The Tuesday Night Club has chosen Foreign Mysteries as this month’s theme – as usual, in any way the blogger likes to interpret it.
Bev at My Reader’s Block has produced another great logo for us, and she is also collecting the links this month.
Anyone is welcome to join in, either as a one-off or on a regular basis. Just contact one of us.
Originally the Tuesday Night Club concentrated on Golden Age detective stories, though we’ve become more loose about this as the months roll by. Last month (History and Mystery) I very much covered more modern books – so for this week (at least) I decided to go back to source. At first I thought of books by foreign authors, but I really don’t think I know very many GA books in that category. So it was time – as it so often is - to look at the Queen of Crime Writers, Agatha Christie.
Now she was a woman who liked her foreign travel. And bang in the middle of the GA period there was this one…
Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
[A group of travellers camping at Petra]
Sarah went down to the big marquee. She found her three fellow-travellers there. They were sitting at a table eating. The guide was explaining that there was another party here.
“They came two days ago. Go day after tomorrow. Americans. The mother, very fat, very difficult get here! Carried in chair by bearers – they say very hard work - they get very hot – yes.”
Sarah gave a sudden spurt of laughter…
[After an expedition] The party arrived back at the camp weary but in good spirits and with an excellent appetite for a late lunch. It was past two o’clock.
The Boynton family was sitting round the big table in the marquee. They were just finishing their meal.
[Later] “Women do not look their best in the desert,” said Dr Gerard dreamily. “Miss King [Sarah] here, yes – she always looks neat and well-turned out. But that Lady Westholme in her great thick coats and skirts and those terribly unbecoming riding breeches and boots – quelle horreur de femme!”
commentary: This is not one of my favourite Christie books, so I hadn’t read it for a long time and wondered what I would make of it.
Firstly, the desert scenes – the murder takes place at Petra - are very well done and interesting. It’s obvious from Christie’s Autobiography and Come Tell Me How You Live that she loved her trips and long stays with her 2nd husband, Max, on archaeological digs, and I think her knowledge of and love for the setting comes over well. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to find these pictures – all from the Matson collection at the Library of Congress – which really seemed almost like illustrations for the book, or stills from a film version. (There are hundreds of pictures of Petra at the LOC, highly recommended to anyone interested.)
When I did a previous post on travel in Christie, I said about the central family, the Boyntons:
Of all Christie’s horrible families, they probably have the distinction (against considerable opposition) of being the one you would least like to share a vacation with, even disregarding the murder.-- and that’s about right on a re-read, though I think I was too harsh in that post, as, contrary to what I said, only old Mrs Boynton is truly nasty, the others are just annoying and rather feeble. Mrs B’s malignancy is well-done, but it’s somewhat inexplicable: she’s just horrible for the sake of it, no joy or motive.
The book is mercifully short, though action-packed. I was thinking, reading other GA authors, how well Christie avoids those long boring middle sections, where everyone explains where they were, and people speculate on possibilities. There is quite enough of that here, but she does make it less boring than some other authors (looking at you, Ngaio Marsh).
And there are enough clothes in the book to keep me happy. I was interested that Sarah has been turned out of one of the holy places in Jerusalem because she is wearing a sleeveless dress.
And a character wears a double terai hat – explained in another Christie blogpost, by me, thus: ‘it’s the hat people wear in films and book illustrations set in tropical places, when they are not wearing a solar topee. It’s the other one.’ And in general what people wear in the desert becomes important.
Overall, my verdict was that it was much better than I remembered, though still not top rank. But the exotic setting was highly enjoyable.
All photos from the Matson collection at the LOC, showing an expedition to Petra in the 1930s.
Tourists in Petra having dinner.
Tent at the camp.
Photographing Petra 1934.
Tinted photos – left and right.