Book Review: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christy (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christy (Four Stars)

“But you cannot escape from the logic of facts. Since the thing was so—it must be accepted.”

Mission Impossible meets Miss Marple. One of Christie’s earliest mysteries. Youthful antagonists are easier to identify with than her later, renowned sleuths. Identifiable charters and convoluted plotting are already evident. Mildly political in the sense of anti-Communist.

“I’ve often noticed that once coincidences start happening they go on happening in the most extraordinary way. I dare say it’s some natural law that we haven’t found out.”

This version was first published in 1922. The story first appeared in 1917 during the Great War whose conclusion is the springboard for the current version. Literary sleuths may wish to seek out the original version. It was not written as historical fiction because the politics of that era were current, but contemporary readers will get a good sense of the time and place.

“They are honest men—and that is their value to us. It is curious—but you cannot make a revolution without honest men. The instinct of the populace is infallible. Every revolution has had its honest men. They are soon disposed of afterwards.”

Quibbles: Christie hadn’t worked out the difference between revolvers and automatic pistols. She frequently shifts from one to the other in a character’s hands.

“There’s a difference between stealing a diamond necklace for yourself and being hired to steal it.” “There wouldn’t be the least difference if you were caught!” “Perhaps not. But I shouldn’t be caught. I’m so clever.” “Modesty always was your besetting sin.”

Daily Open Windows: Excerpts from the messages of T. Austin-Sparks (Four Stars)


Book Review: Daily Open Windows: Excerpts from the messages of T. Austin-Sparks

(Four Stars)

“The Kingdom is so much bigger than conversion.”

366 meditations on Christianity from the writings of a largely forgotten early twentieth-century British Christian evangelist. Each reading is self-contained and sufficient for both the dedicated worshiper and the inquirer, but assumes the reader a Christian. Exhortation over evangelism; holiness before works.

“The key to faith is this dividing of soul and spirit, or, in other words, the complete abnegation of self-interests.”

Austin-Sparks basic message involves Christian growth after conversion. He represents the strand of western Protestantism which returned to the basic Christian message or divided the church, depending on point of view. His ministry had a global impact.

“What, in the thought of God do Christians exist for? What does the Church exist for? There is only one answer … to be an expression of Christ. It is a reproduction of Christ by the Holy Spirit. Man cannot make, form, produce or ‘establish’ this.”

Quibble: the publishers seem to have been driven by a quantity-first measure. Many passages wander. Several could have been divided in two.

“So long as we are in line with God’s purpose His work can go on in us. What matters is not first of all our activity. God is more concerned with what is done in us than what we do for Him.”

(This review is of the paperback, but the cover shows on the kindle edition only.)

Movie Review: Downton Abbey, directed by Michael Engler (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Michael Engler

(Three Stars)

“I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.” “Machiavelli is frequently underrated.”

Disappointing. They simultaneously try too hard (to replicate the TV series) and not hard enough (to rise above that genre). This movie is more of the same; a fix for Abbey addicts suffering withdrawal, but little to commend itself to a new audience.

“Let’s not argue.” “I never argue. I explain.”

While the setting, costumes and such retain a century-old appearance; the story/stories feel more Continue reading

Book Review: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Three Stars)


Book Review: Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey #6) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Three Stars

“I really don’t know how it was done … I’m not worrying about a trifle like that.”

By all standards this should be one of the best Lord Peter stories because in it we are introduced, under the most trying circumstances, to Harriet Vane. If you don’t know who she is, I’m not going to spoil things more than necessary (which will make this review difficult).

“People have been wrongly condemned before now.” “Exactly, simply because I wasn’t there.”

I’m not familiar with English judicial terminology, but the judge calling the accused the “prisoner” in his charge to the jury strikes me as prejudicial.

“A man doesn’t like it to see a man go all wobbly about his sister—at least, not such a prolonged wobble.”

Love at first sight. Gushy, saccharin, head-over-heals infatuation?

“A person who can believe all the articles of the Christian faith is not going to boggle over a trifle of adverse evidence.”

Spiritualist of the 1930s would be comfortable in certain circles of today’s society. The more things change ….

“Don’t talk like Jeeves.” “… Sherlocked.” “… as Holmes would say …”

Sayers is conscious of her antecedents and boasts of them.

“The enormous and complicated imbecility of things was all around him like a trap.”

Book Review: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers (Four Stars)


Book Review: Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey #2) by Dorothy Sayers

Four Stars

“Beliefs don’t matter. It’s what you know about people.”

Readers who like 1926 tongue-in-cheek detective stories of manners and fans of Downton Abbey, will find this just their cup of tea. Others, not so much. The reader is assumed to be literate in French, which I’m not. I muddled through.

“Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an adult old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”

Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murder. Suddenly Peter’s embarrassing hobby–sleuthing–may save Duke Gerald’s title … and neck.The title gives away the twist: too many witnesses to too much, some of it misleading or simply untrue.

I’ve read this book before. Don’t know where or when. I suspect in ebook format, so it couldn’t have been that long ago.

“Contrast is life.”

Book Review: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley #1) by Elizabeth George

Four Stars

“A vestige of time dead, being devoured by time to come.”

Lord Peter Wimsey rides again, sort of. An updated lord-as-sleuth tale with a grittier approach than Dorothy Sayers original from the 1920s. This series, from the 1980s, reflects more modern times, but still the quintessential England of literature and music as much as manors and manners. Not at all a Holmesian tale; much more personal and pyshological. (One hopes the BBC didn’t rape these as they did the Cadfael mysteries.)

“The police were antagonists to be thwarted rather than allies to be helped.”

Deep, complex characters. Everyone has a skeleton, if not a demon, in his or her closet. This book takes the reader deep inside the heads of just about everyone as New Scotland Yard investigates a horrific crime in Yorkshire. (I visited the Yorkshire dales in the late 80s, George’s good descriptions fail to express the bleakness and the beauty. Words fail.) This book is not for the timid or weak stomached. That more than one character vomits is appropriate and realistic. (You’ve been warned.)

“One can’t run forever.” “I can.”

The accents and vocabulary are a bit over-the-top, especially of the Americans, who I’m sure are portrayed just as most British viewed us then. George occasionally slips: “Bob’s your uncle” is not an expression Americans would use.

“The whole situation was an irritating, howling, political maelstrom of thwarted ambition, error and revenge. He was sick of it.”

Americans forget–more likely never knew–that England in the 1980s (when this book was written) was more socially divided that the United States today. Margaret Thatcher’s election set off a cultural war the likes of which we are just now seeing here. English were (I lived in Oxfordshire in the 1980s) much more class conscious. The attitudes expressed by Sergeant Havers were typical of commoners then. English gender attitudes are integral to the plot as well.

“Mothers have a way of taking things a bit personally. Haven’t you noticed?”

The text suffers jarring shifts in point of view, which perhaps were caused or exacerbated by formatting issues. Apparently this edition is an optical scan of the original text; numerous errors have slipped in. (“Shell stand that,” when “She’ll stand that” was obviously meant.) Do all English call speakers amplifiers? As in, “Enormous amplifiers sat in all four corners, creating at the center a vortex of sound.” (I know what council houses, boots and dust bins are; not what Americans think.)

“… before Lot finds me.”

Great writing. Great characterizations. Intense drama and conflict. But also a story of courage and compassion. Quite the climax, and yet plenty gaps are left in our knowledge of Havers and Lynley to engage the reader in his further cases. Looking forward to more.

“Death closes all.”