I didn’t do quite as much branching out as I had hoped to do in June. Instead, the only books I finished were a collection of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. They were good, but it wasn’t exactly a wide variety. I did read on some other books, but I didn’t finish either of them. Hopefully by the end of next month I’ll have finished a couple of those.
The Mirror Crack’d
This is a straightforward mystery for Ms Marple. Here is at her oldest and frailest, yet also at her most engaged. For once she is a genuine part of the story, investigating and not just coming in having solved the mystery off page. The mystery here deals with a subject that is still very much in a big deal: celebrity. Ire is directed not so much at the famous actress at the center of this story and her unusual life, but on the people obsessed with her fame. A woman falls dead at a party thrown by an aging star and people assume that the star was the target, with the hardest scrutiny falling on the members of her household. The subject matter feels fairly fresh for being more than fifty years old. Obsession with celebrity is still a cancer that affects our society.
A Pocketful of Rye
This was easily my least favorite of the bunch. It is another straightforward mystery, but this one doesn’t really play fair. There are no actual cheats, but it is misleading in a way that doesn’t just feel like a mystery story. That would not be such a problem if the eventual outcome was satisfactory. That is not the case here. The victim is an older man and the suspects are his spouse and children, with some suspicion falling on the household staff. The murder, eventually murders, is done to match an old nursery rhyme, which is also the source of the title, but there is no good connection to that nursery rhyme in the story. It’s use is arbitrary and doesn’t really seem to fit. Arbitrary seems to be the mode of the this whole outing. Surrounded by better or at least more interesting stories in this collection, the feebleness of this story stands out.
At Bertram’s Hotel
This is an odd one, a mystery with no crime to investigate for the first three quarters of the book. Marple is actually around the whole time, but while there are various mysteries around, other than some vague talk of robberies nothing is presented as anything worthy of investigation. The one small crime is some shoplifting by a teenage girl, and she returns the stolen property soon enough. Marple is on vacation at the hotel, and there is some connection to the hotel and a series of daring robberies. The mystery unfolds about a young girl looking to possibly arrange a marriage with her paramour. It turns out the girl’s mother, who abandoned her for what she thought was the girl’s own good years ago, is also staying at the hotel and possibly involved in the shady goings on. When the murder does occur near the end, it is solved almost immediately, though not strictly satisfactorily. The inversion of the usual formula works to excellent effect here. At Bertram’s Hotel keeps readers on their toes waiting to see exactly what the mystery is.
The Moving Finger
This is another one of those Marple mysteries where the detective herself is little more than a deus ex machina that shows up at the end of the story to wrap things up. The Moving Finger is as much of a pastoral romance as it is a mystery. Siblings Jerry and Joanna Burton move out to a small village in the country while he recovers from injuries sustained in an airplane crash. While there they encounter a rash of “poison pen” letters, detailing supposed sins of the residents, though all of the letters are clearly false, before one of the recipients apparently commits suicide. From there, Jerry helps some of the townsfolk figure out exactly who is responsible, while growing closer to the strange daughter of the dead woman. Interesting characters parade themselves in front of Jerry until Marple shows up to explain what has been going on. It is reasonably enjoyable, but nothing too exciting.