Book of the Week, detective, mystery, Series I love

Book of the Week: The Mystery of Three Quarters

This week’s BotW is the new Poirot continuation by Sophie Hannah – which happened to come out last week too so for once my review is actually timely!  Regular readers will know that I love Golden Age mystery novels (witness last week’s reading list which included the complete short stories of my beloved Peter Wimsey and a Patricia Wentworth novel) and also that I have a mixed record with continuations of beloved series, so the fact that this is popping up here today is Good News.

Cover of The Mystery of Three Quarters

As he returns home from lunch one day Hercule Poirot is accosted by an irate woman who threatens him with a lawsuit because she has received a letter from him accusing her of murder.  Poirot has written no such letter but is unable to convince her.  Soon after a young man appears who has received a similar letter.  The next day two more strangers proclaim their innocence to him after receiving letters.  So who is writing the letters in Poirot’s name – and why are they so determined to accuse people of the murder of Barnabas Pandy?This has got an intriguing premise and a solution that I didn’t see coming. I read this across the course of 24 hours and was annoyed that it was over so fast. This is the third Poirot novel from Hannah and I have read the first (The Monogram Murders) but not the second (The Closed Casket) and reading my review of the first one back, I had some concerns about whether it felt enough like a Poirot story – and this one pretty much did to me. I think making the narrator not Poirot is a very good decision – as is not falling back on Poirot clichés like “leetle grey cells”. And as the narrator is a Hannah invention rather than Captain Hastings that also means that there’s freedom to analyse Poirot’s quirks and processes in a different way rather than trying to continue in someone else’s voice.

And maybe that’s why this works for me more than most of the Wimsey continuations do. I’m yet to read an Albert Campion continuation so I’ll see how one of those falls between these two continuations to work out whether that is what makes continuations work better for me. And after this I’ll definitely be looking out for The Closed Casket to read when I get a chance.

My copy of The Mystery of Three Quarters came via NetGalley, but you should be able to find it in hardback in all good bookshops and on Amazon as well as in Kindle and on Kobo. The paperback isn’t out until next year – although I suspect this will have an airport paperback edition if you’re yet to go on your holidays.

Happy reading!

books, Chick lit, cozy crime, historical, reviews, romance

Summer Reading 2015 Recommendations

Here it is at last – Verity’s top suggestions for what to read on your holiday. And less than six weeks after my holiday when I started the list of what I wanted to include. Ahem. It has a lot of footnotes (sorry) and I still haven’t got to the bottom of the list of books that I thought I might want to include, so it may yet have a sequel!

The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance by Kirsty Greenwoodª

This was my favourite book that I read on holiday – and not just because the fab Kirsty runs Novelicious (who I also review for).  The Vintage Guide is funny and sweary and perfect and I nearly got sunburnt because I was to distracted by Jessica Beam’s antics.  I laughed and I cried (on the beach – how embarrassing) – and I was rooting her on.  She’s got a lot to figure out and some issues to overcome, but Jess is so easy to identify with.  Everyone’s had similar experiences to some of the stuff that she goes through albeit probably less extreme. Perfect for lazy days on the sunlounger. Amazon* Kindle Kobo

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnettª

This one isn’t out in paperback yet, so it might be one for your e-reader rather than your suitcase, but Laura Barnett’s debut novel is well worth a read.  It’s been hyped as a One Day meets Sliding Doors – and that’s kind of right – except that I liked it much more than I liked One Day – and it’s got three different realities to Sliding Doors’ two. The Versions of Us presents three different futures based on one encounter in Cambridge in the 1950s. For me, the best part of it was that none of the possibilities seemed to be marked out as being the “right” one – all of the different versions felt real – with ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. I’m not usually one for books that have been really hyped – but this one’s worth it. Foyles, Kindle, Kobo

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willigª

Another hardback recent release (I’m sorry) but Lauren Willig’s latest stand-alone book just had to go on this list.  Rachel Woodley infiltrates the Bright Young Things after discovering that her life-story isn’t quite what she thought it was.  If you’re interested in the 1920s, you’ll spot familiar faces as Willig weaves her fictional characters into the real crowd who were racketing around causing chaos and scandalising their parents.  This is less romance than Willig’s other books** – and is the first to be set just in one time period, and it’s engrossing and brilliant.  This one is pricier and harder to get hold of in the UK, although if you’re holidaying in the States you could buy it out there. KindleAmazon, Foyles, Kobo

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

This is new Christie Estate sanctioned Poirot mystery – out now in paperback and which should be easy to get hold of at the airport should you arrive there and discover that you’re short of reading matter.  I enjoyed it – but a week on I’m still trying to work out if it felt like a “proper” Poirot or not.  It certainly helps that Hannah has created herself a new policeman who narrates the story – so the famous Belgian is not always centre stage.  The mystery is well put together and intriguing although I have some of the same reservations about this that did about the Wimsey continuations – but I can’t go into them because it’s a sort of plot spoiler. Never the less it’s a good crime novel set in the Golden Age which will entertain you by the side of the pool. Amazon*, Kindle, Kobo.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

It wouldn’t be a list of recommendations from me without a kids/YA recommendation – and this time its the latest Wells and Wong mystery.  Both the previous books in the series have already appeared on the blog (first one, second one) and book 3 is Steven’s homage to Murder on the Orient Express.  Yes I know, two Poirot-y books in one post, sue me. One of our regular treats when I was little was to borrow the audiobook of David Suchet reading Murder on the Orient Express from the library to listen to in the car on the way to our holiday – and my parents had their first date at the Peter Ustinov film version, so it has a very special place in my heart.  Stevens’ story has enough nods to the Poirot for those who’ve read it to get the warm fuzzies inside, but still manages to be totally its own book too.  One for the late primary kid with a good reading age, or lower secondary kids and of course for grown-ups who are children at heart. Foyles, Waterstones*** Kindle, Kobo

So there you have it.  My favourite holiday books for your summer break.  Or your next holiday if you’ve already been and got back! Hopefully there’s something here that appeals to you.  And sorry again for the footnotes, but the history graduate in me finds it the best way to deal with my stream of consciousness ramblings!

ª Books with an ª next to their titles came to me via NetGalley.  The others I bought for myself, with actual, proper money.

*By a fortuitous chance, several of my picks are in Amazon’s 3 for £10 promotion – so I’ve put amazon links to those (rather than Foyles) to help cut the cost of buying my recommendations. If you don’t make it to three on Amazon, recent BotW’s The Cake Shop in the Garden and The Day We Disappeared are also in the promotion, as is the paperback of Marian Keyes’ The Woman Who Stole My Life – a BotW back in November, RJ Palacio’s Wonder (a March BotW) and Graeme Simison’s The Rosie Project which I have raved about plenty and you should have read already!

** Willig’s 12th and final Pink Carnation book has just come out as well – if you haven’t discovered her yet and are looking for a series to binge on on your holiday, they may be a good choice – timeslip historical spy romances – featuring a heroine in Napoleonic France and a modern day American grad student researching her.

***Waterstones have totally championed the Wells and Wong series – so they get a link as well as Foyles.

books, detective, fiction

From Page to Screen: When it works and when it doesn’t!

I always feel a sense of trepidation when I hear that a book or series that I like is being turned into a film or a TV series.  There have been some notable successes, but equally a number of failures too.  When I analyse it, I tend to prefer the adaptations where I’ve read the book after watching the TV show or movie.  So here for your delectation are some of my hits and misses.

Miss Marple

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
To me, Joan Hickson was perfect

I’m fairly sure that I watched the Joan Hickson Miss Marple adaptations before I started reading the books.  I was 10 when I first watched them (as mentioned in my post on Lord Peter Wimsey), twenty years on I still love them wholeheartedly – and actually have a fair few of them on my TiVo box which I watch whilst ironing.  My favourites are Body in the Library, A Murder Is Announced, The 4.50 from Paddington and Nemesis (despite the fact that the murdered girl is called Verity!).  I’ve only seen a couple of ITV’s “Marple” adaptations – and I’ve loathed them – not only do they change the plot and sometimes even the murderer, but they are utterly unnecessary considering the perfection of the 1980s adaptations.

Hercule Poirot

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
David Suchet gets it pretty much spot on

Moving from one Agatha Christie creation to another – I think my first encounter with the little Belgian detective was David Suchet’s audiobook version of Murder on the Orient Express, although I may have read a book or two first.  I think this means I was predisposed to like his TV version – and I forgive it the tweaks and alterations.  I don’t rewatch these the way I do with the Miss Marples, but if one happens to come on, I won’t turn it off.  I also love the film of Murder on the Orient Express with its starry cast and gorgeous music by Richard Rodney Bennett (if you’ve never heard it, spare a few minutes to watch the wonderful Proms performance below) – a rare occasion of my liking two different adaptations of the same property!

Pride and Prejudice

My much-loved TV tie-in edition of Pride and Prejudice
My much-loved TV tie-in edition of Pride and Prejudice

I started reading the book after I’d watched the first episode of the legendary BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  I’d finished the book by the time the second episode aired.  Because I read it that way around, Ehle and Firth were Lizzie and Darcy in my head from the start – and that’s where so often it goes wrong with adaptations for me – when the actors just don’t look like the image you have in your head of the characters.  I’ve never managed to get past the first 15 minutes of the Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen version – possibly because I’m so attached to the 1995 adaptation and it’s so fixed in my head.

Harry Potter

German hardback edition of Chamber of Secrets
German hardback Harry on Chamber of Secrets doesn’t look like Radcliffe

The “image in your head” issue is at the heart of the problem with Harry Potter.  My sister was very angry when the first film came out – she wasn’t pleased with Daniel Radcliffe, but her bigger problem was Emma Watson – “Hermione’s not meant to be pretty and she’s about as convincingly plain as Rachel Leigh Cook is in She’s All That”.  I agreed – and there are also parts of the books that I’m sentimentally attached to that are left out (the last lines of Prisoner of Azkaban for a start – “He was my mum and dad’s best friend. He’s a convicted murderer, but he’s broken out of wizard prison and he’s on the run. He likes to keep in touch with me, though … keep up with news … check if I’m happy.”).

French editions of Harry potter
The look of the trio definitely “evolves” once the films start

But of course for children reading the book now (or anytime in the last decade) that’s not a problem – you can’t avoid the film versions, so you’re unlikely to have the same strong mental image of what Harry et al look like that those of us who were fans of the books before the movies appeared.  I read Harry in French and German to improve my vocabulary (for degree and A-Level respectively) and it’s noticeable that the cover illustrations of Harry grow more like Daniel Radcliffe as the books go by.  On a side issue, I’m still sad that children now won’t experience Harry we (my sister and I) did – today, if you read the first one and like it, you can read all the way through to the end of the series.  Never again will you have to wait a year to find out what happens next, or worry about how it’ll end.

Phryne Fisher

The cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates
Book Phryne…

Back on the literary adaptations, we move on to the inspiration for this post. I love the Phryne Fisher books – but I have serious issues with the TV adaptations.  I have to try to view them as completely separate entities or I get ragey. Very ragey.  In the books, Phryne is in her late 20s, solves murders and gets a lot of action in the bedroom department.  She has two adopted daughters, Mr and Mrs Butler to run her house, her regular man (or as regular as any) is Lin Chung and she unofficially assists the happily married policeman Jack Robinson.  In the TV series, she still solves murders.  The actress playing Phryne is at least a decade too old (although, to be fair, she is a good actress and does her best), one of her daughters and Mrs Butler have disappeared, Lin Chung appears in one episode (and looks young enough to be Phryne’s son), they’re trying to work up a love interest with Jack Robinson (who is divorced from the daughter of a police bigwig) and Phryne’s lesbian socialist sister has been replaced with Miriam Margolyes as an uptight class conscious aunt.  On the plus side, the costumes and locations are gorgeous, although there have been some really shonky wigs.

Essie Davies as Phryne Fisher
…TV Phryne

I appreciate that for a family audience you can’t get away with what you can in a book, but the two are so different that it sometimes seems that the only thing they have in common is the names of some of the characters!  One of the reasons for my recent Phryne re-read was to banish the memory of the second series of the TV series – which I mostly watched whilst yelling at the TV over the character changes and the narrative alterations, much to the amusement of The Boy.  Still, so far, I’ve managed to keep my own mental image of Phryne going without it being overwritten with the TV version – I credit my rage for this!

 

So, there you have it.  Three good, and two not so good.  A couple of other snapshots for you:  I found the TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale deeply disappointing when we watched it during A-Levels, but I like the first Bridget Jones film (the second was a bit of a let down, but then the book isn’t as good either).  The Boy is a big fan of HBO’s True Blood and I’ve almost finished reading the books.  We have fun comparing the plots of the two – which seem to differ wildly (Typical conversation: Him “Has the governor appeared yet?” Me: “What governor?” Him “He does experiments on Vampires and starts poisoning True Blood”  Me: “That’s not in the book!”).  I’m also working my way through the Inspector Alleyn series – both the books and the TV adaptations (the latter being classic ironing fodder) and the jury is still out on those.

I’ve got the TV version of Tales of the City waiting to be watched next time I do some ironing so that I can see how it compares to the books and I’m currently debating whether to go to see The Fault in our Stars at the cinema – but that’s not so much because I’m worried it’ll upset my mental image of the characters, but because I’m not sure I can handle all that crying again so soon after the book – and this time in public!

If you’ve got any literary adaptations that you love or loathe – or think I ought to watch, leave your comments below!