9 & 10: Murder on the Orient Express and King Solomon’s Mines

Reading mysteries when you know the solution is very peculiar, and so rereading one’s Poirot or Holmes is a singular experience. Murder on the Orient Express is a masterpiece – moving, engrossing, baffling, everything a work of detective fiction should be – and that is all there is to it. It stands the test of rereadability beautifully, and that is surely the ultimate acid test of a genre that relies so heavily on surprise.

Its denouement should touch you. The David Suchet adaptation plays heavily with this, and while what is produced is undeniably powerful I think it is also undeniably changed for the worse; in particular, it makes Poirot himself a less attractive character, angrier, bitter with age, almost rigidly intolerant.

King Solomon’s Mines is a fairly straight-bat adventure novel. Exciting, well-written (in a deliberately quite terse, flourish-free manner, as befits the character of the narrator), set in southern Africa. Accept that it’s a novel of its time in terms of attitudes, but since it’s primarily concerned to be a yarn rather than a piece of social commentary, it doesn’t dwell on the sort of things that would make a modern reader uncomfortable. The three or four main characters are engaging, and Haggard does a good job of making you feel affection for them – though we are also amused by Good’s consternation (he is the dandy of the group) when he is condemned to spending his time half-shaved and wearing nothing but a flannel shirt and an eyeglass. A fun way to spend a warm afternoon or two. Make sure you keep the nicknames the characters receive straight, or you’ll be confused.

Murder on the Orient Express
Author Agatha Christie
Published 1934
Pages 178
Best character Mary Debenham, for cool Englishness. “The glance said plainly, ‘You are impertinent’.”

King Solomon’s Mines
Author H Rider Haggard
Published 1885
Pages 191
Best character Captain John Good, a naval officer with a penchant for natty dressing and bad jokes, and no small skill at swearing.


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