Thursday 28 May 2020

Post on an unpredictable morning...

The weather is very unpredictable this morning, a bit cloudy, a bit windy, a bit rainy, but with significant rainfall expected this afternoon.  I am not unpredictable, though.  I have a steaming cup of chai tea (yes, even in this humidity!) and a homemade banana muffin to keep me company as I tell you about a book and an audiobook. Well, maybe I'm a bit unpredictable, in these unpredictable times, with a post on Sunday night and another again on Thursday morning... what's up with that?!
I have been watching the BBC series, “The ABC Murders”, and have not been enjoying it at all.  I found it strange that Hercule Poirot, in the past always played by David Suchet, was being played by John Malkovich.  I think Malkovich is a great actor, but he’s no Poirot, who I thought was described in Agatha Christie’s books as a small, fussy Belgian with large mustaches and a round, bald head.  Malkovich is first and foremost too tall to be convincing in this role.  His Belgian accent is all over the place, and he’s got a goatee.  But I tried my best to look past this and just consider that it’s not Christie’s Poirot, just another detective trying to solve a series of murders.  But I also found that this Poirot, his character and attitude, seemed too dark, almost cruel.  And the story so far is too gruesome even for my liking.  Since I just finished my last book on Sunday afternoon, and since I spent the first couple of days this week trying and failing to get interested in a few others, I decided to read one of Christie’s novels to see if my impressions of the great detective were correct, or if they were just heavily influenced by Suchet’s portrayal.  I was going to read a couple of these short mysteries, but I think one is enough for now.  I chose An Overdose of Death (original title: The Patriotic Murders), and finished it in a couple of days.  It concerns the apparent suicide of Poirot’s dentist, Mr Morley, just a few hours after the detective’s appointment for three fillings.  Because of this appointment, he is questioned by his friend Chief Inspector Japp, and Poirot can only say that Morley was his usual self that morning.  When another of his patients is found dead from an overdose of the anesthetic used by dentists, Japp decides that Morley realized his mistake and felt so badly about it that he took his own life. Poirot does not buy this story and considers both deaths to be murders.  What follows are Japp’s formal and Poirot’s informal investigations, one constrained by bureaucracy, the other free of such limitations.  It was an easy, cozy mystery, exactly as I expected, and my impressions were spot on.  He is described as a small man with an egg-shaped head, with large mustaches, a man who is fussy, who does not tolerate foolishness, but who is ultimately polite, courteous and kind.  I will watch the last episode of the BBC series, but I would certainly not recommend it to anyone.
And this morning I finished listening to the very long, very engrossing The Witch Elm by Tana French.  WOW, what a book!  And what a narrator!  Paul Nugent brought the whole thing to life and kept me taking long walks even during these hot, humid days, just to get to the end and find out what really happened.  This novel opens with Toby Hennessey telling readers that he considers himself to be a lucky person, and we know from that one line that there will most certainly be bad luck in poor Toby’s future.  He seems to have the perfect life:  a great job that he landed by chance a few years earlier, a great girlfriend who seems almost too good to be true, and a supportive family with enough money to ensure that he will never have financial worries.  There's a bit of trouble at the art gallery where Toby works in PR, but it seems that this will all blow over and he'll be back on track in no time. When a break-in leaves him with slurred speech, a limp, and holes in his memory a mile wide resulting from a severe brain injury, he retreats to the Ivy House to stay with his Uncle Hugo, who has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer and has only a few months to live.  This situation works well for both Toby and Hugo, as this was a place where Toby spent many happy summers, along with his cousins Suzanne and Leon, when they were growing up.  It is the perfect place for Toby to recover and for Hugo to prepare for imminent death.  When one of Suzanne’s children finds a human skull in the giant, 200-year-old witch elm (it’s actually “wych elm”, but since I couldn’t see the written page to check for spelling, I’ll refer to it as “witch elm”), an investigation ensues.  What unfolds is an 18-part, 22-hour, 500+ page exploration into hidden pasts, dark secrets, and family dynamics that is suspenseful, psychological and deeply satisfying.  It could have used a bit of editing, for sure, but overall it was an excellent novel.  I found it dragged around the two-thirds mark, but by then I was 12+ parts into the audiobook and was totally hooked, so I just kept walking and listening, determined today to walk until I reached the end.  I would definitely recommend this literary suspense novel, and maybe as a physical book you could skim over some of Toby’s more wordy, excessively self-indulgent passages, which I couldn’t do with the audio version.  But the narrator did such a great job that I want to recommend the audiobook, too...  *sigh*  Ultimately, I think I’d recommend whatever format you prefer, and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.
That’s all for today.  Stay cool, stay dry, stay safe, and keep reading!
Bye for now…

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