Agatha Christie tries something new in “The Big Four” (1927), pitting Poirot against a global illuminati. I know it’s less successful than her single-site mysteries because I wasn’t drawn back to each sitting with the book for the whodunit, but rather for the oddity value. “The Big Four” is strangely structured, with bizarre choices of emphasis as Christie shoehorns her strength – Poirot solves mini-mysteries, all of which feature The Big Four’s hand – into something she’d like to be good at (international intrigue), but isn’t quite. (Her interest in larger-scale crime is tipped in “The Secret Adversary,” but it’s more effectively in the background there.)
To mark the 40th anniversary of author Thomas Harris’ invention of Hannibal Lecter and the 30th anniversary of “The Silence of the Lambs” – the only horror film to win Best Picture – we’re looking back at the four books and five films of the Hannibal Lecter series over nine Frightening Fridays. Next up is the “Silence of the Lambs” novel (1988):
Novels where dinosaurs roam present-day Earth were left to the late, great Michael Crichton, and that’s as it should be, but Douglas Preston crafts an outstanding book with a T-rex as the absent center: “Tyrannosaur Canyon” (2005). Italicized segments evocatively describe the way the T-rex operated like a machine, with a brain nearly the size of a human’s but entirely devoted to killing and consuming meat; no long-term memory distracts her.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” (1926) often appears on top 10 lists of Agatha Christie novels (it was even named the best crime novel of all time by a 2013 panel), and that’s well deserved. It’s armed with one of the most famous endings in mystery-novel history, and Hercule Poirot is in vintage form even though this is only his third novel. At first blush, it’s strange that Poirot acquires a new amateur assistant – King’s Abbot town doctor James Sheppard, who also serves as the narrator – and I wondered if we’re not missing out on something by not having Hastings or someone else be the regular Watson to Poirot’s Holmes.
Tim Lebbon’s “Firefly: Generations” – the series’ fourth novel — finally came out in November long after its initial announcement, and while it’s not exactly worth the wait, at least it’s a new “Firefly” book. Lebbon, whose passion for the material also outstripped the quality on “Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi,” delivers a story where the questions are more compelling than the eventual answers.
To mark the 40th anniversary of author Thomas Harris’ invention of Hannibal Lecter and the 30th anniversary of “The Silence of the Lambs” – the only horror film to win Best Picture – we’re looking back at the four books and five films of the Hannibal Lecter series over nine Frightening Fridays. First up is the “Red Dragon” novel (1981):
Before Douglas Preston set foot in the fabled White City of Honduras, as chronicled in 2017’s “Lost City of the Monkey God,” he imagined going there in “The Codex” (2003). While it’s mildly disappointing, given the title, that the book doesn’t chronicle a code-breaking mystery, it is an adventurous trek through the jungles, rivers and mountains of Honduras. You’ll be happy to visit it in book form rather than going there yourself, as Preston paints an evocative picture of the land – and its corrupt politicians and differently cultured natives – serving up one death-trap after another.
Early in my reading of the short-story collection “Poirot Investigates” (1924), I didn’t like how Agatha Christie was unleashing various tropes and tricks within such brief yarns; I felt like she should save them (especially her really good ideas) for her novels. But a ways into this 14-story collection (the last three of which are only in the American edition), I started to look forward to each one as a mental snack. Not as fulfilling as the full-course meal of a Hercule Poirot novel (of which only two were published by this time), but tasty.
Douglas Preston starts his fiction-writing career with a novel that’s almost unrecognizably his own, when viewed from the lens of a quarter-century of imaginative sci-fi collaborations with Lincoln Child. “Jennie” (1994) is unlike anything else on his resume. It’s deeply researched and concerned with hard scientific facts and discoveries – similar to his nonfiction works in that way – yet it is a work of fiction written in an unusual but effective style. Preston is the off-page “interviewer” and “researcher,” but we get the story of the titular chimpanzee raised as a human straight from the interviewees’ responses, journals and lab notes.
Agatha Christie juggles a lot of ideas and jumps between a lot of characters in “Murder at Hazelmoor” (1931, also published as “The Sittaford Mystery”). I was engrossed in the mystery and always looked forward to knocking off a couple chapters, and the author plays fair with the solution, but “Hazelmoor” didn’t stick with me as much as some other Christie yarns. I think this is because so much is crammed into one novel.