Agatha Christie wrote this book after a winter in Egypt. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and this past December I realized that dream. Obviously, the Egypt of Christie’s time varied in some important ways. The politics are more complicated today. But the people are still complex. Her characters focused on the Europeans on the cruise from Aswan with a complicated plot. I found the Egyptians surrounding me to far more interesting (no offense to my fellow travelers!)
Ms. Christie starts out in England where the difference between the have’s, the incredibly rich and beautiful Linnet, and the have not’s, Jackie and her fiancé Simon is blatantly obvious. The strength of Agatha Christie’s book always tracks to a significant theme. So we know something is going to happen even in the superb weather of Egypt’s winter. Hercule Poirot is never a disappointment.
As I cruised down the Nile myself, I had quite a few ideas for my second book about Sissy Holmes and her sidekick El who is full of surprises. Death could happen in the shadow of the large Ramses II statues that were moved instead of being left at the bottom of Lake Nassar when the most recent Aswan Dam was built. Or maybe in one of the many markets that are set-up outside of every tomb and temple. Thanks to Ms. Christie for the idea of mysteries taking place in unusual locations!
Mary Stojak has had a number of short stories published in anthologies, journals, and magazines. Most recently she had stories published in The Letters a Sherlockian publication, In Short, Volume III a collection of Flash Fiction, and The Raven Review. Mary received her Masters in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University and currently leads a critique group.
The banquet was last night and we are getting close to the end. The winners were announced and there were a few surprises. Ellen Byron won contemporary for her southern mysteries. There were ties in two categories which I don’t think has happened before. Sujata Massey won in historical. Probably every book in the historical category deserved a prize.
A special shout and congratulations to Grace Topping on the publication of her first book and first Malice Panel!
The best novels, short stories, and nonfiction books have been nominated for the Agatha Awards. There are a lot of keepers such as Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan and of course Louise Penny has a book nominated too. I’m going to have a particularly hard time voting for only one Best Short Story and one Best Historical Novel. Take a look. The novels are worth picking up, and you can read the short stories at malicedomestic.org/agathas.html
Best Historical Novel
- Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen
- The Gold Pawn by LA Chandlar
- The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
- Turning the Tide by Edith Maxwell
- Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson
Best Short Story
- “All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz
- “A Postcard for the Dead” by Susanna Calkins
- “Bug Appetit” by Barb Goffman
- “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” by Tara Laskowski
- “English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor
Bouchercon is approaching which reminds me that I want to read the books nominated for awards. But first, I wanted to review Marcia Talley’s first book that won the Malice Domestic Grant in 1998. Almost two decades ago, I read this book for the first time. My mom recommended it which was always a thumbs up for me.
This book is the first Hannah Ives mystery. I remember that I wasn’t sure if I could relate to a cancer survivor. She’s had breast cancer and lived to tell the tale. Her thoughts echo the thoughts of all women about appearance, the possibility of reconstructive surgery, to the wig she buys to cover her sparse hair. She’s scarred by ordeal emotionally too which makes her very alive to the reader. Her sensitivity to the world around her and her estranged daughter make Hannah feel responsible when she finds the body of a girl in a well.
The setting is familiar to me because of friends I have who live near the Cheasapeake Bay, yet I had no trouble seeing the setting when I first read this book and was fairly new to Maryland. The sailing culture is a large part of the state which is natural when you consider how large the Bay is. Ms. Talley also uses sailing in the plot – no spoilers here! You’ll have to read the book to see how this fun and quick-moving plot works out. An enjoyable read!
It is a problem, is it not mon ami? Agatha Christie introduces us to Captain Hastings, our master sleuth Hercule Poirot, and our friend Inspector Japp all in one fell swoop.
For some of us the country house is a wonderful setting, giving us a hint of how the war had changed life in England. It is easy to picture the rolling grounds, the ancient house, and the nearby village. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s influence is also evident in the creation of the somewhat dense Captain Hastings acting as Hercule Poirot’s Watson. But Christie’s story and characters are uniquely hers.
If you’ve never read her first Poirot novel, this is a must read. Not only does it set the stage for all of his future exploits, the book is a masterful puzzle starting with a locked room, plenty of clues and red herrings, and suspects with motives and opportunities.
I thought for sure this author had a few books under her belt, that’s how well this is written. It appears though, that this is Arlen’s first book. Well done! I usually think that switching points of view is a mistake. Arlen does this deftly using the Lady of the house and her housekeeper. As all of us who enjoy an occasional historical novel know those of different classes in this time period usually did not talk with each other, at least not in an honest straight forward way. That is one of the charms of this book. The reader is always wondering how far the two main characters will go outside their comfort zones to solve the murder of the very unlikeable nephew in the book.
The writing style of Arlen is wonderful. I would give her book top honors in all categories except the ending made me wonder what Arlen had not said. After I read that the manuscript had been much longer at one point, I understood that she did have to cut quite a bit to bring the manuscript down to a more reasonable length. Perhaps it should have been left at its original length? I look forward to her next book.
Here’s another finalist for a historical mystery Agatha. Bowen provides us with a lively, fast paced mystery starring Lady Georgianna Rannoch who is thirty-fifth in line for the British throne. While Georgie is staying with Princess Marina of Greece (future wife of Prince George) a murder outside Kensington Palace puts her in danger. There’s also a lovely little romance with its ups and downs between Georgie and her mysterious beau Darcy.
The novel starts off at a good pace and keeps it up through the end making it a very quick read. Sometimes, I wished she would have slowed it down a bit. Her heroine however, is a charming, usually broke, lady that is fun to read about. The humor is taken a little bit too far when the broken English of a Countess is part of the jest. All in all a good read from an experienced author who allows few opportunities for the reader to lay down the book.
In this Agatha-nominated historical mystery, Lucy Campion who was previously a maid is now a printer’s apprentice. In 1667, women were starting to be accepted in other occupations after the Great London Fire and the Plague. Her self-confidence make her the perfect amateur sleuth. In this her third novel, Calkins weaves a mystery with just the right amount of complexity against a lush historic background.
It’s not surprising that she is a serious student of history. While it takes a while to accumulate all the information at the beginning of the book, Calkins creates a completely believable world which becomes transparent as Lucy comes closer to solving the mystery. This is a definite must read.
Hank has another great read in her Agatha nominated What You See. Boston unemployed news reporter, Jane Ryland is trying to balance her personal and professional life while embroiled in the murder of a John Doe across from City Hall and the possible kidnap of her sister’s soon-to-be step daughter. The love of her life police detective Jake plays a major role in the book as he investigates the death of John Doe. There are plenty of twists that keep the reader turning the pages of this mystery with the fun pace of a thriller. This Sisters in Crime past president uses all of her many skills to surprise us in a very good way. The book is a definite must read. What You See will give all of the wonderful writers nominated this year a run for the coveted award.