What We've Been Reading
Sean Pidgeon - Finding Camlann
I was looking for something a little different to read, so I picked up Sean Pidgeon's Finding Camlann (published in softcover last Jan, hardcover at the beginning of 2013) because it had things I'm interested in - archaeology, linguistics, Arthurian legend, Wales. And it was wonderful.
Archeologist Donald Gladstone knows there's no actual proof of Arthur's existence but believes there has to be some truth behind the myth. A find in a barrow near Stonehenge begins a quest that will take Donald, and linguist Julia Llewellyn, in search of an ancient Welsh battle poem, and will force them both to examine their lives.
This is a quiet, well-written story. There are no car chases, no gun fights, and no high tension. There's no definitive time frame for it. There are cars and telephones, but no cell phones or computers. It's reminiscent of a book written in the 60's or 70's. I found myself comparing it to Charlotte Armstrong's writing, actually. It's intelligent, complex and - to me - fascinating. I needed to pay close attention to the various time periods discussed, and my knowledge of Welsh history is sadly lacking (along with my ability to pronounce much of the language), but the people and their overwhelming need to know what happened caught my interest and didn't let go.
There's no single mystery, per se. Of course, the biggest question is whether or not the bodies found in the barrow are Arthur and Guinevere, but there's the question of an explosion in the recent past and whether or not it was an accident or sabotage, what role Julia's husband might have played in that explosion, and there is a death, so there are mysterious elements, but I'm not entirely sure you can classify Finding Camlann as a true whodunnit.
Whatever you call it, it was a thoughtful, restful break from the more action-packed adventures I normally indulge in, and I was pleased to have spent time in the Welsh mountains, exploring the history of the area and the origins of the Arthurian legend.
||Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders
Amber’s project for 2014: My 52
Weeks of Agatha Christie. Here’s her explanation.
First Published: January 1936.
I Read: The ABC Murders. William Morrow, New York, 2011.
Summary: Poirot receives
a series of letters boasting the sender is going to kill on a certain
day in Andover, Bexhill-on-Sea, Churston and Doncaster. The question is
can Poirot, Hastings and his legion of helpers stop this mad man before
the killer works his way through twenty more letters?
is funny on how often the solution to a Christie novel is one I have
read/watched previously (in this case many, many times). What makes
Christie great is the fact I didn’t spot it until very late in the game
which solution it was. In many ways, this is a stroke of luck; otherwise
I may have been let down as I was with The Murder On The Orient
Express. The ABC Murders I found engaging and a fun read, as John Curran
points out (in his book Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks) this book
was among the first to feature the idea of a serial killer as the
In the book, one of the binding agents between the murders is the
letters sent to Poirot where the killer crows over his success. Sadly
this type of murder, where several are killed to disguise the one
intended victim, isn’t exclusive to the pages of a book.
While reading this mystery I was reminded of a case here in the
Seattle area which made an impression on me even as a kid. Back in 1986
when I was twelve there was a huge scare over Extra-Strength Excedrin
aspirin. Two people were murdered by someone who had laced capsules with
cyanide. I remember the panic, never-ending news reports, people
throwing away their bottles and others mailing off bottles to the police
with the same lot numbers as the poison pills. The person convicted for
perpetrating the murders was the wife of the first victim. She’d
tampered with a total of five bottles, placing three back on store
shelves (and two were still in her possession). Supposedly
Stella Nickell killed her husband for insurance money (she forged his
signature to obtain two additional policies) and the other victim
(fortunately she did not succeed in murdering more people) was meant to
conceal her true target. She might have gotten away with it had she not
asked the police reexamine her husband’s death. The theory on this
move maintains that she got greedy and decided she wanted to sue the
manufacturer for additional money. The issue was she needed to prove her
husband was murdered.
Initially Nickell’s husband's death was attributed to natural causes
due his age and medical history. The medical examiner who examined the
body did not smell the classic bitter almonds associated with this
poison. It wasn’t until the second sudden death when the medical
examiner happened to notice what her nose was telling her during the
autopsy that the cyanide poisoning was discovered. As it turns out forty
percent of the population is unable to smell any of the tell-tale
scent. In addition, the sensitivity of the sniffer in question plays a
factor in the amount needed for detection (I have heard an
unsubstantiated rumor that women can detect the scent more often, but I
don’t have a source to cite for that assertion).
What I didn’t know until I started researching for this post is in
1982, less than four years before the Nickell’s case, there was the
Chicago Tylenol Murders where seven people died due to the ingestion of
cyanide laced capsules. The scariest part of this story is the
murderer was never caught; the police believed they knew who did it but
didn’t have enough proof for a conviction. The case was pulled out of
the inactive file in 2009 and a new investigation of old evidence is
Both Chicago and Nickell’s cases helped ensure new safety measures
for products as well as the introduction of the caplet which replaced
the capsule. There are other real life cases which share a similar vein
to the ABC Murders, the Nickell’s case is just the one which I remember
best. I remember the strange feeling of panic among the adults (I was
too busy reading and stuff to worry much about it) when the story first
hit and the slow growth of trust in buying any over-the-counter
medicines. It will be interesting to see if Nickell makes the news
again. She is eligible for parole in 2016.
On a slightly happier note, one of my favorite versions of this story
(fictional obviously I do not have a favorite real life murder, in
case you were wondering) is the very first episode of
ABC’s dramity Castle, Flowers For Your Grave, where mystery writer Rick
Castle first meets detective Kate Beckett, who is investigating a series
of deaths which eerily resembles those in Rick’s books. Just like this
week’s book one person is the target, while the other two murder victims
are camouflage. The by-play between the two actors (all right the whole
cast) even in a first episode is wonderful and I recommend
this TV series to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.
“What do you call the unforgivable error? Overlooking the obvious.” (pg. 5)
“Words, mademoiselle, are only the outer clothing of ideas.” (pg. 126)
“Murder, I have often noticed, is a great matchmaker.” (pg. 136)
Interesting Fact: Or
should I say random fact? “To hum a tune is extremely dangerous. It
reveals the subconscious mind.” (pg. 136) Do you know
in "Angel" (the TV show created by Joss Whedon and canceled in 2004
unfortunately) had a character named Lorne who could read futures and
auras while they were singing? Gleaning all kinds of information that he
shared, most of the time, with them. Proving that Poirot was not the
only person who found a person’s out of key humming revealing to their
current mental state. Now mind you Lorne was a demon and Poirot human
but I think we can skate over a small detail like this....
I had something snappy here for you guys, but just like the twenty
eight weeks previous to this point...I have not cheated. It was even a
Hasting narrated one and I still remained on the lighert side of the
force. Perhaps Hastings is growing on me, I shudder at the thought!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014