a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Agatha Christie’

Sensational, New Agatha Christie Bio by Laura Thompson, Pt.2


But I digress…Nobody EVAH writes about the wonderfully witty Ariadne Oliver character in Agatha Christie’s  oeuvre, so I thought I’d just fill you all in on how I felt. I loved that character. And Poirot and Miss Marple, too! And we’ve never seen a picture of an apple-munching Dame Agatha.

No. By no means is Laura Thompson’s meticulously researched and thoughtful book about  dotty, apple-munching Ariadne Oliver. It is securely focused on the elusive Dame Agatha Christie herself.

No one can explain how she was THAT prolific. She just seemed to never stop writing. And as she got older, she used to DICTATE her books into  a Dictaphone. Writing mysteries was essential to her as breathing. And as seemingly effortless.

Though as a single Mom after her divorce, she was forced to support herself. J. K. Rowling another prolific female British author, she, of the Harry Potter books comes to mind. Though Christie always had servants and was never on welfare as Rowling famously was.

Laura Thompson was allowed access by the Christie family to many notebooks and papers that have never before seen the light of day. It’s a treat for Christie lovers, and a triumph of a biography for Thompson. I can’t imagine anything being more thorough. “Agatha Christie: A mysterious Life” is exhaustively complete. And thoroughly researched, with end notes and footnotes galore.

Thompson interweaves episodes from the very secretive Christie’s life, as they appear, quite baldly in her prose. She never got over the break-up of her first marriage to the very handsome fighter pilot Archie Christie before WWI broke out.

Needing a Crying Wall, Christie seems to have poured her heart out in her Mary Westmacott books. Under a pseudonym, she could tell the truth. But actually I find the Westmacott books inferior reads to her bounty of mysteries. She needed the focus of a murder. She had a mind like a serial killer. And she just couldn’t stop writing. All her books Thompson reveals, are one way or another thinly disguised re-tellings of her break-up with the dashing rogue, Archie. Thompson posits that he is the barely cloaked villain in many, many of the stories. And all the violence she felt towards him, she took out on the page. Much to the delight of millions of readers.

Her difficult relationship with her only daughter Rosalind is gone into in great detail. Christie was an atrocious, absentee mother, and her daughter looked and sounded like her father. She didn’t take after her mother at all. Hard-headed, she became the businesswoman her flighty mother never was. And was in large part,  the  reluctant caretaker of her literary empire.

But it is Thompson’s tendresse and insight that spell-binds. She especially excels by slipping into the first person as Agatha herself recounts her doings during her infamous ten-day disappearance, which ended her first marriage, even though she didn’t want it to.

Hiding out under the guise of a “Mrs. Neale” at a Harrowgate Spa in 1926, the entire U.K. was out searching for the lost, “poor Mrs. Christie,” sure that Archie had done her in. Thompson reveals a never-before mentioned letter that Agatha wrote to Archie’s brother Campbell, telling them all where she was, but the letter seems to have gone astray and caused the ten-day ruckus that made her famous and made every book she subsequently wrote a best-seller.

It also ended her private life. Now forever a controversial public figure, by many who considered it a publicity stunt, Rosalind said “She ruined my father’s life.” The family all the while covered it as amnesia. 

And Thompson feels that this lingering bad taste of her “mysterious” disappearance may account for her lack of respect by many critics, while Thompson considers it a result of “Christie’s simple writing style.”

And a fan looking for a new Poirot or a new Miss Marple (her other great detective, an old lady who knits, no less) are more than going to find them popping up like real life figures as Christie goes through her trials and tribulations. For in Thompson’s skilled tellings, they WERE like real figures to her. And to us, her devoted, beguiled readers. “Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life” is a treasure to be bought and savored.

Advertisements

Louise Penny Has Done It Again!”A Great Reckoning” Is Great!

A Great REckoningI admit it! I’m an unabashed Louise Penny fan! And I’ve read every single one of her terrific mystery/crime novels about Quebec’s former Chief Inspector of the Surete, Armand Gamache, but with her newest one, “A Great Reckoning” she’s done it again! “A Great Reckoning” is great! The best so far. She’s really topped herself! I haven’t been able to do anything since I picked up this 12th book in her Gamache series.

I could not put it down!

And neither will you! It’s what a page-turner should be. Suspenseful, taut, fast-paced, totally absorbing and thrilling with a capital “T”.

I’ve read an early critic’s edition, as it were, so there are limits to what I can and can’t say. I can’t quote from it, but I can say there are beautiful descriptions of her beloved Quebec and the irresistible village of Three Pines. You really want to move there and retire, just like Gamache & his devoted, smart, beautiful wife Reine-Marie have. Except of course, it’s a fictional location where corpses and murders abound. And it’s in Quebec, where it’s almost always snowing.And her descriptions of the food Olivier & Gabri prepare in their adorable bistro ~ MOUTH~WATERING!

Also writing about a thriller like this is difficult, because you can’t reveal any of the mysteries, or you’ll spoil it. And suffice it to say that there’s a LOT to spoil. There are twists upon twists, and a really bang-up unguessable conclusion. And all your favorite characters, the colorful Quebecquois townspeople, are all back, Clara, Myrna, Ruth Zardo and her pet duck, Rosa. And the gay couple to end all gay couples, Olivier & Gabri, and their wonderful bistro/B&B, that you’ll wish you could dine at and stay at. But alas! They’re all fictional! But that’s the sign of great writing. It all comes alive for you, Penny tells her stories so well.

Taken altogether as one massive novel, it reminds me of “War and Peace”! That’s how the Gamache series  deepens and grows on you.Throughout the twelve preceeding novels(and you really should read all of them, in order, if you can), the characterizations just build and build and build til you feel you know Clara & Myrna & Ruth etc.,etc. It’s like visiting old friends, in their loveliest of homes. But you can read the Gamache series of mysteries and enjoy them as stand alones, too.

This mystery is set in the Montreal Police Academy, which has made Gamache its’ head and lured him out of retirement, and the scenes shift between the school and Three Pines, but I will say no more than that. No spoilers here! “A Great Reckoning” hits stores August 30. But you can pre-order, mais oui!

And as strong and suspenseful as “A Great Reckoning” is, it’s even MORE amazing how quickly after Penny’s last Gamache book ,N.Y. Times bestseller “The Nature of the Beast”, came out. Less than a year! How does she do it? But then that’s the timetable Agatha Christie kept to and Louise Penny is nothing if she’s not a modern, French-Canadian Agatha Christie. Miss Marple had St. Mary Mead and Gamache and co. have Three Pines. Murder mysteries set in small, cozy, seemingly idyllic villages.

And when you read her acknowledgements at the end, she heart-breakingly reveals that her much-loved husband Michael has gotten dementia. And they live together in a small village in Quebec’s townships. but it’s not Three Pines. So her writing this wonderful, complicated thriller so FAST and so WELL is even more amazing! That she wrote this great book in the middle of all this personal sorrow and tragedy is astonishing. All my best to Louise and to Michael, too.

#Louise Penny # Three Pines # Inspector Gamache # Murder Mystery#Agatha Christie #Canada # Montreal # Quebec

Louise Penny Has Captured My Imagination and Is Holting it Prisoner!

Louise PennyI haven’t yet read all ten of Quebecquois author Louise Penny’s ten novels, but I know that soon I will! I just can’t put them down! She’s amazing! IT’S amazing and she’s been around now for quite some time and I’m coming late to the Louise Penny party, but I’ve just subscribed to her chatty newsletter and I recommend you all, dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of literature and the theatre, so check out http://www.louisepenny.com and you can friend her on Facebook!

What a lovely writer! And how unusual is it for novels that routinely debut at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List (hardcover and paperback) to be set in Montreal?!?! And mostly the tiny little village of Three Pines. It boasts a bar and a bistro and all the characters have French names, but Louise Penny writes so beautifully about them, in English.

Her descriptions of the seasonal changes in her(and my) beloved Montreal and Quebec are just magical. They make you want to be there all year ’round! And I’ve neglected to say just what these novels are all about. Well, believe it or not, they’re mysteries!

Whodunits! Not since Agatha Christie have I’ve found myself so obsessed! Her leading man is the beguiling Chief Inspector Gamache of the Surete. The Montreal police. And Penny doesn’t just stop there. She’s created a GALLERY of adorable characters around him, Clara Morrow, the painter, Myrna, the black Used Bookshop keeper, Olivier and Gabri, a delightful gay couple who run the Bistro and most memorably for me, the foul-mouthed nonogenarian poet (and drunk) Ruth Zardo, who has a pet duck, Rosa! A pet duck! I love that!

And Three Pines is off the grid! Inspector Gamache and his hearty side-kick Jean-Guy Beauvoir are constantly frustrated because there’s no Internet there! I love that!

I love Ruth and Rosa, and I immediately wanted to move to Three Pines, but of course, anyone who does so does so at his peril. Because delightfully hidden getaway to end all getaways, you could very well end up murdered. As many of its’ tiny citizenry do. On a regular basis.

My favorite? So far “Fatal Grace” which is set in Three Pines at Christmas time.

Penny, a former CBC broadcaster, miraculously turned her life and career around, at the midway mark, and began to produce these ASTOUNDINGLY successful, delicately written thriller-dillers. “Fatal Grace” kept me up until 3AM a few nights ago! I couldn’t put it down!

And Penny wrings changes on the tried and true mystery form, which she seems quite frankly at once in love with but also tired of. She does this by continuing her characters exploits and their stories from novel to novel. One saga involving Olivier goes on for two books!

And she develops her characters lovingly as she deepens their stories from book to book to book!

I don’t know which Louise Perry novel I’m going to read next! But I can’t wait!

My advice, start with the first one “Still Life” and then the second “Fatal Grace” and continue reading them in succession. You’ll be glad you did!

Mesmerzing”Maigret” French TV series now out on MHz DVDs!

Rarely, have I ever stumbled upon a new fictional detective that has totally mesmerized me. Full disclosure, I’m sort of obsessed by Agatha Christie and her great detectives Hercule Poirot and esp. Miss Marple. At last I’ve found some one new, who is quite  obsession-worthy  It is the late great French writer(Belgian born) Georges Simenon and his legendary police commissaire detective Jules Maigret. New to me, but well-known to millions of readers and viewers, esp. in Europe.’

Out now in a marvelously entertaining DVD set released by MHz videos, it features “Maigret” as played by the late great French actor Bruno Cremer, who is well into his 70s when he shot this wonderful series that ran for more than a decade on French TV. And how lucky the French are to have such a high quality TV series running regularly! Most American Network TV is a vulgar joke by comparison.(I’m not counting the excellent work now done on Cable. Like for instance, “Breaking Bad.” But it’s Cable and I don’t get AMC!! )

The Maigret novels have been filmed many, many times  in Europe on TV and in film, but I can’t imagine any of these incarnations beating Cremer’s Commissaire and this flawlessly executed, beautifully filmed TV series.

Subtitled, mais oui, it is always a brain teaser, and very atmospheric, as it takes you back in time to 1950s Paris, where Maigret, a very dogged police inspector, who does everything by the book ( if he can ) plies his trade, pursuing criminals of all social strata and bringing them to justice. As boring as this methodology seems, “Maigret” is never dull pour une instante!

Oui, he’s a for-real policeman, le vrai chose, and Simenon celebrates the French gendarmes at every turn. His Maigret is not a private detective like Poirot or Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or an amateur sleuth like Miss Marple. Maigret is actually a commissaire or commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle.” There are no flatfoots or bumbling gum shoes here, as there always are in Agatha Christie. Policemen are shown to be intelligent, hard-working, admirable and relentless in the pursuit of crime. Simenon shows them as objects of great respect and not derision.

And Maigret, who simply smokes a pipe throughout almost every episode, is the most intelligent and sterling of them all. Like the also pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes, like all classical detectives, he’s observant and diligent to a fault. Nothing and no one escapes his seemingly casual glances. So you have to be truly as on your toes when you watch it, as he is, watching and listening carefully to everything. And what a Gallic joy that is!

Seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories about Maigret were published between 1931 and 1972. Georges Simenon wrote over a hundred novels and is considered one of France’s greatest and certainly most prolific writers of the last century, but Inspector Maigret was by far his most famous and widely beloved creation. There is a statue to George Simenon, mais oui, bien sur, in France, and also a statue to Maigret in Belgium! Are there any statues to Hercule Poirot lurking about the English countryside? Not that I know of.

Like Christie, each mystery is its’ own perfect stand-alone box of tantalizing puzzles. And one of the delights of this TV incarnation is its’ setting in ’50’s Paris. In  Parisian environs we don’t usually see in French films, so it all feels wonderfully classic and also refreshingly new at the same time.

Each episode of “Maigret” is like its’ own little movie, and the mysteries are almost always impenetrable to all but Commissaire Maigret.

Bruno Cremer’s height and girth and his low, rumbling, grumbling voice are perfectly suited to Maigret. He lumbers when he walks, has a police office that is notoriously untidy and has a distinct dislike of stairs. All traits I found impossibly endearing. His Maigret like all iconic roles in a great, perfectly cast performer’s hands is mesmerizing and you keep wanting to go back to him and see MORE. And MORE!

And with this new series of DVDs from MHz Networks you can! There is also now an MHz TV station in many cities. Check your local listings.

I’ve watched many of the MHz” Maigret”episodes twice. Indeed, the stories are so complex and the characters so deftly drawn,marvelously performed  and thoroughly French that you can’t wait to go back to them as see them re-watch again.  And warning, they’re addictive. They’ll grow on you.

All the actors were new to me (and I watch a lot of French movies!) very talented, and perfectly cast. One in particular whose intriguing name was Remi Martin, was notably good in “Seven Little Crosses”, as a distraught father of a missing child.

As Maigret and the entire Parisian police force, track the little boy as he runs about Paris breaking the glass on police call boxes, another peculiarly French anachronism, the sound of a person running and breathing heavily, is then slowly followed upon by shots only of the school boy’s feet running, running…Classy, eerie, as is the marvelous sound track by  Laurent Petitgirard.

It is a sweltering August Bank Holiday in pre-air-conditioned Paris. And is Maigret on vacation? Non! And he makes sure his entire staff is out sweating and tracking the murderer of old ladies who live alone. Who seems to be a prototypical serial killer.

Another episode that I enjoyed was “Maigret at L’Etoile du Nord” a hotel near the Gare du Nord train station. This time it’s Christmas and it’s snowing. And Maigret isn’t taking off for une Joyeux Noel. As he says, “Murderers don’t take off for the holidays.”

Another favorite quote, Maigret grumbles “I hate solving murders in hotels. You never know where to start!”

And he’s invariably calling the always unseen Madame Maigret, his wife, and apologizing for missing his train.

But don’t miss this delightful series of classic French thrillers!

And newsflash! “Maigret” and many other international crime-soliving TV series can be found on http://www.mhznetworks.org! Stay tuned, dear readers, dear cineastes, for the latest updates on these marvelous European TV series that I like and you might, too!

Just finished”The Girl With the Snake Tattoo”

It looks like a lovely fall day outside in New York…Ah, Autumn in New York…Supposedly the best season…When I was living in London, I always used to fly back to New York in Sept./Oct, missing the heat and humidity of the summers and leaving before the blistering cold of the winters…

Just finished reading “The Girl With the Snake Tattoo”! Phew! My first complete Steig Larson novel experience, and yes, it’s a terrific read. “Unput-downable” as  a colleague  of the late Larson says in the upcoming FOURTH volume. And it certainly is…

So tragic that this brilliant writer is dead. He could’ve gone on and on giving us more Lisbeth Salander/Mikael Bloomkvist thrillers…but at least we have the three he lived to complete…

According to a mention in the upcoming FOURTH volume, which is a collection of articles about him and essays AND HIS EMAILS! That there was an uncompleted three-quarters of a FOURTH volume and an outline for a fifth in his computer…when he died of heart attack at 50. And the tragedy of his early death just overwhelms me…He never lived to see this all happen. So sad…And the emails between him and his editor Eva Gedin are frustratingly few and brief and end sooo abruptly…He sounded like he was working himself to death before these books came out…

Why is this all so gripping?

Well, Lisbeth Salander is just this GRRRRRRREAT literary creation and her outrageous, rage-filled character is dropped right into the middle of a VERY traditional formula= the crime or suspense novel.  Or for mystery fiction  She’s a great detective. Which is what this really is and why this really works so well. It’s a whodunnit in the great Agatha Christie style. Miss Marple is now a punk rock hacker.

the eccentric,brilliant bisexual biker/hacker, Lisbeth, with her nose and eyebrow piercings and her spiky hair, COULDN’T be more unique in this type of genre. Or any genre really. She just JUMPS off the page at you and GRABS your attention and holds it for the duration. Just as the equally brilliant and intense Swedish/Icelandic/Spanish actress Noomi Rapace does in the movies.

And she’s balanced by her Sherlock Holmes, the banal, middle-aged investigative reporter Mikael Bloomkvist, who is the stolid, plodding alter ego of the late Larson himself, I’m guessing.

 So the audience has HIM to identify with, if they can’t wrap their heads around the quirky, surly Lisbeth, whose personality is as spiky as her hair-do. She’s a punk Dr. Watson, who keeps stealing the stage from Mikael Bloomkvist, her unlikely partner-in-crime solving…

Having seen the THIRD movie FIRST(I do everything backwards) this is beginning to make much more sense.

There’s a vast cast of supporting players and that did confuse me for a bit in the “Hornet’s Nest” movie. I didn’t “get” Bloomkvist and his relationship with his ex-wife, his teen-aged daughter and also the married co-publisher of the magazine he writes for who is named Erika Berger, who he has this very Scandinavian on-again, off-again sexual relationship with.

In the movie, she’s played by the great Bergmann actress Lena Anders, and I thought it odd that she took such a supporting role, but now I see why. She’s a major character in “Snake Tattoo” and obviously  continues that way through all the films and all the books. So it’s the middle one that I still have to try to finish before I interview Noomi Rapace on Wed.

But I’m doing  my homework!

And being gripped by “Snake” which is in the end quite quite sick and shocking….I just COULDN’T STOP reading it!

Well, Steig Larson was re-inventing and expanding a very tried and true formula, the  detective murder mystery and putting a very mod, Swedish gloss on it. And Sweden itself is a delightful, major character here. In the third movie “Hornet’s Nest”, Stockholm looks like an amazingly new, refreshing romantic locale, and nothing at all the like Stockholm of Ingmar Bergmann’s movies. It’s like some place we’ve never seen before. It’s enchanting…and also frightening.

Mikael Bloomkvist, when we first met, in the first several chapters, is actually quite boring. I almost didn’t make it any further – then BLAM! Lisbeth Salander enters the scene and she just TAKES over the book, as she does the movie, in her intense, fascinating way.

So I look forward to reading Book 2 “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and to interviewing Noomi Rapace herself on Wed.! I’m having a Stieg Larson week, for sure! It’s like a trip to today’s Sweden, and I can’t wait to go back!

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: