Archive for January 2011

Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie I haven’t ever really read any mysteries, other than maybe one book by Mary Higgins Clark in high school (or is that suspense?). The notion of a reading a story that revolves around someone’s murder just seemed a bit too macabre for me, though I could see the detective work being interesting.

However, my interested was sparked recently when I watched a documentary about David Suchet traveling on the current Orient Express, in preparation for filming the “Murder on the Orient Express” episode of Poirot. They made various references to the plot, which I wasn’t really familiar with, other than knowing it was a classic. I decided to look for the book at the library, and then perhaps watch the TV version afterwards.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie was a quick read for me, mostly due to how smoothly the mostly conversational writing style flows. There were certainly details about the characters and situation, but in a way that painted the picture, rather than overdoing it, as other books can do.

The main character is Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, and we follow his travels as he tries to return to London from Syria. He ends up on the Orient Express along with a variety of other passengers, who all seem to draw his interest. The train gets stuck in snow in the mountains, and shortly after, the crew discovers that one of the passengers has been murdered.

Poirot takes on the case and gets right to work to figure out who is the murderer, and I liked following along and trying to guess who was to blame. I figured a few details out, but I definitely didn’t expect the way it turned out in the end, though I liked how it was done.

I would say that I definitely enjoyed this book, and plan to read more in the Poirot series that Christie wrote over the period of many years. I’ve seen a few of the TV episodes of Poirot, but not this one yet, so that’s on the list as well. I just hope that they’re not all about murders; it seems like there are many other kinds of mysteries that could need solving.

Book Review: Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz

Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz I was browsing the shelf of new fiction books at my local library, when I came across Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz. I think I’d heard about it somewhere before, but it sounded interesting from the cover description, so I checked it out.

The book starts just as World War II has ended, following several people who have survived the concentration camp at Belsen. Despite the horrific things they have experienced, they are still alive and initially are being supported by the Allied forces, collecting rations and trying to get by.

As the main characters regain their strength and try to move on, they work hard to start new lives, and the book follows them over the years, as the various people leave Europe for Israel and the US. Although they leave Europe behind, their memories and experiences still follow them as they grow older and start their own families.

Initially, I was really struck by the writing style of the book, for how clean and concise it was. It also has a steady measure to it that forces you to slow down a bit and notice the smaller things, without getting too caught up in flourishes and details. However, the plot was not as strong, and sort of waned later on.

The first half of the book was fairly strong, and really kept my interest. I wanted to see and understand what the characters were going through, and how they coped and tried to return to a more normal life. But, after awhile, the plot wasn’t as strong, perhaps because there seemed to be less conflict, less drama in some ways.

I think I can understand what Schwarz was trying to do, to follow a group of people — who seemed almost impossibly interconnected — who had experienced something so horrific, were able to build their own lives, and yet were still affected by their experiences. I just don’t know that the latter half of the book was quite as interesting to read, and I had to push on at a few points, just to finish the book.

Book Review: Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey I’d seen mentions of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey a few times last year, mostly related to it being nominated for a Booker Prize, which the author has won twice before. I finally got a hold of it at the library — it was surprisingly on the shelf, after having many holds placed on it — and found it to be an enjoyable book overall.

The book’s perspective switches between that of Parrot and Olivier, two men with have been on very different paths in life, but who find themselves thrown together on a voyage to America. Parrot, essentially orphaned as a child in England, has managed to travel to various parts of the world with a rogue Frenchman (often referred to as Monsieur), and has a talent for engraving. Olivier is a son of French nobles whose lives were very much affected by the Revolution, and yet still don’t care for the notion of democracy.

Olivier’s parents want to get Olivier away from growing problems in France, so he is sent to study and write about prisons in America, with Parrot as his servant/secretary. The book contrasts their perspectives on the things they counter on this trip, as well as the conflict between the two men.

I did like the changing perspective at first, to show how different Parrot and Olivier saw the world. I did lean towards Parrot’s side more and didn’t care as much for Olivier, who felt very strongly about classes and how a society should be.

However, some of the book was a bit jarring, like various flashbacks that would share something of the character’s past, but only in snippets. There were also a few instances where parts of the present jumped a bit, not fully explaining how something had happened.

Otherwise, I thought it was an interesting read, and the style and time period made me think of other books I enjoyed, like Heyday by Kurt Andersen or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.