Review: Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie #Mystery #Review #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge

The twenty-fourth Poirot mystery—I’ve been randomly reading books from my Agatha Christie shelf lately. Evil Under the Sun (1940) is set on a beach resort, the Jolly Roger Hotel, run by one Mrs Castle, and has as many Goodreads reviewers have commented, appeared in a short story form prior to this—that was probably a prototype, and on similar lines though not identical. Anyway, Poirot is among the guests staying at the Jolly Roger as is a young couple the Redferns—Patrick and Christine, an older American couple, the Gardners, Miss Emily Brewster, Rosamund Darnley, owner of a successful dressmaking business in London, Major Barry, Rev Stephen Lane, a preacher, and Horace Blatt, a rich man who spends his time sailing his yacht. As the story opens, we learn that the guests have recently been joined by the Marshall family, the serious Kenneth Marshall, Linda, his daughter from his first marriage, and his current wife, an actress, Arlena (Stuart) Marshall, beautiful and attractive but also a femme fatale—young Partrick Redfern is her newest conquest, much to the dismay of his wife. One morning Arlena sets off sunbathing on her own, and when Patrick Redfern, accompanied by Miss Brewster, set off to find her, he finds that she is dead—strangled! Arlena has plenty of enemies, but it would seem all of them were (or were expected to be women). Christine Redfern obviously has a grouse against her; her stepdaughter Linda disliked her; as did Rosamund Darnley who’s known Kenneth Marshall from childhood and clearly cares about him. But the evidence, the strength the crime would have required seems to point to a man. The police arrive to investigate and Inspector Colgate is pleased to have Poirot at hand to help.

This was once again a re-read for me so I remembered roughly the basic story and plot, but all the same all the little details, clues, and some parts of the side plots I didn’t remember so I enjoyed reading the book. The puzzle was, as most of hers are, complicated, and one I certainly didn’t see coming the first time around (I found and read the prototype short story only much later), and if you haven’t read either, I’m sure you will enjoy the denouement as well. She does give us clues, not ones that might directly point you to the answer, but perhaps ones you can piece together to reach it—as I wrote in my review of Dead Man’s Folly recently (here), pretty much every little thing, a happening, an object, a conversation has a purpose, and if one manages to pick up on that one could possible piece it together. But on the other hand, if you simply want a relaxing read, and not to tax your mind too much, you can simply read on and enjoy the surprise as well.

Usually one tends to think of Poirot and Miss Marple as very different from each other—Poirot has been in the police before, and uses his ‘little grey cells’ to solve his cases while Miss Marple relies on her human connections—people themselves and her knowledge of human nature, keenly observed in her little village of St Mary Mead to solve her mysteries, but reading Evil Under the Sun, I found one little point of similarity which was their age. Miss Marple is often thought of a fluffy, lacey, frail, and an old lady who one wouldn’t usually take too seriously (other than those who know her, that is), and this was the case with Poirot too in this one—No I don’t mean people think of him as an old lady—but that because of his age, some like Rosamund Darnley are apt to think of him as old and ‘practically gaga’ until he solves the mystery, perhaps stumping them. Poirot of course is also looked at differently by different characters we encounter here, such as Mrs Gardner who is always trying to understand the methods he uses to reach his answers, but the point was that both of them face a certain prejudice because of their age, but at the same time, this serves to their advantage as well since people would tend not to take them seriously.  

The characters once again have plenty of ‘meat’ to them—each one with a well-developed personality, and more than one with a secret. And it is only when most of these secrets are revealed or reached, rather, and these additional threads can be separated, that we reach the real answer.

Great fun yet again, as her cosies are!

*The film version with Peter Ustinov had plenty of changes (not the basic plot, though) but changed Emily Brewster to a man Rex Brewster (I didn’t understand why), and Rosamund Darnley was done away with changing Kenneth Marshall’s love interest to Mrs Castle (again, made little sense). There were also other changes giving others’ motive (perhaps to draw in viewers further), but it was enjoyable all the same.

Have you read this one? How did you find it? Have you watched any adaptations of this? Which one/s and how did you like it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover image as always is from Goodreads!

Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

This was a revisit, read in serial with the Victorians group on Goodreads. North and South (1854–55) is Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–65)’s fourth novel, and one of her best known ones, also adapted for TV three times, most recently a BBC series in 2004. As the story opens, eighteen-year-old Margaret Hale who has been brought up mostly in London by her aunt Mrs Shaw, is preparing to return home after her cousin’s wedding. Home is Helstone, a small rural parsonage in the South where her parents live and her father serves as vicar. When she returns, she finds the rural idyll she had remembered, at least as far as the place is concerned, but inside her home, things are a little different. Her parents don’t seem to be getting along as they should though they do love each other, and quite soon after settling in, she finds her father is giving up the living because of doubts about the church, and they must relocate to Milton Northern, a dusty, grey, smoky industrial town in the north (based on Manchester), where life is busy, fast, and completely opposite to the peace and calm of Helstone. Here Mr Hale is to tutor pupils in the classics. Among these is a much older pupil, a millowner, John Thornton who had to give up his education to support his family, and now having made a success of his business wishes to start again. Margaret when she arrives has no high opinion of tradespeople, or of Milton in general.

Both these things change as we move along in the story following two sets of threads, one involving Margaret’s personal opinions and relationships, both with Mr Thornton who begins to admire and love her (a thread that moves somewhat similarly to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy’s story in Pride and Prejudice), and the Higginses, a family of workpeople who Margaret befriends, and through whom she begins to get a better idea of life in Milton. Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Bessy both work in factories, and Bessy is suffering a fatal illness as a result of the fluff in the factories which most millowners have not taken precautions to address. Through these relationships and interactions, we move into the social threads of the story which explore working conditions in factories, wages and strikes, but most importantly relations between millowner and workmen who each need and rely on each other, and yet seem to think that their interests are at odds with each other. Margaret plays a role in these threads of the story too, being in a position to hear both sides of the story, the millowners concerns and genuine problems (such as cheaper goods becoming available) that the workmen don’t see, and the workpeople’s plight—from living and working conditions and wages, to lack of a voice at the workplace.

As the novel moves on, Margaret begins to see the merits and demerits of life in industrial Milton and rural Helstone and to realise that neither is entirely better or worse than the other, going from one who was critical of Milton, to one who can defend its ways. Alongside, Mr Thornton and Higgins—millowner and workman—begin to understand each other a little better, Mrs Gaskell making the point that both in personal relationships, or matters of work, understanding the other side and communication are key—these can mitigate even if not resolve many a situation.

Though difference, between north and south, scholar and industrialist, millowner and workman, etc is central in the book, it isn’t the only theme, other threads, of personal relationships, the Hale family’s own difficulties—Margaret’s brother Frederick’s story, the Shaws and Lennoxes’ (Margaret’s cousin has married Captain Lennox) stories and lives are also part of the book, and bring in both anxious and lighter moments.

Margaret is a strong young woman, and in much of the book finds herself having to bear a lot of responsibility and burden which she does very well; but she has to face her own prejudices, overcome them in order to become a better person. Mr Thornton too, a self-made man has his flaws, in the way he sees his workmen particularly, and changes too as things move along. Nicholas Higgins shows that perhaps we end up applying stereotypes when considering workmen. The other characters, Mr and Mrs Hale, and Mrs Thornton might give us a lot to fault them for (the latter only her harshness, perhaps, but that too is understandable), but are well drawn out characters, as are most of the others.

The ending of the book is a touch rushed, and one might feel like there was room for more, but overall, this is a really good read, one I’ve enjoyed each time I’ve read it!

Review: Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge

In this, the thirty-third Poirot mystery, Poirot receives a request for help from mystery-writer Ariadne Oliver. Mrs Oliver has been down at Nasse House, Nassecombe, Devon, where a village fête is to be held and one attraction is a ‘murder hunt’ on the lines of a treasure hunt which she is in charge of organising. (Poirot is to be present in the guise of giving out the prizes.) While the plans are going along well, Mrs Oliver is certain that she senses something wrong, perhaps that someone has been getting her to alter things ever so slightly, a small detail here and there, though she can’t point her finger to who or what, and what exactly might go wrong. Nasse House is owned by Sir George Stubbs whose wife Hattie (Lady Stubbs), originally from the West Indies, is simple minded. His efficient secretary Miss Brewis, Mrs Folliat whose family originally owned the house, and other residents at the village are all enthusiastically organising and contributing to the fête—Sally Legge (who is staying for a few months at the village with her husband Alec) for instance is to tell people’s futures as Madame Zuleika. Meanwhile, it seems that a cousin of Hattie Stubbs, Etienne De Sousa, whom she hasn’t seen for years (since she was a child, in fact) wants to look her up, and will arrive on the day of the fête. On the day of the fête, Mrs Oliver’s fears prove real and the young schoolgirl who was to play the ‘body’ in the murder hunt is found actually murdered while Hattie Stubbs has vanished entirely with no clue to where she could be and no body found. Where could she have gotten to? Had she been killed? And what reason would anyone have for killing Marlene Tucker, a harmless schoolgirl? This is a puzzle that baffles not only the police who are glad of Poirot’s presence on the scene but also Poirot who can’t solve the case quite as fast (or easily) as he usually does.

This was once again an enjoyable mystery from Christie, who (as another reviewer on Goodreads has also said) certainly has the best puzzles. She doesn’t leave us without clues—in fact here too, if one pays attention to even casual conversations Poirot has with various persons present, one might actually catch on to what was really going on (though one almost always never does, and some observations might be interpreted more than one way). This time since I was rereading, I did pick up some at least of these, a hint here, a clue there—and this was fun though I would say that may be compared to some other mysteries of hers, the clues/hints in this one weren’t perhaps as clear; yet everything and everyone, even if they seemed to be just a background or unconnected feature had a purpose.

Compared to his usual adventures, Poirot perhaps also took a touch longer to solve this one having to go back ‘defeated’ for a bit before he returns for another visit and set of conversations and can finally solve the case. Nonetheless, it is him and his grey cells alone that can put things together eventually, not only solving the mystery but also locating the evidence.

Mrs Oliver does not spare him over the time he takes, telling him when he calls her nearly a month after the events that it was about time he did see things. She is here in all her glory, with her rather fantastical hairstyles, and jumble of thoughts (from which she does manage to produce fairly complicated plots, and an equally complicated murder game) adding a bit of fun to the gravity of the murder and the other more serious storylines. In this one, she doesn’t have her usual struggles with her Finnish detective (reflecting Christie herself), but her one of her reader’s misconceptions about her add a few further comic moments as well.

As with Christie’s other books, this one too has other storylines moving alongside the mystery thread—some turn out connected while others simply throw one off course. But all the characters we are introduced to are also well developed—each with their individual personality and story.

An enjoyable revisit, and one where from cover onwards, everything gives you a clue!

Review: 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie #Mystery #Review #BritishCrimeClassics

4:50 From Paddington, also published as What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw is the seventh of the Miss Marple books and I re-read this last week, having last read it in 2017 as part of a Miss Marple challenge. In this one, Elspeth McGillicuddy is travelling on a train from London (the 4:50 of the title), having done her Christmas shopping. Looking into a train passing by, she witnesses a man throttling a woman; but when she reports this, the railway authorities are inclined to dismiss it as a figment of her imagination, not helped by the fact that the ticket collector spots a magazine open near her with a story featuring the image of a girl being strangled. But Mrs McGillicuddy is on her way to visit a friend and that friend is none other than Jane Marple. So when she narrates her story to Miss Marple, the latter who knows her and that she is not inclined to be carried away by imagination of any sort, decides to look into the matter, even though having reported it to the police no body has been found, either on the train or any where else. But Miss Marple is convinced that something did happen, and being unable to undertake any physical activity herself, hires Lucy Eyelesbarrow, a graduate in mathematics who has taken up domestic service as a career—she only works for short periods, efficiently, and is paid highly for her services. Lucy takes on a position at Rutherford Hall, residence of Old Mr Crakenthorpe and his daughter Emma (the other children live away) in Brackhampton where Miss Marple has worked out the body could be, and of course, Lucy pokes around and finds it. While initially it seems to have nothing to do with the family in the hall, connections seem to pop up, and then further deaths. Meanwhile Mr Crakenthorpe’s young grandson and his pal have a fun time undertaking investigations of their own while the official investigation is handed over to Inspector Dermott Craddock, godson of Miss Marple’s old friend Sir Henry Clithering, and one who has seen a demonstration of her skills before.

This is one of my favourite Miss Marple mysteries (in fact it was in my list of Marple favourites that I made on my previous read: here), and has plenty of twists and turns while also being light-hearted and cosy. Miss Marple as always uses her particular strengths to solve the mystery—people, and her knowledge of human nature. Not only Lucy and Craddock but also her great-nephew David West (for his knowledge of trains; incidentally I only noticed on this read that this was a different nephew from the usual Raymond West, the author, though obviously related to him), Leonard the son of Griselda (the vicar’s wife who appeared in the first book) for his knowledge of maps, and her former maid Florence who runs a bed and breakfast in Brackhampton, to be near the scene.  

Lucy and Craddock do the legwork, and Miss Marple who poses as Lucy’s aunt staying in the neighbourhood, manages to visit the house and do what she does best, understand each of the residents’ natures by drawing parallels with those she knows, like Mr Eade the bank manager, a little too fond of money or Jenkins at the garage who made money off small dishonest dealings. Alongside, there is also a touch of romance with Lucy having more than one suitors—that mystery, who she picks we are left to figure out ourselves. And yes, also plenty of food and cooking throughout. An enjoyable revisit, even though I remembered most of it.

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Among your favourite Miss Marples, or no? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Image source: Goodreads

#Review: Detection Unlimited #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge #GoldenAge #Mystery

One of the reading challenges I’m doing this year is #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge hosted by Rekha at the Book Decoder (here) where one reads crime,mystery, or thriller books (British of course) published before 1965. Detection Unlimited (1953) is the third book I’m reading this year that falls in this category.

This is the third of the series featuring Chief Inspector Hemingway that I’ve read, though it is the fourth in the series/subseries. Once again in a classic setting—a small English village—this one opens one summer evening as many of the residents are heading to a tennis party thrown by Mrs Haswell. On the way to and at the party we learn of a solicitor Mr Sampson Warrenby, who has recently moved to the village, and is not well liked, in fact disliked by pretty much all the residents. The party guests are rather pleased that Warrenby chose not to attend, though his niece, Mavis, who is keeping house for him is there. Of course, by the time the games come to an end and the guests return, Mavis comes home to find her uncle shot dead in the garden of his home, Fox House. The local Detective-Inspector Thropton is away sick (similar to the case in Envious Casca), and so the Chief Constable decides to call in Scotland Yard, and Chief Inspector Hemingway is sent down, accompanied by Inspector Horace Harbottle.

While in some ways, the case before Hemingway is a simple one, a man shot dead in his garden, it turns out to be quite difficult to figure out as for one, there are so many suspects, all with different reasons to dislike Warrenby—from Mr Drybeck the solicitor whose practice and seats on various boards and committees have been taken away by Warrenby, to his niece, the saintly Mavis who seems to have fallen in love with a young Polish man, Ladislas Zamagorisky, who her uncle most certainly does not approve of, to Mrs Midgeholme, breeder of Pekes whose dog was kicked by Warrenby; many have reasons to dislike him, even kill him. In fact, Hemingway says at one point, ‘I don’t know when I’ve had so many possibles to choose from’ , identifying at least nine. To add to it, there are 37 rifles of the kind used in the murder in the vicinity. And if these alone weren’t enough, nearly everyone in the village from the said Mr Drybeck and Mrs Midgeholme, to youngsters Charles Haswell and Abigail Patterson, to a ninety-year-old former poacher Mr Biggleswade, has turned into an amateur detective approaching Hemingway with their theories and information they consider of the utmost importance, some to throw suspicion off themselves, but others genuinely ‘trying to help’.

I enjoyed this one, especially since like Hemingway, I certainly didn’t figure out whodunit until he did himself (in the previous Hemingway book I read, Envious Casca I did figure the ‘who’ out); so the book kept me reading till the end. The abundance of suspects and amateur detectives kept me guessing as well. Like the other two Hemingway books that I’ve read, this one too is humorous, in Hemingway’s tone and his exchanges with Inspector Harbottle for instance, as well as in some of the characters such as Mrs Midgeholme and her line of prize-winning Pekes Ultima, all named with the letter ‘U’ (Ulysees, Umberto, and Ursula, but also Uppish, Unruly, and Umbrella) and even the old poacher, for that matter. Hemingway’s observations in an instance or two do seem a touch insensitive or un-PC but overall he’s good fun. The rest of the characters too are pretty well drawn out, each standing out individually, and of course, more than one with their own secrets. I liked how Hemingway finally worked the thing out, picking up on various things that he’d missed when first told them—the explanation of who, how, and why runs into several pages where the Inspector is more or less putting together various pieces as he works it out. I find I’m really liking Heyer’s mysteries, ones more serious in tone like Penhallow as well as these lighter-hearted Hemingway ones a lot, and look forward to reading more soon.

Have you read this one or any of Heyer’s other mysteries? Which one/s and how did you like it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Image source: Cover image from goodreads as always.

#EnidBlyton Read: Adventure of the Strange Ruby #Mystery #Children’sLiterature #Review

After finishing my revisits of the Malory Towers books (series review here), I haven’t picked a series to read next yet, so thought I’d read a standalone in the meantime. This is a standalone by Blyton published in 1960, though I think in a revised (?) version, it has been repackaged as part of a series, The Young Adventurers. I came across it fairly recently, so it isn’t one I’d read as a child. I read the original version. Two children Pat and his sister Tessa come across a newspaper report one morning, describing a strange ruby (that of course, brings ill luck to any who have it) once the eye of an idol in India, which has now been inherited by two children, twins, David and Faith Gathergood. These it turns out were children they had met and befriended on a trip to Swanage the previous year. They decide to write to the children, who hope that they will meet again next holiday, but soon they receive another, more strange letter, sent in strange circumstances by the twins who claim they are being taken to a place called Brinking Hill for a holiday by their new governess. The old one left, frightened by the curse. Pat and Tessa who are once again to go Swanage find that this place is not very far from where they will be. Once there, they make their way to find Brinking Hill (which turns out to be Brinkin Hill), and find after some exploring that the twins are indeed there and being held prisoner by their governess who is hand-in-glove with the villains. The children come up with a plan to rescue their friends but not all goes as it should, and they find themselves in a spot of trouble.

This was a short, quick read, a typical adventure story from Blyton, perhaps slight different in a way, in the sense that one is plunged into the adventure right from the start, with not too much background or any build-up, and things are pretty action packed all through, with something or other taking place almost on every page, right until they escape the villains at the end. Still the children find the time to have enjoyable meals and paddle in the pond in the midst of it all. From the title itself, I did expect the book to have some stereotypical elements—the strange ruby had to be from a mysterious temple in India of course, and there would obviously be ‘villains’ from there out to recover it. And so it was, so not particularly PC in that way, but that of course, one didn’t expect it to be. But there are other little things, outright errors which were rather annoying. There is a temple on an island which the children find, which has idols and such, and then minarets! Why on earth would a temple have minarets? Even the illustrator (ok, he was may be being faithful to the description) has given this so-called temple very Mughal architectural characteristics—way off. There wasn’t also any explanation of who the villains actually were and why they wanted the ruby, which one does get some idea of in Blyton’s mysteries usually.

Quibbles aside, as a children’s adventure story it was a nice read—exciting, action-packed, and a good bit of fun. The children make mistakes of course when they are dealing with the ‘villains’ but still, they do a fairly decent job. As expected from Blyton, there is also lots of food! Nice read, and while I did enjoy it a fair bit, I didn’t as much as I had thought I would!

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Any other adventure stories around the same/similar theme/s? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image source: the Enid Blyton Society Site here, where you can also find a full review as well.

#MurderousMondays: Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin #Mystery #Review #GoldenAge

#MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share your reviews/thoughts in this feature as well!

The fifth of the Gervase Fen books by Crispin, this was the second of these that I’ve read. The book opens in Castrevenford school where preparations are on for speech day (and prize day etc), but lots it seems is going wrong. One of the girl students from the sister school, participating in the school play for the occasion is visibly upset, but no one knows why, and then she goes missing leaving an uncharacteristic note about running away; there has been a theft in the chemistry lab; and now the night before the big day, not one but two of the teachers are found dead—shot—within a short time of each other. Luckily for the Headmaster, Dr Stanford, due to a last minute change in programme, he had invited his friend, Oxford Don Gervase Fen to deliver the speech. With his considerable experience on previous cases, and the fact that the local Superintendent, Stagge, is out of his depth and would welcome any assistance, Fen is involved in the matter right from the start.

This was an enjoyable read for me, a good combination of a fairly complicated mystery (in a sense) and humour—and I certainly enjoyed the writing a lot as well. The mystery as I said had plenty of elements, a kidnapping, theft, and murders (a third murder, apparently unconnected also occurs, and a second theft, from the armoury is also discovered), all of which are connected of course, and it is up to Fen to work out how. There are a number of people who could have done it, but in this one I felt, none really stood out throughout the book as having a strong enough motive (I mean as in a usual whodunit, one can narrow it down to a specific set of suspects—that didn’t happen for me here), it could have been any one of the characters around, though there was a clue about the person who turned out to have done it. But there were an assortment of them—masters, and some staff, including one who is the in-house gossip in a sense (Mr Etheredge), keeping his eye on all that goes on. There was also quite a bit of action in the plot too with a search for the missing girl, and more in a full-fledged car-chase at the end, reminiscent of movies.

The atmosphere of the school too I thought came through pretty well—activities (from exams and reports to various clubs and games), student love affairs, to teachers who get along and not with each other and the students (their approaches to their work, and the students etc)—one felt that one was amidst all the hustle and bustle and all the goings on. In the plot, one along with Fen keeps going between the activities of speech day (morning service, the speech, cricket, a garden party, and much more) and the investigations, with things having to be hushed up as much as possible since speech day must go on as usual.

There was also a fair bit of humour as mentioned, in for instance Fen writing his own detective story, which he keeps trying to tell Dr Stanford about, and the animals in the book. There is Mr Merrythought, a bloodhound with a tendency to ‘homicidal fits’ who seems to take a liking to Fen (Harold Bloom has described him as ‘a masterpiece of canine creation’), and who turns out to have a fairly strong role throughout the book. Fen and Mr Plumstead, another character who appears as the story moves on, also have an encounter with a ‘gross and evil smelling’ duck who has a ‘truculent gaze’, present at the site of the third murder. Both fun even if the duck had just a ‘guest appearance’. Other touches are there too including Crispin poking a bit of fun at his readers, also perhaps himself himself—with Fen observing when told that he was recognised from his picture in the papers, that this was ‘more than Crispin’s readers manage to do’).

All in all, a great deal of fun.

Find other bloggers’ reviews here: the Puzzle Doctor finds it an ‘entertaining read’ (here) another review here ‘unreservedly recommend[s]’ the book.

Review: The Dower House Mystery by Patricia Wentworth #Mystery #GoldenAge #BookReview

Amabel Grey is a widow living in a small country village on a limited income. Her daughter, nineteen-year-old Daphne, brought up by Amabel’s much wealthier sister, Agatha, is spoiled to say the least and desperately wants to go on a trip to Egypt with some friends (mostly so that a rich young man she knows will propose to her). This requires Amabel to spend £200, money she does not have. Still, since Daphne is throwing tantrums (no better way to describe it) and shedding what seem to be crocodile tears, Amabel heads off to her lawyer Mr Berry to see if anything can be done. (She can’t borrow the money since she has no means to pay it back.) There she overhears George Forsham, a man she used to know years ago, asking Mr Berry to find him a tenant for the Dower House in his family home, in which he is unable to keep a tenant since it is supposed to be haunted. Of course he is going to pay £200 (just the sum she needs) to anyone who will live there for six months (with a number of odd conditions). Despite being dissuaded by Mr Berry, Amabel who has stayed at Forsham as a young girl, takes up the offer and heads there. At Forsham she also runs into George’s brother Julian who she was in love with at one time. And there is certainly something wrong with the house with plenty of odd (and rather unsettling) happenings. Julian is keen to investigate, and Amabel to hold her ground and keep up her end of the bargain. This, though not a murder mystery, was such a fun read, I enjoyed every bit of it.

A few days ago after finishing my last book, I wasn’t sure what to pick up next, didn’t ‘feel’ like reading any of the physical books I had with me; so glanced through what I had on Kindle, and this one caught my eye. I opened it up and began reading and within minutes, it had me hooked, and in fact excited to get back to it each time I had to put it down. The book had the typical atmosphere of a creepy haunted house (the kind we see in films sometimes)—all the quintessential elements like thuds on the front door at night, doors mysteriously closing (no matter how many times they are opened and left open), mewing cats, sinister laughter, and even the feeling of being followed when out on the stairs at night. Amabel’s own dog runs away the very first day, and is found back at her old home. Another dog which Julian borrows for security does the same (heading to his own home). Amabel’s own maid is too scared to stay on. One knows of course, that it won’t be a real ghost but still I thought Wentworth did the entire atmosphere really well, even if it was typical. There are other aspects too—like a medium (clearly putting on an act—we are pretty much told that at once), and the story of a girl (one of George and Julian’s former nurse’s twin daughters) who had run away years ago, and who might well be among the newer residents in the village—connected with the main plot but one doesn’t know exactly how. The solution itself was perhaps a little on the lines of a children’s mystery (Enid Blyton or one of the older Nancy Drews) but still good fun. (This was something I felt in the Miss Silver book I’d read earlier as well.)

The characters were for the most part fairly likeable: Amabel showed spirit in wanting to stick it out rather than running away though she didn’t seem to want to get to the bottom of things. I liked that she didn’t behave like the typical damsel in distress waiting to be rescued (both in terms of wanting to earn the money herself, and staying her ground), but I felt she was rather foolish in heading downstairs and opening the door almost every night when she knew from previous experience what would happen—why not just stay in her room and lock the door? Daphne, her daughter, was a real brat, though. The other characters in the village are a mix of suspicious and a couple of friendly ones (people Amabel had known before). There are also characters from other Wentworth books like Jane (Smith) March, Molloy, and Police Chief Sir Julian Le Mesurier (‘Piggy’) who make an appearance, but not having read those books, these were not familiar to me. The romance in the story I thought was refreshing being between older people getting another chance, rather than a typical one.

I had only read a Miss Silver mystery before, none of her standalones so didn’t know what to expect when picking this up, but it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it thoroughly! Will certainly be reading more of hers soon.

#MurderousMondays: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

#MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them in this feature too!

The Vanishing Stair is book 2 in the Truly Devious Trilogy (my review of book 1 Truly Devious, is here). The story is set in Ellingham Academy, a residential school in Vermont which takes only gifted students, each of whom have a specific interest, and encourages them to hone those skills through curricula designed accordingly. In the 1930s, when Ellingham was first established, the founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old child were kidnapped never to be found again. His wife’s body was recovered a few days later, but nothing was ever heard of his daughter Alice. Another student at the academy, Dottie Epstein had also disappeared at the same time. Before the events, Ellingham had received threats including from someone mysterious who called themselves Truly Devious—a riddle in a letter with letters cut out from newspapers. A man was arrested for the crime, but many believed that he wasn’t actually responsible. These include in the present day, Stevie Bell, a young student with a special interest in true crime, and particularly the Ellingham case.  In the first book, she gets into the Academy, and is on the way to realise her dream of actually solving the case. But her investigations she finds are not confined to the events of the past for it seems Truly Devious might strike again, and in fact does, when a student she was working with on a reconstruction of the crime, is killed.

In this one, the story picks up from where we left off in previous book. After Stevie had picked up on a clue to the present-day murder and pointed it out, leading another student to run, her parents pulled her out of Ellingham for her safety. But now another, unexpected chance appears for her to return, but one that has a condition that isn’t the most welcome one. Still being her only chance to go back, Stevie accepts. Back at Ellingham, she soon fits back into what has become her home, with her friends and begins work once again on the two cases, mostly the Ellingham case. Ellie, the girl who had vanished has not been seen or heard from since the time, and Stevie doesn’t seem to know where she might have gotten to, while others seem to give rather unconvincing suggestions. But Stevie has clues to more than one aspect of the old case, and she is keen to continue piecing it together. Meanwhile she also gets a chance to assist a professor with her research on the Ellingham case. The professor, Fenton, has written one book on the case already, and is planning another and claims that if some details check out she will be able to solve the puzzle. It is here that Stevie is supposed to help. But another new character, Fenton’s nephew Hunter suggests she might have other motives too. Meanwhile Stevie must also keep up her end of the bargain for returning to Ellingham which is causing her a dilemma between her own feelings and ‘a deal with the devil’ so to speak. Also, as in the previous book, the story goes back and forth between present-day events and those in the past, and these give us answers which even Stevie doesn’t know so far.

I read this instalment almost eight months after reading the first one, so while I remembered the broad storyline and some of the characters, many of the details had disappeared as well as some of the characters; so when I started this one, it took me a while to get my head around everything and get back into the story. But once I was back into it, I once again found it to be an exciting and gripping read. While as I mentioned in my review of the first book, the whole mystery will be resolved only in the final book, there are plenty of important revelations in this one too, and it seems Stevie has pretty nearly solved the old case, well at least a major part of it. But events in the present day begin to get much more complicated, and the killer strikes yet again, with leaving us with more unsolved crimes, and only part of the answer to the old one. I thought it ended with a good mix of answers and new and old questions, and left me excited to see how everything finally turns out. Also it certainly does give you a creepy feeling when reading it! Great read once again.

Malory Towers Challenge: Last Term at Malory Towers by #EnidBlyton

The final Malory Towers book, and thus the final part of my revisit of these books, which I ended up picking up many months after I’d read book 5. In this one Darrell and Sally, and the rest of their form are returning to Malory Towers for their last term. Darrell and Sally and also Alicia and Betty are headed after that to college—St Andrews in Scotland, while Irene will go on to study music and Belinda art. Bill (Wilhemina) and Clarissa also have plans of their own to the others’ surprise. Being their last term, Sally and Darrell want to savour every moment and Darrell, now the head-girl, takes in the new students to Miss Grayling to hear once more the wise words she says to every new student. Being in the sixth form, they don’t think there will be any new students but there are in fact two—the domineering Amanda, a genius at sport who has come to Malory Towers because her own school Treningan Towers was destroyed in a fire, and is inclined to turn up her nose at the fact that Malory Towers isn’t as focused on sport as her old school was. And there is Suzanne, a French girl, Mam’zelle Rougier’s nice who speaks as all EB’s French characters too—with an exaggerated style but is still likeable and good fun. The term is as usual a mix of work and play, with some conflict thrown in.

Now that the sixth formers’ time at Malory is coming to an end, the only question before them is what they have made of their time at the school. While some like Darrell and Sally have learnt to overcome their flaws or at least be more in control of them, others like Alicia continue to be as they are but perhaps in a milder form. But of all of them, it is Gwen (Gwendolen Mary Lacy) who has gained absolutely nothing from her time there—and continues to be as she always was, no longer even listening to her governess Miss Winter who seems to be talking some sense rather than simply pandering to her now. Amanda too is difficult and clashes with the equally headstrong Moira, but when she decides to coach June, Alicia’s cousin, in tennis and swimming, as she sees a lot of potential in her, the project turns out to be good for them both. But there is also the inevitable clash of two rather strong personalities. Among the younger ones, the spoiled Jo Jones is a misfit, encouraged by her brash father to do just as she likes, and she ends up not just putting off her fellow students but taking steps from which there can be no return. And on a lighter note, since the sixth formers are now no longer in a position to play tricks, this too falls to the younger ones with the Mam’zelles once again being at the receiving end.

This was an enjoyable close to the series with both light moments as well as grave ones. Many of the girls have their certificate exams to take though Darrell and Sally don’t find it as hard since they have been putting in work consistently. But academic issues apart, there are plenty of dilemmas and crises in some of their lives. Gwen for one refuses to see sense, even though Miss Grayling charges Darrell to try one last time, and continues to pursue her own path. But lessons must be learnt in life and poor Gwen has to end up learning the hard way. Amanda too has to learn hers when she thinks certain advice is inapplicable to her. Among the younger ones too, this is the case for some of them. But whether the hard way or on their own, most of them at the end learn to face up to their flaws and perhaps try to work at being better. Of course (while not defending all of the characters), EB does have certain preconceptions or fixed ideas of how children should be to be ‘good’ or ‘appreciated’ as against being looked down upon which sometimes may be isn’t so accepting of difference; at the same time, I like the fact that even her main characters like Darrell and Sally are not without their flaws, and realistically, these don’t magically vanish or are magically overcome either but must be faced again and again, and dealt with.

But of course all is not as grave and bleak as I may have made it sound, there are plenty of fun moments too—no plays or performances but there are tricks, this time played by the younger ones—Felicity and June’s form—one involving a magnet and the Mam’zelles’ hairpins, which turns out so much fun that they decide to give the sixth formers a chance to enjoy themselves as well, finding excuses to play it in their form too, not once but twice, and with something further added on. Suzanne, the French girl, is like Claudine from St Clare’s, with ‘piggyhoolear’ English, and an outlook much like EB’s notion of ‘foreigners’ (and why she faces criticism) adds a further touch of humour.

I liked how the series wrapped up with us being told what lies ahead for all the students, even ones who’ve left, though overall, it was perhaps on a graver note than the rest of the books.

I’ll have a review of the full series up soon as well.