20 January 2009

Book Review: Detectives and Young Adventurers: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie

Detectives and Young Adventurers In this volume are all those Christie short stories featuring recurring characters other than the famous Marple or Poirot. Partners in Crime features Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, a young couple who turn to the annals of crime literature for inspiration as they run a detective agency and try to bring down an international crime ring. In The Mysterious Mr Quin an elderly observer of life, Mr Satterthwaite, finds himself repeatedly called on to take an active part courtesy of his strange friend Harley Quin, who by some quirk often catches the light in such a way as to appear to be dressed in motley. The former civil servant of Parker Pyne Investigates places advertisements in the newspaper promising his clients happiness, but encounters other kinds of mysteries when he sets off on his travels.

Also included are the original versions of four Poirot stories that were later expanded, and Star Over Bethlehem, a collection of Christian-themed stories for children. (Appropriate, really, since I got the book for Christmas!)

The fact that this collection is really four and a bit books rolled into one makes me feel a lot better about my low total for the year so far! Unfortunately I found on closer inspection that I had in fact previously read three of them, but it turned out that this book was better than the single volumes. Unlike my copy of Partners in Crime, the stories are headed with the details of just which other fictional sleuths are being parodied and which authors created them. (Most of them I’d never heard of, which shows how many books get lost to time.) And this version of The Mysterious Mr Quin included two additional stories.

The first segment of the book was the best. I love Tommy and Tuppence (perhaps - dare I say it? more than Marple and Poirot) and their detective-agency antics show them in highly entertaining form as they tackle everything from organised crime to a hapless young man trying to meet a girl’s challenge. They even parody Poirot along the way. Harley Quin - a.k.a. Harlequin - is a character I wish there was more of, as I’d love to find out more about him and his mysterious, well-timed appearances in the world. It’s a strange proposition, to write a series of non-supernatural mysteries centered around an essentially supernatural character, but somehow it works.

Happily I found myself unable to remember much of the outcomes of the stories about civil servant turned detective of the human heart Parker Pyne. (Obviously it’s been longer than I thought since I read it last.) Instead of crime, he investigates what makes his clients unhappy - then sets out to fix it. It’s a different matter when he goes on holiday; somehow crime finds him wherever he may be. Of the two types of tale I preferred the first; they were something unusual and it was a lot of fun seeing Parker Pyne - aided and abetted by novelist Ariadne Oliver (who appears in several Poirot novels) - orchestrate the means to give his clients a little bit of joy.

After the Poirot originals (the expanded versions of which I unfortunately didn’t have on hand to compare) came the stories I didn’t really expect to like, as they were written for children and of a religious bent. In fact, I quite enjoyed them. There was no preachiness and a touch of irreverence which I liked.

And now I can BookCross my existing copies of Partners in Crime and The Mysterious Mr Quin. It’s about time I set another book or two free into the world.

Rating: A-

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776