Some of you may know that for a period of – I don’t know really – probably two years – I was collecting The Agatha Christie Collection. This was a partworks collection that came out at the rate of one book every fortnight from the newsagent, with a nice hardbound edition of the book (which I haven’t got pictured here, because it wasn’t sold in bookstores) and an accompanying magazine.
Originally, there were just going to be 45 issues, containing the 45 best Agatha Christie stories. However, the collection was so popular, that it kept going to 65 issues. Then, by that stage, it was still so popular that the publishers decided, “Why not do it all?” So they went out and chased up copyright for her plays and her autobiography and they published absolutely every last thing she wrote under the name of Agatha Christie, bringing the collection to a whopping 85 books.
I think it was somewhere in the low 60s that I had to take a break from reading one every fortnight. Especially because, as the really classic ones were in the first 45, there’s a sense in which there’ s a bit of barrel-scraping going on here.
Anyway, I’m not going to review the 60 or so I’ve already ready here, because that would be a test of my patience trying to remember exactly what happened in each one and a test of yours reading it all. However, I did just finish this one, so I can comment on it while it’s fresh in my mind.
This book is another in the Tommy and Tuppence series. T & T are a little bit more obscure than Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Christie’s main sleuths, and they’re not quite as outlandish. But they are interesting, because they’re the only characters that really aged in Christie’s books.
The first time we met them was in a very early book called The Secret Adversary, where they were a couple of young adventurers caught up in a spy plot. (By the way, Tuppence’s real name is Prudence, in case you were wondering. ) Then, in their next book (whose name escapes me) they were now married and middle-aged middle-aged couple helping in an undercover operation during World War II, sussing out a spy at an English boarding house. And now, in this book, they’re now in their early 60s with grown-up married children.
Nonetheless, this in now way stops them from having adventures. The story starts with the pair visiting Tommy’s elderly Aunt Ada at the Sunny Ridge nursing home. While there, Tuppence meets an old lady, Mrs Lancaster, who drops some hints to a dead child in a chimney. Tuppence feels that there’s something unusual here, but doesn’t think anything of it.
Until a few weeks later, when Tommy’s Aunt Ada suddenly dies in her sleep. They return to the nursing home, only to find that Mrs Lancaster has been taken away suddenly by mysterious “relatives” and seems to have disappeared. To make things more complicated, before Mrs Lancaster left, she left a painting of a house by a canal with Aunt Ada. The painting now falls into T & T’s hands.
Tuppence has two suspicions: 1) That Mrs Lancaster has been kidnapped somehow. 2) That she knows that house in the painting. While Tommy goes away to a conference, she sets out to investigate the mystery, and the story just takes more twists and turns from there.
I didn’t see the end coming on this story, to tell the truth, and it was actually a stronger story than I expected. As usual with Christie, the characterisations are light-on and fluffy, and nobody really seems to take anything terribly serious, but the plot is, as always, brilliant conceived. (It is truly amazing how many different stories she could tell without getting repetitive with her endings.)
3 1/2 out of 5.