Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Parker Pyne Investigates - Agatha Christie

Parker Pyne Investigates is more a series of short stories than one novel, featuring Mr Parker Pyne, an ex-statistican who now consults for a living. He claims not to be a detective, and in fact he's almost the opposite of a detective – people come to him unhappy from insecurity in their marriage, dissatisfaction with their lifestyle, or simply out of boredom – and he secretly engineers events which push them in the direction of becoming happier.

The first half of the book has a collection of these 'consultation' stories in London, but the second half follows Mr Parker Pyne on a series of travels around the Middle East, Egypt and Greece, in which he finds himself reluctantly pulled into playing the detective even on holiday.

As a character Parker Pyne feels like a cross between Poirot and G K Chesterton's Father Brown. His apparently haphazard methods and understanding, stolid manner almost always lead to him succeeding somehow, and he takes success or the occasional failure with the same amiable placidity.

This collection of short stories feels almost like an artist's sketchbook, where an idea or concept for one of Christie's more complex plots is briefly sketched out and played with to explore its potential. The stories are amusing, ironic and full of trademark twists and good-humoured melodrama.

Overall, a light, pleasant read for any mystery fan.

Next up: Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

Rather longer than the previous novels (at nearly 750 pages in my edition), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest finishes off Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. I don't want to give spoilers for The Girl Who Played with Fire, but I will say that we begin this novel with Salander stuck in a hospital bed and awaiting trial for murder.

Of necessity the majority of the action is done by the other characters in this novel, although Salander proves exceptionally resourceful even from a secure hospital room. Blomkvist races to uncover the truth about Salander and her father, while an underground Swedish secret services cell desperately tries to get her committed once again in order to cover up her father's past crimes.

Once again Larsson's style is clear, direct and gripping. Action and subterfuge merge as we follow the manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres of the opposing sides, and the emotional and moral ambiguities add a refreshing sense of realism. There is no theatricality about the “bad guys'” point of view sections, only a feeling of people with a different sense of loyalty and priorities. Again the only negative I have, especially having read the trilogy spaced out over several years, is that I found the extensive network of minor characters and their relationships and pasts difficult to recall at times.

The frantic action leads up to the culmination of the trilogy, Salander's trial to try to prove her sanity and innocence once and for all. All the strands carefully woven through the series are pulled together to form a very satisfying legal and personal conflict between Salander and her nemesis Teleborian, who was responsible for her original committal in a psychiatric unit as a child.

This was a gripping, addictive novel – I can't tell you the amount of times I meant to stop reading and just had to read one more chapter. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is a fast-paced story full of big personalities and complex intertwined schemes, coming together to form a tense and dramatic climax.

Next up: Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie