The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie ( novelized by Charles Osborne )

downloadThis is a novelization by Charles Osborne of a play by Agatha Christie of the same name . This is my first audio book by the  ” inimitable ” Hugh Fraser as a lady had described the narrator in her comment . This was my introduction to Hugh Fraser and I am not aware of his reputation .

( Just now googled to the person who has been praised to the skies  for the narration of an audio book – if there are any Hugh Fraser fans , please put down my ignorance to having very little zero idea about actors from other countries  who had started their careers  before 1990 s  . . . Can ‘ t say I know several from Bollywood also . . )

* Review starts here *

Plot summary :

Michael Starkwedder has run his car into a ditch on a foggy night . He visits a nearby house in the isolated spot where he finds the dead body of an invalid man and a woman who holds a gun and confesses to the murder . He gets to know that the couple are the Warwicks – Richard Warwick , an ex big – game hunter and his wife ,  Laura Warwick . On getting to know more about Richard Warwick , Starkwedder decides that a beautiful woman like Laura should not languish in prison even if she had committed the crime .

So , he masterminds a drama , for the benefit of the police and the other inmates of the house . Laura goes with his plan and they lay the blame upon a man named MacGreggor from Richard ‘ s past , whose son had been run over by Richard .

So , what happens next when the police come into the picture ? Do they discover the drama being staged by the duo and unmask the real killer ? Or do Laura Warwick and Michael Starkwedder dupe the police also successfully ,  as they did the other inmates of the house ?

My thoughts on the book : 

Halfway through the book , having read several Christie creations over the years , I had actually predicted who the murderer was correctly except that I fell for the red – herrings quite badly when they came . However , with the big reveal scene , Christie again managed to surprise me with the string of events  . Charles Osborne has nailed the Christie tone – the narrative could have been from Christie ‘ s pen for a reader who is not aware of the fact that is a novelization of Christie ‘ s play by another  writer [ Osborne has however retained the dialogues from Christie ‘ s script for the play ] . With multiple suspects for whom Christie has supplied with enough motives to kill the victim ,  the reader is once again treated to a solidly plotted closed – circle mystery from Christie .

Yes , the narration was really good by Hugh Fraser . . . With just an audio recording time of 3:31:26 , it can be easily completed with a single sitting . The voices of the different characters were distinct that the reader would have had  no difficulty in identifying which character was speaking , even if the man had read the script of the play . . . On the whole , it was a very satisfying first – time audio – book experience  .

However there are a few observations I would like to record :

  • Only Christie ‘ s characters are daredevils who are game enough for an entanglement with the police to the extent that he is ready to manufacture evidences and fabricate stories because he wants to get a suspect off the police radar and SUCCEEDS in doing so easily  .  Is this the author taking a sly dig at the competency of the police force ?
  • A random stranger becomes  almost a part of the murder victim ‘ s family during the investigation  , because he had witnessed a man running from the house in the dark leaving behind the murder weapon  . . . ( I mean , why would the police detain a man for more than a day if he had not seen the face of the murderer except for procuring the murder weapon dropped by the murderer ? Why doesn ‘ t he get into the car once his questioning is over and leave the place ?  )  . I could not come to terms that a man easily becomes a guest in a house  and the police not getting suspicious about it . . . Again , it boils down to the same question : Is this the author taking a sly dig at the competency of the police force ?

Scenes like these are somewhat fantastic and would have been trashed if it had been written by another writer who does not have Christie ‘ s reputation . He or she would be told off as a writer who manufactures fantastic scenarios to drive the plot . But for Christie , the readers are happy not to question any of the events and allow her to tell the story her way . This is not an isolated instance of some fantastic – plot – elements inclusion , but still , Christie ‘ s unequaled storytelling  and the way she keeps the readers  guessing till the last  15 minutes never let her down .

Rating : 3. 5 / 5

If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

For those who want to check out the audio-book , here is the link

Until the next review then . . .

 

 

Book review : 10 Minutes 38 seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

download (3)I had guessed it right that this book would make it to the Booker Prize shortlist . The premise of  a life – story told through the final string of memories that the clinically dead person has , before the brain shuts down , was fascinating . During the final moments , when the brain tries think in its oxygen – deprived state , obviously it is going to throw up the memories / impressions which it had formed strongly . . .

The book is divided into three sections – Mind , Body and Soul .

Mind

As it can be easily guessed , the Mind section tells the story of Tequila Leila , through her swansong – memories . Somehow , the mind seems to ” remember ” every object of her memory by its smell and taste  – curious , isn ‘ t it ? With every ticking minute , Leila ‘ s brain throws up another deep – seated memory – the taste of spiced goat stew , the goat sacrificed by her father to celebrate the birth of her brother ; the taste of the home – made lemon & sugar waxing mixture used by the women in the neighborhood to wax their legs ; the taste of cardamom tea shared with a handsome University student whom she fell in love  with , when he takes shelter in the brothel where she works ; the smell and taste of watermelon and the memories of a summer vacation with family . . .

Every memory gives us a glimpse into a key event in Leila ‘ s life and the friend she made because of that incident . . .

Leila & her friends – their story 

Leyla Afife ( full of virtue )  Kamile ( high in merit ) , the daughter of a tailor in the city of Van , rechristened herself as Tequila Leila ,  following her elopement from her home and subsequent entanglement with prostitution in Istanbul . Yes , her middle and last names seem to make a mockery of her . . .

She has five close friends in the city of Istanbul – Nostalgia Nalan , Sabotage Sinan ( the only man in this girl gang ) , Jameelah , Hollywood Humeyra and Zaynab122 . Each has his / her own story on how they ended up where they are today and how he / she became friends with Leila . Their stories are as fascinating as Leila ‘ s . Like her , they are from the fringes of the society and Istanbul ,  the  bustling Turkish capital would not miss them if one of them turns up dead one day . . . Like Leila , they too , might become news on national television if they were also murdered gruesomely ; the newspapers might carry reports about their deaths , but they will first seek to reassure the ” normal female citizens ” that there is no threat for them . They had known all of this but until Leila ‘ s death they had not been slapped on the face with it . . .

The author uses several significant events of Leila ‘ s short life as pointers to the patriarchal society ‘ s aspects  . Some of them below :

  • how her mother ‘ s frequent miscarriages ( a few even nearly fatal ) except for Leila ‘ s birth  did not deter her father to keep trying for a son . . .  And how her mother relies on the birth of the child ( preferably a boy ) to cement her place in the family  , her being the second wife of  Leila ‘ s father  .
  • how right – wing ideologies slowly infiltrate ordinary families when the men of the family , like Leila ‘ s father ,  are brainwashed by right-wing ” spiritual leaders ” into restricting the women folk  and the children of the house  in order to  ” put an end to this man – made regime and bring back God – made sharia ” .  So , meetings with any of the progressive neighbors , ” alla franga “ magazines ,  newspapers , TV – watching  – almost every single aspect that had provided the ladies some news about the world outside their doorstep had to  be banned . . .
  • how the ” reputation ” of the girl was more important than addressing the abuse the girl had suffered . . . Everything else should be swept under the carpet . . .
  • how her being a prostitute , seemed to imply that there is no need for sympathy in the way she met her end ;  how , even the youngsters , had been taught to view her as a ” fallen ” woman who had no  claim to their  pity / sympathy but only deserved all the  scorn and revulsion one could muster .
  • how Leila had to deal with every random ” righteous ” man ‘ s ire as she is seen as a blot on the society . . . Finally , she had to die in the hands of one such man who had taken it upon himself ” to turn whores into angels ” .

There is  no forced inclusion of plot elements to illustrate these themes  – the story rolls seamlessly .  The author has tried out some new analogies which are interesting .

What is the story of Tequila Leila , the prostitute whose body was found in a dustbin in Istanbul ? What are the friends ‘ stories and the stories behind some of the nicknames ? 

Body 

Now , having been forced to face the society ‘ s apathy and worse still ,  the judgmental opinions , they decide to give their friend a decent funeral . Normally , people like Leila ‘ s and her friends will be put up in the Cemetery of the Companionless when they died . The fact that Leila had friends who were ready to give her a proper funeral did not matter to the state – when a body is unclaimed or refused by the family , the person is buried in the ” Cemetery of the Companionless ” in Kilyos , no more questions asked . . .

So , the five friends make a rash decision to dig out Leila from her grave in the cemetery at night . . . They go about muddling in the Scooby – Doo gang style . . . [ perhaps this parallel is due to Scooby Doo  being in the news very often , these last few days . . . ]

What happened to their mission ? Was it successful or not ? 

Soul

Finally , Leila ‘ s soul gets free and makes an acquaintance she had long wanted to . . . Who is it ??

Summing it all up –

To sum it up , the writing & the story has the reader turning the pages fast . . . With the life story of a prostitute , the writer has had the space to pack several segments which mirror the society ‘ s attitude to the people on the fringes and it ‘ s misogynistic tendencies and she has done a commendable job . . .

In the backdrop of the characters ‘ lives , history is always in the making – the construction of the Bosphorous bridge , the massacre in Istanbul on International Workers ‘ Day ( 1997 ) . . . Sometimes , characters are present in the moment when events , which had made to the history books since then , were being enacted – often without them realizing it . Of course , we all are or will be . . .

Perhaps , the midnight grave digging and all that drama , brought this book down  to sit with all other populist contemporary fiction in the bookshelves . . . With only the first section , it would have been in a league of its own . . .

Still , I hope the questions might have sufficiently intrigued you  to add this book to your TBR . . .Yes , I would recommend this book . . . I only wish that Elif had known when to stop writing . . .

If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

Until the next review then . . .

 

 

 

Review : The Taxidermist ‘ s Daughter by Kate Mosse

download (2)Plot Summary :

It is the year 1912 . Connie Gifford lives in the BlackThorne House in Fishbourne with her father , a taxidermist  ( although he prefers to go by the title ‘STUFFER OF BIRDS ‘ ) of some reputation during Connie ‘ s childhood . Not that Connie has several memories of them both from those early days –  she lost her childhood memories following an accident when she was twelve . It is like a slate that has been wiped clean .

Following the custom of the ‘ sightings of the ghosts of those who are destined to die in the coming year ‘ in the churchyard on St . Mark ‘ s Eve  , Gifford ‘ s behavior has become stranger and his actions even more unpredictable . Connie has got used to her father ‘ s unpredictable ways but now he is exhibiting signs of being tormented by some deeply seated secret – sorrow . Then , the body of a young woman turns up in the stream near their home with a garrotte of taxidermist ‘ s wire . . . There are the fleeting bursts of memories from the past which she refers to the ‘ vanished days ‘ . And  there are people from the past – whom Connie is slowly starting to remember and the events of the day of the accident . . . How much does she actually know ? ?

Alternatively , we are seeing the written confession of a murderess who is determined to bring some men to justice . Her murders are macabre to say the least . . . Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned  WRONGED too , perhaps ? Who is she ? What is she killing for ? And who are her victims actually ? What connection does she have to the Giffords ??

My thoughts on the book :

The coastal Fishbourne with the flood waters rising due to the torrential rains threatening to drown the village , the BlackThorne house itself which is presented as being somewhat sinister and definitely the murders  : all of these capture the Gothic essence perfectly . Fishbourne , being the author ‘ s birthplace has detailed and beautiful descriptions on the landscape , the flora and the fauna . . . Perhaps , the landscape and the atmosphere sketches of the Fishbourne are the strongest points of the book . But , being a non – native speaker I can ‘ t say I identified some species mentioned . So , the landscape does not paint itself before my eyes in great detail like the author wished for – entirely my misfortune .  [ Tried looking up Google for some names but gave up when it became somewhat distracting – the things we need to do . . . ] 

Despite some great writing , The Taxidermist ‘s Daughter suffers from a story – line riddled with  several loose ends & some glaring logical plot – holes which the author has not bothered to elaborate on . . . There are actually several questions which come up once the reader takes a harder look at the events described . It has nothing to with the fact that we are reading about a string of murders in 1912 in a remote coastal village – I am not dismissing the feasibility of the events due to the fact that they might seem improbable by today ‘ s standards .

/ * Spoilers ahead . . . * /

Some of the questions which I jotted down once I finished reading the book – 

  • The murderess gets her hand on Connie ‘ s journal . How could she possibly get the notebook which is in the BlackThorne House ? Does she have an accomplice inside the house ?
  • Two characters get access to the mounting wire from the BlackThorne House ( We can safely assume that it is from the Gifford place because Connie remembers the  nail which usually held the wire did not have the mounting wire one fine day . . . It is also emphasized that it cannot be bought easily nowadays as taxidermy had become an – almost – dead trade . . . Again , the same question : Who is the in – house accomplice ? )
  • The murderess says that her accomplice has the task of returning the diary to the Gifford place once she has finished her business . . . Assuming that the same accomplice got the diary  from BlackThorne House , why is there not a single visit from him / her to the house ? Does the accomplice have telepathic powers ? ?
  • Gifford implies that he has some connection to the THEMIS COTTAGE  . . . Connie , on the other hand does not show any such signs when she visits there . . . Even if we can assume that it so due to the fact that she has lost her childhood memories , the author has not bothered to explain what is the connection between Gifford himself and the place . There is not even a clandestine visit by Gifford to the place . . . Even if it had been rented out by the anonymous owner ( Gifford ??  /  X ?? ) , how come the real – estate broker victim not have an iota of doubt about the ownership ?
  • When the binoculars you use to  spy on a neighborhood property goes missing ( and especially when you are being paid to keep watch on the place / people ) , don ‘ t you make atleast a passing reference about them even if it is only to the readers ?
  • How did the murderess get the equipments for the murders , considering that they are no ordinary murders ?
  • And finally the big question – Is it so easy as to evade any sort of attention of yourself , even if it is an isolated property in a little coastal village ? Don ‘ t people / shopkeepers get curious when somebody buy candles in large quantities to light up probably , an entire room or two ? Even if a shopkeeper can put down that purchase to the preparations of surviving the floods , will not a new arrival in town excite any interest ? ?

After reading Christie , I knew one thing : In a village  , everything is everybody ‘ s business . . . Did  Christie make her village like that so that every observant person out there has some clue to offer to Miss Marple ? I am not able to answer this one but a thing I can say with certainty is that , Kate Mosse has made her Fishbourne people very decent folks who are least bothered about what ‘ s happening with the neighbor . . .

See this ? Finally , the reader is left working out the preparations for the crime because the author has glossed over the details of the preparation for the crime ( and even the methods in some places ) . The circumstances too , seem almost too fantastic : they always favor the murderess , while seeming too fantastical to do so in the first place . . . Without going into the details of the preparations , one wonders how the lady was able to pull off not one , but four very grisly murders . . .

Should the reader convince oneself that in a crime of retribution , there is some divine intervention and mercy to see the murderess through  to the very end ? Perhaps , the author expects the reader to . . . The interesting premise has been squandered with some sub-par plotting . . .

P . S : My only wonder is how this book got a decent review from the critics in some leading newspapers . . .

For my readers , I have only one thing to say : Don ‘ t bother with this one . . .

Until the next review then . . .