Monday, March 30, 2020

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie published 1934 is the second book I have read for the March Mystery Madness Challenge and it also fulfills the 2020 Back to the Classics category - choose an adapted classic.  I enjoyed this mystery a great deal and I am looking forward to watching Kenneth Branagh film version of the novel when it airs tomorrow.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  A passenger, Mr. Ratchett, is murdered on the Orient Express as it travels through Europe.  Mr. Ratchett is killed in the middle of the night in his sleeping car but due to a snow storm the train is stopped and whoever killed him is unable to escape.  The first class section where the murder occurred is closed off from the rest of the train so the killer must be one of the thirteen passengers residing in first class.  But who and why?

Agatha Christie's legendary Detective, Hercule Poirot, is on the train travelling to a business appointment in London.  Assisting him in solving the murder will be his friend M Bouc, an exec with the Orient Express Company and Dr. Constantine who agrees to fill in as a coroner.  These three will interview the passengers, search luggage and debate back and forth as to who the killer might be but as always its Poirot's instincts that are worth following.

One of the problems I have found with reviewing a mystery is that to really discuss this book properly and quote the passages I would like to quote I would need to give away too many clues.  Suffice it to say that if you have never read Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express is a very good place to begin.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green

Anna Katharine Green (1846 -1935) has been called the Mother of American Detective Fiction and during her lifetime she was the author of over thirty mystery novels.  Ms. Green's most famous novel, The Leavenworth Case, published 1878 would go on to sell over a million copies.  I first heard about this book a few years back in the pages of Ellery Queen Magazine and how The Leavenworth Case was a novel not to be missed.  I heartily agree.  It's a suprisingly good mystery and a very good novel period.

The book is set in New York City during the 1870's.  The plot centers around Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy businessman who is murdered late at night in his study.  The mansion in which he lived is locked from the inside each evening and not opened until the next morning and so whoever the killer is came from inside the house and there are a range of suspects.

Living with Mr. Leavenworth for example are his two nieices Mary and Eleanor Leavenworth.  Mary and Eleanor are cousins, their respective parents having died in the same accident years ago.  Mr. Leavenworth has been raising them ever since and he has been a good father to these girls who are now young women.  But there has always been a caveat.  Mr. Leavenworth made it clear from the start that Mary Leavenworth would inherit his entire fortune. It's a cruel thing to do to Eleanor but she has never complained.  As for Mary she has grown up spoiled, taught to value money too highly.  Both women therefore have motive.  Has Eleanor been harboring a supressed rage all these years over having been left out of the will?  Is Mary afraid the will is about to be changed?

There were other people in the house as well that night.  Truman Harwell, Mr. Leavenworth's personal secretary.  Hannah the maid who flees the house the morning after the murder.  Thomas Dougherty the Butler and Henry Clavering who was seen visiting the house the day of the murder.  Narrating the Leavenwort Case is a young attorney by the name of Mr. Raymond who joins forces with Detective Ebenezer Gryce who would appear in a number of Anna Katharine Green's novels.  Gryce is an unassuming sort of man but he misses nothing.

In some ways The Leavenworth Case might seem like a standard mystery but the quality of the writing the characterization and how well plotted this book is make this novel so much more and maybe the biggest mystery is why The Leavenworth Case was allowed to fall into obscurity for so long. 

The Leavenworth Case fulfills two challenges I am taking this year:  March Mystery Madness and the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge - -choose a genre classic.