Double Sin and other stories, by Agatha Christie

>> Tuesday, February 20, 2007

book coverDouble Sin is a collection of eight short stories by Agatha Christie. Half of them star my favourite detective, Hercule Poirot, but Miss Marple does make a couple of appearances, and there are two detective-less stories.

Double Sin, the title story, has Poirot taking a journey with his friend Hastings, in which they meet a young woman who gets robbed. It's not a particularly interesting story, and the only remarkable thing about it is just what it was that caught Poirot's attention and made him think not all was as it seemed.

Wasps' Nest is another Poirot story, and much better. Poirot visits an acquaintance to warn him about an upcoming attempt at murdering him. I loved the way Christie turns what I thought was going on completely on its head.

The Theft of the Royal Ruby is the longest story in the collection. It starts out quite awful, with Poirot being pressured into visiting a country house for a traditional Christmas, only to try to recover a fabulous jewel "lost" by a foreign royal. Blergh, the scummy, cheating little prince deserved the scandal, in my opinion. However, it turns out to be a fun story, partly because of the atmosphere of the old-fashioned Christmas celebrations, partly for all the undercurrents going on in the house and the way Poirot cuts through them.

Neither of our two detectives is present in The Dressmaker's Doll, an intriguing, creepy story about a mysterious doll who seems to want to take over a dressmaker's shop. The doll apparently has a mind of her own, and the shop's owner and her employees are increasingly disturbed by the way it seems to move on its own. The creepiness is mixed with a good dose of humour, and this made it my favourite out of the stories here.

Greenshaw's Folly is the first Miss Marple story we get, and it concerns the mysterious murder of an eccentric old woman, who lives in a house that's just as eccentric. Miss Marple is very low-key here, and the plot turns out to be so complicated as to be far-fetched and unconvincing.

The Double Clue features the first meeting between Poirot and his much admired Russian countess, Vera Rossakoff. Jewels were stolen and all evidence seems to point to a particular visitor to the house, but it's much too much evidence for Poirot, who makes some very good deductions. Interesting enough.

The Last Séance tells of a real medium's last séance, as the title indicates. Elise wants to retire, and doesn't even want to do this last one, but she's promised the overbearing Madame Daubreuil she'd do another communication with the woman's dead daughter. But there's danger here, and it is a very real one. This one was depressing, not just for its ending, but for the way Elise's fiancé was so obviously taking advantage of her.

Sanctuary is the second Miss Marple story. Her niece Diana "Bunch" Harmon (who I'm pretty sure I've already met in another Christie book) discovers a dying man in her vicar husband's church. The man tries to tell her something before he dies, but doesn't succeed. A few days later, his family comes to get his possessions, but there's something about them that doesn't ring true to Bunch, and she searches those belongings before handing them back. Her discoveries send her running directly to her aunt, who will help her orchestrate the next actions satisfactorily. Bunch is fun, and though Miss Marple's deductions are again short of the brilliance I'm used to from her, she thinks up a very good plan.

All in all, this is not really Christie at her best. The stories are nice enough, but only one really stands out and the others are merely pleasant. A B-.


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