Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

Well, after a long, long hiatus from reading Agatha Christie novels and because I saw the latest movie version of it, I just had to read this book! After the overt violence in Natchez Burning, the covert violence set in a bygone era of train travel glamor to countries that are now torn apart by war it was a heavenly read! I know, right, how does that make any sense, covert violence, war and it was a heavenly read?! It really was!

I think I just loved the setting. I really love stories set in this time period and I love the glamor of the travel modes in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Christie puts together a great cast of characters, all of different nationalities, ages and social standings. Somehow they all end up travelling together during a slow time of the year.  It is to be a 3 day trip across Europe for her famous detective Hercule Poirot when he finds himself having to solve a murder, which happened on the train as it was attempting to pass through Yugoslavia but ended up stuck in a snowdrift stopping the train in the middle of the night.  Poirot is asked by M. Bouc, the director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lit, to investigate and solve the murder before the train is dug out of the snowdrift and before the Yugoslavian police show up and complicate things with the upper-class passengers on the train. So now it seems that we have a cast of characters from various parts of the world and a murderer among them as the train is still trapped for some indefinite time in a snowdrift!

I had to love the writing style, an ugly ‘dragon’  Russian princess with a face like a sheep, ( I had to wonder what the actress felt about being cast in a role with that description!) a loud, brash American woman who never seemed to shut up, and several snobby Brits, a Swedish ladies maid, a French valet … It was a wonderful read full of tantalizing hints and clues given by both the passengers and Poirot, but even though I saw the movie, (I forgot how it ended – too tired to remember it) I did not remember ‘who done it” until almost the end of the book, but still could not put the clues together until explained by the infamous Hercule Poirot! I love that fact that no matter how hard you try, you cannot figure out the truth of the matter unless himself, Hercule Poirot, explains it to you!

Stars: 5

Natchez Burning – Greg Isles

I saw this novel, the first of a trilogy, at our local bookstore and it caught my attention. I love stories about the civil rights era. I did not look at the page count and when I received the book from the public library it was a tome of 788 pages!  All dying to be read in the middle of writing student progress reports AND Christmas Concert rehearsals and prepping for my own family’s Christmas. But read it I did because I couldn’t put it down! The books in the trilogy are: Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree and Mississippi Blood.

This is a story about racism and the Jim Crow era in the southern US. In this, the first book of the trilogy, the stage is set for a wide cast of characters masterfully controlled through a complex story line that slips back and forth in time yet remains easy to follow and to immerse the reader in. The story begins with a violent racially motivated death of a young civil rights activist then reverts back to today. Penn Cage is the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, formerly a lawyer turned writer. His father, Tom Cage is a beloved local doctor who has a secret that could tear his family apart as well as his reputation for being a man of honour and integrity; in 1968 Tom had a secret affair with his beautiful African-American nurse, Viola Turner. During that time of civil rights turmoil, segregation and violence Viola is gang-raped by a splinter group of the KKK, the Double Eagles. Viola leaves town for Chicago with a secret of her own, she has an illegitimate son, Lincoln.  Move forward about 50 years and Viola returns to Natchez, to die of cancer having Tom treat her in her dying days.

Lincoln believes Tom Cage is his father who abandoned him and Viola so Tom could have his nice upper-middle class White life while Viola and Lincoln struggle in poverty and bitterness. Lincoln accuses Tom of murdering his mother in an act of doctor assisted suicide and Tom is arrested.

As written by Paul Hyde, of the Greenville News, the novel “..traces the factors that allowed violent groups like the Klan to flourish: a combination of institutional racism, poverty, fundamentalist upbringing and the brutalities of combat in World War II and Korea.” Iles, an interview with Hyde, states that the issues of the Jim Crow era are not yet resolved and may take another lifetime to become so.

Stars: 5