Update: When I say “Dorothy Parker” below, I of course mean to say “Dorothy Sayers”. I adore them both, but as far as I know, Dorothy Parker did not actually write any mystery novels.
Besides the obvious necessities, I wasn’t sure what to bring on my last trip to Chicago. What would be useful or comforting to me and my family before, during, and after my dad’s big surgery?
The answer, I decided, was leftover Halloween candy and mystery novels. And by mystery novels, I mean Dorothy Parker and / or Agatha Christie. It turns out I have read all the Dorothy Parker to be had at the Litchfield library, but the supply of Dame Agatha is far from exhausted. She wrote a few books, didn’t she?
So, I chose two Christies, based on their slim size and the reasonably firm conviction that I had not yet read them. (Pro Tip: If you want to feel clever, accidentally reread a good mystery and see how quickly you seem to solve it.) These are the books I chose:
As it happens, The Man in the Brown Suit is Christie’s fourth novel; Elephants Can Remember is her second to last. And may I say, what a difference 48 years make.
Elephants Can Remember has the elements of a good mystery: super sleuth Hercule Poirot, sassy mystery writer Ariadne Oliver, twins, insanity, India, and four wigs (described at great length).
Unfortunately, the amount of action could have fit easily into a short story. A very short story. If you have seen Il Trovatore, it is kind of like that: a long time ago, Something Happened, and soon, Something Will Happen. But in the course of the story itself, Nothing Happens.
I mean, truly, nothing. It is a whole book of people talking about things that happened twenty years before. The other main topics of conversation are: (a) it is very tiring to be a famous writer, and (b) mothers of adopted children are not trustworthy and are not real mothers. (Pro Tip: I’m pretty sure only one of those statements is true.)
Luckily, I read the disappointing novel first. Because then! Then, I read the delightful romantic thriller The Man in the Brown Suit, in which many things happen. I will not spoil it for you, because I really do recommend it, if you like 1920s adventure stories with a plucky heroine, a South African setting, diamonds, secret identities, trains, ships, waterfalls, and romantic lines like these:
“I said nothing. I laughed. And yet I knew that the danger was real. Just at that moment he hated me. But I knew that I loved the danger, loved the feeling of his hands on my throat. That I would not have exchanged that moment for any other moment in my life.”
Egads. That was one of the moments where I had my doubts about our fair Anne (as I have said, I’m for Austen, not Bronte). There is also the moment where she describes someone as “the kind of woman who deserved to die.” As they say in these parts: holy buckets.
So, yes, there are some questionable attitudes, and some of the plot twists are silly, but it is still a joy to read. I bet your local library has a copy. Check it out!