‘Curtain’ Revisited

Curtain: Poirots Last Case

I don’t generally review books I’ve already reviewed. But I’ve just finished re-reading Curtain and it shocked me all over again.

This was a heckuva book to be writing while World War II was going on and German V-2 rockets were killing people on the streets of London. But that’s when Agatha Christie wrote it–the story of Hercule Poirot’s last case, written when she still had two more decades’ worth of Poirot mysteries to write–and then she locked it in a safe for 30 years.

In Curtain the world war is never mentioned. One senses that the action in the story could have taken place either just before the war or just after–although in terms of the Poirot timeline, that would be impossible. But that’s not why I’m writing this review.

Have you ever been involved in a group conversation in which one or two persons comes out with something totally outrageous, wicked, beyond the pale–and gets away with it? Worse–everybody else sort of tepidly, timorously agrees with it, even though you can tell by their body language that they don’t really agree and would just like this part of the evening to be over. So somebody drops a bomb–“I don’t care what they say, people who say they don’t believe in Climate Change ought to be jailed!”–and everybody else nods their heads, maybe mutters “Yeah, uh-huh,” and totally fails to call them out on it. Because, I guess, who wants to get into another one of those interminable arguments?

A lot of that goes on in Curtain. Characters natter on about useless lives, lives not worth living, people who are a burden to others, and how they all need to be humanely put out of the way, cull the crowd for the good of the species etc. And no one else ever says, “What are you, some kind of Nazi? You sound like Heinrich Himmler talkin’–if he were here, he’d fit right in!” I mean, we don’t even get an “Oh, come now!”

Now… why would Agatha Christie include such conversations in her novel unless she had heard them, probably pretty often, before World War II broke out? Heard them at dinner parties or casual get-togethers. Heard them from well-educated, highly thought-of people. After all, it was eugenics–which was Settled Science in the 1930s. You had to agree or you were anti-science.

Gee, I wonder why so many people in Britain became convinced that their ruling class wanted to sell them out to Hitler. Well, has our ruling class sold us out to China? Honk if you don’t think it looks that way.

This is a shocking book. Agatha Christie wrote it while her nation was fighting for its very life against an enemy that believed in eugenics and had no compunction at all about putting it into grim practice–an enemy with which her nation’s ruling class had much in common.

One wonders to what extent God had to intervene to keep Britain from entering into an alliance with Nazi Germany.

 

‘So What’s “Bell Mountain” All About?

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Ten years later, I’m still trying to answer this question. The Lord has much to teach me.

So What’s ‘Bell Mountain’ All About?

I am waiting for the 13th book in the Bell Mountain series to be published (can’t imagine what’s delayed it!), No. 14 is written, and I’ve just started writing No. 15, The Witch Box. There are those who say the series is too long; but I’m still very far away from catching up Tarzan, Hercule Poirot, Rick Brant, Freddy the Pig, et al. Edgar Rice Burroughs grew weary of Tarzan, and Agatha Christie would have gladly pitched Poirot into a tar pit; but I still love my characters. Besides, there are always new ones that come along, and I never know where they’re going to take me.

Is It Time to End ‘Bell Mountain’?

The Bell Mountain Series - Reformed Reviews

Agatha Christie kept writing Hercule Poirot for many years after she got tired of him, mostly because readers wanted him. Ditto Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes: when Doyle killed off Holmes, readers practically rose up in arms and forced him to bring Holmes back. And Edgar Rice Burroughs kept writing Tarzan long, long after he’d lost all interest in the character… because Tarzan paid the bills.

Lately I’ve been hearing from people who say enough’s enough already, please, no more Bell Mountain books! Happily none of them are my editors or publishers. But if the readers are tired of my books, what excuse would I have to keep on writing them?

Twelve of the books have been published, with No. 13 waiting in the wings and No. 14 being written. No. 12, His Mercy Endureth Forever, has not been well received. Even though it has giant hyenas in it.

A few comments don’t constitute a groundswell of non-support. Then again, several books ago, I wasn’t getting any “too much” comments at all.

So I have to decide what’s right to do. I pray for guidance. I listen to what readers have to say.

(No! I am not going to switch over to Oy, Rodney…)

‘Minds Set in Cement?’ (2014)

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Sooner or later even the most deceptive villains will tell you what they’re all about. They can’t help it. As my friend John the homicide detective says, “Sooner or later they talk. They can’t help it.” Hercule Poirot would agree.

But until that happens, it’s terribly hard to change somebody’s mind.

Minds Set in Cement?

I think I once persuaded somebody that homeschooling was good. That’s not much to show for several decades’ worth of trying. But as long as people are prepared to listen to the truth when the bad guys inadvertently let it slip out, there’s hope.

Uh, like they’ve been doing in the streets of our cities this year: which tells us who they are and what they mean to do to us if they can ever get back into power.

 

Movie Review: ‘Death on the Nile’ (1978)

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We hadn’t seen this movie in several years, so we watched it the other day and it was just as wonderful as ever.

It isn’t always easy to get an all-star cast to work together, but in Death on the Nile, the stars are out in force. What a cast! Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, supported by David Niven, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Lois Chiles, Maggie Smith, Simon MacCorkindale, Jack Warden, Olivia Hussey–whew! With Angela Lansbury, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of an alcoholic romance writer who’s seen better days. Fantastic performances all around.

And if you like movies with lavish sets, exotic locations, and a plot that twists and turns all over the place–well, this one’s for you. Want escape? This film’s got it. For 140 minutes, you’re out of here. Much, much better than the David Suchet remake.

In a little while, we’re going to follow our New Year’s custom of watching George Pal’s 1960 classic, The Time Machine. Followed by Patty’s heavenly pork casserole for supper.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Here’s That ‘Curtain’ Article

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Hooray! The Chalcedon website (www.chalcedon.edu/) has a brand-new front page to display new articles and video. From now on, that’s where all the new stuff will be; and that’ll make it easy to find.

And published there today is my article on Agatha Christie’s Curtain, written months ago and now available here.

https://chalcedon.edu/resources/articles/can-a-mystery-novel-tell-us-whats-gone-wrong-with-british-christianity

Can a mystery novel tell us what’s gone wrong with British Christianity–and probably our own, too?

Read it and see!

Thank You for Your Prayers

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Tiger swallowtail: nothing to do with the post, really, but well worth seeing. We do love God’s handiwork.

The hospital just called to get my consent for another medical procedure for Aunt Joan. Her blood pressure, which was so dangerously low, is coming back up toward normal–a very good sign. I am sure God has heard our prayers for her.

The pain in my neck has subsided. It’ll just be stiff for a while.

I’ve been working on that assignment I told you about last week, reviewing Agatha Christie’s Curtain. Absorbed in my work, I hardly noticed that an hour and a half had passed.

I had a bad moment when I discovered that the infamous dinner scene I planned to focus on is not, in fact, in the book! It’s only in the movie. But reading the novel carefully, it seems I’m all right, after all: what the screenwriters did, very cleverly, was to gather up certain bits of conversation scattered throughout the text and put them all together to make the dinner scene. This allows me to proceed as planned. You may remember that I’m interested in the fact that a novel written in London in the midst of World War II features characters, all of them English, talking like Heinrich Himmler–sort of a mystery within a mystery novel, and maybe indicative of some spiritual toxins that have seeped into Western Christianity.

Anyway, that’s it for now. See you again at cat video time.

 

An Unusual Assignment for Me–and Maybe You Can Help

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Some of you know me as the contributing editor for The Chalcedon Foundation’s print magazine, Faith for All of Life. For a coming issue of the magazine, I have taken on the task of reviewing, of all things, an Agatha Christie mystery novel–Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s last case.

Christie wrote the novel during World War II and then locked it away in a bank vault, waiting until 1975 to have it published–an unusual procedure which, to my mind, has not been fully explained. Why wait 30 years to publish it?

My review will focus on a single scene in the novel: a dinner. All the characters are seated around the table, and the conversation turns to the topic of what ought to be done with–or to–people who are no longer “valuable to society”–the old, the sick, the retarded, etc. Remember that this was being written during World War II, with Britain fighting for its very life against the Third Reich.

At the table, the more forceful characters declare that people who “don’t matter anymore” ought to be disposed of, somehow. And everyone else just sort of meekly nods and mumbles “of course you’re right,” etc.

When I read that, my hair stood on end. “Whoa! Uh, folks, you’re, like, fighting for survival against the Nazis, and the Nazis, well–they stand for the very ideas that you’re bandying about and tepidly agreeing with! Why are you fighting Hitler and Himmler, and at the same time talking like them?” I was astonished.

Although the novel was written during the war–and we are told that Christie feared she might be killed in a German bombing raid or V-2 strike, which is why she stowed the book in a bank vault, just in case–its setting in time is left quite vague. There’s nothing in it to show in what year, or era, the fictional events occurred.

Why this conversation at the dinner table? Christie often drew her fictional characters from life. It seems more than likely that she had heard such conversations among people she knew, either during the war or just before it. She was writing about certain ideas that certain people, who were not Nazis, actually had. One is left wondering: can it be said that Britain really won the war, if key elements of Nazi ideology were left festering in British culture? What was happening to Britain’s Christianity?

I also wonder what other Curtain readers think of this. Tell me if you like. I’d love to know.

 

Comment Contest: Less than 100 to Go

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Well, we’ve just passed the 12,000 mark, and whoever posts Comment No. 13,000 on this blog will win an autographed copy of one of my books.

I’m thinking of re-opening the contest to earlier winners, so they can win again. If this is not a stupid question, are you in favor of that?

Maybe I should also offer a prize to anyone who can figure out what happened to my Facebook and Newswithviews referrals–a mystery that has so far baffled all attempts to unravel it. Where’s Hercule Poirot when you need him?

Agatha Christie: More Than Just a Pretty Murder

There’s a reason why Agatha Christie was the best-selling novelist of all time.

I’ve been re-reading “Taken at the Flood,” an Hercule Poirot mystery from 1948. You have to re-read Christie because, the first time you read one of her books, you get caught up in trying to solve the puzzle and you miss a lot of the nuances.

This is a spectacularly good book. Oh, the murder mystery is very nicely complicated. In fact, it’s so difficult because everything about it seems so simple. And of course there is Christie’s unsurpassed gift for creating characters and making them come to life.

But there are also all sorts of things to see in the background.

The setting is an English country town, immediately post-World War II. You’d think everyone would be overjoyed the war was over, but there’s very little joy to be seen here.

Instead, we are shown what a mess England was left in by the war. Everything has been thrown into disorder, and they’re nowhere near digging out of it. We are shown government policies, new regulations, and new taxes that burden the people (and doesn’t that sound familiar?) while also contributing to a general atmosphere of “ill feeling” that permeates the whole nation.

I’ve often wondered what has happened to the United Kingdom, spiritually. Well, here we see some indication that the nation was spiritually gutted by the two world wars.

I hope I haven’t made it sound like Christie does this easily. No: she does it masterfully. She doesn’t lecture the reader. By adroitly maneuvering her characters through all different situations, she shows you post-war England through their eyes. You experience it with them. This technique succeeds because the characters are, for all intents and purposes, real people. Trust me on this–there are an awful lot of writers who couldn’t begin to do what Christie does.

But don’t take my word for it. Treat yourself to Taken at the Flood. Enjoy a great book that doesn’t fly a Great Book flag.