Sunday, February 20, 2011

Murder On the Links

by Agatha Christie

The second Hercule Poirot novel. To explain its plot accurately would take half an hour and a whiteboard, but briefly: the Belgian detective and his aide Hastings are summoned to the house of M. Renauld, a millionaire who fears for his life. They arrive too late, finding him already dead, half-buried in an unfinished golf bunker, supposedly at the hands of bearded foreign thugs, and possibly at the hands of a jilted lover. But Poirot soon unearths not one, but two of the principals are living under assumed names and have criminal pasts, while the jilted lover may not have belonged to M. Renauld at all, and then another corpse pops up.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, as I did its predecessor; Christie puts so much charm and wit into her tortuous, labyrinthine plots filled with deception and red herrings that the joy they bring makes one forgot the craziness of the coincidences and cover-ups. I did roll my eyes at the depictions of the police other than Poirot; I don’t mind Hastings being a besotted fool (and he certainly is, from first page to last), but when the police dismiss what is obviously evidence such as discarded clothes or the woman who visited the crime scene; or when the doctor fails to realize the most basic of forensic points (that a man was stabbed after death), it makes Poirot’s cleverness merely the rationality of the not-stupid. Still, nit-picking leaches the fun out of the mystery, and it is indeed quite fun.

four stars

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Queen and Country: A Gentleman's Game

by Greg Rucka

The first Queen & Country novel, in which hard-drinking, tough-as-nails, dead-inside MI6 agent Tara Chace is ordered to assassinate an incendiary imam in Yemen after a disastrous attack by Islamic radicals on the London Tube.  It’s a clean hit, but a Saudi VIP is in the wrong place and wrong time, and because the service values political expedience over its agents’ lives, Chace is forced to go rogue and undertake a highly dangerous mission in order to put things right.

Rucka is the master of the taut, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it paced political thriller; this book is easily as entertaining, and a lot more cosmopolitan, than his best Atticus Kodiak books.  It’s thoroughly informed, smart, and all too realistic in its understanding of to what extent governments serve themselves, as well as chillingly realistic when it comes to depicting the confused, hate-filled mind of the zealot.  Masterful and engrossing entertainment.

five stars