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We Only Carry Mysteries .... But We Can Order Almost Anything!

 

What We've Been Reading

Ken Harmon - The Fat Man

Fran Recommends:

Are you looking for something to spice up your holiday fun? Amber convinced me to read this and I’m passing it along to you.

Meet Gumdrop Coal. “Gumdrop Coal is my name and I’m a 1300 year old elf and the chip on my shoulder will give you tetanus. I’m two-foot-three, but if you think you can crack wise about my height or take me in a fight, you’ll be making the worst mistake of your sorry life. I will jingle your bells up through your giblets hard enough to make your eyes scream.I’m serious.” Gumdrop Coal is in charge of the Coal Patrol, the folks that fill kids’ stockings with coal when they’ve hit the Naughty List. Yeah, you know who you are. But Gumdrop’s been fired, and he’s pretty certain it wasn’t Santa’s doing. And then a dead body pops up – a Hall that’s been decked with an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model BB Gun – and Gumdrop’s in the firing line. Can he figure out what’s going on before his goose is cooked?

Wickedly punny, encompassing every Christmas story you can imagine and laced through with hardboiled action, Ken Harmon’s The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir is a hoot, complete with shady dames, sultry spies, heavy-fisted enforcers, off-set with a solid dose of Christmas cheer.

Amber: The noir style of writing keeps the story from becoming so sweet you get a tooth ache just from reading it! It is a really great holiday read.

Agatha Christie - Passenger To Frankfurt

Amber’s project for 2014: My 52 Weeks of Agatha Christie. Here’s her explanation.

First Published: 1970

Series: Non-Series

Summary: Sir Stafford Nye is a diplomat whose sense of irony and humor has kept him from reaching his full career potential. Meaning? Sometimes he cannot help but pull the tiger’s tail - not a trait the diplomatic core generally holds in high regard. This same sense of whimsy is why he decided to drink a beer he knew was drugged. Why? A striking woman approached him in the airline bar and told him the most incredible story....

Review: I have spoke before about my theory about the best place for the average Joe to meet a spy - in an airport - since they are always dashing about the globe doing their job. Meeting a spy at Target seems a bit to prosaic to me, but perhaps I am just romanticizing “the life”. This particular theory is based on my weird sense of humor not actual fact (you thought I was going to say wine didn’t you...). It seems that Christie entertained a similar idea forty-four years earlier. The opening of Passenger To Frankfurt features just such an occurrence - Sir Nye encounters a female spy in an airport bar. This mystery woman convinces Nye to allow her to use his passport in order to slip though security unnoticed and loose her pursuers. Reading a version of my theory in the pages of a Christie novel coupled with tension our femme fatale created was fantastic! The opening gambit made me extremely hopeful that the rest of the book would be filled with exotic destinations, intrigues and action. The ending of the book did fulfilled my expectations with clear action and a satisfying resolution. Even the epilogue which is a bit curious, tied the beginning and ending together nicely even if it came a bit out of left field. The problem with this book lies in the 150 pages in the middle, I am sorry to say.

For a bit of background you need to know that for Passenger To Frankfurt Christie recycles an idea used in They Came To Baghdad, a shadowy sinister organization bent on creating a “New Heaven and a New Earth” by destabilizing and destroying the old established institutions. The difference is in Frankfurt the puppeteers target students to further their agenda by arming, agitating and controlling them. It is not Christie’s recycling I find problematic, but the fact she follows the British counterintelligence’s “managers” (ie. politicians, military men & experts) rather than their agent’s actions. Frankfurt would have been far more interesting had Christie shown us how a shadowy group was able to destabilize Europe or South America, how they influence students or followed the “management’s” agents executing their counterintelligence orders. Instead Christie dictating the minutes of several meetings which focused on “what the world was coming too”. In addition each time the “managers” gathered for a meeting it brought the book’s momentum to a complete stop. Which I found frustrating! This book felt like a flickering light bulb, the action would blink on and I’d be all excited, here is where the novel would really take off and then it was snuffed out (again) by a meeting. Making the book feel much longer than it actually was. The thing is the resolution to this novel ends on such a high note it managed to leave a far more favorable impression in my mind than perhaps it should. 

It seemed Christie chose to focus more on world politics rather than her plot in Frankfurt. She mentioned Vietnam, Mao, China, Russia, Communism, air plane hijackings and world events of the day. Which is odd because Christie seemed to shy away from such overt references in her prose before this installment ( in fact she edited out all references to WWII in The Sleeping Murder feeling they dated the book before it was published). With all of these factors added together Frankfurt leaves me feeling perplexed, since I cannot in good conscience recommend reading this installment for fun over Christmas Break. However I think there are small slivers which you should be familiar with - if you are like me and like being able to see the interconnectedness of the books in a canon or if you are a completion-ist and need to finish all her works once you start!

In any case Frankfurt marks Christie’s last foray into the realm of the spy novel! Yay! It also marks her 80th book to be published....well according to her publishers. In reality they “massaged” her publication numbers a tiny bit in order to reach this magical threshold. Collins included all of Christie’s regular mysteries up until that point, four short story collections which had only appeared in the U.S. and her six Mary Westmacott novels. Collins Crime Club was keen on creating this angle to help celebrate Christie’s eightieth birthday, 80 book in 80 years, a nice bit of symmetry isn’t it? The title page included the line “an extravaganza” on it, in reference to this achievement. All of this was in addition to the normal pomp surrounding the publication of her books.

While Collins Crime Club may have used a bit of jiggery pokery in order to reach 80 titles, the fact is she did really write that many - they just weren’t strictly her mystery titles or available everywhere. Over the course of her career - including short stories, plays, poems, nonfiction and adaptations - the number of pieces she produced is amazing! Around the two hundred and fifty mark! What I finding it astonishing how she was able to repeatedly and consistently come up with new material to hoodwink her audience. I cannot begin to say how much respect I have for this great lady, even if I wasn’t thrilled by this weeks particular installment...

Her sheer productivity boggles the mind doesn’t it? Translated into average numbers this roughly means she penned around three works a year, from the year she was born until the year she passed at eighty-five. What is even more astonishing? She isn’t even close to being the most prolific author out there, not even the most prolific mystery writer either! George Simenon a Belgian crime writer whose most famous character was Commissaire Maigret a French police detective (happily these books are coming back into print!) penned over five hundred works over his lifetime. In addition he hold the ranking of the #17 most translated author in the world at 2315 times (to put this in perspective Mary Higgins Clark is #40 with 1485, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle places at #14 with 2495 Christie is still holding the #1 spot at 7233 according to UNESCO’s 2013 Translationum Index). A fellow golden age mystery writer John Creasy was no slouch in the output department, he penned over six hundred works under a whole slew of pen names! In addition Creasy founded the Crime Writers’ Association in the UK in 1953 (the organization responsible for the Dagger Awards). Seriously where did they find the time? I struggle to balance work, married life and a weekly blog!

Now if you add Christie, Simenon and Creasy’s output together it is a mere drop in the bucket compared to these two hyper-prolific authors! A Portuguese pulp writer Ryoki Inoue has penned over 1,000 works and he’s still going strong. What I find even more incredible is the fact he didn’t start seriously writing until 1986 when he was forty years old - meaning he’s written all of his books in the last twenty-eight years! This feat in writing is dwarfed by a Spanish romance writer who holds the Guiness World Record for the large number of Spanish books even sold. Maria Socorro Tellado Lopez aka Corin Tellado wrote over 4,000 novels (and yes I got the number of zeros correct)! Can you imagine? Their fingers must actually be ink stained! Or if they used computers to write perhaps they squint? (due to the glare from the monitor...)

While 80 novels in 80 years and 250-ish total works does herald some bragging rights... Christie cannot claim the most prolific author of all time, she isn’t even the most prolific mystery writer. What can she claim (by a very wide margin) is she’s by far the most popular! 

Fun Fact: Isaac Asimov is #24 on the translation list, penned over 500 works and is one of the only authors whose works appear in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System!

Cheating: With only two and a half weeks to go it would be horrible to blow it now!

My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014