My TBR pile, like Norm Lindsay’s Magic Pudding, is an apparently self-aware, endlessly self-replicating source of nourishment that I will never, ever finish. I daren’t even let it out of my sight sometimes, because who knows what sort of nonsense it gets up to when I’m not looking?
Typical, eh? You wait years for a blog to talk about magic, and then suddenly three posts come along at once: the most recent In GAD We Trust episode with John Norris, and two self-published impossible crime stories — one this week, and one next. Sure, that’s stretching the definition of “at once” to an Orwellian degree, but that’s how I apparently roll.
Agatha Christie famously wrote the final novels to feature her two biggest sleuths well ahead of their publication, and where Hercule Poirot’s swansong Curtain (1975) was a joyous return to the heights for a character she had grown weary of, Sleeping Murder (1976) — the last hurrah for Miss Jane Marple, a character you can’t help but feel Christie had a growing respect for as she aged — is…fine. Yes, it had a cogency and precision that At Bertram’s Hotel (1965) and Nemesis (1971) sorely needed, but in all honesty the sound and fury on display here signifies something that doesn’t even add up to a hill o’ beans, if you’ll forgive my mixing of classics.
Aaah, the difficult second novel. Sharna Jackson’s High-Rise Mystery (2019) was a great debut, with a superb setting, wonderful mix of characters, and a neat little mystery at its core. How does this follow-up compare?
Ten more cases for America’s Sherlock Holmes in Sneakers, Leroy ‘Encyclopedia’ Brown — how many do you think he’ll solve? What’s that? Oh, I suppose the title is something of a giveaway, hey? Well, moving on, then…
I, doubtless in common with anyone who has persevered through the stronger and weaker works of any prolific author’s career, have been moved at times to reflect at what point a long-running series becomes good before it starts to tail off in quality through the challenges of sustaining such an output.
I’ve mentioned before how I grew up reading a lot of SF — Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula Le Guin, Larry Niven, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith — and how certain authors like Philip K. Dick, Sheri S. Tepper, and Connie Willis still delight me in my dotage.
Given the inevitable decline in Agatha Christie’s powers as her career drew to a close, there’s a moderate irony in that fact that she had come off probably the most successful decade in the history of detective fiction writing when she opted to portray Hercule Poirot at his apparent worst.