Monday, January 9, 2017

#2 - Peril at End House, by Agatha Christie

For me, comfort reading gets no better than Agatha Christie. I first fell in love with her books in ninth grade, and went through such a prolonged spurt of reading them that a not-particularly-close friend called my house one time, and when my mom answered, my caller said, "What, is he off reading some Agatha Christie book again?" The fact that her books are old-fashioned bothers me not a whit (heck, they were old-fashioned for half of the time she was writing them), except for when the casual racism and antisemitism of pre-war Britain pops up (it does seems to have largely been extinguished in her post-war work). My love of Agatha Christie is so great that in my second year of teaching, I forced four classes of Brooklyn teenagers circa 2009 to read the Murder of Roger Ackroyd - and they liked it. A few years back, I decided I might as well keep track of all the Christies I have and haven't read, with an eventual aim of meandering my way through the trails of upperclass British corpses and completing her oeuvre. 

My most recent foray into Christie reunited me with everyone's favorite Belgian with an egg-shaped head, Hercule Poirot. Poirot, in turn, is reunited with Captain Hastings, his sounding board and the stand-in for the confused reader whenever Poirot finally solves the crime. (I think I'm up to about 40 Christies read at this point and I have never - not once - figured one of these things out.) 

Reviewing the particulars of any individual Christie is really beside the point, but this falls soundly into the category of Very Good Christie for me. (Christie books come in three varieties for me: Stone Cold Classics, Very Good, and Very Meh.) The imperiled character is a young woman named Nick Buckley, proprietress of the titular End House. She is a thoroughly modern young woman of the 1930s (Christie did write modern characters for a time!), and, in another very nice touch, is engaged to a young man who is trying to complete a Charles Lindbergh-esque feat of aviation before he is lost at sea. There's even an attempt made on someone's life involving chocolates filled with an overdose-inducing quantity of cocaine!

As I said, it's not a Stone Cold Classic, but as far as Very Good Christie goes, I'd put it up there with A Murder Is Announced. Sometimes, the best parts of a Christie novel are nothing to do with the crime, but are the parts that reflect the massively changing British society that they take place in. A Murder is Announced was one of Christie's first post-war books, when the entire idea of a servant class was basically thrown out the window once and for all. Similarly, Peril at End House features independent women, aviators when that actually meant something, and a not-really divorced woman with a new lover. For having a reputation of being old-fashioned, I have a feeling this was not the typical stuff of large circulation books in England in 1932.

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