Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (The Boomerang Clue)

In her Autobiography, Agatha Christie said that her adventure novels, such as The Secret Adversary were easy and fun to write.  Why Didn't They Ask Evans fits this model - it's a quick, lighthearted novel and a week after finishing it, I'd forgotten much of the plot.  Bobby Jones (not that one) and the local doctor hear a scream during a round of golf.  They find a man lying unconscious, having apparently fallen off a cliff.  Dr. Thomas goes for help while Bobby stays with the man who gains consciousness only long enough to say, "Why didn't they ask Evans?"  At the inquest, a Mrs. Cayman identifies the body as that of her brother, but Bobby can't believe that this coarse woman is the girl whose photograph the victim kept in his pocket.  He discusses this with his childhood friend Lady Frances (a/k/a Frankie) and she hatches a plot to discover who the man really is - and, perhaps discover Evans's identity as well.  As I said above, I've already forgotten the identities of both the killer and the victim, but Bobby and Frankie are lively characters and Evans's identity is an amusing twist.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Coming Back

Sharon McCone spent most of her last appearance, Locked In, unable to move or speak after being shot in an apparent robbery.  Coming Back picks up six months later.  Sharon is weak and easily tired, but back to work and chafing against the coddling she's getting from her employees and her husband.  Left with few responsibilities in the office, it's natural that she would take on the odd disappearance of one of her friends from rehab.

When Piper Quinn missed nearly a week of PT, Sharon decided to check up on her.  She saw Piper, apparently drugged and in the care of someone claiming to be Piper's aunt.  But the aunt didn't exist, and when Sharon returned to the apartment, it had been emptied, cleaned and repainted  She called her main operative, Adah Joslin, to follow up, and leaves to follow another lead.   Several hours later, when Adah's partner Craig (also a McCone investigator) realizes that Adah is missing and probably kidnapped, he calls an emergency meeting and the team set out to find Adah - and Piper.  But who would want to kidnap a web designer disabled by a hit-and-run driver?  The solution involves a little too much conspiracy for my taste, but it was well constructed and supported, and I figured it out as it was revealed.

Muller used a multi-narrator technique with Locked In and uses it again here.  The shifting narrators (Sharon, Adah, Craig, Sharon's husband Hy Ripinsky, her nephew/employee Mick Savage, and her friend and office manager Ted Smalley) keep the pace quick by minimizing the exposition.  They also allow us to know these characters more fully than if we'd only seen them through Sharon's eyes.  There's a lot of introspection between, even during, the action scenes and it makes for an interesting novel as well as the literary equivalent of an action movie.  I read Coming Back in a single day, and would have read it in a single sitting if I didn't have to go to work.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography is more of a rambling memoir than a traditional autobiography, and more enjoyable because of that.  A more serious autobiography would probably focus on Christie's career, but the less directed format allowed her to focus on her personal life, and particularly her childhood.  Agatha Miller was born into the last days of a world Jane Austen would recognize, where gentlemen did not earn a living despite their declining investments and a girl might be raised entirely by a nanny and never have a day of formal education and a charming ne'er do well of an older brother might find an acceptable place in the officer corps on his connections.  She looks nostalgically on those times, but as a 21st Century great-granddaughter of a woman "in service," her comments on servants (on one hand, they were professionals; on the other they knew their place and were happier because of it) strike me as a bit odd.  It was an idyllic life, until her father's death left the family in financial straights.  Even then, Agatha seems to have had a "proper" adolescence and debut, traveling to lower-cost resorts where it was possible to live on less than the income from renting out one's home.  She had a few romances before meeting Archie Christie, married and worked in a hospital dispensary during WWI, had a daughter, and began her writing career.

I wonder how hard it was for Christie to discuss her first marriage.  It felt like she was trying to be fair to Archie, but he comes across as a bit self-centered and unreliable.  They were in love, and they went on a year-long trip around the world, but there's a nagging idea that he's going to let her down.  We know that happened - he left her for Nancy Neale while Agatha was mourning her mother's death and single-handedly clearing out her family home, and that led to Agatha's famous disappearance (which she doesn't mention).  Still, I question how reliable of a narrator she is for this part of her life.

Or for any part of her life, really.  Is any memoirist, particularly one who is so vivid of a writer, giving a truly unbiased view of her life?  Another example involves her second marriage to Max Mallowan.  They met when she was invited to visit an archaeological dig; Max was expedition leader Leonard Wooley's protege.  She chronicled their friendship and then romance through a series of trips, but with a fuzzy timeline and leaves the impression that he fell in love immediately and she had no clue.  Once married to Max, she accompanied him on his archaeological digs until WWII when he entered the Army and she once again worked in a hospital dispensary.

Christie wrote her memoir between 1955 an 1965, but it essentially ends before she began writing it, and only casually discusses her career.  Except for the year following the breakup of her first marriage, she apparently found writing easy.  All she needed was a typewriter, a good table, and a few hours of privacy to produce her yearly novels, and when she wanted money for a home improvement or a new car, she'd just sit down and write a short story and send it to a magazine for publication.  She almost dismisses her prolific WWII output by saying that there wasn't much else to do - Max was overseas, her daughter was in Walse, her friends were scattered, and there wasn't much nightlife - and that she wrote two books simultaneously so if she became blocked on one, she could work on the other.  I'd like to read a straight biography of Agatha Christie, particularly one that analyzed her professional life  I don't think, though, that such a book, no matter how informative, would be quite as much fun as her own memoir.