#Review: Sad Cypress by #AgathaChristie #Mystery #Poirot

The twenty-second Poirot book, first published in 1940, is one I’ve read before but probably not more than once because I’d more or less forgotten it except a general idea that I’d read the story before (and the familiar feeling when I was reading). But this proved to be a good thing for me for Christie had me thinking on the wrong lines (again!) more than once, and not seeing the solution coming. And for a while, like in the last Poirot I reread (Peril at End House), so was Poirot!

This one opens with a young woman Elinor Carlisle on trial for the murder of another young woman Mary Gerard. In the court watching things unfold is a man with large moustaches, and of course this is our old friend Hercule Poirot. Now the story goes into flashback as we are told how Elinor came to be put on trial. We find that Elinor is deeply in love with her cousin-by-marriage Roddy and has come to be engaged to him. She feels very deeply but is also rather reserved in showing any emotion which makes her come across as cold and somewhat unfeeling to others. Roddy, on the other hand, is very fond of her but not in love as she is. Neither Elinor nor Roddy have much money but they are certain they will be left an inheritance by their aunt Mrs. Welman, since they are the only family she has and she is fond of them as well.

One day Elinor receives an anonymous letter hinting that she and Roddy had better be on guard regarding their expected inheritance as Mrs Welman (an invalid) might be about to leave it all to young Mary Gerard, the lodgekeeper’s daughter whom she has taken to. While not exactly worried by this, the two are certainly shaken a little and visit the old lady who they are genuinely fond of. But there Roddy sees (after many years) and falls in love with Mary, who is rather beautiful and the dreams that Elinor had for herself seem shattered. After another bout of illness, Mrs Welman dies, and intestate, leaving Elinor to inherit eveything. But her engagement is also broken off; still she tries to act as she believes her aunt wanted giving legacies to everyone, including Mary. Later when she is back in the village to clear out the old house which is now sold, Mary Gerard dies, by poison and just after a meal she shared with Elinor. The police make an arrest, and Elinor is put to trial.

Many connected with the case believe she has done it, while others, close friends like Roddy know she hasn’t, yet there seems practically no evidence in her favour.  But one person, the old lady’s doctor Peter Lord, who has himself fallen for Elinor appeals to Poirot to clear her name. Poirot begins his investigations by speaking to all those connected with the case, including the servants and nurses engaged in the house, and it seems all looks black against Elinor, for no one else had as strong a grudge against Mary.

One again, Christie successfully manages to weave a puzzle in which at least I couldn’t guess whodunit. For a time, I had a strong suspect (and worked out a motive—both wrong … well the motive wasn’t wrong) but then she planted a red herring which threw me completely off course wondering what possible motive that other person could have had or whether they had done it at all. As a mystery I found this to be pretty satisfying.

The setting is once again a favourite of mine, a country house with plenty of goings on—not as many sub plots as there sometimes are but still each of the people present or involved have their stories, their perspectives, and it is fun to see Poirot working out which of them is lying and about what, for as always more than one person is. And of course, more than one person has a secret or at least a story not known about them and it is only when Poirot uncovers these does he manage to get to an answer.

A fair bit of this story plays out in a courtroom as Elinor is undergoing her trial which was different from many (though not all) of Christie’s other stories, more so in the fact that the denouement takes place mostly in the trial rather than with Poirot being centre-stage, as he usually is, revealing and explaining all.  

All-in-all an enjoyable read, and one that after a long time kept me reading on, even when I was supposed to be working on other things, just to reach the solution!

Have you read this one? How did you find it? Would you rate it among your favourite Poirot books? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover image: Goodreads

Shelf Control #101: The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White #TBR #Nature #Animals

Wednesday, the 29th of July, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

This week my pick is non-fiction, The Natural History and Antiquites of Selborne by Gilbert White. This book, first published in 1789 by the author’s brother Benjamin has been continuously in print since, with (according to the Goodreads description) over 300 editions until 2007.

The book is essentially a collection of over a hundred letters written by Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant, a zoologist and Danes Barrington a barrister, though many of these were never actually posted. The letters, among other things, are organised around plant and animal life cycles, and observations on different species including birds, quadrupeds and insects as well as vegetation besides general descriptions of Selborne. There are also some meteorological observations.

Gilbert White was born in July 1720 in his grandfather’s parish in Selborne, Hampshire. In 1749 he was ordained and obtained various curacies thereafter. Besides being a parson, he was also an ecologist, naturalist and ornithologist making detailed observations of nature and animals over years around Selborne where he spent a lot of time, including as a curate. The first edition of the book was illustrated by Swiss artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, who stayed at Selborne for about a month.

I have had this one on my TBR for a fairly long time, have downloaded a public domain copy a few years ago. Being interested in nature and animals generally, I thought a book written that long ago would give an interesting perspective. Also being written in letter form, it might be an easier and more interesting read than just text. This year Gilbert White himself turns 300, so it seems a good time for me to pick this one up finally.

Do you enjoy writings on nature? Which are some favourite books? Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

book description from Wikipedia (here) and Goodreads (here) and author description (here); cover image is as usual from Goodreads.

Find Lisa’s pick this week (here)

Children’s Book of the Month: The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle by #BeatrixPotter

I haven’t picked a children’s book to read or talk about for a while now. Since I have been mostly rereading books lately, my children’s book pick this time is a reread as well, and I chose this short charming Beatrix Potter book, The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. Published in 1905, this the sixth (seventh according to Wikipedia) of her twenty three (twenty four) stories of various animals. This is a very sweet little tale and as I have written once before (here), is one of the few I have read (I haven’t read them all, yet) in which none of the characters is spanked or eaten (or nearly eaten) or had their tails yanked off or any such (though many of these make an appearance or are mentioned).

Littletown via Wikimedia Commons
Mick Knapton / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The story open with a little girl Lucie who lives in Little-town and has lost ‘three pocket handkins and a pinny’. Looking for these she goes about asking first the kitten, then Sally Henny-Penny and the cock robin, finally finding herself walking away from town where she finds a trail of small foot-marks. Following these, she eventually finds herself in a very tiny house, spick and span, where she meets a little washerwoman, in a print gown and apron, a striped petticoat, and prickles in place of golden curls, who introduces herself as ‘an excellent clear-starcher’. The little washerwoman’s black nose goes ‘sniffle sniffle snuffle’ and eyes ‘twinkle twinkle’. Lucie mentions the things she’s lost and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle begins to go through her laundry, the various different items that she has in her basket, and finally locates Lucie’s things while alongside also doing some ironing.

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle with her Iron by Beatrix Potter
via Wikimedia Commons

In the laundry are some rather fun things, from the tabby kitten’s mittens which she ‘washes … herself’ but sends down for ironing to some lambs’ woolly coats to Mrs Rabbit’s handkerchief to things that other Potter characters we know and love have sent in–like Peter Rabbit’s blue jacket and Squirrel Nutkin’s red tail coat, minus the tail (yanked off, just like his tail, one imagines). Reading these descriptions is just so sweet and delightful!

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle with her Washing by Beatrix Potter
via Wikimedia Commons

Little Lucie then joins Mrs Tiggy-Winkle for a cup of tea before walking back with her to deliver the clean laundry, and once only Lucie’s bundle is left and handed over, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle seems to run away, and something rather strange happens. Was Mrs Tiggy-Winkle real, or merely Lucie’s dream?

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle with her Basket by Beatrix Potter
via Wikimedia Commons

This is a delightful and pleasant tale that brings a smile to one’s face. Perhaps it is set in a time long past, but still the reader can happily walk along with little Lucie tracing her small lost things and spend a little time watching the tiny washer-hedgehog as she goes about her business washing, ironing, and handing back the little items of laundry, tied in neat bundles. With Potter’s gorgeous illustrations, imagining them isn’t too hard either. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and the other animals that is. Lucie on the other hand, is seen as an ‘artistic failure’ which is explained by Porter’s difficulty in illustrating people (again from Wikipedia: here).

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was apparently inspired by Potter’s own hedgehog of the name name and the Scottish washerwoman, Kitty MacDonald who worked for their family, while Lucie is based on little Lucie Carr one of the daughters of the vicar at Lingholm where Potter went on holiday (here)! This isn’t one of the Potter tales I read as a child. In fact I first read it only well into college, but it is one I love very much, all the same.

Have you read Mrs Tiggy-Winkle? Is she among the Potter characters you like? Which others are your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (119) #Quotes #Books #Library

When I got to the library I came to a standstill—ah, the dear room, what happy times I have spent in it rummaging amongst the books, making plans for my garden, building castles in the air, writing, dreaming, doing nothing!

Elizabeth Von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898)

Image source: Pexels

#Review: Peril at End House by Agatha Christie #Mystery #Hercule Poirot

The 8th Poirot mystery, this is again one I picked up randomly from my shelves for a re-read. This one is also like one of favourite Marple titles (though I won’t say which), but also a fairly good read in itself. In this one Poirot is on holiday with his Watson, Captain Hastings at St Loo on the Cornish coast, so of course the story is told in Hastings’ voice. Poirot insists that he does not wish to work anymore (or at least until he decides) even refusing a request from the Home Secretary. At the hotel they’re staying at, they run into a pretty young woman Nick Buckley, who is shot at while in Poirot’s presence. They later learn that Nick has already missed three ‘accidents’ which may well have taken her life including failed car brakes and narrowly missing a boulder. These cause Poirot to change his mind and take up the case. Nick initially is inclined to laugh these incidents off for who would want to kill her. She belongs to an established old family but lives in a rather run-down family home, End House, which certainly has an eerie feel about it, but doesn’t appear to have any enemies. But at Poirot’s insistence, she begins to change her mind and take some precautions. Then another unexpected attempt is made, and someone else dies instead. Poirot is devastated and redoubles his efforts to protect Nick and get to the bottom of this mystery, where even the possible motive seems difficult to identify.

This mystery has Poirot himself rather baffled for quite a while for even after he has taken charge and taken every possible precaution, the attempts on Nick’s life don’t stop. Nick’s circle of friends is far from straightforward, yet it doesn’t seem that any of them has a strong enough motive, or do they? But there are also various others from a rather strange housekeeper (not quite a Mrs Danvers, though), to overfriendly Australian neighbours, the Crofts, and Nick’s own cousin who stands to inherit End House after her. Poirot does reach the solution eventually of course, and it isn’t an answer one sees coming at all (unless you’re read it before) and one that Poirot also perhaps didn’t see for a bit. But even that isn’t easily reached, for there are other little side plots that might throw one off course, or present little puzzles of their own to solve.  This is a good read, and an enjoyable mystery but overall, I like the Marple version of this mystery much better, since both characters and side plots in that one, I felt, came across better (and many were also more likeable). 3.5 stars!

The cover by the way reminds me of a screen-saver I once had with a house in the shadows, lights coming on and off in different windows, and a bat or two flying across (did you have that one?).

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Do you enjoy Poirot mysteries? Which are your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image as always from Goodreads.

Shelf Control #100: Murder at Merisham Lodge by Celine Grace #TBR #HistoricalFiction #Mystery

Wednesday, the 22nd of July, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

This week I am a little late posting but am still going to do so because this is my 100th time participating (a touch incorrect because I misnumbered one post early on so this is technically 99, but its numbered 100, all the same). So of course for this week’s pick, I had to return to my favourite genre–murder mysteries. This time’s pick is the first of a historical mystery series, Murder at Merisham Lodge by Celina Grace (2016) featuring kitchen maid Joan Hart, and ladies maid, Verity Hunter. The series has three full-length novels and a shorter prequel, according to the Goodreads listing. The author has also written two other series, the Kate Redman mysteries, and the Asharton Manor mysteries.

Lady Eveline Cartwright has it all–a title, a mansion, and marriage to a Lord, but despite all that, she is bludgeoned to death one night in the study of Merisham Lodge, in Derbyshire. And while all the suspicion falls on Lady Eveline’s son Peter, a wastrel, Joan and Verity believe otherwise. They must use all their wit and courage to catch the killer who seems to be stopping at nothing to achieve their goal!

Set in the 1930s and in a manor house, this sounds just my kind of cosy mystery so I am certainly looking forward to picking it up. The fact that the people investigating are a kitchen maid and a ladies’ maid sounds to me like shades of Downton Abbey while the manor house setting is a classic one for many an entertaining mystery. I got this one free on kindle when it was on offer, perhaps a couple of years ago.

Have you read this one or any other/s by the author? How did you find it? Do you enjoy cosy mysteries generally? Which are some favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Find Lisa’s pick this week, a book I personally really enjoyed, Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier (here) and Cheryl’s pick Skip Rock Shallows, the story of a young doctor working in a small coal mining town (here)

Cover image from Goodreads as is the book description (here)

The Maker of the Philosopher’s Stone: Nicolas Flamel in Fiction #HarryPotter

Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Professor Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for his discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood and his work on alchemy with his partner Nicolas Flamel.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

This sentence from the Dumbledore ‘Famous Witches and Wizards’ card, which Harry gets aboard the Hogwarts Express where he sees his first chocolate frog is where we learn a little more about Dumbledore, beyond the letter Harry has received from Hogwarts offering him his place, and of course, when we ‘met’ him at the start when he comes with Prof McGonagall and Hagrid to drop off Harry at the Dursleys’. But in these few words are also more than one story–it is the first mention of Grindelwald, who of course has his own full-length story now. But it is also where where first hear of Nicholas Flamel who holds the clue to the ‘mystery’ Harry, Ron and Hermione must solve in the first book. (An aside–the picture of the card in the illustrated ed. has Dumbledore eating sherbet lemons, with some knitting beside him–the first we have already know he loves right from the start, the second we also do later in the series (I didn’t remember the knitting bit, but The Wizarding World pointed me to it (here)).

But anyway, coming back to Flamel, we go on to find out in the book that Flamel is the only person to be in possession of the famed philosopher’s stone (in Hindi, paras mani), that creation of alchemy that not only turns metals into gold but can also produce the elixir of life, which is probably why Flamel in the story is 665 while his wife Perenelle, 658. The philosopher’s stone being guarded in Hogwarts by among other things (mostly spells and magic), Fluffy, the three-headed dog, is of course what Voldermort is after, for he wants to regain his strength and powers.

When I first read of Flamel in Harry Potter many years ago, I had simply thought he was a character in the books, like most others but only later when I came across him once again (in fiction), did I look him up, and found that he was very much real.

Flamel (1330-1418) (not 665 alas!) was a French scribe and manuscript seller, who became known after his death as an alchemist who discovered the philosopher’s stone and made him and his wife immortal (so perhaps 665, after all?). This reputation was apparently the result of a manuscript published a couple of centuries after his death, in 1612, claiming also that he got all his knowledge from a mysterious book he had purchased and went on to decipher with his wife (more details on Wikipedia here).

The book I came across him in next, and after which I looked him up, was The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. In this famous French classic, Claude Frollo, a knowledgeable man who rescues and raises Quasimodo but also turns out to be the villain of the piece after he falls in love with Esmerelda, is also trying to decipher Flamel’s secrets. There is mention of a house that Flamel built, and the supposition that he has hidden the philosopher’s stone in the cellar, and even of gold which was the result of his experiments. But Flamel here was not so much at the centre of things or as important as he was in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. This first Potter book is also not his only appearance in the series either. Not counting the original books alone, he has also appeared in the spinoff–Fantastic Beasts, in the Grindelwald story (the connection once again springing from that sentence on the card. This makes me want to keep an eye out for what role the dragon blood part of the sentence ends up playing in the future–I haven’t consciously noticed this yet).

But these aren’t the only books we meet Flamel in. The third time I came across Flamel in fiction was one where I picked up the book knowing Flamel was in it, and at the centre (unlike the first two) and this was the first of the series by Michael Scott, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel, and the book was The Alchemyst. In this one twins Josh and Sophie Newman take up what they think are innocuous summer jobs at a bookstore, and coffee shop, only to be thrown into a world of magic and adventure, and of course great danger. In this Flamel and his wife appear in their real-life roles as booksellers, but alive and well many years after, indicating that they do have the stone. While this was an imaginative (weaving in both history and mythology) and mostly enjoyable book, I somehow felt that Flamel should have had more of a role which he didn’t. I haven’t read the other five books yet so can’t say if this changes in the later books.

Besides these, there is a manga series, Fullmetal Alchemist, the story of two brothers in search of the philosopher’s stone, set in a steampunk world. Here, however, Flamel is only mentioned in the course of their efforts, and doesn’t as far as I know appear or have a role.

Whether or not Flamel really created or even attempted to create the philosopher’s stone, the legends that have become associated with him make him as fascinating as the magical and powerful stone itself. And thinking of it from that viewpoint, one would have expected him to be in more stories (I haven’t gone into film in this list) but these were all I came across.

Have you read the books on my list? Any others which mentioned or used Flamel and the legends surrounding him that you’ve come across? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

All cover images from Goodreads as always; Flamel from Wikipedia (here)

Shelf Control #99: Strictly Murder by Lynda Wilcox #Mystery #Cosy

Wednesday, the 15th of July, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today, my pick is a first in series, a cosy mystery–Strictly Murder by Lynda Wilcox. I had picked this one up quite a while ago when it was free on Kindle since I generally enjoy reading cosies. The series has nine books so far including seven full-length ones and a couple of shorter works. This first book was published in 2012.

In this one Verity Long, a personal assistant around whom the series is centred and who works for a crime writer, is house-hunting. But as the description says, the house has two reception rooms, kitchen and bath, but the master bedroom holds a nasty shock, for Verity finds a dead celebrity. And so her house-hunt turns into a murder mystery as Verity ends up in the world of ‘dance shows, TV studios, and dangerously gorgeous male costars’. But she might just be the ‘killer’s next tango partner’.

This sounds like a light-hearted and fun read. Goodreads reviews of this one are rather mixed with some enjoying it a quite a bit, and others, er… not so much . I had picked this one most likely at a point when I had picked up a bunch of free cosies on Kindle, many of which I enjoyed very much especially ones featuring Chef Maurice. Cosies can be entertaining, and even if the mysteries aren’t terribly complex, they can still be a lot of fun. Hope this one turns out to be fun too!

Have you read this one? Or any others by the author? Any other cosies that you’ve read by new-to-you authors that you enjoyed? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Book description from Goodreads (here) as is the cover image.

Find Lisa’s pick here and Cheryl’s here