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Leisure summer reading: Agatha Christie

(Added 13 August 2010)


Image: Vintage Agatha Christie from the World’s Smallest Bookshop, 1966, 1969 Book Club Editions, Third Girl jacket cover design by Salem Tamer

Whether portraying dedicated sleuths like the foppish mustachioed Belgian dandy M. Poirot, or amateur observers of human nature like the deceptively muzzy Ms. Marple, for adventure with charm and subtle social commentary, Agatha Christie (15 September 1890 –12 January 1976) does not disappoint. In the words of American mystery writer Hugh Pentecost, “Like good wine, Agatha Christie improves with age. When she writes formula, it’s the best formula; when she writes off the track, she keeps you, skillfully, from seeing around the curves.”

An excerpt from Third Girl dust jacket description and Chapter 14 below:

Dust jacket description
“then what do you mean by saying she is the third girl?” Mrs. Ariadne Oliver snatched up the Times brought it to Poirot. “Here you are – look. ‘Third girl for comfortable second floor flat, own room, central heating, Earl’s Court.’ ‘Third girl wanted to share flat. Five guineas own room.’”

Two friends, Mrs. Oliver explained, would advertise for a third girl to help with the rent. And it is the “third girl”, Norma Restarick, who is subject of the baffling mystery that here engages Hercule Poirot…

Chapter 14, page 145
He looked at her considering. Mrs. Oliver in her own opinion was famous for her intuition. One intuition succeeded another with remarkable rapidity, and Mrs. Oliver always claimed the right to justify the particular intuition which happened to be right!

And yet one shared very often with animals the uneasiness of a dog or cat before a thunderstorm, the knowledge that there is something wrong, although one does not know what is wrong.

“When did it come upon you, this fear?’
“When I left the main road,” said Mrs. Oliver. “Up till then it was all ordinary and quite exciting and — yes, I was enjoying myself, though vexed at finding how difficult it was to trail anybody.”

She paused, considering. “Just like a game. Then suddenly it didn’t seem so much like a game, because they were all queer little streets and rather broken-down places, and sheds and open spaces being cleared for buildings — oh, I don’t know, I can’t explain it. But it was all different. Like a dream really. You know how dreams are, they start with one thing, a party or something, and then suddenly you find you’re in a jungle or somewhere quite different — and it’s all sinister.”

“A jungle?’ said Poirot. “Yes it is interesting you should put it like that. So it felt to you as though you were in a jungle and you were afraid of a peacock?”
“I don’t know that I was especially afraid of him. After all, a peacock isn’t a dangerous sort of animal. It’s — well, I mean I thought of him as a peacock because I thought of him as a decorative creature. A peacock is very decorative, isn’t it? And this awful boy is decorative too.”

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