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


What We've Been Reading

Anne Bishop - Written In Red

Fran Recommends:

It takes me a while sometimes, but I do learn. When Amber strongly recommends I read something, she knows I'm going to like it. Ernest Cline's Ready Player One? Favorite for that year. Jasper Fforde's The Last Dragonslayer? Read it in one sitting. Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown? Absolutely brilliant.

So when she started vibrating about Anne Bishop's Written in Red, I didn't even fight it. I waited until I had a plane trip ahead of me and snagged it. And again, she was absolutely right.

The land is nominally the United States, an alternate universe perhaps. And in this land, humans are simply clever meat to the were-creatures, vampires and Others that control the land. But it's by being clever that humans have survived and have established cities, trading goods and innovative creations for a chance to live. But make no mistake, humans are still food, and in the Courtyard, where the Others and humans interact, if a rule is broken by a human, the penalty is swift, permanent and without recourse. In the cities, human law prevails (mostly, and at the whim of the Others), but in the Courtyard and away from human cities? Humans are prey.

Meg Corbyn stumbles into the Lakeside Courtyard one winter evening, fighting her way through a blizzard looking for shelter. Werewolf and leader of the Courtyard, Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to take her in, but he's intrigued. She doesn't smell like prey; in fact, she seems to decidedly be "not-prey" even though she’s human, and he's puzzled. Besides, the Courtyard needs a human liaison, so he hires her, figuring to sniff out her secrets in time.

But Meg's no ordinary human, and the people she's running from are powerful. You see, Meg's a "cassandra sangue", a blood prophet. When her skin is cut, she can prophesy the future, and Meg's one of the best. She's managed to escape from her Controller and the compound where the blood prophets are kept "for their own good", and they want her back. And they're willing to challenge the Others for her, no matter what the cost.

This is the first in a series, and it's fantastic. Anne Bishop manages to capture how truly different the Others are, how completely alien their thought processes can be while still making them sympathetic and relatable, which is no small feat. The vampires, the shapeshifters (not just wolves but all kinds of creatures), the Elementals, all the other types of Creatures - and I suspect there are many yet to meet - are fascinating in their own rights. The relationships Bishop has created between the Others and humans is intricate, a political dance on a knife's edge, and is complex and fascinating.

I can't wait to read more in this series, and once again, Amber has suckered me into a new author whom I love!

Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None

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

First Published: Serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1939. Ten Little Niggers. Collins Crime Club, London, 1939. And Then There Were None Dood & Mead, New York, 1940. And an alternate US title Ten Little Indians for some editions.

I Read: And Then There Were None. William Morrow, New York, 2014.

Series: Not investigated by any particular detective.

Summary: Ten people are lured to an isolated island under false pretenses. Unknown to nine of them, one of their number is a murderer with a plan.

Review: This book is considered by most to be Christie’s masterpiece. And Then There Were None is the mystery which propelled her to superstar status, with only Shakespeare and the Bible outselling her body of works. With a plot imitated the world over, this novel  rules the number one spot each year on Christie’s bestseller list (followed far behind generally by Ackroyd). It took her two years to write and even she admitted the book wasn’t an easy feat to create (and remember she was generally a two book a year writer). 

Yet I am still scratching my head about it. I think my bewilderment stems from the fact this is a Christie which doesn’t feel like a Christie to me. This book contains the highest body count to date of any I’ve read so far and all I could think while reading it was the line No One Here Gets Out Alive (incidentally it's the title of Jim Morrison’s biography). Focused, brutal and unrelenting; not descriptions generally associated with The Queen of Mystery. More of a thriller than a whodunit, this book doesn’t really follow the Rules of Fair Play until the epilogue (not that all her books did, just it’s surprising with the popularity of this title that it does not). Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful book; I devoured it in a few hours, I am just left a bit befuddled. 

There is one line/solution which is commonly associated with Christie and her canon, one which AND Then There Was None all most fufills. “The Butler did it!”, I hear this cliche regularly attributed to Christie and (just like the cake) it is a lie. Nowhere in the Christie canon did a real butler actually commit the crime being investigated in the narrative. The most entertaining aspect of this fallacy is the fact Christie’s piece de resistance, And Then There Were None is the second closest in her canon to fulfilling this cliche, yet it still falls short. Mr. Rogers - the butler (no relation to the other Mr. Rogers) - is accused of committing a murder, however his crime is rather nebulous and is not central to the action of the plot. A fine line to be sure but an important one. 

The tree which bore this poisonous fruit sprung up across the pond from Christie in the United States I am sad to say! The woman dubbed the American Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart authored the mystery from which this cliche sprung (let's code name it “The Portal” to avoid spoilers). While that particular line, “The Butler did it!” evidently was never written in the book, it has been boiled down to this singular line which eventually morphed into a cliche and in turn has clung to the genre like a suckerfish ever since.

Two years before Rinehart wrote “The Portal” and Christie and compatriots founded The Detection Club an American mystery author published a comprehensive set of rules. In 1928 S.S. Van Dine (in real life Van Dine was an American art critic named Willard Huntington Wright who was completely scandalized at his own success as a pulp author) wrote an essay called Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Fiction. Rule number 11 states that an author should not choose a servant to be their killer. Why? Servants are entirely to obvious; due to the privileged information they are often privy to and their wide access to the household and/or the victim. Servants are an easy scapegoats and require little on the part of the audience to deduce and even less effort for the author to frame. While authors flout rules all the time (like cats, they don’t enjoy to be dictated to) I think Rinehart should have taken rule 11 to heart. While her fans liked “The Portal”, critics gave it a lukewarm reception and it spawned this awful cliche; so in the grand scheme of things I don’t think the book was a winner.

In hindsight, perhaps Rinehart wasn’t as far off the mark with “The Portal’s” solution as we think. In a true believe-it-or-not moment, in 1947 seventeen years after her book was published, Rinhart was spending some time at her vacation home in Maine. When her cook (named Reyes) came into the library drew a pistol and attempted to shoot the author. Fortunately (for the author) the gun misfired and Rinehart flew from the room towards the servants wing, there the chauffeur was able to subdue him. In a dramatic turn, while Rinehart was calling the police, the cook broke free from the chauffeur and tried his luck again. This time he attempted to stab her with some kitchen knives he’d grabbed. At this point, the gardner alerted by the noise came to the aid of the chauffeur and together they subdued the cook one last time. The Motive? Evidently the cook had been in Rinehart's service for twenty-five years and had his eye on the position of butler. When he was passed over for the promotion and butling duties given to another he attacked the author. While Rinehart made it through the ordeal unscathed, the cook committed suicide the next day in his jail cell, and the butler Rinehart hired over the cook? Hoofed out a window and went into town at the first sign of trouble.

Still “The butler did it!”, lingers on in the minds of many often wrongly attributed and propagated by people who have never cracked the spine of a Christie (or a Rinehart for that matter) mystery. Perhaps someday this idea will die a quiet death, it’s only been 84 years...It could happen!

Not to down play what happened to Rinehart....But do you know where the safest place in a Christie mystery to hide in is? The kitchen! No murder is ever committed in the kitchen anywhere in the Christie canon.

Favorite Quote: 

“Her heart certainly failed to beat...” (pg. 79)

“Thoughts that ran round in a circles like squirrels in a cage...” (pg. 159)

Random Fact: When I was little I used to love playing "Ring-Around-The-Rosie", "London Bridge" and singing "Mary-Mary-Quite-Contrary". It wasn’t until older that I stopped and really listen closely to the words that they started to sound a bit peculiar (well a PBS documentary helped). Seriously "Rosie" is associated with an outbreak of the Black Death in London in 1665 which killed around 15% of London’s residents (Btw there is a new-ish theory that rats didn’t really spread the plague. One piece of evidence? There aren’t corresponding number of rat skeletons in houses with plague victims that archeologists have excavated. Hey don’t yell at me, yell at a science!). "London Bridge" has a whole host of ideas on its origins. The most gruesome? Human sacrifice. The theory is children were buried alive in the foundation when it was laid so the bridge would never fall (it didn’t really seem to help since the bridge burned several times over the years). Way to embrace science guys. Lastly, "Mary-Mary" is thought to be about Bloody Mary (Mary I) who executed several hundred people generally by burning them. Not someone you ever wanted to get on the wrong side of. So all in all nursery rhymes while fun to sing and dance around to, really don’t need a whole bunch of help in feeling malevolent

However Christie was more than willing to lend a helping hand! And The There Were None was the first full length novel to feature this plot device (I believe) and wow did she use it! Interestingly enough the poem Christie used had two endings, one slightly more optimistic than the other (again not saying the two variants, spoilers). "Waste not, want not" as the saying goes; Christie used both the poem’s endings one in the book and the other when she adapted it for the stage. This particular title was the very first to be adapted into four different mediums (besides book form obviously) stage, radio, television and film. Generally speaking the mass media versions chose to feature the “happier” of the two endings, but not always (the Soviets when they were Soviet Union opted for the gloomy).

Christie followed up this highly successful nursery rhyme crime by penning One Two Buckle My Shoe, N or M (featured a rhyme in the plot), Five Little Pigs, Crooked House, Pocket Full of Rye, Ordeal By Innocence, Three Blind Mice (technically a play) and Hickory Dickory Dock over the next sixteen-ish years. Each rhyme did their part in helping create a singularly creepy atmosphere in the stories for which they placed (in the ones I have read so far). Christie obviously saw something in these bits of childhood fluff which she could deftly twist into something rather wicked. Brilliant.

Cheating: I will give you a Clue, unlike Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum and Mrs. White I am not guilty of any crime! 

(btw you really should watch this cult classic)