Sunday 14 October 2018

Catching up

A couple of books to catch up on today because, as usual, I'm behind with my reviews.

First up, Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie.

Miss Lemon isn't her usual efficient self. Hercule Poirot notices that she's making mistakes when she's typing his letters and this is something that never happens. It seems her sister is the house-keeper at a students' lodging house in London and things there are not quite what they ought to be. There has been some pilfering, odd things disappearing and then reappearing. A rucksack is hacked to pieces and hidden, a student has green ink poured over her work, thereby ruining it. Poirot is intrigued... and worried. He feels this may just be the start of something much more sinister. And so it proves to be when a female student is found dead in her bed. Suicide is assumed, but is it? Poirot thinks not.

This book was written in 1955 (I was two!) and aside from some attitudes in places being 'of the time' it could've been written yesterday. They say, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same' and it's so true. *SPOILER ALERT* I had no idea drug smuggling was such a problem in the 1950s. That people went to great lengths to establish smuggling rings or the tricks they got up to... exactly as they do now of course. Poirot doesn't actually appear in this one a great deal. It concentrates more or less exclusivly on the students living in the lodging house, their lives, their attitudes... especially towards students from foreign countries or who're less well off. It made for very interesting reading. You can learn as much about social history by reading something like this as you can by reading text books in my opinion. Thoroughly enjoying these occasional Agatha Christie reads, my respect for her has grown and grown.

Lastly, From the Depths and Other Strange Tales of the Sea edited by Mike Ashley.

This is another volume of short stories from The British Library. These days they're more famous for their reprinting of vintage crime classics, both novels and short stories (those're usually edited by Martin Edwards), but they do have a sideline now of supernatural tales and also science fiction. Mike Ashley seems to edit quite few of them, I gather he also edited quite a lot of those 'Mammoth book of...' that used to be around a few years ago. He does a good job with these, the introduction to the author at the start of each story is always interesting, amazing how many hugely popular authors in their time have now been completely forgotten. All power to elbow of the British Library for returning these people to public awareness.

Anyway, this was rather a good volume of short stories. For me, the stories got better as the book progressed. At the start, several were about being becalmed in the Sargasso sea, stuck in terrible seaweed, that kind of thing. And those were fine, very readable. But story number seven, The Mystery of the Water-logged ship by William Hope-Hodgson, about men boarding a floating wreck and then constantly disappearing, was really creepy and atmospheric and started a run of similarly good tales. I liked the story the title was taken from, From the Depths by F. Britten Austin, a World War Two tale which combined the supernatural and with a sort of spy yarn. Clever. Devereux's Last Smoke by Izola Forrester was a 'tip of a cigar' ghost story, really well written, claustrophobic in atmosphere as it takes place on a fogbound Atlantic liner. The High Seas by Elinor Mordaunt tells the story of twins boys, one big and a bully, the other small and bullied. Really good story-telling in this one and an excellent sense of place in Rye on the south coast of England. But for me, the best story of the whole bunch was The Soul-Saver by American writer, Morgan Burke. A ruthless and cruel captain kills one of his crew and then claims a white mouse that's appeared from nowhere is the dead sailor's soul. Superb story-telling, New England jumps off the pages at you, and I loved the story's wierdness. The final story of the volume, No Ships Pass by Lady Eleanor Smith was also an odd one. Mike Ashley felt it could have been the inspiration for the TV series, Lost and I can see why. A ship-wrecked sailor washes up on an island, where he finds four other people, one of them a pirate captain who has been marooned there for over a hundred years. Odd story and again, well written.

All in all a good, solid anthology, a few average stories but also quite a few really good ones which were very satisfying. I now have The British Library 'werewolf' anthology to read, Silver Bullets, selected by Eleanor Dobson. A happy bunny am I.



DesLily said...

That one story does sound creepy!! once again I am falling way behind in reading since it tires me to hold up the book..this will be a bad reading year for me.. I loved your last puzzle ! And I always like when someone so good at it has "a time" with it! lol.. it's good to have a challenge now and then! love you!

Kay said...

I remember reading that Christie book a long time ago, but the storyline had escaped my memory. When you said Miss Lemon was making mistakes, I remembered. Ha! I need to reread that one or listen to it.

Cath said...

Pat: I'm not surprised you're struggling at the moment as you're just out of hospital. You take care and relax, just do what you feel like doing.

Kay: The thing is, there are so many Christie novels that it's hard remembering the plots of individual books off the top of your head. LOL!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I can totally relate to being behind with reviews. I really must try out your approach of the concise review and see if I can bring down some of my backlog!

I am not really a huge fan of the anthology. It was just that those you featured which had been edited by Martin Edwards really caught my eye and I will definitely be giving one of them a try very soon!

You know, that like yourself, I am a fan of any Agatha Christie story and they are just about the only books I will consider for a re-read.

We were only talking the other day, about the concept of whether things which we consider to be exclusive and bad about today's modern society, did in fact happen back in the day and it is just because of the instant nature of social media, that we get to know about them now. The perceived rise in the scale of such events is also, I guess, directly relevant to the rise and mobility of the population. Perhaps our parents, and those of us of a certain age, saw the earlier days through rather rose-coloured glasses? - I'm not sure!!

Thanks for sharing and enjoy the rest of your week :)


Cath said...

Yvonne: I'm not sure either. I just know that whenever I come across mention of drug smuggling in vintage crime books I do this odd double-take. Possibly it wasn't quite the huge problem it is now? Possibly it was therefore something our parents/grandparents weren't too aware of? Perhaps such things tended to take place in small sections of society and that didn't include the masses who were consequently not aware of what was going on. I also think things were hushed up more back then, certain things people didn't speak about. It's a strange one but it does seem there's nothing new on this Earth.

BooksPlease said...

Agatha Christie is often thought of as just a crime fiction writer - 'Queen of Crime' etc, when I've often thought her books reveal people's attitudes and the prejudices of society at the time she wrote her books (over such a wide period as well). I'm a bit older than you but still wasn't old enough in the 50s to have had any knowledge about drug smuggling etc, but I agree that people didn't speak as openly as they do today - on practically any and every subject. Life was different then in that respect, but I suspect that things went on much the same as today.

I've found that anthologies are almost always a mixed bag - some good stories, some not so good and often leave me wanting more depth.

BTW - google won't let me make a comment on your blog under the Name/URL option, just thought you might like to know ...

Cath said...

Margaret: I completely agree about AC's books, and as they're spread over such a long period of time the books are very informative about said attitudes. It's so interesting and I find it odd that you get people who won't read these older books because of their prejudices... as though their attitudes ought to reflect ours in the 21st. century and not their own time period!

I've checked my comment settings and I have them set to 'anyone' can comment so am not sure why it won't let you comment under Name/URL. The only other thing I can see is that I can switch from normal comments to Google + but I'm not sure what effect that would have and am a bit reluctant to try it. Very odd. I wonder if Google Blogspot is doing the same thing to Wordpress users as Wordpress sometimes does to me, and others, as a Blogspot user. I've heard people say that the two like doing this. It's all very frustrating!

TracyK said...

I have not yet read a book with Miss Lemon in it. (I am reading the books of each series in order, mostly.) I look forward to getting to a book that includes her.

I am going to have to try one of Mike Ashley's anthologies. I have a book by him: The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction. It has very good summaries of information about a lot of mystery authors. Published in 2002, so somewhat out of date, and only covers authors alive at the time. Based on that, I can see where his introductions of authors of each story would be very interesting.

Cath said...

Tracy: This is the first one I'd read with Miss Lemon too. I remember the actress who played her in the TV series and don't think she was really suited to the part.

Mike Ashley's anthologies are pretty good, the ones I've read anyway. I think I've read the Mammoth book of horror stories or something like it and that was good too. But his new association with the British Library seems to be working very well.

Nan said...

I checked to see if I had read the AC and I did- ten years ago! I went back and read my report. I was just at the start of my Christie reading then. It's here if you want to read it.

Cath said...

Nan: I struggle to remember which ACs I've read. I suppose because there are so many and my brain is becoming addled. Thanks for the link, I'll check that out later.