Card parties and Marx

>> Friday, August 11, 2017

TITLE: Cards on the Table
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

A very imprudent man called Mr. Sheitana decides to tempt fate and organise a unique dinner party. He invites 4 "detectives", all of them well known to Agatha Christie readers: there's Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard; there's a Secret Service man, Colonel Race, there's Ariadne Oliver, the detective novelist, and there's none other than the inimitable Hercule Poirot. They join 4 other guests, all of whom Mr. Sheitana believes have got away with murder.

Whatever he intended to accomplish, what Mr Sheitana gets is more than he expected. While they're all playing bridge after dinner, one of his guests kills him. Which of the 4 did it, and which of the 4 detectives will be able to discover whodunnit?

It's a neat little mystery, super ingenious, albeit probably best enjoyed by someone with an understanding of bridge, since the game actually plays a bigger part than you might expect. That being said, I know nothing about the game and still had fun. The characters are interesting, both the suspects and the detectives. A big part of the fun is in seeing each detective do their own thing and their different approaches.

A good one.


TITLE: The Marx Sisters
AUTHOR: Barry Maitland

The Marx Sisters is the first in a long-running series called Brock and Kolla. Brock is Scotland Yard Chief Inspector David Brock, an experienced officer. Kolla is the much younger Kathy Kolla, a much more inexperienced officer. This first case is set in a little forgotten enclave in the middle of central London, an area where longtime Eastern European immigrants live in the old houses they moved into decades earlier, in between the shiny office blocks.

The Marx Sisters of the title are some of those residents. Their last names are not Marx, but they're all great-grandchildren of the man himself. And then one dies. Was it a personal thing (she wasn't the nicest person in the world), or is there more going on? A developer trying to get their hands on the property? Someone after the Marx manuscripts rumoured to be hidden in the house?

This one wasn't great. I liked the sense of place, but that was about it. The plot could have been interesting, but the twists became a bit too much, tried to be too clever and this made the characters just not ring true. Also, I was bothered by the casual sexism and even misogyny in the characterisation. Wives are nagging shrews, our female detective is a bit of an impulsive airhead, our older male detective is irresistible to even women much younger than him. Bah. I'm not planning to read further in this series.



Darlynne 15 August 2017 at 04:31  

I'm sorry you didn't like THE MARX SISTERS. I enjoyed the entire series, with some not insignificant issues similar to those you raised. When first published, the tag line was "A Brock and Kathy Mystery," which annoyed me: why her first name and his last? I had the opportunity to ask the author, who was surprised that he hadn't noticed it himself, and it's now "Brock and Kolla."

I wish I could tell you the problems go away as the series advances, but they don't really. Brock remains irresistible and Kolla, although promoted, makes some head-scratching decisions.

I most appreciated the detailed examination of whichever part of London society or life is touched by each crime: architecture, shopping malls, stamp collecting, the Muslim community, theater, just to name some I remember. Maitland does his homework very thoroughly and for someone eager for English police procedural novels, they filled a hole quite nicely. Your review reminds me that I should look for newer stories, too. Thanks.

Rosario 18 August 2017 at 09:45  

Hahah, "Brock and Kathy" really does say quite a lot about how the characters themselves are portrayed. Interesting that he hadn't realised that!

It's really useful to know this doesn't really get all better as the series progresses. I've had issues with going right back to the beginning with long-running series. The first book is often not great, and I'm left wondering if I shouldn't just start closer to the end to get a better sense of what the series is like. Much as I liked some aspects of this one (what you describe at the end, which reminds me a bit of PD James's older books), it doesn't sound like I should persist.

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