Everyone is a potential murderer…

Today’s review: Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Cover of Agatha Christie’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Author: Agatha Christie

Publisher: HarperCollins

Released: 1975 (originally written in the 1940s during the Blitz)
Number of pages: 224
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller/ Classic
Series: Hercule Poirot (#39)

The house guests at Styles seemed perfectly pleasant to Captain Hastings; there was his own daughter Judith, an inoffensive ornithologist called Norton, dashing Mr Allerton, brittle Miss Cole, Doctor Franklin and his fragile wife Barbara , Nurse Craven, Colonel Luttrell and his charming wife, Daisy, and the charismatic Boyd Carrington. So Hastings was shocked to learn from Hercule Poirot’s declaration that one of them was a five-times murderer. True, the aging detective was crippled with arthritis, but had his deductive instincts finally deserted him?

The novel features Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings in their final appearances in Christie’s works. It is a country house novel, with all the characters and the murder set in one house. Not only does the novel return the characters to the setting of her first, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but it reunites Poirot and Hastings, who last appeared together in Dumb Witness in 1937. It was adapted for television in 2013.

Goodreads

It seems that age and a life of crime and thrills has finally caught up with the great Hercule Poirot. Reduced to a wheelchair and grievously ill, Poirot returns to the guest house at Styles, wherein he solved his first murder with Captain Arthur Hastings, apparently in order to rejuvenate his health. Hastings arrives to visit Poirot upon his request, and would for the next few weeks share accommodation with his daughter Judith Hastings, her boss Doctor Franklin and his unwell wife Barbara, the wealthy Sir William Boyd Carrington, the reserved and secretive Elizabeth Cole, the quiet and observant Norton, the intelligent Nurse Craven, the handsome and dangerous Mr Allerton, and the meek Colonel Luttrell and his overbearing wife Daisy.

It soon becomes obvious to Hastings, however, that Poirot’s visit to Styles is more than a mere health retreat. Once alone, Poirot tells Hastings that one of the guests is a five-times murderer… and they are planning to kill again. With very little clue as to who it could be, Hastings begins to observe all of the guests at Styles, acquainting himself with each of them and learning what he can about their connections to the other guests. Tensions begin to arise when Judith begins to become overly familiar with Allerton, a man to whom Hastings took an instant disliking. Boyd Carrington’s unrequited feelings for Barbara Franklin and her fluctuating moods and state of health begin to create a rift between her and her husband. Daisy Luttrell’s command over her meek and submissive husband makes for an uncomfortable experience for all parties. All the guests tiptoe around each other and interact with carefully-selected words and all the while from his wheelchair or his bed, Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” are hard at work, making connections, doing everything he can to stay on-par with X, Styles’ mystery murderer.

It is here, during his final days, that Poirot is faced with the greatest challenge of his career as he uses all of his power and experience to bring down, in his mind, the perfect murderer. His only hope is that he can do so before another body drops…

If I were to say that I absolutely loved Agatha Christie more than anything else, that would be an understatement. As an avid reader of her Poirot and Marple series’ for years (Poirot being my favourite), Curtain was both brilliant and heart-wrenching. The story was wrought with memories, with frequent references to The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first murder that Poirot and Hastings ever solved together. It was clear that memories of the past is a major theme of this novel, as reflected in the story’s solemn conclusion.

This book was also great for Hastings’ character development. In almost all of the previous Poirot novels, there is particular focus, of course, on Poirot’s methods and actions, with Hastings being a mere observer and re-counter of events as they occur. Seeing as Poirot is essentially out of the picture for much of this book due to his inability to move, Hastings is given a chance to grow and develop as a character. We are given much more insight into his own thoughts and feelings, and his own thought-out observations of certain situations. We get much more information about his relationship with his daughter, who,  the reader discovers, is almost nothing like her father in nature. That said, it is sweet to learn of his protective nature of his youngest daughter, even if his love for her clouds his judgement (quite significantly) at times.

Agatha Christie’s Curtain is a compelling and rather saddening trip down memory lane as we follow the great Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot on one last riveting, edge-of-your-seat, whodunnit mystery. Rich in high class, scandals, and tense undertones, it makes for a perfect lazy weekend read, but fair warning, Poirot fans may want to get the tissues ready.

Rating- 9/10

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WWW Wednesdays- March 11

WWW Wednesdays is an event hosted by Sam at SamAnneElizabeth that asks three questions:

What are you currently reading?

I have just started reading Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons for my English class assignment. The only other Brown book I’ve read before is Inferno, which was absolutely fantastic, so I have high hopes for this one. So far, the book differs quite significantly from the movie (which was a good movie until the ending ruined it), but both are equally as engaging at this point. I’m deliberately leaving The Da Vinci Code until later, because I know that book is Brown’s best and I feel as though it would be unfair to compare it to the rest of the series, which doesn’t quite meet Code‘s standards.

What did you finish reading?

The last book I was reading, I didn’t actually finish. I’ve taken a break from it and I hope to return to it later. I was reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre. I had also been reading this for English, but seeing as I hadn’t read any previous books in the series, I found it hard to follow and there was just so much jargon that would obviously make more sense if I had read the other books. When I have the time, I will return to it, because it is regarded as a modern classic in the crime genre and there’s no way I’m missing out on reading that.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Most of my books will be crime-oriented for the time being, as my focus for English this year is the crime and mystery genre. Next, I’m hoping to look at something like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, or a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery.

What have you guys been reading? Any suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

-Christie 🙂 xx

The Game’s Afoot…

Today’s review: The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes novel

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Cover of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Publisher: Orion Books

Released: 2011
Number of pages: 389
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller/ Historical
Series: Sherlock Holmes by Anthony Horowitz

In freezing London, November 1890, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson receive a man unnerved by a scarred-face stalker with piercing eyes. A conspiracy reaches to the Boston criminal underworld. The whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’ hints at a deadly foe. Authorized by Doyle’s estate.

Goodreads.com

Years after Sherlock Holmes’ death, Doctor John Watson once again puts his pen to paper and begins to write; one final story about his adventures with the great Sherlock Holmes. In November of 1890, London is gripped by a winter colder than any before. Through the snow and the bitter winds, a man hurries to the threshold of 221B Baker Street. Art dealer Edmund Carstairs with him a tale of stolen art and a stalker with a scarred face. In essence, this case seems to be no different to many of the others that Holmes and Watson have worked on together. But when one of Carstairs’ clients is found murdered and one of the Baker Street Irregulars disappears, the case takes a turn for the mysterious and extraordinary.

Suddenly, it seems as though Holmes and Watson are working on two different cases, each as deadly and intriguing as the other. As Holmes and Watson unravel the clues of each case, they find themselves delving deeper into London’s dirty underbelly, where the opium trade has ensnared some of London’s most influential figures and the enigmatic House of Silk is a name mentioned in whispers and cautious glances. As the mystery unfolds, Holmes and Watson must tread lightly, for they find themselves becoming entangled with some of the most dangerous characters in England, and the only way to successfully solve the cases is to proceed with utmost caution and utilise all of the deductive powers available to them… otherwise, they may find their own lives to be in terrible danger.

I have never read Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series and, unlike so many of my friends apparently, I hadn’t actually head of it before (whoops). But I did recognise, with great delight, that Horowitz was the creator of two of my favourite murder mystery shows, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. So when I read in the newspaper that Horowitz was releasing a series of new Sherlock Holmes novels, my reaction was a little mixed. Part of me was delighted. After over 125 years, we’re getting more Sherlock Holmes! And Horowitz’s murder mystery shows are genius, so his books must be awesome!!
But another part of me had it’s trepidations. But… this is Arthur Conan Doyle’s series. This was his legacy. Perhaps it isn’t wise for someone else to touch it…
But despite my conflicting emotions, I knew that I just had to read it and luckily enough, my mum had bought me it for Christmas. Unfortunately, I’ve only gotten round to writing the review now, due to many other school commitments, but I knew I had to get this out before I moved on completely. The next month is going to be especially hectic for me, so I’m going to try and do my best.

I enjoyed Horowitz’s use of imagery and descriptions of the settings within the story. Horowitz was true to the original landscape of the Holmes novels, with plenty of mist-shrouded streets and long dark alleys. There was a good contrast between the class of wealthy Victorian society, and the grimy, dirty lifestyle led by the Irregulars and the poverty of those living in the rougher parts of the city. Horowitz was also successful in displaying how one class was no more better off than the other, a point indicated by the conflict that unfolds within the novel. It was a good, diverse, realistic approach to life in Victorian London.

I felt that the characters were quite well-written, and I could detect a hint of the old Doyle Holmes within Horowitz’s version of the great detective. Watson, I also felt, was given a bit more life than I had felt even in the original series. When separated from Holmes, Watson did not appear completely helpless, as I sometimes felt he was in Doyle’s series. He displayed significantly more independence and initiative, with the ability to think quickly in desperate situations, instead of just being there to observe and occasionally throw in a “but Holmes, however did you deduce that!” where it was due. I was glad for this representation of Watson, as I always knew that his character had much more potential in the original series, and Horowitz reworked him to prove that my belief was true. It was also nice to see some cameos from other characters from the original series, such as Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard. He too seemed to display much more smarts and initiative than in the original series. Compared to Holmes, there was no chance that Watson and Lestrade could compete intellectually, but Horowitz recognised that this did not mean that they possessed no intelligence whatsoever. Lestrade was still subject to a few below-the-belt jibes from Holmes which were quite amusing, but he was able to prove himself as a capable and strong-willed detective.

In terms of the story, this was where I felt a little more let down. For a start, the book was far too long to be considered a reflection of Doyle’s writing, and there were parts where the pace was a bit slow and my interest would wane. As Doyle’s narrator, Watson was always sharp and to the point, more focused on narrating the events as they unfolded, whereas Horowitz’s Watson was more inclined to express his own thoughts and opinions on certain matters. There were also times when I felt that Watson’s monologues and reflections were a bit long-winded and robbed the story of its suspense in some places. Horowitz was however, quite successful in delivering what could be considered a classic whodunit story, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged for the most part and a conclusion that, as well as surprising the reader, ties up the story nicely.

Overall Anthony Horowitz has presented us with, in my mind, a rather satisfactory reboot of a series with a legacy so great that everyone still knows about it over a century after its conclusion. Doyle’s shoes are massive ones to fill, and although the novel doesn’t quite carry the essence of the original series, Horowitz has made a commendable effort to remain true to the the character of the great detective. The result is an enjoyable, mostly engaging story that salutes the legend that Doyle created, but to which Horowitz has added his own creative flair. If anyone were to write another Sherlock Holmes novel, I’m glad it was him.

Rating- 7/10

Beautiful people can do terrible things

Today’s review: Black Ice

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Cover of Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice

Author: Leah Giarratano

Publisher: Random House Australia

Released: 2009
Number of pages: 323
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller
Series: The Detective Jill Jackson series (#3)

Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson is working undercover in Sydney’s murky drug world. Living in a run-down apartment and making unlikely friends, Jill sees first hand what devastation the illegal drugs scene can wreak. Meanwhile Jill’s sister Cassie has a new boyfriend, Christian Worthington. He is one of the beautiful people, rich and good looking with a great job doing pro bono work. But he is also Cassie’s supplier, keeping her drawers filled with cocaine and crystal meth. When Cassie overdoses and is dumped at the hospital her life begins to spiral out of control. Now Jill must try to save her sister without blowing her cover and months of undercover work.

Goodreads.com

For Sydney Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson, life never has a dull moment. For her latest assignment, Jill is working undercover to investigate the city’s dirty underbelly, hoping to uncover a drug network that is aiming to supply street dealers with enough illegal substance to lead them to an early retirement. Posing as society outcast Krystal Peters, Jill is forced to distance herself from her family and friends, knowing that if even the slightest hint that she was an undercover cop got out, the entire operation would fall into ruins. The pressure begins to mount as Jill and her partner Gabriel, posing as Krystal’s boyfriend, work against the clock to gather evidence against notorious drug baron Kasem Nader and bring down his operation. As of this moment, the reputation of the Sydney police department and the future of the city’s drug world rest on their shoulders.

Cassie Jackson is living the high life. A rich, successful model, she surrounds herself with the company of only the highest in society. Her new boyfriend, Christian Worthington, is one of the beautiful people. He is a rich, successful lawyer with a glowing reputation by day, and Cassie’s cocaine and crystal meth supplier by night. But his handsome, friendly face is only a facade that conceals his ice-cold heart and when Cassie overdoses one night, he dumps her at a hospital, naked and afraid. Cassie finds herself at crossroads. She is torn between wanting to do right by her sister, working undercover in the world she lives in, and being forced deeper into the world of wealth and beauty and bags of sparkling crystals.

Seren is finally out of jail, on parole, and ready to start a new life with her son… but there’s one thing she has to take care of first. Working day after day at a slaughterhouse that she despises with every bone in her body, Seren saves every penny, using her wages to pay for a camera, laptop, and new clothes. Seren has a plan. One that involves blackmail. Tricked into carrying drugs by her ex-boyfriend, Seren was caught and spent the entirety of her jail time devising her plan for revenge against the man that landed her there in the first place- Christian Worthington. With her son needing taken care of and her parole officer breathing down her neck, Seren must use all her cunning in order to see her plan through. The future of herself and her son depend on it.

Damien is one of the smartest guys at the Sydney University. Studying for his degree in chemistry, Damien begins to explore his curiosity about just how smart he is- he wants to see if he can cook crystal meth. And he can. Very well. He and his best mate Whitey begin to deal to small groups of people on the university campus. Nothing big, just supplying enough to cover people’s parties or Saturday night outings. Nothing that would draw any attention. But soon, more people are asking, and Damien finds himself with more cash than he can find and excuse for. And then, he draws attention. Kasem Nader arrives at the door of his house wanting to recruit Damien as his new cook. Damien is stuck. He never wanted things to go this far, but he knows that if he backs out now, it will surely end badly for him. Little does he know, his trouble has only just begun.

From inside, outside and above, Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice delves into the dark, dangerous underbelly of the glittering city of Sydney and explores the devastating effects that illegal drugs have on the lives of individuals and those they love.

This book was officially the last one I read in 2014, and I thought it was a pretty good way to end! I haven’t read any of Giarratano’s books before, but when I read in her bio that she is a forensic psychologist with an extensive history of working with the psychologically traumatised and investigating some of Australia’s worst criminals, I knew that I had to give this a read! This book is the third in the Detective Jill Jackson series (which I didn’t know until after I finished the book), but I didn’t really experience much confusion about characters or storylines, as the book recounts a standalone event, and any information about characters in the previous books is touched on briefly.

I myself have been to Sydney a couple of times, and I enjoyed Giarratano’s descriptions of certain parts of Sydney, such as Darling Harbour, the park-lands near the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the shops on Dixon Street, all of which I have been to! I felt that Giarratano was colourful in her imagery and set her scenes very well. Perhaps it was because I had been there already, but I could picture the settings vividly. Giarratano pulls you into the bustling, dazzling life of Sydney, but she is also able to distinguish the lines between the Sydney glamour scene and Sydney’s dirty underbelly very well. As Jill Jackson works her way through some of the seedier parts of town (which, thankfully, I haven’t been to), Giarratano is effective in inducing an air of tension into the scenes. The reader knows that half of the people she talks to are high on drugs, and the unpredictability of their actions has you holding your breath at some points.

As for the story itself, I found it to be quite entertaining most of the way through. There are some books that I just never put down and race my way through them to the end, but unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t boring as such, there were just some moments that I had to will myself a little more to get through. But the action really picked up during Seren and Jill’s action scenes, and it was those chapters I looked forward to the most. Both of them working on either side of the law to bring down the same people could get quite tense. All it would take was one wrong move to bring down the operation.

It was the characters in this book that I loved the most. I absolutely adored all the main characters, Seren in particular. From Giarratano’s writing, it is clear that psychology is incredibly effective when it comes to creating unique and believable characters. And all of those in Black Ice were exactly this. Perhaps because I haven’t read the first two books of the series, but I didn’t hold out much sympathy for Jill’s traumatic past, but in this book when she fought with her sister, I shared in her frustration, and when she was getting too close for comfort undercover, I felt her tense anticipation. I marveled at Cassie’s maturity. Although forced to be by his side, Cassie was still her own woman and wasn’t naive enough to remain constantly dependent on Christian. Although I became frustrated with her at some points, I did develop a level of respect and sympathy for her. Seren was my number 1 gal. I rooted for her the whole time, and I was impressed by her strength of will and her intelligence. She was meticulous in her planning against Christian, but she didn’t become so obsessed with her objective that she neglected her son or her parole terms. Her ability to juggle all of these factors and keep her cool with the risk of being caught by Christian was admirable and thoroughly entertaining to read. Giarratano even took the care to put an exceptional amount of effort into her minor characters such as Damien, with whom I expressed complete sympathy. It’s not every day you come across a book with a repertoire of such unique and realistic characters, and Black Ice is a gold mine.

Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice is a tension-filled, action-packed ride into Sydney’s dark, dirty underworld. It asks how far one would go to ensure the safety of their city, explores the importance of revenge and the price one must pay to achieve it, and highlights how for some, beauty is only skin-deep, and beneath the surface lies something black and cold and sinister.

I would certainly recommend this book to others, especially those who love a good crime thriller. It’s a fun, edgy read that will give you Sydney like you’ve never seen it before.

Rating- 8/10