed the murder commit the murder, in a modern version of Christie Logic.* Monk's other main gimmick was that Monk suffered from Hollywood OCD**, which both made him insufferable (as someone with mild OCD tendencies himself, I can confirm this is true) as well as gave him an awareness of everything around him, useful for solving crimes (this is not true).

The spin-off novels by Lee Goldberg are, on the whole, are quite good. The ones written after the series ended felt weaker in the mystery plotting, but were still good on the whole. Theeeen Hy Conrad took over. The first book under his name, Mr. Monk Helps Himself was a horrid book that managed to not only bungle an interesting mystery plot, but also managed, in my opinion, to butcher the character of both Monk and his assistant/narrator of the books, Natalie. It’s hard to explain how, especially since I read the book about a year or so ago, but Monk came off as far more of a malicious jerk, and Natalie seemed far too...weak, I guess is the word, falling to pieces over the victim of the week. I dunno, again, it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, and I was a Goldberg fan.

But that was then, and this is now, and I decided to suck it up and pick up the next in the series, Mr. Monk Gets on Board. In his introduction, Conrad refers to this as a “lost episode” of the TV show, one he and the rest of the writers always wanted to do, but never had a chance/got permission to do. While I was never a regular watcher of the show, this introduction interested me, and raised my hopes for the novel. Hopes that, I’m glad to say, were not entirely unfounded.

The plot of the book goes down on the docks of a semi-fancy cruse ship where Natalie intends to attend a business seminar, in the hopes of making something of the PI agency she and Monk (mostly her) have set up. However, it doesn’t take long for problems to arise. For one, the ship is also hosting ordinary guests since the business seminar part has been losing money. For another, Monk manages to make it onboard the ship, immediately clashing with his roommate. Natalie finds a bastion of sanity in the ship’s cruise director, Mariah, but this is Monk, where no one can make friends without said friends dying. Or being a murderer.

An overheard conversation at a stop tips Natalie off that Mariah and the captain of the ship are having an affair. Natalie (not unreasonably, since Monk is around, and when Monk is around, people die) decides that the captain intends to off her. Monk agrees, and the two watch him. Of course, this being Monk, murder happens anyway.

The man overboard alarm sounds, resulting in the discovery of Mariah’s body floating in the water. An injury on her head leads to the conclusion that she simply slipped and fell in the water, but Monk and Natalie (as well as the reader) are well aware that the captain bashed her over the head, but in Monk tradition, he has an alibi. He was in full sight of multiple passengers, including Monk and Natalie for some time before the alarm went off, making it impossible for him to have dumped Mariah's body overboard. The trick here is split into two parts, and shouldn’t pose a challenge to the experienced mystery reader. Still, the second part of the trick is clever, and well-hinted. But there’s more to the book than this, including a problem brought up by the captain himself.

A rash of vandalism has struck the ship, and not the fun kind of vandalism, the not-fun kind, such as screws being removed from balcony railings. While no one has died yet, the captain (or to be more accurate, his wife) decides to hire Monk and Natalie to look into the incidents. This sub-plot is also handled surprisingly well, though it needed a tad more cluing to push it into “fair play.” Still, I was oddly satisfied.


There’s another subplot running through the novel, involving the opening of the book, which involves the murder of an old man and the theft of Shakespeare's First Folio. The result, which incidentally kicks off the book’s plot, results in Natalie meeting the obligatory cute guy, who promises to continue helping the police in their investigation, only to keep blowing them off at every turn. This thread finally culminates in a hit-and-run at one of the ship’s stops, and I’m sad to say that not much comes of it. Ultimately, it just serves to draw out the climax.

All in all, this was actually a good book, which I wasn’t expecting. It was so good, that I actually sucked it up and got the next Monk book Conrad did, which I thought I never would. Recommended.
Next time, Christie! Probably.








* "This person could not have committed the murder, therefore he did."

** See also: "Hollywood DID, Hollywood Kleptomania, and Hollywood Insanity"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

That Was...Objectionable!

EDIT: Welp, note to self, don't copy/paste directly from Google Docs without killing the formatting.


Do I have to explain to anyone who Agatha Christie is?
Image result for the witness for the prosecution
The Queen of Crime (a well-deserved title!) put out many different works showing off how to kill people. She created two of the most famous detectives of all time: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote quite a few non-series things that no one cares about, so I decided to read them myself. The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories contains eleven stories, including one Poirot because the publishers ran out of material (Disclaimer: This is probably not the reason.) The rest are all non-series. Let’s go!

“The Witness for the Prosecution” has a timeless set-up. A man is accused of killing an old woman for money. He tells his lawyer that his wife can give him an alibi. The lawyer is doubtful, because he’s read enough mystery stories to know that wives lie. Sadly for him, not only is she testifying, she’s testifying for, well, guess. This is more of a legal thriller with a tweeeeeest at the end, and the main mystery is it’s baffling popularity.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid story, but I’m honestly wondering who looked at this relatively short story and thought, “We should make a play/movie about this.” Ahh well.

“The Red Signal” is about, er, well, ahah...I’m not sure. There’s a séance, some girl the protagonist likes who might be crazy, something about “red signals” as a sign for danger, and the obligatory murder, but the story kinda lurches getting from one topic to another. There is neat bit where Christie misdirects both the narrator and the reader about the topic of a conversation, which I thought was neat.

After that, Christie put that story away, got out the hard drugs, and did “The Fourth Man,” Stephen King style. Three men, one representing the church, one science, and one the law, end up in a train car and discuss a woman who claimed to have split personalities. Of course, there’s a fourth man in the car, and he has a far more bizarre-and disturbing-truth to tell. It’s a truth that’s very...different from the normal Agatha fair. I liked it, though it’s definitely the oddball here.

Also, was this based on a real thing? Because I swear I recall reading about a woman similar to the one mentioned here.

After coming off of the high, Christie turned her attention to this next story, “S.O.S” It’s the stuff of good thrillers. A motorist is forced to take shelter in an isolated house, and while the family treats him warmly, the “S.O.S” written in the dust of his room tells him that things are afoot. What things? Danged if I know, I've read this story many times, and I still don’t understand the conclusion at all. I get the gist of it, but the protagonist seems to pull it out of him bum, saying that he figured it out from what a person told him. But this person didn’t tell him that, they told him the exact opposite. And the reason for the S.O.S is decidedly meh.

Still nursing a headache, Christie next gives us “Wireless”. A woman gets a wireless radio from her nephew, which is all well and good, until her dead husband starts using it, to go all, “Yeah, I’m gonna pay a visit.” It’s a standard story, and the reveal of who was phone isn’t going to shock anyone. Twist at the end is a little understated.

Next on the list is the story “The Mystery of the Blue Jar.” A young man trying (and failing) to master his golf swing hears a cry of “Murder!” No matter how hard he tries, he can only find a young woman who denies making the cry or hearing it. Needless to say, this causes some good old fashioned paranoia, and it all seems to have something to do with a blue jar. A decent story, with a good twist.

“Sing a Song of Sixpence” is one of the more classical stories in this collection. A lawyer is called upon by an old lover of his to look into the murder of her aunt, who got whacked on the head a few times. In normal Christie tradition, suspicion is flying around between family members, and it’s up to an outsider to resolve it. It’s actually a borderline locked room, as the maid of the house heard no one moving around the house. The solution nudges the fairness boundary slightly, but not much.

“Mr. Eastwood’s Adventure” is a bit of light comedy. The titular Mr. Eastwood, a struggling author, is fighting for a plot to his newest novel “The Adventure of the Second Cucumber” when he gets a Mysterious Phone Call (™) from a Mysterious Lady (™) provoking him to set off for adventure in the grand manner. Though really, it’s a funny story with a kick in the end, though it’s a kick that’s already been used once in this collection.

Next up, we have “Philomel Cottage” which is more domestic suspense, written for ladies who think that they’re husband is bad enough, at least he isn’t planning on killing them. (Disclaimer: If your husband is planning on killing you, I sincerely apologize for the offense. You should also stop reading a sub-par blog and call the police.) Christie’s take on the legend of Bluebeard, it’s a well-done story, though predictable in almost all respects. The way the protagonist deals with her husband is clever though.

“Accident” is about a former inspector who sees a woman who he knows was involved in a certain “accident” with her previous husband. And her step-father. And probably this new sap too. A decent reverse whodunit with a tweeeeest.

The last story here, “The Second Gong” brings out Poirot, mustache and all, to the estate of one Hubert Lytcham Roche. Poirot is supposed to look into some financial irregularities, but ends up arriving just as his client locks himself in his office and shoots himself. Of course, Poirot goes and shows murder, in this shorter version of Dead Man’s Mirror. Which is slightly worse than this story, with a far too large cast. This is a simpler mystery, but it works much better.

All in all, a decentish collection of short suspense and mystery stories. Sadly, this is more a collection of interesting hooks than full stories, and one often ends up thinking that they could have been fleshed out a bit. At least, I did anyway, and since I’m writing the review, that’s the opinion that gets known.

Next time, either a look even further back into the history of the mystery, or a novel, for once. And one written in the last fifty years too.