Monthly Archives: July 2014

Review: Appointment with Death

Appointment with Death
Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poirot’s ongoing Middle East holiday is interrupted by the murder of an elderly woman who had been traveling with her family. Even stranger, nobody, not even her own daughter, seems sorry that she’s dead. And strangest of all: some days before the murder, Poirot overheard a young man talking about how “she’s got to be killed.” Now it’s up to Poirot to seek out and bring to justice the murderer of this unlamented victim–within 24 hours.

This novel is a bit unusual in that it begins not with Poirot’s perspective, nor with that of an associate, but with the perspective of Sarah King, a fellow holidaymaker who has her own reasons for not being completely honest with Poirot.

Christie once again takes the opportunity to sprinkle allusions to Poirot’s earlier cases, with Colonel Race and the events of Cards on the Table again being mentioned, as well as an allusion to The A.B.C Murders, the events of which one of the characters recalls following in the newspapers. Interestingly, the ending of Murder on the Orient Express is mentioned by one of the characters, including details which would have been known only to someone who had been there–leaving Poirot to wonder from whom the character in question might have obtained that information.

Although the reddest of red herrings are on display in this work (and, alas, still no Hastings), Appointment with Death kept me guessing up until the end, and has perhaps the happiest ending of any of the Poirot novels I’ve read so far. Highly recommended.

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Review: League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth

League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth
League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For years, the NFL has known that many retired players were suffering terrible mental and physical deterioration; however, the culture of football glorifies hard hits and “toughness,” so the suffering those brutal hits caused has been covered up. A few brave medical professionals began studying brains of dead players and found a disturbing syndrome attributable to those players’ football careers; unfortunately, the league has ignored some, sought to discredit others, and co-opted a few.

Overall, this was a fascinating read, although I felt very sad about the plight of the former players whose lives have been forever altered through playing a game they loved. I remember watching ESPN reports about the events detailed in this book as they unfolded, and it forever changed my view of football, ruining my enjoyment of the game.

This book should be required reading for all football fans, and especially for parents who send their sons to football practice with dreams of gridiron stardom.

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Review: Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, Hercule Poirot finds himself dealing with murder on what was supposed to be a holiday. Linnet Doyle, the beautiful newlywed heiress, has been murdered on her honeymoon cruise in Egypt. The obvious suspect is her husband’s jilted ex-fiancee, but the ex-fiancee has an ironclad alibi, and there’s more than one passenger on the ship with a secret to hide.

This book kept me guessing as to the murderer’s identity, and it was a satisfying read. No Hastings in this one, although Poirot mentions him fondly. For trivia enthusiasts, this novel features a few allusions to earlier Christie works. Most notably, Col. Race, one of the sleuths involved in Cards on the Table helps Poirot with his investigation; in addition, one of the passengers mentions being acquainted with one of the characters from The Mystery of the Blue Train, and Poirot alludes to the events of Murder on the Orient Express.

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Review: The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century

The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century
The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century by Scott Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A contentious election; a nation bitterly divided; a serious wealth gap; fearmongering by political parties; accusations of imperialism accompanying a war in a foreign country that Americans aren’t sure about and dimly understand. These conditions may sound pretty contemporary, but they’re actually over a hundred years old.

It seems incredible that, so soon after the first presidential assassination, that President William McKinley should have been so publicly available–and vulnerable. Yet crowds regularly visited him in the White House and literally gathered on his front lawn in Ohio as he gave campaign speeches. After a speech in Buffalo, New York, McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, a young man who had tried, and failed, to impress famous anarchists with his desire for violent action. The story of how each man’s individual journey led him to Buffalo that day is a fascinating one, and the activities of each of them resonate to this day.

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Review: Murder in the Mews

Murder in the Mews
Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hercule Poirot solves four different cases in the short stories chronicled here. Interestingly, each of the cases deals with how appearances can be deceiving. Fans of Captain Hastings should take note that Hastings does not appear in any of these, although Inspector Japp does put in an appearance. Also recommended are the excellent television dramatizations of these stories, which take some minor liberties with plot details (not least involving Hastings and Japp.)

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Review: Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby
Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyone who knows me knows that The Great Gatsby is one of my very favorite books. I absolutely love the fresh look Careless People brings to the well-worn mythology surrounding Gatsby and its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. This careful analysis of Fitzgerald as a writer immersed in the milieu of 1920s America and Europe amazingly finds new ground to cover thanks to author Sarah Churchwell’s use of many primary sources, including newspapers and magazines of the time.

Careless People uses as its framework a cryptic list Fitzgerald scribbled into the back of a novel he owned near the end of his life. From this list, Churchwell gives us nothing less than a fascinating window into Fitzgerald’s life and times, including newspaper stories of a lurid double-murder that surely would have caught Fitzgerald’s eye. The Hall-Mills double murder, which occurred in 1922 (the year in which Gatsby was set) had as its victims an adulterous couple: a church rector married to a wealthy woman and his lover, a restless, ambitious woman from his congregation who was married to a drab, unsuitable man. The crime was never solved, likely thanks to poor investigative techniques and a failure to secure the crime scene.

Churchwell points out how telling details of the Hall-Mills murder may have found their way into Fitzgerald’s subconscious and therefore, into the text of Gatsby, which also ends in the murders of two adulterers. Along the way, the reader learns more about the Jazz Age and the romantic and social entanglements of its beautiful and doomed literary figures as they waltzed their way towards the precipice of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Very highly recommended.

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