Review of Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920) (Hercule Poirot Book 1) Free Kindle E-Book

Bottom line: A classic Golden Age mystery, by the Queen of mystery, although not her greatest work. The first time the world was introduced to the Hercule Poirot – the funny little man with the egg shaped head and impressive mustache.

Update: As of 7/1/2013 this book is no longer free.

Rating: Recommended IF – you are looking for a free mystery, you want to try an Agatha Christie, or you are a Christie fan and want to see where it all began.

Blurb:

Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot makes his debut in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” The mystery of the novel is the one of who poisoned wealthy heiress Emily Inglethorp and how did the killer get in and out of her locked bedroom. The suspects are many and Poirot must use Holmesian deduction to discover the killer. Mystery fans will delight in the first installment of Agatha Christie’s famous series of Poirot mystery novels.

Review:

This is Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot mystery, and also her first novel. It was fun to see Poirot introduced to the world for the first time, along with his trusty sidekick, Captain Hastings. However, it was the first time for me to reread this book in a long while, and what struck me was how much it felt like a pilot episode of a tv show. If I’m trying a new show, I always watch the pilot first, and if there are even a few things I like about it, I’ll try the next episode. Often it feels like characters have little depth to them, and the action and dialogue haven’t quite melded into the right style yet.

That’s how I felt about this book – the plot twists felt a little contrived, and the characters (Hastings especially) felt a little one-sided compared to Christie’s later books. It’s still an enjoyable read, and an interesting mystery, I just didn’t think it was as good as some of her other books. However, given the dearth of free e-book mysteries, this is a good way to try out one of (if not the) most popular writers of all time. But if you liked it, even a bit, you must try some of her later books.

Available:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble

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Review of Cover Her Face by P.D. James (1962) (Adam Dalgliesh Book 1)

Bottom line: I liked this story, although I would have preferred to get to know the detective better. A traditional murder mystery set in an English country house, it was a fun introduction to P.D. James.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

On the same day as the St Cedd’s church fete in the grounds of her home, Martingale, Mrs Maxie learns of her son Stephen’s engagement. By the next morning, her new parlourmaid, Sally Jupp, is dead. Detective Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh investigates murder in the Elizabethan manor house.

Review:

This is P.D. James’s debut novel. It is a good example of a traditional murder mystery – a murder happens near the beginning of the story, people living in this house all seem to have had motives and means, and at the end, the detective gathers the household and explains how the clues led him/her to the murderer, who is —-!

I thought her detective was intriguing. You catch glimpses of what makes him interesting and effective as a detective, but you don’t spend a lot of time with him. I would have liked to see more of the story unfold from his point of view instead of some of the suspects. I’m hoping that the later books in the series will show more of his character.

The other elements of the mystery were well done – the suspects had enough depth to them that they were interesting as more than just Suspect A, Suspect B, etc. and the murder was one of those that seems more complicated than it is due to an unrelated factor which muddies the waters. One thing I particularly appreciated was that enough clues were presented for you to guess the murderer, and none of the clues seemed like they were shown with the sole intent to throw you off the track. I’m probably going to read more of her books, but given that I didn’t get a chance to become very attached to the detective, I won’t rush out to get them right away.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes.

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Review of Invisible by Lorena McCourtney (Ivy Malone Series Book 1) (2004)

Bottom line: A fun mystery with a strong Christian presence. If you are looking for a new series to try that isn’t too intense, give this book a shot – especially since it’s free.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

She’s not your average crime fighter! Meet Ivy Malone, an inconspicuous older woman who has a mutant curiosity gene that often lands her in trouble. Unlike most women her age, she snoops and pries her gray-haired self into one hilarious escapade after another. So when vandals romp through the local cemetery, Ivy can’t help but put her snooping eyes to work as she launches her own unofficial investigation. Despite her unconventional sleuthing, Ivy soon becomes discouraged by her failure to turn up any solid clues. And after Ivy witnesses something ominous and unexplained, she can’t resist putting her investigative powers to work again. Even the authorities’ attempts to keep her out of danger and her nosy neighbor’s match-making schemes can’t slow Ivy down. But will the determination that fuels this persistent, spunky sleuth threaten her very safety?

Review:

I tried this book because it was free, and I’m glad I did. It’s simply a fun read. The writing style at times I found to be a little rambling, with excessive explanations and tangents, but it didn’t really bother me. Normally this kind of thing makes me very impatient to get on with the story, but the main character, Ivy, is someone you don’t mind spending extra time with.

One thing to be aware of is that Ivy is a born again Christian, and this features prominently in the book. At times it comes across as preachy (at one point Ivy worries about asking a friend to try to get some information for her, because it had encouraged the friend to create “fabrications”) but mostly I found it a natural extension of Ivy’s character and the world she lives in.

The mystery itself was well done, as is the way that Ivy and the readers discover the hows and whys of it all. I’ve read the next two books in the series, and found them to be very similar in terms of tone (light hearted) but with different enough settings and mysteries to continue to interest me. I’d bought the next two books at intervals of maybe a month apart when I wanted a new yet familiar mystery to read, and they both fit the bill perfectly.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

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Review of Blunt Instrument by Georgette Heyer (Inspector Hannasyde #4) (1938)

Bottom line: An easy-going murder mystery set in 1930s London. Worth a try if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh and want something new (especially if you can borrow it). I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually enjoy a Christie or Marsh, but it was still a pleasant enough read.

Rating: Recommended IF –  it’s free and/or you’re in the mood for a light mystery to pass the time.

Blurb:

Who would kill the perfect gentleman?

When Ernest Fletcher is found bludgeoned to death in his study, everyone is shocked and mystified: Ernest was well liked and respected, so who would have a motive for killing him?

Superintendent Hannasyde, with consummate skill, uncovers one dirty little secret after another, and with them, a host of people who all have reasons for wanting Fletcher dead. Then, a second murder is committed, giving a grotesque twist to a very unusual case, and Hannasyde realizes he’s up against a killer on a mission…

Review:

This is the first Georgette Heyer book that I’ve read. I borrowed it as an e-book from my library (You can get library books without ever even getting off the couch! Best. Thing. Ever.) after reading some reviews that compared her to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers.  While it’s certainly in the same style (more so of Christie and Marsh), I don’t think Heyer is in the same league quality-wise.

I didn’t really enjoy her characters (except maybe Neville and Sergeant Hemmingway) – I found them irritating rather than quirky,  some of the dialogue seemed forced and clichéd, and I couldn’t get excited about Hannasyde, her detective. One of my favorite elements of the book was the murder itself – who committed it, why, and how was cleverly done, but the plot itself of how the detectives and side characters discover the truth was lacking.

That being said, it’s not bad as a “read it and forget it” mystery. There are enough twists and turns that it keeps your brain moderately occupied, you are never really worried that anyone sympathetic is going to end up having committed the crime, and it’s not intense – I was able to put it down and come back to it later (a rare thing for me with mysteries) and I didn’t feel the need to rush out immediately and buy the next book in the series. Sometimes that’s all I’m looking for in a book.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

Side Note: Georgette Heyer wrote historical romances (think Jane Austen where the characters have more spunk) as well as mysteries – so if you choose to check out her work, make sure you know which brand of Heyer you’re getting!

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