Shutter Island

The first time I heard about Shutter Island was when the movie came out several years ago.  Fast forward to a few months ago, I was wandering around Barnes & Noble looking for nothing in particular when I saw the book on one of their table displays and decided to pick it up.  It’s a very well written book, with one big problem for me.  When everything about the book talks about how big the twist ending is, you start looking for it, and if you find it, it ruins the book.  Well, I found it.  Anyway, on with the full review.

This will contain some big spoilers about the main plot of the novel.

Book Stats

369 Pages

Mystery

Stand Alone

Characters

The main character of the book is Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal who is sent to investigate the disappearance of an inmate on Shutter Island.  Teddy is an interesting character if not a terribly unique one, he kind of falls into the category of the noir detective, very observant and driven towards his goal.  In the case of this book, he is investigating Ashecliffe Hospital for his own personal reasons as well as to look for the missing inmate.

Setting

Shutter Island, an island in the Boston Harbor.  The fact that it’s in Boston really kind of troubled me, because a very large part of the story revolved around a hurricane hitting the island, and hurricanes don’t often get that far North.  It’s not really noticeable in terms of the overall story, but it kind of bothered me.

Plot

I already partially discussed this in the Character section.  Teddy is sent to Shutter Island with his partner Chuck to figure out how an inmate escaped from a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane.  While they’re investigating, they start to see a lot of other things that don’t quite add up the way they’re supposed to.  They start to discover that not everything at Ashecliffe is on the up and up, and they start to see a conspiracy unfolding in front of their eyes.

Enjoyment

Here there be spoilers…..  and a huge complaint.

As I said in the intro, when you go into a book or movie knowing that there is a big twist at some part of it, you start looking for the twist.  When the author mentions that the hospital is a place where they send violent schizophrenics, you start to think about multiple personalities.  When you figure out the big twist 1/3 of the way through the book, you’re just waiting for it to get over with because it’s not going to surprise you.  The book is very well written, but because I saw the twist coming it didn’t work for me as well as it could have.

And now for the complaint.  Multiple personalities are NOT a symptom of schizophrenia.  Schizophrenia is a detachment from the reality around you which can include hallucinations of all 5 primary senses.  The technical term for multiple personalities is Dissociative Identity Disorder.  The best example that I can think of in pop culture is the movie A Beautiful Mind, actually, it’s the only example I can think of where they get the symptoms of schizophrenia correct.  Multiple personalities is also a very popular idea in fiction of all sorts.  The only example I can think of where they actually call it DID is the anime Perfect Blue (which is a brilliantly done anime, one of my favorite anime movies).

Overall Grade

Very well written, but I figured out the twist early, which ruined it for me.

6/10

And Then There Were None

A while ago I signed up for the 2012 Back to the Classics challenge hosted by Sarah at her blog here.  When I first saw this I saw that one of the books for the challenge was to read a classic mystery.  Well, when I saw that, my first thought was to read what is arguably the most classic mystery of all time.  Agatha Christie was one of the most prolific authors of all time and has been oversold only by Shakespeare and The Bible (according to the covers of several copies of her books that I own).  For the purpose of the Back to the Classics challenge, this could also fall into the reread category as I have now read this book at least 3 times.  However, I’m using it for the mystery category.  Anyway, enough rambling for now, on with the review.

Book Stats

194 pages (I have a hardcover edition, the picture I’m posting for the book cover is just one that I liked)

Mystery

Standalone

Characters

The book follows 10 characters who are alone on an island.  Each of the ten characters has a questionable event in their past where they were responsible for killing another person but couldn’t be found guilty because of the situations where the murder took place.  You don’t see all of the characters in the book for a long time, but the book is well written and watching the characters slowly descend into paranoia is highly entertaining.

Setting

Indian Island, a small island that is cut off from the rest of the world for the duration of the book because of weather preventing boats from reaching the island.

Plot

10 people are brought to an island on suspicious circumstances.  Their first night on the island they play a record accusing each person of a murder that could not be proven by the law.  Shortly after the record plays, the first person falls dead.  As they are on the island longer more and more people start to die.  Even stranger is the fact that they are dying according to the nursery rhyme 10 Little Indians.

Enjoyment

Agatha Christie is arguably the greatest mystery writer of all time, and this is easily her best book.  This book is absolutely brilliant in every aspect.  The characters were well written, and the mystery is perfectly played out.  This is at least the third time I’ve read this book, and even going into the book knowing how everything ends up playing out I still loved it.

Overall Grade

If any book can be called perfect, this book is perfect.  If you enjoy mysteries and haven’t read this one, there is something wrong with you.  Go read this book.

10/10

Poirot Investigates

Ah, the continuing adventures of Hercule Poirot.  This is my 8th Poirot book of the past 6 months or so, and this one is very different than the others.  Poirot Investigates is a collection of short stories centered around Poirot, and it does some interesting things.  As this is a collection of stories rather than a novel, this review will not have my usual Character, Setting, & Plot structure, but just my thoughts about it.

Book Stats

244 pages

Mystery

Collection of Short Stories

Enjoyment

There were a lot of things to like about this book, especially when compared to the Poirot novels that I’ve read up to this point.  The first big difference is that while many of the stories in the book are murder mysteries, not all of them are.  In this collection Poirot investigates a kidnapping, several robberies, and a search for a will.  Throughout all of these stories, Poirot uses “the little grey cells” to find the murderer, in two of the stories not even going to the crime scene.

However, I had some problems with this book as well.  The stories are all told from the POV of Captain Hastings, who is essentially in the role the reader takes as the person observing the investigation.  There were several times where Poirot or other characters blatantly insult Hastings, and it comes across as blatantly insulting the reader.  Poirot also started to come across as a ‘perfect’ character who never makes a single mistake (with the exception of the last story, which is about the one case where he was wrong).

There was another issue that I had with the book, but I’m not sure if it is really a weakness of the book or the weakness of the form.  I don’t read a lot of mysteries (outside of these books this past year) and I read even fewer in the short form.  There were a lot of stories where the solution was very sudden and in some cases related to information that was barely mentioned earlier in the story or not discussed at all.  It was also really difficult to take the time to establish multiple suspects with motivations and opportunities to commit the crime, which left me thinking that several of the stories fell flat.  Again, I don’t know if this is a weakness of the book or the form, but it was something that bothered me.

Overall Grade

Not bad, but it didn’t blow me away either, worth reading if you’re a fan of Poirot.

5/10

On a side note.  This is the last Poirot book that I own, and I’m going to take a break from reading them for a while.  I’m starting to grow weary of Poirot as a character, and I think it’s from reading through the novels this close together.  However, I would like to read some other mystery novels to have a comparison for the Poirot novels I’ve already read as well as any I might read in the future.  Here is the problem, since this is a genre I don’t read much of, I don’t really know where to start in looking for other novels to read from it.  So I ask those of you who read my blog for some suggestions of mystery books or authors to read.  Thank you in advance for any suggestions and thank you for visiting my little corner of the internet.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was the first book written by Agatha Christie.  This book started the career of one of the most prolific authors in the world (let alone the mystery genre) and introduced the world to Hercule Poirot.  While this is the first Poirot novel, it’s the seventh one that I’ve read, and it’s interesting to look at this book in comparison to the later ones.

Book Stats

177 pages

Mystery

Stand Alone

Characters

This book introduces Hercule Poirot, and I think that I liked his behavior in this book more than in some of the later books.  He is every bit the brilliant detective in this book, and he has all of his quirks of hiding his thoughts from the reader (the book is told from Hastings POV) but Poirot seems more lighthearted in this book than he does in the later books.  All of the supporting characters in this book were also well written.

Setting

Styles, the home of the Inglethorps and Cavendishes in England.

Plot

The standard plot of every Poirot novel, there is a murder, and Poirot happens to be in the area, so he is called upon to investigate the case.  Ultimately he determines who the killer is and all the survivors live happily ever after.

Enjoyment

While all of the Poirot novels follow a strict formula, this one worked better than some of the others to me in large part because of Poirot’s personality.  I said in the characters section that he was more light-hearted in this book, and that made it a much more enjoyable read.  My copy of the book also contains an introduction written by Clea Simon that talks about Christie’s life and how she came to write mysteries.  I also think that this book does the best job of distracting you from who the real killer is of any of the Poirot novels that I’ve read.

Overall Grade

A fun read and a great introduction to the Hercule Poirot novels.

8/10

Death in the Clouds

As I continue to work my way through the Agatha Christie collection (and more specifically the Hercule Poirot novels) I read the book Death in the Clouds today.  Not a whole lot else to say in this part of the post, so I’ll just go on with the review.

Book Stats

253 pages

Mystery

Stand Alone (A Hercule Poirot mystery)

Characters

Hercule Poirot is once again the central viewpoint character in this story, and the story is partially told from his viewpoint, but it also jumps around to the viewpoints of the other characters throughout the story as well.

Setting

Early 1900’s England & France.

Plot

As Poirot is returning to England on a flight, the crew of the plane discovers that one of the passengers is dead.  Poirot suspects murder and investigates the case.  (This is a pretty standard Poirot plot, and if you’ve read a few of them, which I have at this point, there’s nothing in the plot that is going to surprise you.)

Enjoyment

This is my 6th Poirot novel, and I have to say that I’ve enjoyed all of them to different degrees, but there is one thing about these novels that I absolutely love.  I love the setting.  Our world today is one where people are always in a hurry, are horribly impatient, and have manners that are basically rubbish.  I love reading about the mannerisms of the early 1900’s.  There is a gentility to the people that I really wish still existed today.  The behavior of the characters in these novels are wonderfully charming and such a welcome change from the world we live in today.  (Most people can’t even say “goodbye” when they’re done on a telephone, at least the ones who call the bowling alley that I work at can’t.)

Now, as it comes to this novel and the unfolding of the mystery being told, I was upset.  The point to a mystery is to try to confuse the reader as to who actually committed the crime.  The more people that you can suspect, the better the mystery.  The final revelation of how this mystery came to pass was not very well foreshadowed in this book.  When you finish a mystery, even if you didn’t figure out who committed the crime before the end, you should be able to look back and see how the clues unfolded throughout the course of the story and in this novel I really can’t.

Overall Grade

I love the mannerisms of the characters in the novel, but the mystery in this one didn’t work for me.

5/10

The Murder on the Links

My local Barnes & Noble has a fairly large selection of Mystery books.  Mystery novels are not my most common reads, but I’ve been known to partake in them from time to time.  Recently I’ve been working my way through Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels, and The Murder on the Links is another novel featuring the famous Belgian detective.

Book Stats

249 pages

Mystery

Stand Alone

Characters

Poirot’s assistant Hastings is once again the primary viewpoint character in this book.  There’s nothing terribly new here as far as characters go, you have your various suspects in the case as well as those who were affected by the murder, and they’re all well written if not overwhelmingly memorable.

Setting

Merlinville, France is the setting for this novel.  Although it could really be any number of cities.

Plot

Similar to Dumb Witness, Poirot receives a letter from someone who believes they are in trouble only to find that the person is murdered before Poirot is able to help them.  Ultimately it is up to Poirot to solve the mystery of what happened.  This novel is slightly different in that while examining the clues for the first murder, a second body is found.

Enjoyment

This is probably the shortest book review I’ve ever written to this point, but if you’ve read a couple of the Poirot mysteries you know that they follow a very set pattern.  Although I will say that of the 5 Poirot novels I’ve now read I was only able to guess the murderer in one story, which is always a good thing.  I’ve also been struck by the fact that in several of the stories that I’ve read, Poirot figures out who the murderer was, but for some reason or other he doesn’t personally arrest them.  Either way, the stories are very interesting and usually surprising, even if the ultimate solution is occasionally hard to figure out before Poirot explains it.

Overall Grade

Like most of the Poirot novels, this one is getting a 7.  If you enjoy mysteries you’d enjoy these books, if mysteries aren’t your favorite they’re still good books but they might not blow you away.

7/10

Dumb Witness

After finishing up The Blind Assassin yesterday, I decided that I needed to read something a little lighter next.  So while looking through my stack of books to read, I decided on Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie.  This is my fourth Hercule Poirot novel, and I’ve enjoyed them all to varying degrees, but they’re all well written, and they’re quick reads as well.

Book Stats

317 pages

Stand Alone

Mystery

Characters

Hercule Poirot is once again the driving force of this book, but the book was told through the eyes of his assistant Hastings.  Much like the Sherlock Holmes books are told from Watson’s point of view (at one point Hastings even refers to himself as the humble Watson).  For whatever reason, Poirot’s character came across as extremely cocky in this book.  But it was still recognizable as Poirot and the book worked well overall.

Setting

The town of Market Basing, a small town just outside of London.

Characters

The book begins with a few short scenes describing Emily Arundell dealing with some of her relatives, who are all after her money.  She knows this, and her relatives know that she knows, so they really don’t try to hide it.  She suffers a fall, and everyone is quick to blame her terrier leaving his ball at the top of the steps.  She doesn’t blame her dog and begins to suspect her family.  She writes a letter to Hercule Poirot seeking his help, but for some reason, Poirot doesn’t receive the letter until two months later, when Emily is already dead.

Enjoyment

If you’ve read other Poirot novels before, this one isn’t going to do anything to surprise you.  It’s always interesting to see how Poirot figures everything out, and in this book as opposed to the last one I read (Death on the Nile) I wasn’t able to figure out who the killer was in advance.  The book also included some interesting parts dealing with Emily Arundell’s terrier Bob.  In several scenes Hastings heavily anthropomorphizes Bob to the point where he interprets his barking and his actions as full conversation.  Personally, I’ve never met anyone who was fluent in terrier, but it’s nice to know they exist.

Overall Grade

Definitely nothing groundbreaking, but it was a quick and fun read.

7/10

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Mark Haddon’s debut novel is a very strange book.  The title alone is enough to make you wonder about the book, but it turned out to be a very intriguing read as well.

Book Stats

221 pages

Stand Alone book

Mystery/Drama

Characters

The main character of this book is Christopher Boone.  It’s never specified exactly what his condition is, but I would venture a guess that he is Autistic, maybe leaning closer to Asperger Syndrome.  Either way, he has a very unique way of looking at the world, and it shows up in this book from the first pages.  The chapters in this book are not numbered in normal numbers, but rather ascending prime numbers.  Chris was very consistent in his thinking throughout the book, and the narration was very interesting to read, in large part because it was so unique compared to other books.

Setting

The book is set primarily in Swindon England, but includes other sections from other areas of England as well.

Plot

The book starts out very simply, Chris is wandering around the neighborhood at night because he can’t sleep.  He finds that Wellington, the neighbor’s dog from across the street, has been killed.  From here Chris starts to explore what happened to Wellington and begins to learn quite a bit about both Wellington and his family’s past as well.

Enjoyment

Having recently read Room by Emma Donoghue, the style of this book is very reminiscent of Room.  Chris was an interestingly written character who was very intelligent but had very poor social skills.  The book was a very quick read (I started it this morning and finished it this afternoon) and it was a fun book to read as well.  In between the narrative there are short interludes with Chris explaining various aspects of his personality, such as why he doesn’t like the colors yellow or brown and why seeing 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, or why prime numbers are fascinating.

Overall Grade

This was a fun book to read, it was stylistically very well written and Chris was an interesting character to read about.

7/10

Death on the Nile

Another Agatha Christie novel, and once again a detective story that I enjoyed.  This is the third Hercule Poirot novel that I’ve read and I was pleasantly surprised to see that this one did not follow the same formula that the first two did.

Book Stats

333 pages

Mystery

Stand-alone

Characters

Hercule Poirot is once again the main character of this story, and he is much the same detective that he always is, patient, observant, and intelligent.  One thing I really enjoyed about this book that was different from the other books is that we follow several of the characters before the murder is committed.  This was really interesting as you get to see some of the possible character motivations before the crime, which does a better job of opening up the list of potential suspects.

Setting

Most of the book takes place on a ship on the Nile River, which again is a fitting setting because it’s a closed in place which doesn’t let any suspects get away.

Plot

We’re introduced to Linnet Ridgeway, a young girl who is attractive, has money, and several people who might want her dead.  This book takes a little longer than the other books by Christie that I’ve read to get into the mystery because it spends more time introducing us to the characters, which is a welcome change from some of the other books.

Enjoyment

The mystery in this book was fun and worked well for me, although the part that I really enjoyed was simply the characters.  The book is set in the early 20th century (the book doesn’t say a specific date, but it was published in 1938) and I loved all the characters.  There is a politeness to their actions that just doesn’t seem to be around today, and I found it quite refreshing.

Overall Grade

There was nothing overwhelming about this book, but it was well written and the characters were fun to read about.

7/10

Five Little Pigs – or – Murder In Retrospect

First things first, this is my 100th post since I started my blog.  Go me, I’ve actually kept this going for 100 posts.

Dual titles, I like it.  I just finished reading Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie, which previously published as Murder In Retrospect.  It was an interesting book, and in some ways did everything a mystery is supposed to do, but in some ways went away from everything a mystery is supposed to do.

266 Pages

Stand-Alone (although it does center around Hercule Poirot like many of Christie’s novels, you don’t need to read the rest of them to enjoy this book)

Mystery

Characters

Hercule Poirot is once again asked to investigate a mystery, however, this time the mystery happened 16 years ago.  His expertise is requested by the daughter of Caroline Crale, who was convicted of poisoning her husband.  Hercule investigates several people who were involved in the court trial as well as the five people who were witnesses to the crime.

Setting

England, but I don’t remember the name of the city, not that it matters for this book.

Plot

Poirot investigates a mystery, but he does all of the investigation 16 years after it happened.  The book does a wonderful job of giving you enough clues to where the ending doesn’t come as a surprise, but at the same time you would be very hard pressed to see it coming before it is ultimately revealed.

Enjoyment

The book worked well for me, and it’s fun to read through the book and try to find the little inconsistencies that came up in everyone’s stories about what really happened.  The last two books by Christie that I’ve read (this and Murder on the Orient Express) have both been very formulaic.  Poirot gets asked to investigate a crime, sits down with all of the witnesses/suspects in turn, then wraps everything up nicely at the end.  While it’s not a complicated writing structure, for a mystery it works (although it would probably fall flat on its face after several books in any other genre).  Without giving anything away, I’ve also been very impressed with the endings of Christie’s books and how they come to a conclusion that is very fitting but at the same time leaves you a little unsettled with the events that just happened.  It’s a very hard thing to do in a book, and it’s been done very well in this one.

Overall Grade

Nothing earth-shattering, but a quick and fun read.

7/10