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The Year of Agatha

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A Jolly Holiday with Anne: The Man in the Brown Suit 2.0

(image from here)
"When I am married, I shall be a devil most of the time, but every now and then, when my husband least expects it, I shall show him what a perfect angel I can be." 
-Anne Beddingfeld, The Man in the Brown Suit, p. 202

The Sum of It:
The Man in the Brown Suit is one of those delightful early Agatha books that is heavily spy thriller, with a dash of murder mystery, and a lot of exotic locations. Anne Beddingfeld is a spunky young woman who is somewhat repressed in her adventurous aspirations by assisting her professor father - "one of England's greatest living authorities on Primitive Man" - with his work. When he father sadly dies near the beginning of the book (CAUTIONARY TALE - WEAR A COAT WHEN DIGGING IN CAVES!), Anne heads to London with the little money her father left her. Anne is desperate for excitement, and London seems to be ready to give her nothing but governess or old lady companion jobs, HOWEVER, while waiting for her train at a tube station, Anne witnesses something very bizarre and exciting indeed: a man falls to his death on the train rails. Though it initially seems like an accident, Anne also notices a man in a brown suit (!!!) claiming to be a doctor examine the dead man's body, but then quickly flee the scene, leaving a scrap of paper with a mysterious message on it in his wake. "THIS IS THE ADVENTURE I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR!," Anne says and goes full YOLO, deciding to devote herself to getting to the bottom of this strange experience. Using the last of her money, her wits, and what she's learned from adventure radio dramas, Anne hurls herself into a saga full of diamonds, dead ballerinas, handsome brooding men, and so much more.

The YOA Treatment:
When Emily read this book for our 2016 Year of Agatha, she quickly vaulted it into her top favorites. It had been at least a decade since I had read The Man in the Brown Suit, and I couldn't remember much about it, but I trusted her high praise. It made sense that Emily liked it so much because she is more partial to Agatha's more thriller-y novels (a la The Secret Adversary and The Secret at Chimneys, etc.), and I would definitely put this novel into that same category. While I'm usually more into the straightforward murder mysteries, I must admit I did thoroughly enjoy The Man in the Brown Suit. This book is a bit melodramatic at times (Anne's banter with/about her #crush is just hysterical) and sprinkled with some rather outdated references, however, the overall effect plays out like an old timey Rom Com with a bit more fluff and humor and overseas travel than truly terrifying near-death experiences. This novel is primarily written from Anne's point of view, and she is surprisingly relatable, even 94 years after it was published. Who hasn't dreamed of being dropped in the middle of your very own mysterious adventure, that (seemingly) only you can solve? While The Man in the Brown Suit doesn't go into the psychological crime solving games you may be used to from a Christie, it is another example of Agatha's ability to write long-lasting, relatable tales.


An Education: Cat Among the Pigeons 2.0

Image from this fun blog
"I think there is something wrong here," said Eileen Rich slowly. "It's as though there were someone among us who didn't belong." She looked at him, smiled, almost laughed and said, "Cat among the pigeons, that's the sort of feeling. We're the pigeons, all of us, and the cat's amongst us. But we can't see the cat."
- Cat Among the Pigeons, p. 98

The Sum of It:
Though most of it is set in a quintessential English mystery setting, a fancy girls school on a country estate, Agatha brings her personal twist even to the setting, starting the action out in her beloved Middle East. The fictional state of Ramat is on the brink of revolution, and beleaguered (and #doomed) Prince Ali Yusuf entrusts his family's nest egg, a literal pile of glittering jewels, to his righthand man, Bob, a British secret service type fellow who kind of acts as Ali Yusuf's bodyguard. Before they attempt to escape the revolution, Bob frantically looks for a way to get the jewels out of the country to jolly old England, making a surprising choice at the last minute. But before he can let anyone know where he hid them, Bob and Ali Yusuf meet an unfortunate end, and the jewels are hidden, their location guessed by only a few. 

Following this exciting spy-like episode, the action transitions to Meadowbank, a posh but slightly progressive girls boarding school in the British countryside, with an interesting assortment of educators, from the snobbish French Mistress to the unconventional but enchanting literature teacher, led by the formidable Miss Bulstrode. The students, a meticulously selected blend of sturdy British athletes, glamorous princesses, and clever scholars, and educators are all shocked when their idyllic environs are darkened by the mysterious murder of the unpopular games mistress, Miss Springer, in the school's fancy new athletics pavilion. When this death is followed by others, all the ladies start worrying that there's really a cat among the pigeons, and along with the police and the secret government agent in their midst, they must track the murderer down and figure out their motive before more lives -- and the life of the celebrated school -- are endangered. 

The YOA Treatment:
Audrey read and loved this book during the original year of Agatha, and I totally see why. This tale is classic Christie, her skill in her prime, and the type of story that became a model for other books in the genre for generations to come. Where sometimes mysteries are too obvious (though this is rarely if ever the case for Agatha), or so sneaky that there's NO way a reader to solve it before the author produces the reveal, this one is calibrated perfectly so that the savviest readers might figure out Agatha's clever twists by the end, but most of us can joyously read a long and pick up on some of the clues but enjoy the surprise but retrospective inevitability of the resolution when Poirot maps it out. 

One of the fun things about this book is that although Poirot steps in to help out the folks at Meadowbank and the venerable police wrap things up, for most of the story we get to see lots of new characters working their way through the mystery on their own. We often highlight some of the fun and ahead-of-their-time female empowerment elements of Agatha's work, and this book is a great example. Not only do we see the poised and perceptive Miss Bulstrode outsmart the police every time, but we see Agatha offer some of the cleverest deductions to an intrepid, tennis-loving schoolgirl, who works a huge piece of the mystery out for herself and takes the initiative to travel to London on her own and bring Poirot in on the action at exactly the right moment to protect herself, and her schoolmates, and get to the bottom of the crimes on campus. This one will definitely be among the first Agathas I recommend to friends, especially the ones who like to race the book's crime solvers to the final deduction!

- E.  

Tea and Scandal: The Murder at the Vicarage 2.0

"I daresay everyone thinks it is somebody different. That is why it is so important to have proofs. I, for instance, am quiet convinced I know who did it. But I must admit I haven't one shadow of proof." 
Image from here
- The Murder at the Vicarage, p. 213.

The Sum of It:
The Murder at the Vicarage was Agatha's first introduction of the inquisitive, gossip-fueled, always-a-step-ahead amateur sleuth Miss Marple, and since Audrey read this one last year and raved about how fun it was, I had to make it my first re-read of 2018. 

This story is narrated by the charming if a bit grumpy Vicar of St. Mary Mead, a small and veeery quintessential British village, which seems to have approximately 15 inhabitants, though there must be more because at once point the village church is described as crowded. But such a British village, no matter how tiny, is not immune to scandal, and right off the bat there's a discrepancy with the church money, an extramarital affair with a handsome artist in the Vicar's shed, and pretty soon after that, an actual murder in the Vicar's own study! The victim, Col. Protheroe, was ill-liked nearly universally, known for bossing everyone around, shouting constantly, and harsh convictions in his courtroom. Miss Marple, for one, can think of at least 7 people would would have liked to see him dead. 

As the evidence settles, largely aided by Miss Marple and her troupe of elderly lady busybodies who spend nearly all their time documenting the intricacies of town life (when not arranging their Japanese rock gardens or hosting visiting novelist nephews), the police suffer from an abundance of confessions and conflicting evidence. The more confused everyone becomes, the more serene and unflappable Miss Marple remains, biding her time until enough of the facts line up with her initial conclusion to clear everything up for the police and the poor Vicar, who's forced to become a bit of an amateur sleuth himself!

The YOA Treatment:
One of the things we came to realize about Miss Marple stories over the course of The Year of Agatha was that her tales have a uniquely clever tone and engaging pace. Perhaps because Agatha saw a bit of herself in Miss Marple, or a bit of some favorite neighbors, there's always a bit of a twinkle in Miss Marple's eye. No matter how silly or fanciful others think she is, she's actually two steps ahead of them at every turn, but never crows about it. She just bides her time, deducing all the way, until her conclusions are undeniable. Often, people in her circle start out the book annoyed by her nosiness and pronouncements about human nature, but she always wins them over by the end. Her spunk and quiet confidence are refreshing and charming, and The Murder at the Vicarage is a classic example. 

Miss Marple stories are also often quite funny, and The Murder at the Vicarage certainly fits that bill. Between the fussy Vicar, his flighty and mischievous young wife, their foolish and outspoken nephew Dennis, and their wholly incompetent maid, Mary, that one household alone had me chuckling out loud as I read. Miss Marple, gifted in the art of light irony spoken with a twinkle in her eye, is also awfully funny, especially as she interacts with her vainglorious author nephew Raymond or pompous policemen.  Agatha also injects her own sense of humor in the narration, such as this little poke at modern literature, given as a description of Raymond: 

"I cannot say that I have at any time a great admiration for Mr. Raymond West. He is, I know, supposed to be a brilliant novelist, and has made quite a name as a poet. His poems have no capital letters in them, which is, I believe, the essence of modernity. His books are about unpleasant people leading lives of surpassing dullness." 

The Murder at the Vicarage is the perfect introduction to Miss Marple, and to Agatha on the light side, and was also a perfect way to start of my year of reviewing some of Audrey's favorites from The Year of Agatha! 

- E. 

Returning to the Scene of the Crime!: The Body in the Library 2.0

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"A knock came at the door. Automatically from the depths of her dreams Mrs. Bantry said: 'Come in.' ...Out of the dim green light Mary's voice came - breathless, hysterical: 'Oh, ma'am, oh, ma'am, there's a body in the library.'"
-The Body in the Library, p. 2

The Sum of It:
Much of the delight of The Body in the Library comes from its inclusion of two of my favorite Christie characters, Dolly Bantry and Miss Jane Marple. While we've met Dolly Bantry before (most notably as a mystery/riddle dinner party participant in perhaps the only Christie short story collection I actually enjoyed, The Thirteen Problems), in The Body in the Library, Dolly is at the same time a bit of a victim, suspect, and crime solver. 

While enjoying a dream-filled sleep, Dolly Bantry is dramatically awaken by her maid with the info that there is a BODY IN THE LIBRARY. Like, literally. Initial investigation by Dolly and husband, Arthur, finds that there is indeed the body of a young woman in their library, but the Bantrys have no idea who she could be. After bringing in the police, the library body is identified as Ruby Keene, a young woman who worked at a nearby-ish hotel. It appears young Ruby had endeared herself to a rich hotel resident (gosh, I love these books with the people who are like "oh yeah I just live at this fancy hotel!" Like for real, no sarcasm, it sounds so fun!) named Conway Jefferson, who had just decided to leave Ruby a bunch of money in his will instead of his own family (*MOTIVE ALERT*)! 

Although Mr. Jefferson turns out to be a pal of the Bantrys, it's still very unclear why Ruby's body should have turned up in their library. When suspicion of the Bantrys's involvement continues to pervade St. Mary Mead, Dolly brings in her old pal, Miss Jane Marple, to help with the investigation!

The YOA Treatment:
The Body in the Library has always been one of my favorite Christie stories, and so it was one of the first picks for my list of books to read for THIS year of Agatha! I love the meta-ness Agatha brings to this particular novel. She references her self-awareness in her forward where she talks about having stored up ideas about how to pull of the cliche storyline of a body in a library. She even has a character talking about HERSELF as a mystery author at one point. The overall effect is a bit whimsical for the first half as the police and Dolly Bantry and Miss Marple traipse around the village and the Majestic hotel, sussing out alibis riddled with letter writing and bridge playing and tennis partners and whatnot. However, in true Agatha fashion, she pulls out a twist and a half at the end, bringing back clues from early on that you had completely discounted, and ending somberly with a reminder that murder is always tinged with evil.

I left The Body in the Library with a solid opening to our third (!) Year of Agatha, and heartily recommend it for anyone looking to soak in a classic Christie whodunnit in 2018.


The Many Years of Agatha #2018

(William Andrew Loomis, Woman in Yellow Shirt Reading, from this charming blog called Reading & Art.)

Hello friends,

We are so excited for a new year and all the new ideas bubbling around in our little heads for Agatha and books and you guys and here we are to finally share them!

First, regarding Agatha: 
We, like you, are clearly having trouble quitting dear Agatha even though we've spent so much time with her already. This year we've decided to do a couple things, and the first is to take an opportunity to recommend to each other some favorites that we each read on our own the first time around, swap books, and chat about those favorites from the other mindtwin's perspective. Emily hates that she missed reading The Murder at the Vicarage and The Moving Finger, and Audrey is tickled to pick up The Man in the Brown Suit and 4:50 from Paddington. You'll find the schedule of the books we'll be revisiting each month where you always do on the blog, and you'll also be seeing evidence of the reading on our social media accounts per usual. We hope those of you who are newer to Agatha's work will drop in and join us when we're working on one you're eager to read, and share your thoughts with us here or on social media! And of course, because we truly love them and can't stop staring at them, we will also continue sharing our favorite vintage copies on Instagram and Facebook.

Second, regarding other authors:
We, like you, really like books and have enormous to-be-read stacks that seem to grow almost on their own! We know it can be a bit jarring for an account you come to for one thing (Agatha Christie, for example) to flip the script periodically and try to move in different directions, so we've decided to add a second venture to the Mindtwins Media Empire (to quote Jon Lovett #FriendsofthePod, we're working on becoming media moguls), which we've decided to call #drumrollplease... The Book & Cover

The Book & Cover will be a second blog and set of social media accounts where we will each review and recommend books by current authors and share more gorgeous cover art along the way (because we are obsessed)! Each of us will be reading, reviewing, and recommending a book each month, either a new release or a book newly released in paperback (listen, we're all on a bit of a book budget and sometimes we just gotta wait for that PB!). You know us; We're not here to be snobby about what's cool to read, to pretend we know more than professional authors about how a good book is composed, or to ruin your experience of reading a book with silly spoilers. We get asked all the time what we're reading now, and what we can recommend folks pick up when they're in their local book shops, so we're excited to share that type of info with our pals here, on #bookstagram, and elsewhere, about new books we're truly pumped about, and to hear your #thoughtzandfeelingz about them as well.

IN CONCLUSION, IN WITH THE SAME, IN WITH THE NEW, we like to say, and we'll be here doing more of what we love for as long as you'll have us (and books). What a world we're living in right now, and what an opportunity our writer friends offer us to imagine new things, visualize magical places, feel a different person's feelings, and escape our everyday. To quote one of us from Twitter in response to a favorite author's (#CharlesFinch) lament about whether it's right to create art right now, we say that without our writers and artists, everything stops. We stop, in our exploring, and considering of perspectives and moving forward day after day. What our author friends do is vital, and we're here to shout it. As Emily Mandel wrote in Station Eleven, "survival is insufficient!" So we're here to celebrate writers, old and new, on as many platforms as we need to, and we hope you'll keep joining us and adding your voices to the revelry.

Cheers, loves, we are ever,

-E. & A.

The Year of Agatha 2017 Gift Guide!

(photo from our Instagram)
One of the questions we get asked the most is: “which Agatha Christie book should I start reading?”

Our answer is usually a mix of "oh these are some generally good ones" or "oh these are our favorites!" But we’ve come to realize that sometimes our favorites are not necessarily the books everyone should start with. We created a few Buzzfeed quizzes (see here and here!) to help guide Agatha newcomers to some fun reads, however, with the holiday season upon us, we thought it would be fun to put together an Agatha Christie Gift Guide complete with specially curated recommendations for all the special people in your life!

For your mom: Murder at the Vicarage
It’s classic, straightforward, got some stuff about church in there. A fun and funny Miss Marple romp with a classic Christie plot twist. 

Dads are generally into golf, right? Well even though Poirot isn’t, this book has a lot of caper-y fun and some great golf banter to boot! We feel that Poirot books that include Hastings are often the best version of Poirot, and this is a Hastings tour de force #HastingsLovesLadies.

For your cousin who loved Serial: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Oh boy. Who among us didn’t love Serial?! Mrs. McGinty’s Dead also follows the trials and tribulations of a potentially wrongly convincted man...

For your crush: The Secret Adversary
It's a love story, baby, just say yes. This one is lots of fun and very caper-y, plus it has an adorable side plot about falling in love with an old friend. What's more romantic that kidnapping and international spies??

For your uncle who watches horror movies exclusively: And Then There Were None
Honestly, this one can be a good gift for basically anyone, because it is absolutely brilliant and was a total revelation for the way stories are told, but it's particularly good for those in your life whose entertainment preferences lean towards the group-in-a-house-trapped-with-a-killer #UltimateLockedRoomMystery.

For your maiden aunt who hates children: Crooked House 
Per our recent blog post, we are a bit over-the-moon for the new Crooked House film adaptation, so why not pick up a copy for that aunt or cousin who is looking for a reinforcement for their dislike of bratty children, since this book is basically about an entire family of bratty children?

For your dog-loving bff: Dumb Witness
Bob the dog is basically the star of the show in this classic Poirot who-dunnit. Agatha dedicated this book to her dog bestie, Peter, who she called "the most faithful of friends and dearest of companions, a dog in a thousand." THAT'S ADORABLE.

For your office gift exchange-ee: Cat Among the Pigeons
This book practically screams BE NICE TO YOUR CO-WORKERS, so send a message and give a gift at the same time! 

For your history buff grandfather: Death Comes as the End
In case you forgot, Agatha tried her hand at historical fiction once upon a time and set this particular mystery in ancient Egypt. It has everything the history buff in your life will love: facts and dates, complicated family trees, and, of course, MURDER.

For your nemesis: Nemesis
Enough said. 

For your mother-in-law who does crosswords: The Thirteen Problems
This short story collection is a delightful introduction to Miss Jane Marple. While not as intricate as Agatha's full-length novels, this reads almost like a chocolate box of fun puzzles! 

And, finally, a safe bet for anyone else you may have left on your list: The Body in the Library 
Agatha wrote in her foreword to this book that she had always wanted to take a stab at this cliche-sounding mystery setup. The Body in the Library isn't too long, isn't too short, has a tantalizing mystery from the start, offers several good laughs, and ends with a very satisfying conclusion - overall, a perfect Agatha gift!

A Triumph, My Dear!: Crooked House | 2017

(image from here)
The Sum of It:
Thank goodness for our #bookstagram community because they did us a SOLID by letting us know that Crooked House was available on iTunes and Amazon in the US ahead of the theatrical release later this year! Since Crooked House was a favorite read for both of us during our #yearofagatha, we both bought the film right away. We've organized our thoughts and feelings below:

*BE ADVISED: many spoilers to follow! You are legit not allowed to read this post unless you've read the book or seen the film!*

Audrey: Guys. This movie. Was. So. GOOD.

Emily: GUYS IT WAS SO GOOD. So good that we and many of our fellow fanatics have tentatively evaluated it as possibly the best Agatha film adaptation...ever. With ZERO offence meant to the iconic David Suchet. From the minute the movie started, I was basically cackling into my magic mirror about how much perfection it was, from the absolutely perfect house (how did they find that place??) for the crooked house, the ideal level of creepiness from Josephine, the costumes, the perfectness of Max Irons as Charles, and the completely pitch perfect level of noir-ish tension throughout. Christina Hendrix's Marilyn Monroe impression as Brenda was legit, and Gillian Anderson totally nailed the drama queen that is Magda. Likely the best of all, though, was Glenn Close being an absolute total smokeshow and completely killing it (pun intended?) as Aunt Edith, the English country lady with an edge. The costuming and sets were all gorgeous, and I really liked the way the adaptation blended the noir-ish detective storyline in with the classic mystery. The family dinner scene was so on point in conveying how toxic this group is together I basically had my hands in the air. Honestly the FEEL of it was just so right, to me, this is up there with Endless Night in terms of the darker plotlines and adaptations, but this one is even more perfect (I KNOW - Audrey is shocked to hear it too).

Audrey: One of the things I loved the most about this movie was the attention to making the family dysfunction seem so real. Throughout the Crooked House book, Sofia is trying to describe to Charles how her family is just not normal. The performances from the actors (along with a truly stellar screenplay #thankyouJulianFellowes) captured this sentiment COMPLETELY and truly made me believe that a twelve-year-old killer could be among this group of people. And don't even get me started about the production design in this film - I was literally gasping with delight as Charles entered each new room in the mansion. I die for that beautiful conservatory space where Roger and Clemency lived (#HEARTEYES).

Emily: Damn, Audrey, can you think of anything? I guess one thing that I felt could have been handled a bit better was the very abrupt ending to the film. In the book, there's a bit more of a sum-up, where people are like "yeah...Josephine was sort of terrifying in retrospect..." It was genuinely stunning to see the demise of Edith and Josephine on the screen (perhaps one reason this adaptation is only just now happening), and I guess they wanted to leave you with that impact, but it might have been nice to wrap it up a little more.

Audrey: I was also not really fond of the abrupt ending. Like Emily said, the book ties everything up quite nicely as Sofia and Charles's father (VERY MUCH ALIVE) both admit they had wondered if Josephine could be the killer. Another point I was just a bit confused about was leaving Charles's father out of the film, when he is kind of a central character in the book. I will say they handled the change fairly well in that it didn't seem jarring, however, I did miss the rapport between those two as they attempted to solve the case together in the book.

Overall, we give this film all the stars out of stars and hope that each of you have the chance to see it ASAP! Please comment below and let us know what you thought!

-A. & E.