Month: June 2019

The Justice Game

Martin Edwards , in his excellent The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, devotes Chapter 15 to ‘The Justice Game’ where he examines the following books:

Trial an Error, 1937 by Anthony Berkeley (Arcturus, 2013)

19028568Synopsis: Non-descript, upstanding Mr Todhunter is told that he has only months to live. He decides to commit a murder for the good of mankind. Finding a worthy victim proves far from easy, and there is a false start before he settles on and dispatches his target. But then the police arrest an innocent man, and the honourable Todhunter has to set about proving himself guilty of the murder. Beautifully presented with striking artwork and stylish yet easy-to-read type, avid readers of crime will love reading this gripping, well-written thriller. The appetite for traditional crime fiction has never been stronger, and Arcturus Crime Classics aim to introduce a new generation of readers to some of the great crime writing of the 20th century – especially the so-called ‘golden era’.

About the Author: Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893 – 1971) aka Francis Iles, A Monmouth Platts. A journalist as well as a novelist, Anthony Berkeley was a founding member of the Detection Club and one of crime fiction’s greatest innovators. He was one of the first to predict the development of the ‘psychological’ crime novel and he sometimes wrote under the pseudonym of Francis Iles. He wrote twenty-four novels, ten of which feature his amateur detective, Roger Sheringham.

Verdict of Twelve, 1940 by Raymond Postgate (British Library Publishing, 2017)

32602747._SX318_Synopsis: A woman is on trial for her life, accused of murder. The twelve members of the jury each carry their own secret burden of guilt and prejudice which could affect the outcome. In this extraordinary crime novel, we follow the trial through the eyes of the jurors as they hear the evidence and try to reach a unanimous verdict. Will they find the defendant guilty, or not guilty? And will the jurors’ decision be the correct one? Since its first publication in 1940, Verdict of Twelve has been widely hailed as a classic of British crime writing. This edition offers a new generation of readers the chance to find out why so many leading commentators have admired the novel for so long.

About the Author: Raymond Postgate (1896 – 1971) was born in Cambridge, the eldest son of the classical scholar Professor J.P. Postgate. He was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford. During the First World War he was a conscientious objector and was jailed for two weeks in 1916. He married Daisy Lansbury, the daughter of George Lansbury, pacifist and leader of the Labour Party. His career in journalism started in 1918 and he worked for several Left-wing periodicals. He was also Departmental Editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica for its 1929 edition.

Tragedy at Law, 1942 by Cyril Hare (Faber & Faber, 2011)

51n-SBMe9fLSynopsis: Tragedy at Law follows a rather self-important High Court judge, Mr Justice Barber, as he moves from town to town presiding over cases in the Southern England circuit. When an anonymous letter arrives for Barber, warning of imminent revenge, he dismisses it as the work of a harmless lunatic. But then a second letter appears, followed by a poisoned box of the judge’s favourite chocolates, and he begins to fear for his life. Enter barrister and amateur detective Francis Pettigrew, a man who was once in love with Barber’s wife and has never quite succeeded in his profession – can he find out who is threatening Barber before it is too late?

About the Author: Cyril Hare was the pseudonym of Judge Gordon Clark (1900 – 1958) . Born at Mickleham near Dorking, he was educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. At the bar his practice was largely in the criminal courts. During the Second World War he was on the staff of the Director of Public Prosecutions; but later, as a County Court judge, his work concerned civil disputes only – and his sole connection with crime was through his fiction. He turned to writing detective stories at the age of thirty-six and some of his first short stories were published in Punch. Hare went on to write a series of detective novels.

Smallbone Deceased, 1950 by Michael Gilbert (British Library Publishing, 2019)

45998455._SY475_Synopsis: Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation—especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr. Smallbone was—and why he had to die. Written with style, pace, and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

About the Author: Born in Lincolnshire, Michael Francis Gilbert (1912 – 2006) was educated in Sussex before entering the University of London where he gained an LLB with honours in 1937. Gilbert was a founding member of the British Crime Writers Association, and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America – an achievement many thought long overdue. He won the Life Achievement Anthony Award at the 1990 Boucheron in London, and in 1980 he was knighted as a Commander in the Order of the British Empire. Gilbert made his debut in 1947 with Close Quarters, and since then has become recognized as one of our most versatile British mystery writers.

Now I’m reading Smallbone Deceased and I look forward to reading soon the other three. Stay tuned.

My Book Notes: Tenant for Death, 1937 (Inspector Mallet #1) by Cyril Hare

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Reading Essentials, 2018. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 252 KB. Print Length: 201 pages. ASIN: B07L4B2295. ISBN: 9781773231310.

41ZhqAeoUfL._SY346_Opening Paragraph: Daylesford Gardens, S.W., is one of those addresses that make the most experienced of taxi-drivers hesitate for a moment or two when you give it. Not that he will have any difficulty in determining its general direction, which is in that quiet and respectable region where South Kensington borders on Chelsea. The trouble arises from the lack of imagination displayed by the building syndicate which first laid out the Daylesford estate some time in the middle of the last century. For besides Daylesford Gardens, there are Daylesford Terrace, Daylesford Square, Upper and Lower Daylesford Streets, not to mention a tall, raw red-brick block of flats known as Daylesford Court Mansions and two or three new and almost smart little houses which still keep the name of Daylesford Mews. The houses in Daylesford Gardens, however, are neither raw, tall, nor red-brick, nor new, nor anything approaching smart. On the contrary, they are squat, yellow and elderly, bearing on their monotonous three-storied fronts the same dingy livery of stucco, drab but –with an effort– respectable. One or two have sunk so far as to become boarding-houses, several maybe suspected of paying guests, but for the most part they still contrive to carry on the unequal warfare against adverse circumstances and keep the banner of gentility flying. 

Synopsis: First published in 1937 by Faber in London, Tenant for Death was the debut crime novel by ‘Cyril Hare’, pen name of Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark. Two young estate agent’s clerks are sent to check an inventory on a house in Daylesford Gardens, South Kensington. Upon arrival, they find an unlisted item – a corpse. Furthermore, the mysterious tenant, Colin James, has disappeared. In a tale which uncovers many of the seedier aspects of the world of high finance, Hare also introduces his readers to the formidable Inspector Mallett of Scotland Yard. Upon first publication the Times Literary Supplement praised Tenant for Death as ‘a most ingenious story’ while the Spectator celebrated its ‘wit, fair play, and characterization’ and also declared that ‘a new star has risen’.

My take: The story, set mainly in London at the end of the thirties, elapses between Friday 14 and Wednesday 25 November. After the presentation of several characters that will play a role later on, the action begins on Monday 16 November when Harper and Browne, two young clerks of a real estate agency, are sent to make an inventory on number 27 Daylesford Gardens. The furnished lease agreement expires tomorrow but the tenant, one Colin James, seems to have vacated the house before its ending. Much to their surprise, they find something that is not part of the inventory, a dead body. The body belongs to Lionel Ballantine, a successful business tycoon who, in a short space of time, had risen from nothing to a position of genuine importance and power as head of The London and Imperial Estates Company Ltd., and its eleven associated companies known as The Twelve Apostles at London Stock Exchange. Mr Ballantine had not been seen since he left his office late on Friday and the Monday papers front pages bring the news of his disappearance. Rumour has it that Ballantine’s companies are in serious financial difficulties. Colin James, the former tenant on Daylesford Gardens, has disappeared without leaving any trace, and he becomes the main suspect. A newspaper seller at the end of the street, claims to have seen him entering the house with a visitor last Friday night and departing alone an hour later. Ballantine was strangled and, more likely, he’s been dead over two or three days. Inspector Mallet, with the assistance of Sergeant Frant, takes charge of the investigation. Everything seems to indicate that the murder was carefully planned well in advance, which is confirmed when the real Colin James shows up and it can be demonstrate someone impersonated him. What follows is a long list of suspects. Crabtree, Mr James’ manservant, has also disappeared; Harper, the young man who found the body, has unexpectedly access a certain amount of money;  John Fanshawe, from Fanshawe Bank, has just finished serving a four years sentence and, during his trial, he threatened to kill Ballantine accusing him of the intrigues that led him to ruin; Captain Eales, whose wife was his mistress; Mrs Eales herself, heavily in debt because of her excesses and vagaries; Ballantine’s wife, who even if used to his infidelities, might have thought she had had enough; and this is not to mention a certain Du Pine, secretary to The London and Imperial Estates Company Ltd., who might have his own agenda.

What prompted me to read this book was that several of Cyril Hare’s books are Recommended Reading for the 2019 edition of Bodies From The Library and most of them are easily available in Kindle format at very good  prices. Consequently, I equipped myself with several books and I look forward to reading them all in the near future. Tenant for Death was Hare’s first published book and the author offers us an excellent portrait of London before the Second World War, and strong characterization. The novel is extremely well-written and the plot is really engaging. Contrary to some reviewers that believe Inspector Mallet is made in the image of Inspector Maigret, in my view Mallet, though a Scotland Yard police inspector he’s much closer to Hercule Poirot. Frankly I was not able to uncover the mystery before the end. All in all the story is very well crafted and Hare proves to have a fine sense of humour. Highly recommended.

Tenant for Death has been reviewed at Mystery File, gadetection, and crossexaminingcrime. Besides Bitter Tea and Mystery and Past Offences have also devoted a blog entry to Cyril Hare.

My Rating: A ( I loved it)

About the Author: Cyril Hare was the pen name used by Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark for the series of detection fiction novels and short stories published between 1937 and 1958. Born at Mickleham near Dorking in 1900, Gordon Clark was educated at St Aubyn’s, Rottingdean and Rugby. He read History at New College, Oxford and graduated with first class honours degree. He then studied law and was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1924. Gordon Clark’s pseudonym was a mixture of Hare Court, where he worked in the chambers of Roland Oliver, and Cyril Mansions, Battersea, where he lived after marrying Mary Barbara Lawrence (daughter of Sir William Lawrence, 3rd Baronet) in 1933. They had one son and two daughters. Cyril Hare became a published author in 1937 when Tenant for Death the first book in Inspector Mallett series was released. As a young man and during the early days of the Second World War, Gordon Clark toured as a judge’s marshal, an experience he used in Tragedy at Law (1942). Between 1942 and 1945 he worked at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. At the beginning of the war he served a short time at the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and the wartime civil service with many temporary members appears in With a Bare Bodkin (1946). In 1950 he was appointed county court judge in Surrey. His best-known novel, Tragedy at Law, has never been out of print, and Marcel Berlins described it in 1999 as “still among the best whodunnits set in the legal world.” P. D. James went further and wrote that it “is generally acknowledged to be the best detective story set in that fascinating world.” It appeared at no. 85 in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time. He was a member of the Detection Club. Having suffered from tuberculosis shortly after the Second World War Gordon Clark was never again in full health and died at his home near Box Hill, Surrey in 1958, age 57. (Source: Compilation based on Wikipedia)

Works:

  • Tenant for Death, 1937 (Inspector Mallet)
  • Death is No Sportsman, 1938 (Inspector Mallet)
  • Suicide Excepted, 1939 (Inspector Mallet)
  • Tragedy at Law, 1942 (Inspector Mallet & Francis Pettigrew)
  • With a Bare Bodkin, 1946 (Francis Pettigrew)
  • When the Wind Blows (published in the US as The Wind Blows Death), 1949 (Francis Pettigrew)
  • An English Murder (published in the US as The Christmas Murder), 1951 (Standalone)
  • That Yew Tree’s Shade (published in the US as Death Walks the Woods), 1954 (Francis Pettigrew)
  • He Should Have Died Hereafter (published in the US as Untimely Death), 1958 (Inspector Mallet & Francis Pettigrew)
  • Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare (apa Death Among Friends), 1959 (Short story collection)

Detection and the Law: An Appreciation of Cyril Hare 

Cyril Hare Explained

Huésped para la muerte (aka El inquilino de la muerte), de Cyril Hare

Primer párrafo: Daylesford Gardens, S.W., es una de esas direcciones que hacen que los taxistas más experimentados vacilen un momento o dos cuando se las dan. No es que les resulte difícil determinar su dirección aproximada, que se encuentra en esa región tranquila y respetable donde South Kensington limita con Chelsea. El problema deriva de la falta de imaginación mostrada por la promotora inmobiliaria que inicialmente diseñó la propiedad Daylesford en algún momento a mediados del siglo pasado. Además de Daylesford Gardens, existen Daylesford Terrace, Daylesford Square, Upper y Lower Daylesford Streets, por no hablar de un bloque de pisos altos y básicos de ladrillo rojo conocido como Daylesford Court Mansions y dos o tres  nuevas y casi elegantes casitas que aún mantiene el nombre de Daylesford Mews. Las casas en Daylesford Gardens, sin embargo, no son básicas, altas, ni de ladrillo rojo, ni nuevas, ni nada que se acerque a elegante. Por el contrario, son bajitas, amarillentas y viejas, mostrando en sus monótonas fachadas de tres pisos, el mismo deslustrado diseño de estuco, anodino pero –con esfuerzo– respetable. Una o dos han decaido hasta convertirse en casas de huéspedes, y varias son sospechosas de tener inquilinos de pago, pero en su mayoría todavía consiguen salir airosoas de un desigual combate contra la adversidad y todavía mantienen ondeando la bandera de la distinción.

Sinopsis: Editada originalmente en 1937 por Faber en Londres, Huésped para la muerte fue la primera novela policíaca de ‘Cyril Hare’, seudónimo de Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark. Dos jóvenes empleados de una agencia inmobiliaria son enviados a comprobar el inventario de una casa en Daylesford Gardens, South Kensington. A su llegada, encuentran un objeto que no está en el inventario – un cadáver. Además, el misterioso inquilino, Colin James, ha desaparecido. En una novela que descubre muchos de los aspectos más desagradables del mundo de las altas finanzas, Hare también presenta a sus lectores al formidable inspector Mallett de Scotland Yard. Tras su publicación inicial, el Times Literary Supplement elogió a Huésped para la muerte como “una historia de lo más ingeniosa”, mientras que el Spectator celebró su “ingenio, juego limpio y caracterización” y manifestó así mismo que “habia aparecido una nueva estrella”.

Mi opinión: La historia, ambientada principalmente en Londres a finales de los años treinta, transcurre entre el viernes 14 y el miércoles 25 de noviembre. Después de la presentación de varios personajes que jugarán un papel más adelante, la acción comienza el lunes 16 de noviembre cuando Harper y Browne, dos jóvenes empleados de una agencia inmobiliaria, son enviados a hacer el inventario del número 27 de Daylesford Gardens. El contrato de arrendamiento amueblado expira mañana, pero el inquilino, un tal Colin James, parece haber abandonado la casa antes de su finalización. Para su sorpresa, encuentran algo que no forma parte del inventario, un cadáver. El cuerpo pertenece a Lionel Ballantine, un exitoso magnate de los negocios que, en un corto espacio de tiempo, se había elevado de la nada a una posición de genuina importancia y poder como director de The London e Imperial Estates Company Ltd., y sus once empresas asociadas conocidas como los doce apóstoles en la bolsa de Londres. El señor Ballantine no había sido visto desde que salió de su oficina a última hora del viernes y las primeras páginas de los periódicos del lunes traen la noticia de su desaparición. Se rumorea que las empresas de Ballantine se encuentran en serias dificultades financieras. Colin James, el antiguo inquilino en Daylesford Gardens, ha desaparecido sin dejar rastro, y se convierte en el principal sospechoso. Un vendedor de periódicos al final de la calle, afirma haberlo visto entrar a la casa con un visitante el pasado viernes por la noche y salir solo una hora después. Ballantine fue estrangulado y, más probablemente, murió hace dos o tres días. El inspector Mallet, con la asistencia del sargento Frant, se encarga de la investigación. Todo parece indicar que el asesinato fue cuidadosamente planeado con mucha antelación, lo que se confirma cuando aparece el verdadero Colin James y se puede demostrar que alguien se hizo pasar por él. Lo que sigue es una larga lista de sospechosos. Crabtree, el criado de James, también ha desaparecido; Harper, el joven que encontró el cuerpo, ha accedido inesperadamente a cierta cantidad de dinero; John Fanshawe, de Fanshawe Bank, acaba de cumplir una condena de cuatro años y, durante el juicio, amenazó con matar a Ballantine acusándolo de las intrigas que lo llevaron a la ruina; el Capitán Eales, cuya esposa era su amante; La misma señora Eales, muy endeudada por sus excesos y caprichos; La esposa de Ballantine, que aunque estaba acostumbrada a sus infidelidades, podría haber pensado que ya había tenido suficiente; y esto sin mencionar a cierto Du Pine, secretario de The London e Imperial Estates Company Ltd., que podría tener su propia agenda.

Lo que me impulsó a leer este libro fue que varios de los libros de Cyril Hare son lecturas recomendadas en la edición  del 2019 de Bodies From The Library y la mayoría de ellos están fácilmente disponibles en formato Kindle a muy buenos precios. En consecuencia, me equipé con varios libros y espero leerlos todos en un futuro cercano. Huésped para la muerte fue el primer libro publicado de Hare y el autor nos ofrece un excelente retrato de Londres antes de la Segunda Guerra Mundial y una sólida caracterización de los personajes. La novela está muy bien escrita y la trama es realmente interesante. Contrariamente a algunos críticos que creen que el Inspector Mallet está hecho a imagen del Inspector Maigret, en mi opinión, Mallet, aunque es un inspector de policía de Scotland Yard, está mucho más cerca de Hercule Poirot. Francamente no pude descubrir el misterio antes del final. En general, la historia está muy bien elaborada y Hare demuestra tener un gran sentido del humor. Muy recomendable.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Acerca del autor: Cyril Hare es el seudónimo que utilizó Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark en la serie de novelas y cuentos policiacos que publicó de 1937 a 1958. Nacido en Mickleham cerca de Dorking en 1900, Gordon Clark se educó en St Aubyn’s, Rottingdean y Rugby. Estudió Historia en el New College de Oxford y se licenció con honores. Luego estudió derecho y en 1924 se colegió como abogado en Middle Temple. El seudónimo de Gordon Clark fue una mezcla de Hare Court, donde trabajó en el despacho de Roland Oliver, y Cyril Mansions, Battersea, donde vivió después de casarse con Mary Barbara Lawrence (hija de Sir William Lawrence, 3er Baronet) en 1933. Tuvieron un hijo y dos hijas. Cyril Hare se convirtió en autor en 1937 cuando publicó Huésped para la muerte, el primer libro de la serie del Inspector Mallett. De joven y durante los primeros días de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, Gordon Clark realizó una gira como “judge’s marshal” (un oficial de juzgado que acompañaba a un juez en sus desplazamientos, generalmente un joven abogado), experiencia que utilizó en Tragedia en la justicia (1942). Entre 1942 y 1945 trabajó en el despacho del Director del Ministerio Público (Fiscal del Estado). Al comenzar la guerra, estuvo un tiempo en el Ministerio de Economía de Guerra, y la administración pública en tiempos de guerra con muchos funcionarios provisionales aparece en Con un simple punzón (1946). En 1950 fue nombrado juez del tribunal del condado en Surrey. Su novela más conocida, Tragedia en la justicia, nunca ha dejado de publicarse, y Marcel Berlins la describió en 1999 como “todavía una de las mejores novelas policiacas “whodunnits” ambietada en el ámbito jurídico”. P. D. James fue más allá y escribió que “generalmente se reconoce que es la mejor historia policiaca ambientada en ese fascinante mundo”. Apareció en el no. 85 en las 100 los mejores novelas policiacas de todos los tiempos. Fue miembro del Detection Club. Poco después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial contrajo la tuberculosis y nunca más recuperó la salud hasta su muerte en 1958, en su casa cerca de Box Hill, Surrey, a los 57 años de edad.

Obras:

  • Huésped para la muerte, 1937 (Editorial Emecé, Colección el séptimo cículo nº 79, 1951) apa El inquilino de la muerte (Obras escogidas, Editorial Aguilar, Madrid 1959) (Inspector Mallet)
  • La muerte no es deportista, 1938 (Obras escogidas, Editorial Aguilar, Madrid 1959) (Inspector Mallet)
  • Suicide Excepted, 1939 (Inspector Mallet)
  • Tragedia en la justicia, 1942 (Editorial Emecé, Colección el séptimo cículo nº 153, 1959) (Inspector Mallet & Francis Pettigrew)
  • Con un simple punzón, 1946  (Obras escogidas, Editorial Aguilar, Madrid 1959) (Francis Pettigrew)
  • Cuando sopla el viento, 1949 (Obras escogidas, Editorial Aguilar, Madrid 1959) (Francis Pettigrew)
  • Un crimen inglés, 1951 (Editorial Emecé, Colección el séptimo cículo nº 135, 1956) (libro independiente)
  • La sombra de aquel tejo, 1954 (Obras escogidas, Editorial Aguilar, Madrid 1959) (Francis Pettigrew)
  • He Should Have Died Hereafter, 1958 (Inspector Mallet & Francis Pettigrew)
  • Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare, 1959 (Colección de relatos)

Andrea Camilleri

Andrea_Camilleri_2010_by_Marco_TambaraItalian writer Andrea Camilleri, best-known for the Inspector Montalbano book series, is in critical condition following a heart attack, according to Italian sources. He is in the resuscitation unit of the Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome and his prognosis is reserved. Camilleri was born on 6 September 1925 in Porto Empedocle, south of Sicily. In 1994 he published the first book in the Montalbano mysteries, The Shape of Water (original title: La forma dell’acqua).

Picture: Andrea Camilleri – Italian novelist and screenwriter, 18 November 2010, [[Marco Tambara [thambar] cc-by-3.0]]

Coleccion Septimo Circulo

I’m reading now Tenant for Death by Cyril Hare and when checking if there are any Cyril Hare’s book translated into Spanish, I came across this collection published by Emecé, Buenos Aires, Argentina, directed by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. It was a success, 366 detective novels were published between 1945 and 1985. You can find the complete collection here.

I imagine it says a lot about Borges and Bioy Casares’ taste on detective novels.

My Book Notes: The Clocks, 1963 (Hercule Poirot #29) by Agatha Christie

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HarperCollinsPublishers, 2015. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 1045 KB. Print Length: 319 pages. ASIN: B0046RE5BI. eISBN: 978-0-0074-2222-7. First published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 7 November 1963 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The novel was first serialised in the UK weekly magazine Woman’s Own in six abridged instalments from 9 November – 14 December 1963 with illustrations by Herb Tauss. It was advertised as being serialised prior to the publication of the book; however this had already appeared on 7 November. In the US a condensed version of the novel appeared in the January 1964 (Volume 156, Number 1) issue of Cosmopolitan with illustrations by Al Parker.

41xqpWBY-wLFirst paragraph: The afternoon of the 9th of September was exactly like any other afternoon. None of those who were to be concerned in the events of that day could lay claim to having had a premonition of disaster. (With the exception, that is, of Mrs Packer of 47, Wilbraham Crescent, who specialized in premonitions, and who always described at great length afterwards the peculiar forebodings and tremors that had beset her. But Mrs Packer at No. 47, was so far away from No. 19, and so little concerned with the happenings there, that it seemed unnecessary for her to have had a premonition at all.)

Synopsis:  A typist uncovers a man’s body from behind the sofa…
As instructed, stenographer Sheila Webb let herself into the house at 19 Wilbraham Crescent. It was then that she made a grisly discovery: the body of a dead man sprawled across the living room floor.
What intrigued Poirot about the case was the time factor. Although in a state of shock, Sheila clearly remembered having heard a cuckoo clock strike three o’clock. Yet, the four other clocks in the living room all showed the time as 4.13. Even more strangely, only one of these clocks belonged to the owner of the house…

More about this story: The novel is notable for the fact that Poirot never visits any of the crime scenes or speaks to any of the witnesses or suspects. He is challenged to prove his claim that a crime can be solved by the exercise of the intellect alone. The novel marks the return of partial first-person narrative, a technique that Christie had largely abandoned earlier in the Poirot sequence but which she had employed in the previous Ariadne Oliver novel, The Pale Horse (1961). There are two interwoven plots: the mystery Poirot works on from his armchair while the police work on the spot, and a Cold War spy story told in the first person narrative. (Wikipedia)

The story was adapted for TV in 2010 in Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. The adaptation kept the main plot of the novel but a few changes were made including the location shifting from Dover to Kent. The time period was also changed from the Cold War to before World War II, and a number of characters were either removed or changed. In the novel, Hercule Poirot refers to one of his favourite cases, “The Nemean Lion”, which is the first story in the collection The Labours of Hercules.

My take: In Crowdean, Sussex, the agency for which Sheila Webb works as a secretary sends her to number 19 Wilbraham Crescent, for an outside job. She’d never been there before and it seems to her a bit strange her name was specifically mentioned when her services were requested. According to the instructions received, if nobody is there, she should get in, the door would not be close, proceed to the first room on the right and wait. Miss Pebmarsh, who called to hire her, might delayed a bit. When Sheila Webb gets there, nobody answers. She comes into the house and turns to what seems to be quite an ordinary sitting-room where the only remarkable is a profusion of clocks of all kind. All them, barring one, shows the wrong hour, some minutes after ten past four. Then, a cuckoo clock, the only one showing the exact time, strikes three. At this point Sheila realises there’s a man’s body laying on the floor amid a large bloodstain. Simultaneously, a tall elderly woman enters, carrying a shopping bag. Sheila lets out a scream and, terribly scared, she runs out of the house.

It is then when Sheila Webb bumps into Colin “Lamb”, who quickly takes charge of the situation. Later on, we will find out what he was doing there. Colin “Lamb” calls his friend Detective Inspector Hardcastle, who soon takes charge of the investigation. The blind woman turns out to be Miss Pebmarsh, the owner of the house but she firmly denies having requested the services of a secretary. The dead man can’t be identified, the labels of his clothes have been cut off, he carries no documents which may help in this sense, and a business card, in his pocket, turns out to be false.

Even more strange, Miss Pebmarsh can’t find any explanation for the clocks that are in her sitting-room. Except for the cuckoo, none is of her own, she had never seen them before and she can’t explain herself why someone has placed them there.

Colin Lamb’s attempts to help his friend, detective inspector Hardcastle, are unsuccessful. And, finally, he decides to consult the case with Hercule Poirot, his father’s friend, who claims to be able to solve the case with the only help of his intellect.

What I have enjoyed the most of this book is that I’ve found it much better than I was expecting myself. In spite of some minor flaws, mainly an excess of coincidences, some of them a bit unlikely. However, I found the plot to be well crafted and Agatha Christie plays fair with the reader, managing to skilfully conceal all the clues. Besides the main story there are also two side stories intertwined, a spy plot and a romance. Agatha Christie uses two different kind of voices, the first and the third person point of view, to separate them  from the detective novel itself.  A literary tool that has not bother me at all, adding even more interest to the story. We can’t forget as well that Agatha Christie wrote this book the same year in which it was found that Kim Philby was a member of the spy ring, later known as the Cambridge five. In this sense, The Clocks provides a keen reflexion on our priorities, if we ever find ourselves  in the position of having to choose between different loyalties, mainly between our country and our ideas. Finally, I would like to highlight the curious chapter 14, in which the author herself, via Poirot, makes some interesting observations on detective novel, offering her views on different authors.

My rating: B (I liked it)

About the Author: Agatha Christie is known throughout the world as the Queen of Crime. Her books have sold over a billion copies in English and another billion in 100 foreign languages. She is the most widely published author of all time and in any language, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Mrs Christie is the author of eighty crime novels and short story collections, nineteen plays, and six novels written under the name of Mary Westmacott. Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was written towards the end of World War I (during which she served in the VAD –Voluntary Aid Detachments). In it she created Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian investigator who was destined to become the most popular detective in crime fiction since Sherlock Holme. After having been rejected by a number of houses, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was eventually published by The Bodley Head in 1920. In 1926, now averaging a book a year, Agatha Christie wrote her masterpiece. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was the first of her books to be published by William Collins and marked the beginning of an author-publisher relationship that lasted for fifty years and produced over seventy books. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was also the first of Agatha Christie’s works to be dramatised –as Alibi– and to have a successful run in London’s West End. The Mousetrap, her most famous play, opened in 1952 and runs to this day at St Martin’s Theatre in the West End; it is the longest-running play in history. Agatha Christie was made a Dame in 1971. She died in 1976, since when a number of her books have been published: the bestselling Sleeping Murder appeared in 1976, followed by An Autobiography and the short story collections Miss Marple’s Final Cases; Problem at Pollensa Bay; and While the Light Lasts. In 1998, Black Coffee was the first of her plays to be novelised by Charles Osborn, Mr Christie’s biographer. (Source: HarperCollins)

The Clocks has been reviewed at Classic Mysteries, Books Please, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ Mysteries in Paradise, and ahsweetmysteryblog, among others.

Harper Collins UK publicity page

HarperCollins US publicity page

Home of Agatha Christie website

The official Agatha Christie website

Notes On The Clocks

audible

Los relojes de Agatha Christie

Párrafo inicial: La tarde del 9 de septiembre fue exactamente igual a cualquier otra tarde. Nadie de los que iban a verse involucrados en los acontecimientos de ese día hubiera podido afirmar haber tenido un presentimiento del desastre. (Con la excepción, esto es, de la señora Packer, del 47 de Wilbraham Crescent, experta en premoniciones y que siempre supo describir en profundidad posteriormente los particulares presagios y estremecimientos que le habían aquejado. Pero la señora Packer del número 47, estaba tan lejos del número 19, y tan poco preocupada por los sucesos ocurridos allí, que a ella le resultaba totalmente innecesario haber tenido cualquier tipo de premonición.

Sinopsis: Una mecanógrafa encuentra el cuerpo de un hombre detrás de un sofá …
Según instrucciones recibidas, la taquígrafa Sheila Webb entró en la casa del 19 de Wilbraham Crescent. Fue entonces cuando tuvo un macabro descubrimiento: el cuerpo de un hombre muerto tendido en el suelo de la sala de estar.
Lo que intrigó a Poirot del caso fue el factor tiempo. Aunque en estado de shock, Sheila recordaba claramente haber escuchado las tres en punto en un reloj de cuco. Sin embargo, los otros cuatro relojes que había en la sala de estar todos marcaban las 4.13 horas. Más extraño aún, solo uno de estos relojes pertenecía a la dueña de la casa …

Más sobre esta historia: La novela destaca por el hecho de que Poirot nunca se encuentra presente en ninguna de las escenas del crimen ni habla con testigo o sospechoso alguno. Le desafían a demostrar su afirmación de que se puede resolver un crimen únicamente con la ayuda del raciocinio. La novela marca el regreso a una narración parcial en primera persona, una técnica que Christie había abandonado en gran medida anteriormente en la serie de Poirot, pero que había empleado en la anterior novela con Ariadne Oliver, El misterio de Pale Horse (1961). Se entremezclan dos tramas: el misterio en el que Poirot trabaja desde su sillón mientras la policía trabaja en directo, y una historia de espionaje durante la Guerra Fría contada en una narración en primera persona. (Wikipedia)

La historia fue adaptada para la televisión en el 2010 en Agatha Christie’s Poirot, protagonizada por David Suchet como Hercules Poirot. La adaptación se mantuvo fiel a la trama principal de la novela, pero con algunos cambios, incluyendo el traslado de la localización, de Dover a Kent. La época también se modificó de la Guerra Fría a antes de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y se eliminaron o cambiaron varios personajes. En la novela, Hercules Poirot se refiere a uno de sus casos favoritos, “El león de Nemea”, el primero de los relatos de la colección Los trabajos de Hércules.

Mi opinión: En Crowdean, Sussex, la agencia para la que Sheila Webb trabaja como secretaria la envía al número 19 de Wilbraham Crescent, para un trabajo externo. Ella nunca había estado allí antes y le parece un poco extraño que su nombre se mencionara específicamente cuando se solicitaron sus servicios. De acuerdo con las instrucciones recibidas, si no hay nadie allí, ella debería entrar, la puerta no estaría cerrada, pasar a la primera habitación a la derecha y esperar. La señorita Pebmarsh, que llamó para contratarla, podría retrasarse un poco. Cuando Sheila Webb llega, nadie responde. Ella entra en la casa y se dirige a lo que parece ser una sala de estar bastante común donde lo único notable es una profusión de relojes de todo tipo. Todos ellos, salvo uno, muestran la hora equivocada, algunos minutos después de las cuatro y diez. Entonces, un reloj de cuco, el único que indica la hora exacta, da las tres. En este punto, Sheila se da cuenta del cuerpo de un hombre tendido en el suelo en medio de una gran mancha de sangre. Simultáneamente, una mujer anciana alta entra con una bolsa de la compra. Sheila deja escapar un grito y, terriblemente asustada, sale corriendo de la casa.

Es entonces cuando Sheila Webb se topa con Colin “Lamb”, quien rápidamente se hace cargo de la situación. Más adelante, descubriremos qué estaba haciendo allí. Colin “Lamb” llama a su amigo el detective inspector Hardcastle, quien pronto se hace cargo de la investigación. La mujer ciega resulta ser la señorita Pebmarsh, la dueña de la casa, quien niega firmemente haber solicitado los servicios de una secretaria. El hombre muerto no puede ser identificado, las etiquetas de su ropa han sido cortadas, no tiene documentos que puedan ayudar en este sentido, y una tarjeta de visita, en su bolsillo, resulta ser falsa.

Aún más extraño, la señorita Pebmarsh no puede encontrar ninguna explicación a los relojes que están en su sala de estar. A excepción del cuco, ninguno es suyo, nunca los había visto antes y no puede explicarse por qué alguien los ha colocado allí.

Los intentos de Colin Lamb de ayudar a su amigo, el inspector de detectives Hardcastle, no tienen éxito. Y, finalmente, decide consultar el caso con Hercule Poirot, amigo de su padre, quien afirma poder resolver el caso con la única ayuda de su intelecto.

Lo que más he disfrutado de este libro es que lo he encontrado mucho mejor de lo que yo me esperaba. A pesar de algunos defectos menores, principalmente un exceso de coincidencias, algunas de ellas un poco improbables. Sin embargo, encontré que la trama estaba bien elaborada y Agatha Christie juega limpio con el lector, logrando ocultar hábilmente todas las pistas. Además de la historia principal, también hay dos historias paralelas entrelazadas, una trama de espías y una historia romántica. Agatha Christie utiliza dos tipos diferentes de voces, la primera y la tercera persona, para separarlas de la novela policiaca. Una herramienta literaria que no me ha molestado en absoluto, añadiendo aún más interés a la historia. No podemos olvidar también que Agatha Christie escribió este libro el mismo año en que se descubrió que Kim Philby era miembro de la banda de espías, más tarde conocida como los cinco de Cambridge. En este sentido, Los relojes brinda una aguda reflexión sobre nuestras prioridades, si alguna vez nos encontramos en la posición de tener que elegir entre diferentes lealtades, principalmente entre nuestro país y nuestras ideas. Finalmente, me gustaría destacar el curioso capítulo 14, en el que la propia autora, a través de Poirot, hace algunas observaciones interesantes sobre la novela policíaca, ofreciendo sus opiniones sobre diferentes autores.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el autor: Agatha Christie es conocida en todo el mundo como la Reina del crimen. Sus libros han vendido más de mil millones de copias en inglés y otros mil millones en 100 idiomas extranjeros. Es la autora más publicada de todos los tiempos en cualquier idioma, solo superada en ventas por la Biblia y por Shakespeare. Mrs Christie es autora de ochenta novelas de crimen y misterio y colecciones de cuentos, diecinueve obras de teatro y seis novelas escritas con el nombre de Mary Westmacott. La primera novela de Agatha Christie, El misterioso caso de Styles, fue escrita hacia el final de la Primera Guerra Mundial (durante la cual ella sirvió en el VAD – Subunidades de Auxilio Voluntario). En ella creó a Hercule Poirot, el pequeño investigador belga que estaba destinado a convertirse en el detective más popular de la ficción criminal desde Sherlock Holme. Después de haber sido rechazada por varias casas, The Bodley Head finalmente publicó El misterioso caso de Styles en 1920. En 1926, con un promedio de un libro al año, Agatha Christie escribió su obra maestra. El asesinato de Roger Ackroyd fue el primero de sus libros en ser publicado por William Collins y marcó el comienzo de una relación autor-editor que duró cincuenta años y produjo más de setenta libros. El asesinato de Roger Ackroyd fue también el primero de los trabajos de Agatha Christie en ser dramatizado, como Alibi, y en tener una exitosa carrera en el West End de Londres. La ratonera, su obra teatral más famosa, se estrenó en 1952 y se representa hasta el día de hoy en el St Martin’s Theatre en el West End; es la obra de teatro que más veces se ha representado en la historia. En 1971 Agatha Christie fue nombrada Dama del Imperio Británico. Murió en 1976, desde entonces se publicaron varios de sus libros: el bestseller Un crimen dormido apareció en 1976, seguido de Una Autobiografía y de las colecciones de cuentos Miss Marple’s Final Cases; Problem at Pollensa Bay(ambos inéditos en español); y Un dios solitario y otros relatos. En 1998, Café solo fue la primera de sus obras en ser novelizada por Charles Osborn, el biógrafo de Christie.