Saturday, June 17, 2023

Books: Agatha Christie's "Midsummer Mysteries"


Midsummer Mysteries

By Agatha Christie

William Morrow; paperback, $18.99; Ebook, $11.99; Digital Audio, $21.99 

Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all-time, with only the Bible and Shakespeare the only things to outdo her voluminous work. She died in 1976 after a career that spanned six decades, and her books have sold more than a billion copies in English and more than a billion in 100 foreign languages.

Summertime is the perfect setting for Christie's mysteries because, as the temperature rises, so does the potential for evil. From Cornwall to the French Riviera, her most famous characters solve complicated puzzles as the stakes heat up. 

In "The Incredible Thief," Hercule Poirot becomes involved in a matter of national security when top secret plans for a new fighter plane are stolen. "The Idol House of Astarte" features Miss Marple as she is investigating a stabbing at a summer party. In "The Oracle at Delphi," Parker Pyne discovers that someone is impersonating him.

The full list of stories in this incredible collection that you are sure to read on a warm afternoon is as follows: The Blood Stained Pavement; The Double Clue; A Death on the Nile; Harlequin's Lane; The Adventures of the Italian Nobleman; Jane in Search of a Job; The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim; The Idol House of Astarte; The Rajah's Emerald; The Oracle at Delphi; The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger; The Incredible Theft.

In this excerpt from "The Oracle at Delphi," Christie writes, "Mrs Willard J. Peters did not really care for Greece. And of Delphie she had, in her secret heart,no opinion at all. 

Mrs Peters' spiritual homes were in Paris, London and the Riviera. She was a woman who enjoyed hotel life, but her idea of a hotel bedroom was a soft-pile carpet, a luxurious bed, a profusion of different arrangements of electric light, including a shaded bedside lamp, plenty of hot and cold water and a telephone beside the bed, by means of which you could order tea, meals, mineral waters, cocktails and speak to your friends.

In the hotel at Delphi there were none of these things. There was a marvellous view from the windows, the bed was clean and so was the whitewashed room. There was a chair, a wash-stand and a chest of drawers. Baths took place by arrangement and were occasionally disappointing as regarded hot water.

It would, she supposed, be nice to say that you had been to Delphi, and Mrs Peters had tried hard to take an interest in Ancient Greece, but she found it difficult. Their statuary seemed so unfinished; so lacking in heads and arms and legs. Secretly, she much preferred the handsome marble angel complete with wings which was erected on the late Mrs Willard Peters' tomb.

But all these secret opinions she kept carefully to herself, for fear her son Willard should despise her. It was for Willard's sake that she was here, in this chilly and uncomfortable room, with a sulky maid and a disgusted chauffeur in the offing.

For Willard (until recently called Junior - a title with which he hated) was Mrs Peters' eighteen-year-old son, and she worshipped him to distraction. It was Willard who had this strange passion for bygone art. It was Willard, thin, pale, spectacled and dyspeptic, who had dragged his adoring mother on this tour through Greece.

They had been to Olympia, which Mrs Peters thought a sad mess. She had enjoyed the Parthenon, but she considered Athens a hopeless city. And a visit to Corinth and Mycenae had been agony to both her and the chauffeur.

Delphi, Mrs Peters thought unhappily, was the last straw. Absolutely nothing to do but walk along the road and look at the ruins. Willard spent long hours on his knees deciphering Greek inscriptions, saying, 'Mother, just listen to this! Isn't it splendid?' And then he would read out something that seemed to Mrs Peters the quintessence of dullness.

This morning Willard had started early to see some Byzantine mosaics. Mrs Peters, feeling instinctively that Byzantine mosaics would leave her cold (in the literal as well as the spiritual sense), had excused himself.

'I understand, Mother,' Willard had said. 'You want to be alone just to sit in the theatre or up int he stadium and look down over it and let it sink in.'

'That's right, pet,' said Mrs Peters.

'I knew this place would get you,' said Willard exultantly and departed.

Now, with a sigh, Mrs Peters prepared to rise and breakfast.

She came into the dining room to find it empty save for four people. A mother and daughter, dressed in what seemed to Mrs Peters a most peculiar style (not recognizing the peplum as such), who were discoursing on the art of self-expression in dancing; a plump, middle-aged gentleman who had rescued a suitcase for her when she got off the train and whose name was Thompson; and a newcomer, a middle-aged gentleman with a bald head who had arrived on the preceding evening.

This personage was the last left in the breakfast room, and Mrs Peters soon fell into conversation with him. She was a friendly woman and liked someone to talk to. Mr Thompson had been distinctly discouraging in manner (British reserve, Mrs Peters called it), and the mother and daughter had been very superior and highbrow, though the girl had got on rather well with Willard.

Mrs Peters found the newcomer a very pleasant person. He was informative without being highbrow. He told several interesting, friendly little details about the Greeks, which made her feel much more as though they were real people and not just tiresome history out of a book."

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