As Brad and I gear up for the comparison of what you — yes, you — decreed the very best individual novels by Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, I thought you may appreciate a bit of reading to get in the appropriate frame of mind (besides the books themselves, I mean…).
First up, for context, my feelings on the opening chapter of Death on the Nile…
…and Brad’s response.
Then, remind yourselves of the books in question by reading the reviews of the fine, intelligent, informed ladies and gentlemen who make up our crime and punishment-obsessed corner of the internet:
Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie
Mike @ Only Detect: Christie, instead of delivering a full-bodied whodunit, applies her formidable powers of deception to the mechanics of the initial crime (two further killings come later) and to its psychology. The tangible clues that occupy Poirot’s attention, ranging from a bullet-riddled stole to a splash heard in the nighttime, are numerous, intriguing, and ultimately related to one another in brilliantly complex ways. Less tangible but equally salient are the signs left by the workings of human passion. Indeed, the passions that Christie conjures up for Poirot to explore are as ancient and enduring as the Sphinx, as the Pyramids of Giza, as the Nile itself.
Les Blatt @ Classic Mysteries: Agatha Christie traveled extensively in the Middle East with her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, and several of her best mysteries are set in that part of the world. I’d certainly rate Death on the Nile as being among her best. The book opens with several chapters set in England, where some of the relationships are laid out for readers – we will learn how Linnet Ridgeway married Simon Doyle, its effect on Jackie de Bellefort – and we will also learn something of the other people who will wind up involved (in the second, and larger, part of the book set in Egypt) in the tragedies on the tourist steamer.
Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel: The line at the heart of this mystery is so simple – nothing to do with the murder itself. Of course it’s hard to hint at what I mean here, due to the old “no spoilers” idea. It’s to do with the drinks. That’s probably vague enough for the poor unhappy few who haven’t read this one.
The plot does a very good job of not falling into Christie’s most often repeated tricks. OK, arguably, one of her biggest tricks is at the centre of it, but she does a very good job of hiding it this time. There’s a lot to work out, but even if you guess the killer, explaining exactly what happened is not an easy task.
TomCat @ Beneath the Stains of Time: I simply marveled at recognizing all the carefully planted clues, both physical and psychological ones, and it’s almost inconceivable that anyone could miss them when you know how obvious they actually are, but that’s the craft of the mystery novelist for you – and Christie was at the very top of the game. I always thought of Death on the Nile as one of the grand whodunits, but I think I appreciate it now more than I did back then when I read it for the very first time.
He Who Whispers (1946) by John Dickson Carr
Ben @ The Green Capsule: Carr immediately sets a strong tone, starting out with a meeting of the mysterious Murder Club; a secret society at which stories of nefarious crimes are shared. The speaker on this occasion recounts the tale of a past murder in France that took place under impossible circumstances. A man is stabbed with a sword cane while alone at the top of a tower. The tower, and its only exit, is in clear view of a number of witnesses, yet no one is seen entering or exiting.
Sergio @ Tipping My Fedora: Let me say that I flat-out loved this book! It is an ultra typical Carr extravaganza involving an impossible crime, intimations of the supernatural, an eerie depiction of pre-war France, an incredibly evil murder method inspired by Italian occultist Cagliostro, an apparently ‘bad’ woman who the author refuses to judge, and it also includes a fascinating depiction of London’s Soho and the underground system immediately after the war.
Curtis Evans @ The Passing Tramp: [T]he character interest is arguably the strongest element of the book. Concerning the murder puzzle, I would think many readers might identify the culprit of the book’s crimes (hey, I did), though the mechanics of the tower murder and the motivation behind it may well prove elusive. They are quite deftly clued.
Moira Redmond @ Clothes in Books: My goodness John Dickson Carr could write a book that would keep you reading. They are short and to the point, and if you think a chapter is fading away with people saying let’s go home, or let’s go to bed, you can be sure it will end with a smothered cry, or ‘It was the sound of a pistol-shot.’
Noah Stewart @ Noah’s Archives: For me — and I know I differ from almost everyone on this — the vampire element just doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s something about me personally, but it was perfectly clear to me from the outset that the crime was not committed by someone with magical powers and so the reader had to look at what actually happened without JDC in the background making moaning noises and saying, “Oooooo, scary stuff over here!”. The puzzle is clever, the writing is good, it’s just this particular volume didn’t work for me from the get-go because I didn’t believe the premise.
The post itself is coming soon — Saturday, all things being well — and will contain full spoilers, remember, so be prepared…