Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What I'm Reading

By Tracy Kiely
Recently, a friend of mine called me after watching an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence mysteries. She knew that I was reading Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man and noticed many similarities between the two; two bright young things solve mysteries; said bright young things have pots of money and so dress in lovely clothes; bright young things engage in witty banter; bright young things have cute side-kick dog. Could it be, my friend wondered, that Dame Agatha had been inspired by Nick and Nora when she created Tommy and Tuppence?

No, as it turns out. The first Tommy and Tuppence adventure, The Secret Adversary, was published in 1922 – eleven years before Dashiell created his dynamic duo.  Once again Agatha wins.

So, I immediately downloaded the book and began to read it. I liked it for many of the usual reasons one likes Agatha – it’s a twisty mystery that keeps you guessing until the end. But, I also enjoyed it because it’s so clearly written at the beginning of her career. It’s not as polished or tight as her later books and the mystery – while good – is too convoluted to be believable. And this is just a nit picky point, and might just be because it was on a Kindle, but words were capitalized for emphasis rather than italicized. This changes the tone a bit.  A line such as, “Tommy, this is a CLUE!” reads like a twelve-year-old wrote it. 
Between the two books – The Thin Man and The Secret Adversary – I’d have to say I enjoyed The Thin Man more.  The dialog and humor is crisper and, while you know you are visiting the 1930s, the book has more of a timeless feel than The Secret Adversary, which is heavy on post-WWI political intrigue.  
That said, I still downloaded the next Tommy and Tuppence mystery, By The Pricking of My Thumbs and while I have only just begun it, I can already tell that it’s vintage Christie. Of course, it was written in 1968, so it should be.
The other book that I’m reading now is Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy. This is the first in Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, a strange world in which nursery rhyme characters live among real people, oblivious to the fact that they are nursery characters. A special police division, lead by Inspector Jack Spratt, is created to deal with crimes amongst the seedier elements of the nursery lot. I read the second book in the series,The Fourth Bear, a few years ago and loved it. In that one, Spratt has to chase down and capture the homicidal lunatic and cookie, Gingerbreadman. In this one, Spratt is investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty who was found shattered to death beneath a wall.  Forensic reconstruction of the shell indicates that Humpty didn’t fall and he wasn’t pushed. He was blasted with a shotgun. 

As usual, Fforde’s brilliance makes me feel like my ancestors only recently starting walking upright. His imagination for this series is endless. Mixed in with the absurdity of the crime, are characters who want to get out of the Nursery Division as it’s career suicide, and glimpses of their personal lives. The book opens with Spratt depressed because he lost his case against the three little pigs whom the court found “not guilty of all charges relating to the first-degree murder of Mr. Wolff.” Spratt argues that the Wolff’s death was premeditated, as it would take the pigs “at least eight hours to boil all that water.”
We also learn that Jack, who can eat no fat, is remarried. His first wife, who could eat no lean, was an obese woman who tragically died young from heart disease. It’s all very silly, but it’s also loads of fun.


Meredith Cole said...

I never liked Tommy and Tuppence much, but I read their books anyway. I'll read anything by Dame Agatha!

Anonymous said...

Actually, the next Tommy and Tuppence book (after The Secret Adversary) is Partners in Crime, a collection of short stories. The next full length novel featuring them is N or M. By the Pricking of My Thumbs is next, and finally Postern of Fate.