As Brad and I gear up for the comparison of what you — yes, you — decreed the very best individual novels by Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, I thought you may appreciate a bit of reading to get in the appropriate frame of mind (besides the books themselves, I mean…).
First up, for context, my feelings on the opening chapter of Death on the Nile…
…and Brad’s response.
Then, remind yourselves of the books in question by reading the reviews of the fine, intelligent, informed ladies and gentlemen who make up our crime and punishment-obsessed corner of the internet:
Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie
Mike @ Only Detect: Christie, instead of delivering a full-bodied whodunit, applies her formidable powers of deception to the mechanics of the initial crime (two further killings come later) and to its psychology. The tangible clues that occupy Poirot’s attention, ranging from a bullet-riddled stole to a splash heard in the nighttime, are numerous, intriguing, and ultimately related to one another in brilliantly complex ways. Less tangible but equally salient are the signs left by the workings of human passion. Indeed, the passions that Christie conjures up for Poirot to explore are as ancient and enduring as the Sphinx, as the Pyramids of Giza, as the Nile itself.
Les Blatt @ Classic Mysteries: Agatha Christie traveled extensively in the Middle East with her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, and several of her best mysteries are set in that part of the world. I’d certainly rate Death on the Nile as being among her best. The book opens with several chapters set in England, where some of the relationships are laid out for readers – we will learn how Linnet Ridgeway married Simon Doyle, its effect on Jackie de Bellefort – and we will also learn something of the other people who will wind up involved (in the second, and larger, part of the book set in Egypt) in the tragedies on the tourist steamer.
Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel: The line at the heart of this mystery is so simple – nothing to do with the murder itself. Of course it’s hard to hint at what I mean here, due to the old “no spoilers” idea. It’s to do with the drinks. That’s probably vague enough for the poor unhappy few who haven’t read this one.
The plot does a very good job of not falling into Christie’s most often repeated tricks. OK, arguably, one of her biggest tricks is at the centre of it, but she does a very good job of hiding it this time. There’s a lot to work out, but even if you guess the killer, explaining exactly what happened is not an easy task.
TomCat @ Beneath the Stains of Time: I simply marveled at recognizing all the carefully planted clues, both physical and psychological ones, and it’s almost inconceivable that anyone could miss them when you know how obvious they actually are, but that’s the craft of the mystery novelist for you – and Christie was at the very top of the game. I always thought of Death on the Nile as one of the grand whodunits, but I think I appreciate it now more than I did back then when I read it for the very first time.
He Who Whispers (1946) by John Dickson Carr
Ben @ The Green Capsule: Carr immediately sets a strong tone, starting out with a meeting of the mysterious Murder Club; a secret society at which stories of nefarious crimes are shared. The speaker on this occasion recounts the tale of a past murder in France that took place under impossible circumstances. A man is stabbed with a sword cane while alone at the top of a tower. The tower, and its only exit, is in clear view of a number of witnesses, yet no one is seen entering or exiting.
Sergio @ Tipping My Fedora: Let me say that I flat-out loved this book! It is an ultra typical Carr extravaganza involving an impossible crime, intimations of the supernatural, an eerie depiction of pre-war France, an incredibly evil murder method inspired by Italian occultist Cagliostro, an apparently ‘bad’ woman who the author refuses to judge, and it also includes a fascinating depiction of London’s Soho and the underground system immediately after the war.
Curtis Evans @ The Passing Tramp: [T]he character interest is arguably the strongest element of the book. Concerning the murder puzzle, I would think many readers might identify the culprit of the book’s crimes (hey, I did), though the mechanics of the tower murder and the motivation behind it may well prove elusive. They are quite deftly clued.
Moira Redmond @ Clothes in Books: My goodness John Dickson Carr could write a book that would keep you reading. They are short and to the point, and if you think a chapter is fading away with people saying let’s go home, or let’s go to bed, you can be sure it will end with a smothered cry, or ‘It was the sound of a pistol-shot.’
Noah Stewart @ Noah’s Archives: For me — and I know I differ from almost everyone on this — the vampire element just doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s something about me personally, but it was perfectly clear to me from the outset that the crime was not committed by someone with magical powers and so the reader had to look at what actually happened without JDC in the background making moaning noises and saying, “Oooooo, scary stuff over here!”. The puzzle is clever, the writing is good, it’s just this particular volume didn’t work for me from the get-go because I didn’t believe the premise.
16 thoughts on “#224: Coming Soon – Death on the Nile (1937) vs. He Who Whispers (1946): Some (Optional) Pre-Reading…”
Can’t wait chaps! And thanks for the shout out, made me feel all warm and fuzzy in my blogging dotage …
Yup, ‘dotage’ — that’s definitely the word that springs to mind when everyone thinks of Fedora, Sergio, ya feeble old bastard… 😉
Knackered mate, spiritually, morally, ethically … you name it, we’ve descended to it!
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Well, who needs ethics and morals anyway? Waste of effort if you ask me…
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The United States is figuring out fast how to avoid both . . .
I’m looking forward to doing a quick skim without reading too much about Death on the Nile. Yeah…I haven’t done my homework 😦 But how could I when I have all of these lovely Carr’s to read?
I love the summaries that you put together JJ. It’s interesting to quickly read through such diverse thoughts on each book.
As to Noah’s comment about the vampire aspect of He Who Whispers – I never felt that was a key part of the premise, similar to how a werewolf isn’t really a serious aspect of It Walks By Night. Carr definitely played up the supernatural angle in a few books like The Man Who Could Not Shudder (unsuccessfully) and The Crooked Hinge (successfully), but for me, He Who Whispers is more of a flirting attempt.
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I think you’ll struggle to avoid the Nile-specific details — it’s currently a rather free-ranging discussion that veers from one to the other and back again without much warning; by the time you’ve realised it’s a DotN spoiler, it’s already been spoiled.
So, y’know, the reader is warned…
We touch on the vamprisim theme in HWW, but I will say that I think Carr intended it to be more of a feature than the lyncanthropy of It Walks By Night. I sort of feel like he was so rooted in dispelling the supernatural that he was never able to quite convince himself to write it in any full-blooded way. But many would, I’m sure, disagree…
I figured that might be the case. You can look forward to a seemingly out of the blue comment on the post about two years from now.
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Merriam-Webster’s definition(s) of a vampire:
1) the reanimated body of a dead person believed to come from the grave at night and suck the blood of persons asleep
2) a : one who lives by preying on others
b : a woman who exploits and ruins her lover
So I don’t know what you fellows are taking about . . . there are DEFINITELY vampires in HHW!
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Looking forward to this JJ. Two of my favourite novels by my two favourite GA writers.
On another note, I’ve come across a podcast you might like: ‘All About Agatha’ in which two people discuss a Christie novel each week in great detail, looking at background, plot mechanics etc. I’ve listened to a couple and enjoyed them.
Sounds like fun, thanks for mentioning it. I need to get into podcastd more, as my journey to work gets a little dull and I’m aware I could spend the time a little more productively. Shall give this a look and see if it’ll fit the bill.
Hey Brad, JJ – will there be two separate posts, on each of your blogs? Or a combined post?
Also, would it be safe just to read the concluding paragraph to the blog post? Would it simply offer an overall assessment of the two novels without spoilers? I won’t be able to read ‘He Who Whispers’ since it’s lurking on a bookshelf in a different country – and I definitely want to save the best for the last. 😀
For the sake of being able to keep track of the conversation, and saving people having to post the same comment more than once in order to get their perspectives aired, there is going to be just the one post, here on TIE — that seemed to me to be the easiest solution.
In terms of how much you can read…well, we’re comparing the two novels in very explicit detail at times, and it veers between then rather quickly. So, if you’ve not read HWW there isn’t really a meaningful section you’ll be able to read that doesn’t also contain spoilers for that book. This is why I wanted to give two months’ heads-up and have called this undertaking Spoiler Warning: I wanted to be very clear that there will be spoilers, we name names and give away twists all over the shop — not the normal approach when talking about this kind of thing online.
So, in short…you may have to skip this post, or run the risk of HWW being ruined for you. Flagging up individual spoilers in the post doesn’t seem to make sense — there are too many of them! — but I’m always open to trying a new way of doing this in future…
Any possibility of a brief, spoiler-free concluding paragraph that states the evaluation…? 😦
At this stage, probably not. It’s about 90% written and doesn’t realy go along those lines, sorry. I reckon thi is just the universe telling you to read HWW… 😀
Okay, I may have found a sort of way around this: in the post itself, I have sprinkled different covers of HWW and DotN from down the years. Any paragraph with a DotN cover is about that book, and vice versa for HWW. Anything without a cover next to it might be discussing elemtns of both of them, or contrasting them in such a way as may be spoilerish…best to be careful, eh?
We have also written a very brief summation paragraph each giving a general overview, but there’s not really much to add by this point so I’m afraid it’s a little short on actual get-your-teeth-into-it content. Hope this gives you a chance to enjoy some of what we’ve done — we’re all-inclusive here at The Invisible Event!