Tuesday, August 23, 2016

That Was...Objectionable!

EDIT: Welp, note to self, don't copy/paste directly from Google Docs without killing the formatting.

Do I have to explain to anyone who Agatha Christie is?
Image result for the witness for the prosecution
The Queen of Crime (a well-deserved title!) put out many different works showing off how to kill people. She created two of the most famous detectives of all time: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote quite a few non-series things that no one cares about, so I decided to read them myself. The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories contains eleven stories, including one Poirot because the publishers ran out of material (Disclaimer: This is probably not the reason.) The rest are all non-series. Let’s go!

“The Witness for the Prosecution” has a timeless set-up. A man is accused of killing an old woman for money. He tells his lawyer that his wife can give him an alibi. The lawyer is doubtful, because he’s read enough mystery stories to know that wives lie. Sadly for him, not only is she testifying, she’s testifying for, well, guess. This is more of a legal thriller with a tweeeeeest at the end, and the main mystery is it’s baffling popularity.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid story, but I’m honestly wondering who looked at this relatively short story and thought, “We should make a play/movie about this.” Ahh well.

“The Red Signal” is about, er, well, ahah...I’m not sure. There’s a séance, some girl the protagonist likes who might be crazy, something about “red signals” as a sign for danger, and the obligatory murder, but the story kinda lurches getting from one topic to another. There is neat bit where Christie misdirects both the narrator and the reader about the topic of a conversation, which I thought was neat.

After that, Christie put that story away, got out the hard drugs, and did “The Fourth Man,” Stephen King style. Three men, one representing the church, one science, and one the law, end up in a train car and discuss a woman who claimed to have split personalities. Of course, there’s a fourth man in the car, and he has a far more bizarre-and disturbing-truth to tell. It’s a truth that’s very...different from the normal Agatha fair. I liked it, though it’s definitely the oddball here.

Also, was this based on a real thing? Because I swear I recall reading about a woman similar to the one mentioned here.

After coming off of the high, Christie turned her attention to this next story, “S.O.S” It’s the stuff of good thrillers. A motorist is forced to take shelter in an isolated house, and while the family treats him warmly, the “S.O.S” written in the dust of his room tells him that things are afoot. What things? Danged if I know, I've read this story many times, and I still don’t understand the conclusion at all. I get the gist of it, but the protagonist seems to pull it out of him bum, saying that he figured it out from what a person told him. But this person didn’t tell him that, they told him the exact opposite. And the reason for the S.O.S is decidedly meh.

Still nursing a headache, Christie next gives us “Wireless”. A woman gets a wireless radio from her nephew, which is all well and good, until her dead husband starts using it, to go all, “Yeah, I’m gonna pay a visit.” It’s a standard story, and the reveal of who was phone isn’t going to shock anyone. Twist at the end is a little understated.

Next on the list is the story “The Mystery of the Blue Jar.” A young man trying (and failing) to master his golf swing hears a cry of “Murder!” No matter how hard he tries, he can only find a young woman who denies making the cry or hearing it. Needless to say, this causes some good old fashioned paranoia, and it all seems to have something to do with a blue jar. A decent story, with a good twist.

“Sing a Song of Sixpence” is one of the more classical stories in this collection. A lawyer is called upon by an old lover of his to look into the murder of her aunt, who got whacked on the head a few times. In normal Christie tradition, suspicion is flying around between family members, and it’s up to an outsider to resolve it. It’s actually a borderline locked room, as the maid of the house heard no one moving around the house. The solution nudges the fairness boundary slightly, but not much.

“Mr. Eastwood’s Adventure” is a bit of light comedy. The titular Mr. Eastwood, a struggling author, is fighting for a plot to his newest novel “The Adventure of the Second Cucumber” when he gets a Mysterious Phone Call (™) from a Mysterious Lady (™) provoking him to set off for adventure in the grand manner. Though really, it’s a funny story with a kick in the end, though it’s a kick that’s already been used once in this collection.

Next up, we have “Philomel Cottage” which is more domestic suspense, written for ladies who think that they’re husband is bad enough, at least he isn’t planning on killing them. (Disclaimer: If your husband is planning on killing you, I sincerely apologize for the offense. You should also stop reading a sub-par blog and call the police.) Christie’s take on the legend of Bluebeard, it’s a well-done story, though predictable in almost all respects. The way the protagonist deals with her husband is clever though.

“Accident” is about a former inspector who sees a woman who he knows was involved in a certain “accident” with her previous husband. And her step-father. And probably this new sap too. A decent reverse whodunit with a tweeeeest.

The last story here, “The Second Gong” brings out Poirot, mustache and all, to the estate of one Hubert Lytcham Roche. Poirot is supposed to look into some financial irregularities, but ends up arriving just as his client locks himself in his office and shoots himself. Of course, Poirot goes and shows murder, in this shorter version of Dead Man’s Mirror. Which is slightly worse than this story, with a far too large cast. This is a simpler mystery, but it works much better.

All in all, a decentish collection of short suspense and mystery stories. Sadly, this is more a collection of interesting hooks than full stories, and one often ends up thinking that they could have been fleshed out a bit. At least, I did anyway, and since I’m writing the review, that’s the opinion that gets known.

Next time, either a look even further back into the history of the mystery, or a novel, for once. And one written in the last fifty years too.