September 1st, 2013


August Books 30) The Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie

This is my seventh Agatha Christie novel, and the first Miss Marple book - both the first I have come to as I work through the Christie canon in order of LibraryThing popularity, and the first published of the twelve. Coming to it so soon after the first Poirot mystery, which was also Christie's first novel, written fourteen years earlier, I felt that she was deliberately revisiting and reversing some of the elements from the previous book - the victim is the gentleman of the Big House, rather than its lady, and is shot, rather than poisoned; there is a similar gender reversal in the identities of the obvious suspects (victim's unfaithful spouse, victim's spouse's lover); the detective is a long-term resident of the village who emerges almost from nowhere to put the solution together rather than a celebrity detective who happens to be on the scene and whose every move is tracked by the narrator. I don't know if Christie always intended to make Miss Marple a long-term investment, but I do get the feeling that she was wanting to set up a new central character and do it better this time.

The above differences apart, the story is largely the same as Styles, only now much more polished and rounded, with a certain amount of humour - vicars and old ladies are intrinsically humorous, after all, yet it takes a fairly practised touch to merge them with the gruesome details of homicide as Christie does here. The narrator is the vicar, and there is a nice contrast between his well-meaning but not terribly effective efforts at pastoral care of his village (and indeed his own household) and the more knowledgeable guardians of the village, led by Miss Marple. The only flaw is that the climax is somewhat muffed, in that the perpetrators are whisked demurely off-stage, before one can get into such ungenteel topics as the justice system. But overall this was better than I had expected.

August Books 31) The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, by Bryan Talbot

It's weird to think that this is over thirty years old, though not published in book form until some time later. It's also a bit embarrassing that I hadn't read it before, given its seminal importance to the comics genre in the UK. I liked a lot of things about it very much: the interplay between Royalist rebels and Cromwellian puritans, the latter still ruling Britain in the 1970s; the role of Arkwright, agent of order, but not necessarily of good; the fantastic detail in the art, and the intricacy of the plotting. Arkwright is clearly based on Jerry Cornelius, and Michael Moorcock returns the favour with a warm but also very political introduction to this edition. I am, however, a little relieved that the fan consensus is that the sequel, Heart of Empire, is easier to digest, to the point that some recommend starting with it instead. I shall try to get hold of it.

My peculiar link with David Frost

The first time I lived away from home was in October and November 1985, when I spent two months of my gap year working on an archaeological site near Raunds in Northamptonshire. The conditions were rather basic and we "volunteers" were accommodated in a large vacant house behind the Methodist church, which I am fairly sure had previously been the residence of the Methodist minister. Thirty years earlier, the Methodist minister had been one Dr Paradine Frost, whose son David played cricket for the local club before going on to greater things. I may well have inherited his bedroom.