The Map // by William Ritter

//published 2015//

//published 2015//

This novella takes place between the first and second Jackaby novels.  While it was an enjoyable read, novellas generally just leave me wishing the author had taken the time to develop a full-length book.

In The Map, Abigail wakes up half-hoping that her eccentric employer has forgotten her birthday.  However – no such luck.  With some magical time-and-space-traveling party crackers, Abigail and Jackaby find themselves scampering around both the seen and unseen worlds.  Jackaby’s ability to see all things as they are – including magical creatures – aids the pair throughout their adventures, but I love that Abigail’s ability to see the ordinary is so necessary to balance Jackaby’s viewing of the extraordinary.

The relationship between these two protagonists develops throughout the story, leaving the pair good friends at the end instead of merely coworkers, and I liked that.

The story was a little thin in my mind, leaving some gaps with a sort of Well what do you expect from a novella attitude, which I think is unfair to short stories, as they do have the potential, when crafted correctly, of delivering a full and well-rounded tale.  The Map was a pretty solid 3/5 read.  While enjoyable for someone pursuing the series, it doesn’t really have a great deal to offer as an objective book in its own right.

The Seven Dials Mystery // by Agatha Christie

As I mentioned when I reviewed Christie’s last two books, many literature critics proclaim that, while a gifted writer, Christie met her Waterloo with thrillers.  However, I believe that those people completely miss the point of Christie’s thrillers – she wasn’t taking them seriously.

//published 1929//

//published 1929//

That’s possibly why they’re actually among my favorites of her stories.  They are full of fun and froth, and slyly poke fun at all the serious thrillers of the time.  Christie haphazardly throws everything into this story – secret societies and dramatic Russian women, masked meetings and perfectly-timed coincidences.  She ties it all together with a large dose of hilarity bordering on Wodehouse levels at time, and throws in an actual decent mystery underneath of it all.

Anyone who reads the first chapter of The Seven Dials Mystery and genuinely believes that Christie was trying to write a serious, thoughtful thriller is completely devoid of any kind of sense of humor.

The room was empty save for his hostess, and her reproachful gaze gave Jimmy the same feeling of discomfort he always experienced on catching the eye of a defunct codfish exposed on a fisherman’s slab.

I mean, if that doesn’t sound as though it was lifted directly from some of Wodehouse’s work, I don’t know what does.

//My favorite cover art//

//My favorite cover art//

The point is, The Seven Dials Mystery is a great story.  It’s full of intrigue and mysterious people and secret clubs and back rooms and hidden passageways.  Some of the characters are the same ones that were in the background of Christie’s last book, The Secret of Chimneysincluding the owner of Chimneys, Lord Caterham, who is a favorite of mine.

This is a great book, full of fun and frolic, and not remotely serious.  And that is precisely what makes it so very brilliant.

Dragonseye // by Anne McCaffrey

aka Red Star Rising 

download (1)

//published 1997//

In this book, McCaffrey takes us back to around 300 years after the initial landing at Pern.  When Thread first fell, the original settlers were able to determine that Thread would fall for about 50 years, and that there would be intervals of around 200 years between each cycle of Thread.  Dragonseye takes place as the First Interval is drawing to a close and the Second Fall is about to begin.

I don’t know if I’m just getting used to McCaffrey’s writing/Pern or what, but despite the fact that this book involved an entirely new cast of characters, I found it a lot easier to get into than some of her other stories.  McCaffrey uses this story to show us how a lot of the information/history from the original settlers was lost completely by the Ninth Pass 2000 years later (which is when the first book in the series is set).

As usual, there are several strands of story playing out at the same time.  The main drive of the story is the Dragonriders trying to get everyone to prepare for Threadfall.  Even though there has only been about 200 years since the last Threadfall, some people are reluctant to admit that Thread is coming again.  One Lord Holder in particular, Chalkin, refuses to accept that Thread is going to fall.  He doesn’t warn his people and will take no preparatory action.  And, on top of that, he’s just an all-around nasty guy.

Meanwhile, the school system in Pern is undergoing a big change.  Up until this point, they have followed an educational system fairly close to what we would see here, where students would attend regular classes and lessons.  But as the society comes to rely less and less on technology, and more and more on what they grow/create themselves, there isn’t as much time for education as before.  The leader of schooling system, Clisser, believes that much of what is being taught is unnecessary.  Why do they need to spend time teaching the students about per-Pern history, for instance?  What they need is to focus on the specific studies that will help them survive.  Thus, we see the very beginnings of the different “halls” – one for each branch of industry/study – born, as well as the technique of teaching important information by song.  (As the reader, we know that eventually the educational system will be replaced by the Harper Hall, and that songs will become the main way by which education is shared.)

All in all, this was a solid story.  I don’t think it would have been as enjoyable if I hadn’t read it at this point in the series.  By knowing what is going to happen later in Pernese history, this book of background was a lot more intriguing.

I’ve mentioned before a frustration with the fact that McCaffrey  – and most other authors – love to portray those who advocate change as the good guys, and anyone who is against the change (or even like “Hey guys maybe we should think this through”) are automatically the nasty people that no one likes.  In this book, one such character is Sallisha, a teacher who isn’t sure about Clisser’s ideas for changing the entire educational system.  She’s a minor character, but even so comes across as stiff-necked, traditional (in a negative sense), and basically someone who will blindly cling to the old way just because it is the old way.  This was extremely aggravating because her actions show Sallisha to be intelligent, interested in her students, and not the type of person who would remain prejudiced against a genuinely good idea.

For instance, in this conversation between Sallisha and Clisser, McCaffrey immediately sets the tone for how we are supposed to view Sallisha, thus subtly encouraging the reader to disregard everything she is getting ready to say:

Sallisha had seated herself in the least comfortable chair – the woman positively enjoyed being martyred.  She still held the notebook, like a precious artifact, across her chest.

So basically we’re already being told that she is cranky, self-righteous, and stubborn.  After setting her up thus, then we are allowed to hear her actual views, which are actually quite reasonable.  Sallisha is concerned that by eliminating history and an emphasis on the way that Pern came to be, that the culture will lose that information entirely, a view that Clisser completely dismisses as ridiculous.  Ironically, it’s Sallisha who is proved right centuries later.

Point being, Sallisha could have been used to show another side of the coin, but instead is just set up as a grouchy old woman.  McCaffrey  has a very aggravating habit of creating “good” characters, who, no matter how crazy their decisions sound, are always right.  These are in contrast to the “bad” characters: anyone who disagrees with the good guys is always set up as a grouch, hidebound, stubborn, unlikable, barely tolerated even by those who are close and/or related, etc.  It seems like the stories could really benefit from some intelligent and reasonable controversy.

At any rate, Dragonseye – and the series as a whole – is still a good time, and one that I am thoroughly enjoying.  The next stop is back into the future to learn more about Masterharper Robinton’s childhood and background, so I’m excited about that one.

Top Twenty Tunes

So I’m thinking about starting a semi-regular posting of my current Top Twenty Tunes.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m not very good at inserting cool stuff, so I probably won’t be putting in a way to actually listen to the music… you’ll have to figure that bit out on your own. ;-)

Tom and I use Rhapsody for a lot of our listening.  It has its pros and cons, but it is a really fun way to find new music, and keep track of old favorites.  Unfortunately, that means we’re also somewhat limited by whatever Rhapsody has the rights to play.  For instance, my favorite Counting Crows song, “Untitled (Love Song),” has mysterious disappeared.  Within the last year, though, Rhapsody finally got the rights to Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, so, on the whole, it’s a pretty good selection.

My musical tastes are a bit eclectic at times, for which I definitely blame Tom. He is way into music and definitely more knowledgeable than I am… I just know what I like!  Point being, you’ll probably hear about his opinions as well.  :-D

I like to keep a Top Twenty playlist, and update it every couple of weeks.  Basically, I think of it as the songs I definitely want to hear every time I drive into town.  I’m really not at all an auditory learner.  It’s really hard for me to listen to books on tape, or even just people talking on the radio as I frequently loose track of what they’re saying or what’s going on, especially if I’m also trying to drive.  But music…  music is magic.

So, without further ado, my current Top Twenty Tunes.

#20:  “Hey Jude” by The Beatles – Like I said, The Beatles are finally on Rhapsody, so I’ve been listening to a lot of their music lately.  It’s fun and interesting because I’m familiar with a lot of their stuff, but a lot of it is actually pretty new to me.  Even though “Hey Jude” is kind of a long song, I just really like the way the song builds.

#19:  “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” by The Guess Who – Love the way the voices go together in this song.  I heard it on the radio the other day and realized I hadn’t listened to it in quite a while.  If I’m honest, it’s probably about to rotate off the list, but it’s still a fun listen.

#18:  “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers – I actually first started listening to The Wallflowers because of their song “Sixth Avenue Heartache,” which is still a favorite.  I was pretty surprised when Tom told me that the main guy from The Wallflowers is actually Bob Dylan’s son!  He definitely doesn’t have the talent of Dylan, but still some good tunes.  I keep meaning to listen to Bringing Down the Horse, since I like the first two songs, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet…

#17:  “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows – Last summer, Counting Crows suddenly came into focus for me.  Like, I had heard their songs before and was somewhat vaguely aware of them, but I kept hearing “Scarecrow” on the radio, and realized that I wanted to hear more of their stuff.  Then I heard “Untitled (Love Song)” and uggggghhhh that song really is perfect in every way.  I’ve been listening to Counting Crows pretty much ever since.  “Mr. Jones” is one of their older songs, but I still like it a lot.  Even though it’s basically a song about them hanging out at a strip club (sort of), there’s a lot going on with the lyrics beyond that – “All the beautiful colors are very, very beautiful/Gray is my favorite color/I felt so symbolic yesterday” – I dunno.  I just like this song about how we all want to be liked and be beautiful, and we really think that if we were, then our lives would be really good.  But the truth of the matter is that being famous or beautiful doesn’t automatically solve all your problems.

#16:  “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles – Does this song even need an introduction?  How can anyone not like the happiest song in the world??

#15:  “What Light” by Wilco –

If you feel like singing a song
And you want other people to sing along
Just sing what you feel
Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong

And if you’re trying to paint a picture
But you’re not sure which colors belong
Just paint what you see
Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong

And if you’re strung out like a kite
Or stung awake in the night
It’s alright to be frightened

When there’s a light (what light)
There’s a light (one light)
There’s a light (white light)
Inside of you

If you think you might need somebody
To pick you up when you drag
Don’t loose sight of yourself
Don’t let anyone change your bag

And if the whole world’s singing your songs
And all of your paintings have been hung
Just remember what was yours is everyone’s from now on

And that’s not wrong or right
But you can struggle with it all you like
You’ll only get uptight

Because there’s a light (what light)
There’s a light (one light)
There’s a light (white light)

#14: “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star – This is one of those bands that, for me personally, is a one-hit wonder.  I have yet to come across any other Mazzy Star songs that I even particularly thought were worth a second listen, but “Fade Into You” has been on or close to my Top Twenty Tunes for at least two years.  I just love the floaty-ness of this song.  Perfection.

#13:  “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gangs” by Johnny Cash – So Tom is a total outlaw country addict.  While I can’t listen to nothing but Roger Miller for months at a time (one of the few times we had to have a serious intervention in our marriage…  we were getting read to drive 24 hours to Colorado and, while I love Roger Miller, there was no way I could handle it for 24 hours straight…!!!), I do love a bit of twang now and then.  Cash is always full of pithy advice, which is a bonus:  “There ain’t no good in an evilhearted woman/I ain’t cut out to be no Jesse James/Don’t go writing hot checks down in Mississippi/And there ain’t no good chain gangs”

#12:  “Level” by The Raconteurs – While, from all I hear, Jack White is a total jerk, there is no denying that he is fabulously talented.  There is usually at least one of his songs, either from his solo career, The White Stripes, or The Raconteurs, on my playlist all the time.  “Level” is an old favorite – super catchy.

#11:  “Hangin’ Around” by Counting Crows – Whoops, here they are again!  :-D  Lately, I’ve been seriously digging the bass line to this song.  On the whole, I tend to like songs that are uptempo and make me want to move my feet.  “Hangin’ Around” definitely accomplishes that.

#10:  “Jackie and Wilson” by Hozier – I’m not an overall huge Hozier fan (there was a period of time where, if I heard his song “Take Me To Church” one more time I was going to have to do something drastic), but the lyrics to “Jackie and Wilson” are just too adorable for words.  There is something about being single, and building an entire life-together-day-dream from just a glimpse of someone, that is kind of magical and depressing all at the same time, lol.  Hozier really captures that, and all in a catchy package.

#9:  “My Silver Lining” by First Aid Kit – Sometimes I have a song that I think of as my theme song for a certain year, and “My Silver Lining” was that song for 2015.  I really love the words to this song a lot.  

I don’t want to wait anymore I’m tired of looking for answers
Take me some place where there’s music and there’s laughter
I don’t know if I’m scared of dying but I’m scared of living too fast, too slow
Regret, remorse, hold on, oh no I’ve got to go
There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on
And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on
Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road
Can’t worry ’bout what’s behind you or what’s coming for you further up the road
I try not to hold on to what is gone, I try to right what is wrong
I try to keep on keeping on
Yeah I just keep on keeping on

I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road

I’ve woken up in a hotel room, my worries as big as the moon
Having no idea who or what or where I am
Something good comes with the bad
A song’s never just sad
There’s hope, there’s a silver lining
Show me my silver lining
Show me my silver lining

#8:  “Help!” by The Beatles – I actually think that this song is just adorably romantic.  The second verse is actually my favorite:

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
But every now and then I feel so insecure
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

#7:  “Tangled Up in Blue” by Bob Dylan – Okay, so, confession is that I’m not honestly a huge Dylan fan.  I can appreciate his talent and what he did for the musical world, but sometime I hear his voice and just start giggling.  What is he even doing!?  But “Tangled Up in Blue” is brilliant from beginning to end and is one of my all-time favorite songs.  I can’t even explain why.  It’s one of those rare perfect songs.  The other day I was feel super frustrated and annoyed with life, and it was pouring rain, and dark, and I had to go grocery shopping after work, which I hate, and it was late, and it’s a 25 minute drive home from the store, and in the midst of feeling really sorry for myself, “Tangled Up in Blue” came on the radio, and something about that opening guitar, and the line – “Early one morning the sun was shining/I was laying in bed/Wond’ring if she’d changed at all/And if her hair was still red” – I can’t explain it.  My life was suddenly better.

#6:  “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” by Led Zeppelin – Zeppelin is Tom’s all-time favorite band.  I mean, we actually have this poster framed and hanging in our house:


Although, let’s be fair, who doesn’t want that hanging in their house?  :-D

Anyway, there is always at least one Zeppelin tune on the list.  “Hey, Hey” is one of my all-time favorite songs, despite the depressing storyline (“Hey, hey, what can I do?/I got a woman and she won’t be true/Hey, hey, what can I say/I got a woman – stay drunk all day” haha), the music is, as always, brilliant.  I love listening to Zeppelin, love choosing just one instrument to follow throughout the song.

#5:  “Pretty Pimpin’ ” by Kurt Vile – Four of my top five songs are new(ish).  Tom heard this one on the radio, and it became an instant favorite.  It has that perfect sort of roll through the song, that quiet groove.  The lyrics are good, too, because I think everyone has had those moments where you wonder what reality really is, and if we are actually real…???!  “I woke up this morning/Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror/Then I laughed and said/’Oh silly me – it’s just me’ ”  It’s a great song.  The rest of the album was a lot more downbeat, but this one is a keeper.

#4:  “2 Heads” by Coleman Hell – Tom and I have this thing, where he gets annoyed when the radio decides what song we should like.  I get annoyed, too…  except when I end up really liking the song.  Even though “2 Heads” is everything that should be cliche and annoying in a song, it’s still seriously grooving and I really like it. I just don’t play it when Tom’s around so I can avoid getting judged. ;-)

#3:  “Babylon” by David Grey – The first few times I heard this song, it didn’t really do much for me, but it’s really grown on me a lot.  It’s one of those quietly catchy songs that takes a little bit to build.  My coworker and I love this song and sing it really loudly together, so there’s that.

#2:  “Elephant” by Tame Impala – I think it may be physically impossible to listen to this song and not dance.  Waylon (that’s the dog) has gotten to where he recognizes when this song comes on and comes running up to me because he knows I’m going to start dancing, and Waylon is way into dancing with me. :-D  My coworker, on the other hand, has requested that this song be removed from our work playlist for the same reason….

#1:  “Mountain at My Gates” by Foals – Okay, so I’m literally addicted to this song right now.  I listen to it once, since it’s the first song on my list, and think, Okay, only going to listen once and then move on.  Then five times later I’ve arrived at my destination and listened to nothing else.  Whoops.  This song has a great build, it’s super catchy, and just all-around fun.  I will say that Tom has deemed this song “too dancy” so it may not be for you…

So, what are you guys listening to?  Are any of these on your favorites list?  Any suggestions for me based on what I’m already listening to?

I may be back with another Top Twenty Tunes one of these days.  Until then…  happy listening!

Jackaby // by William Ritter

This is one of those books that has been on my radar for a while.  Thanks to my new system of deciding what book to read next – the random number generator lottery method – I finally got my hands on it!  Stephanie reviewed this book all the way back when it was published in 2014, and it’s been on the TBR ever since!!


//published 2014//

Our heroine, and narrator, is Abigail Rook, an intelligent and no-nonsense young woman, who, despite her inherent practicality, finds herself in a bit of a bind: she’s landed in a small New England town in 1892 with no real means of supporting herself.  Having run away from home, Abigail is reluctant to return to her parents (especially since her initial runaway adventure was a complete failure), and is determined to find a job of some sort.

She answers an advertisement:  “Investigative Services – Assistant Wanted – $8 per Week – Must be literate and possess a keen intellect and open mind – Strong stomach preferred – Inquire at 926 Augur Lane – Do not stare at the frog.”

Now, personally, I’m not sure Abigail was really the right person for the job, since she immediately stares at the frog, but despite starting out by disobeying instructions, she soon finds herself probationally employed by Mr. R.F. Jackaby.  Jackaby possess a unique ability – he can see what other people cannot: namely, the paranormal.  Fairy creatures of all kinds are powerless to disguise themselves from Jackaby.  But what Jackaby doesn’t possess?  Very much common sense.

Jackaby and Abigail make a great team, and I loved the complete lack of romance between them.  While Abigail does harbor some warmer feelings for another character we meet, the romance is not an integral part of the story, and it really felt more like it was background for a future book.  The mystery was paced well, and the story was overall just a great deal of fun.

I’ve heard Jackaby described as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, but I think he is definitely more Who than Holmes.  Honestly, a lot of this book read like Doctor Who fanfiction to me…  replace Abigail Rook with Rose Tyler, and there you are.  But that wasn’t a bad thing.  The story was a great romp, with plenty of fun dialogue and characters.

This wasn’t really a book of great depth or intrigue, but it was engaging and entertaining, and I’m excited to read the second book, which happens to be next on the pile…

Babe the Gallant Pig // by Dick King-Smith

So over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern: if I read the book first, I love the book more.  If I see the movie first, I love the movie more.  It’s strange but true.  Something about those first impressions, I think.

There are, of course, exceptions.  Actually, the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice comes to mind.  I don’t exactly love it more – but when I read Pride & Prejudice, the BBC actors ARE the book characters!  But dearly beloved books, like The Hundred and One Dalamations and Little Women, just to name a few, have been utterly destroyed by the movies.  Some movie adaptations I can get through by pretending that it’s a completely different story that just happens to have the same title (The Hundred and One Dalamatians, actually), but others fill me with such rage that I can’t. Even. Handle. It.

Then there are the weird, rare occasions where I actually like the movie better.  The most obvious example is The Princess Bride.  While the book is actually quite fabulous and witty, it’s a little more cynical and cold than the movie.  The movie version captures the intelligence and delightful dialogue of the book, while coming across as much warmer and lighthearted.

All of that rambling brings us, in due course, to Babe the Gallant Pig.  I first read this book as a child.  The first King-Smith book I discovered was actually The Fox Busters, which is, as an aside, absolutely brilliant.  I soon realized that King-Smith was a (very) prolific author, and devoured many of his other stories.  Some were rather meh reads, but others, like The Queen’s Nose, The Water Horse, Harry’s Mad, and Babe, became instant favorites.


//published 1983//

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Babe is the story of a sheep farmer who wins a pig at a fair.  Farmer Hogget has every intention of feeding the pig out and slaughtering him for Christmas, but Babe becomes close friends with Hogget’s border collie, Fly.  His friendship with Fly leads Babe to try his best to be a pig who herds sheep: a sheep-pig.  The story unwinds delightfully and gently.  Babe is guaranteed a long life when he rescues the flock from sheep rustlers, and, in the end, his sheep-pig dream is realized, too.

King-Smith’s books frequently come through almost more as outlines of stories than full-fledged books.  They’re children’s books, so that’s part of it.  While all of his stories could use a little more fleshing out, he still manages to give clear character sketches with just a few lines.

“I knows that,” said Mrs. Hogget, “because I’m late now with all these cakes and jams and pickles and preserves as is meant to be on the Produce Stall this very minute, and who’s going to take them there, I’d like to know, why you are, but afore you does, what’s that noise?”

The squealing sounded again.

“That noise?”

Mrs. Hogget nodded a great many times.  Everything that she did was done at great length, whether it was speaking or simply nodding her head.  Farmer Hogget, on the other hand, never wasted his energies or his words.

“Pig,” he said.

My edition has delightful pen-and-ink drawings by Mary Rayner that really add a lot to the story.  Illustrations are especially important in children’s  books, and I am always happy to find ones that are simple, realistic, and actually follow the story.

There isn’t a lot of depth to Babe, but it is still a wonderful little book that I highly recommend.

But what about the movie??  Well, I simply cannot decide whether I prefer the book or the movie.  The movie adds a lot to the story, actually, by introducing several extra characters, such as Ferdinand the duck, Rex (Fly’s mate), and the evil Cat.  None of these exist in the original story, but they work really well in the movie.  The movie does a great job of retaining the spirit and basic storyline of the book, while fleshing it out a great deal.

Honestly, what holds me back from wholeheartedly endorsing the movie is the fact that, in the movie, the Hoggets  have grandchildren, and they are so obnoxious. Unbelievably obnoxious.  The Hoggets children spend a lot of time nagging their parents about how the Hoggets need to “get with the times” and embrace technology and modernization.  Farmer Hogget spends hours carefully constructing an absolutely beautiful dollhouse for his granddaughter who, when she opens it on Boxing Day, responds by wailing and screaming that it isn’t like the one she saw on the telly.  UGH.

The silly thing, the movie on the whole is absolutely delightful. It’s so well done.  All the animal characters are fantastic, the narration wonderful, and Farmer and Mrs. Hogget are EXACTLY as one would picture them.  But those grandchildren, and the way the Hogget’s children are so disdainful about their parents’ life just really is quite terrible.

So, final verdict?  Definitely read the book, because it’s only about a hundred pages (full of pictures) and adorable.  Then watch the movie, because it’s great, too.  Just fast forward through the big where the Hogget’s family comes to visit for Christmas.

The Secret of Chimneys // by Agatha Christie

//published 1925//

//published 1925//

So I think that I neglected to mention, when I reviewed The Man in the Brown Suit last month, that I am embarking on another Christie kick.  A long while back, I was seized with a great desire to read all of Christie’s books.  I started with my favorites, Tommy and Tuppence.  Then I went on to read all of the Hercule Poirot books in published order, which was absolutely brilliant.  Even though they don’t really “build” on each other, I got so much more out of them by reading in order and watching different background characters come in and out.  (I had a very similar experience reading all of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie and Jeeves books in published order.)  Miss Marple was next, and now I’m down to the “leftovers” – her miscellaneous books.

download (4)As with the Poirot, Marple, and T&T books, I’ve read many of these before.  But I know that there are definitely several I’ve never read, so that’s exciting.  I also happen to have a great fondness for her “spy” novels (which may be why Tommy and Tuppence’s first appearance in The Secret Adversary is one of my all-time favorite reads).  These are the books that aren’t really cozy mysteries – they lack the motive-based murder and the narrow set of potential murderers.  Instead, they scramble all over the world, with all sorts of overly-dramatic cloak-and-dagger moves.  There are dark, mysterious men, and beautiful  heroines, and it’s all just fabulously great fun, even if it’s completely impractical.  Throughout, Christie’s witty dialogue and snide observations are at their best.

the-secret-of-chimneys-agatha-christie-1The Secret of Chimneys opens in Africa, where our hero, Anthony Cade, is leading a rather tired tour of British citizens.  Cade runs into an old friend, Jimmy.  Jimmy tells Cade an involved story, the upshot of which is –  he wants Cade to run back to Britain and deliver a few items that have been entrusted to Jimmy: Cade agrees.  Of course, the items end up being of great political importance, and it isn’t long before Cade finds himself entangled with all sorts of questionable characters.  Christie does a great job keeping the waters muddy as to who is on whose team.  Cade is wholly likable, as is our heroine, Virginia Revel: independent and intelligent, but still quite womanly (and not obnoxious).

THE_SECRET_OF_CHIMNEYS_fsThe pacing is excellent, the interactions between the characters is great fun, and even Christie’s caricature characters are still done well.  My only complaint is that she definitely withholds some critical information – Cade knows more than we do throughout – so there’s no real way for us to be able to figure things out, although we can come up with some decent guesses.

Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard makes his first appearance here – he crops up in a few other books as well.  Intelligent and imaginative – but appearing rather stolid and unexciting – Battle is actually a favorite of mine: a man with good instincts, and whom Christie never leaves out to dry as the fool, which is nice.

All in all, The Secret of Chimneys is a very fun romp, and highly recommended.  4/5.