Flashback Friday: The Mysterious Affair at Styles


The Mysterious Affair at Styles
By Agatha Christie
Narrated by Nadia May

6.8 hours


The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the first title in the Hercule Poirot series. The Belgian exile and former police detective is called upon to investigate the death of an elderly woman.

In March of 2009, the Yahoo! group, Sounds Like a Mystery (S.L.A.M.) discussed The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Because the discussion went forward on the premise that participants in the discussion had already listened to The Mysterious Affair at Styles, there are spoilers in the comments about characters and, I’ve marked out the passages below (“SPOILER ALERT” and “END SPOILER ALERT.”) The following comments were drawn from the discussion (03/20-23/2009):


S.LA.M. Discussion Questions

Did you like the book? Why? Why not?
I liked the book, but I made a serious mistake when I first approached it: I underestimated Agatha Christie. The last time I read AC was in high school (The ABC Murders and Murder on the Orient Express) and now I had thought her dated and perhaps even less-than- sophisticated! I was struck by the density of the cast list, the plot, the motives and the subterfuges. I anticipate returning to this book again and being able to appreciate it more with each re-reading or re-telling.

How did you like the narrator?
As much as I love Nadia May, she was miscast for this book. The narrator is a 45 year-old Captain coming in from the Front. Despite Nadia May’s versatility, there was no way to ignore that she wasn’t a 45 year-old Captain coming in from the Front! There is a scene early on wherein Captain Hastings looks out the window to see Lawrence Cavendish walking with Cynthia Murdoch. In my mind’s eye, I saw Miss Marple peering out the window! Later, as Captain Hastings expresses his crush on Mary Cavendish or even later, proposes to Cynthia Murdoch, it took me aback.

Did anything grab your attention?
I’ve started playing a little game with the audiobooks I’ve been listening to this year: What common factor can be found within the last three audiobooks I’ve listened to? Right now, the last three books are The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Invisible Monsters (by Chuck Palahniuk; narrated by Anna Fields) and, The Gargoyle (by Andrew Davidson; narrated by Lincoln Hoppe.) It turns out that all three narrators in the novels are people who have been hospitalized. In The Gargoyle, the narrator is recovering from a car accident in which he suffers 3rd/4th degree burns. In Invisible Monsters, the narrator is recovering from a gunshot wound received while she was driving on a highway. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the narrator is on sick leave from the War, but we do not know exactly what it is he is recovering from! I found this interesting if only because one might expect that whatever illness or injury Captain Hastings was suffering from, one that merited a prolonged convalescent leave, would have some sort of impact, whether physical or mental, on his bearing.

Even though there is no precise date given as the time period for the book, I have to think it is somewhere near the onset of WWI and before the introduction of gas warfare, so between April 1914 and April 1916. I couldn’t find a reference as to when paper usage limitations were being introduced into English life, but the mention of Belgian exiles also make me think it was probably 1914-15.

********** SPOILER ALERT **********


Did you figure out “whodunit?”
After Mr. Inglethorpe had been cleared, I was totally at sea! I was overwhelmed with too much information and unable to even formulate a hypothesis. I knew the stamps and the timeline were important; but as to “how” I couldn’t ascertain. After a while, I stopped trying to figure it all out and just went along unquestioningly. Even after having it all explained (“Poirot Explains”) I felt bemused. Were I to read the title repeatedly, following a different thread each time or writing little notes in the margins, I would be able to parse it out better and make sense of it all. Maybe.


Was there a twist that threw you? Was the plot believable?
The whole business with who was actually buying the strychnine while in disguise threw me. Owing to Dr. Bauerstein’s close physical resemblance to Alfred Inglethorpe, his knowledge as a toxicologist, and his seemingly personal interest in Mary Cavendish, he was the logical suspect and clearly the perfect red herring!

Did other items in the story help or hinder the story?
Poirot “played” Evelyn Howard. I did not understand the psychology or reasoning behind this approach and those passages felt alien to the work itself.

How did you feel about the main characters? Did you connect with the characters in the book?
At the beginning of the book, the number of characters was challenging. I actually listened to parts of the beginning a couple of times over so that the characters were clear in my mind. The most sympathetic character was Lawrence Cavendish, the image of the “watercolor” blond aristocrat and dilettante (cf Sebastien in Brideshead Revisited.) John Cavendish was the most pitiable by reason of his marriage and unrequited love. Captain Hastings was the least appealing. His intellectual vanities and limitations, coupled with his arrogance masquerading as reason, were off-putting. The character of Poirot himself was a little strange and was reminiscent of the-larger-than-life flamboyant Oscar Wilde (without the scandal.) Monk seems to be patterned somewhat after Poirot’s fastidiousness.

The characters were purposeless aristocrats. They couldn’t be anything else! The time setting of the book is 1915-1916. England was fully committed to WWI and Belgian refugees were crossing the Channel (i.e. Hercule Poirot.) At the time, there was a belief in Social Darwinism, that the best and brightest in society would make the best and brightest officers, not realizing that modern warfare would render Social Darwinism moot. Entire hometown regions of men were wiped out in a few hours of battle time. Men who served together often came from the same hometown or classroom. Hence, entire graduating classes from Eton, Harrows, Oxford and Cambridge, disappeared overnight. It turned out that the machine gun fire, grenades and later, gas, were indiscriminating. Those who were left behind on the home front, were not the best and brightest. There were physical misfits, second sons and, the old (e.g. John Cavendish, Lawrence Cavendish, the Head Gardener.) The pre-destined roles they had expected to play were stripped away. They were also left with the wreckage of a society that had never served them well. Understandably, they were not so eager to re-constitute a social order based on primogeniture and entailed legacies. These runts of society were now expected to make shift within the wreckage of an eviscerated social order. They were keenly aware of their own shortcomings. The better of them tried to form and/or adapt to the new and ever-shifting paradigms of the Modern Age and find their place (e.g. John Cavendish asking Mary Cavendish if she loved Dr. Bauerstein, a totally irrelevant question ten years prior) and the lesser of men just tried to fade into the background and find some measure of personal contentment (e.g. Lawrence Cavendish scribbling away at his poetry and finally asking Cynthia Murdoch to marry him.) For all, the idea of “purpose” as they understood it (predestiny) had been abrogated and they were left to contend with fate.

WWI killed La Bell Epoque and its attendant Age of Romanticism. Mrs. Inglethorpe could be seen as a symbol of the Old Ways with her patronages and affection for opening charity bazaars. Neither she nor the Old Ways went quietly into the night! Both were poisoned, by strychnine and modern warfare respectively.


Anyone or anything distract you in the story?
Everything was distracting! What was valuable information or evidence was difficult to thresh out.


Did the book grab you emotionally?
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is not an emotionally provocative book nor even a particularly an emotionally engaging one. The “locked room” mystery was meant to be an intellectual challenge.

Did you connect with the place? Do you feel like you have been or want to go there?
England during WWI? No, thank you.

Did you get hooked? At some point did you have a hard time putting it down? What was the point?
“Hooked” may not be the appropriate word, but for lack of a better term, I was “hooked” after Mr. Inglethorpe had been cleared. I knew I wasn’t processing all the information correctly and so I was anticipating the parlor scene in hopes that all would be made clear to me. Now that the book is done, I feel compelled to go over it again so, in that way I’ve been “hooked” twice!

What about the use of sex or violence in the story?
The sex and violence were very abstracted. The scandalous Mrs. Railkes and her activities are inferred but never spelled out. The exact nature of the relationship between Mary Cavendish and Dr. Bauerstein is never made explicit. As for the crime itself, while rather lurid, did not entail any scatological details or goriness. Poisoning is a rather passive or “feminine” method of homicide. Overall, this title ranks fairly low in terms of sex and violence. I would place it, as a cozy, in league with Crocodile on a Sandbank.

********** END SPOILER ALERT **********

On a Scale from 1-5 (5 is best) or a Grade of F-A+, how would you rate this book?
I’m tentatively rating this title a “B.” If I actually do return to the book, I suspect it will go up in my estimation.

Would you read other books in this series (if there are any)?
I’m willing to continue with the Hercule Poirot series, but I’d like to take some time with each book.

Would you seek out other books by this narrator?
I recently cited Nadia May as my favorite female narrator. I based my assessment on her work on Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] and am looking forward to Barbara Tuchman’s The First Salute. As for this series, I think I would like to try either David Suchet or Hugh Fraser if I were to continue in the audio format.



Poirot – The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Directed by Ross Devenish
Starring David Suchet and Hugh Fraser
This DVD works as a great companion to the book as it serves to elucidate some of the points in the novel that are not clear from the writing (i.e. what a green armlet is, what a spill vase is and does); sets a specific time reference (June 1917) and therefore a context; fills in some back-story (Captain Hastings suffers from a leg injury) and; provides some other interesting and appropriate other material (the role-playing drills of people left behind on the home front, the nightmares of Hastings, the rumors of the American Expeditionary Force’s arrival.) The movie, however, collapses the time frame and, eliminates a major character (and therefore avoids the counting teacups business from the book; but does help clarify why Lawrence was staring at the mantelpiece as his mother was dying.) The book and the movie are great examples as to the possibilities and limitations of either medium.

GRADE: B


Other Stuff: I borrowed a library CD edition of the audiobook from Blackstone Audio, Inc. I rented the DVD of the movie from Netflix.

This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com





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Flashback Friday: Storm Front

Storm Front

by Jim Butcher
narrated by James Marsters

8.0 hours
Storm Front is the first title in The Dresden Files and, introduces the audience to Harry Dresden, a practicing wizard in modern day Chicago, IL. Harry is tapped by Monica Sells to locate her missing husband and, the local police force’s Special Investigations unit has brought in Harry to consult ion a particularly gruesome homicide case wherein “magic’ is suspected of playing a part.

In February of 2010, the Yahoo! group, Sounds Like a Mystery (S.L.A.M.) discussed Storm Front. Because the discussion went forward on the premise that participants in the discussion had already listened to Storm Front, there are spoilers in the comments about characters and, I’ve marked out the passages below (“SPOILER ALERT” and “END SPOILER ALERT.”) The following comments were drawn from the discussion (02/20-23/2010):

> I listened to this first a couple of years ago and again a couple of weeks ago. I LOVE this audio! James Marsters’ delivery is excellent, conveying the idea that he IS Harry Dresden and overcomes some of the production issues (booth/mouth noise) and what I suspect is not-that-great writing. I’ve never been inclined to pick up the print, but I have no problem recommending the audio!

A twitter friend of mine pointed out that he thought the action scenes were rather drawn out but I countered that it was the equivalent of slo-mo (a la The Million Dollar Man) wherein the fast sequences needed to be slowed down so that the listener/reader could take in everything that was going on or; akin to when you are in an accident and even though it’s only taking a few seconds, it feels everything is going in slow motion. Moreover, I really hadn’t noticed it until he pointed it out so the argument that the action scenes were “too” anything was arguable!

I think many people are wary of starting The Dresden Files titles because the assumption is that they are freaky paranormal, but The Dresden Files somehow seems to emphasize the “normal” in “paranormal” and make the fantastic believable.

********** SPOILER ALERT **********

> Maybe I watch too much TV, but anymore, when two story-arcs are introduced, I’m not surprised to learn that it’s really one plot. Early in the novel, Victor Sells is introduced as a person of interest (as the missing persons case) so I figured he was involved somehow in the Tommy Tomm homicide. What I hadn’t figured on was that Victor Sells would turn out to be the arch-nemesis of the story. I had mistakenly figured he was a high-ranking pawn, but a pawn nonetheless, to a more powerful figure. I think when I first listened to Storm Front, I thought he might even become instrumental in bringing the bad guy down.

I was also surprised in Monica Sells’ complicity. While I understand her motives in seeking assistance, I was chagrined that she would withhold information that could have helped her. Harry wasn’t very good at persuading her to “help him help her;” but since she was the one who initiated contact, he shouldn’t have to have been.

This read very much like a first-in-series novel wherein the characters were being very carefully described, for use now, and later. As for the main characters I have to say that I love Harry and Bob. Of course, despite the descriptions given in the book, I imagine Harry Dresden to look like Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Bob to look like Terrance Mann (“Bob” in the TV series, The Dresden Files!) Hey, it works for me!

I find Gentleman Johnny Marcone very interesting. The scene in which Harry and Marcone were soulgazing leads me to think there is Marcone will develop into an even more interesting character. I like Susan Rodriguez too. She just seems like fun. I actually don’t care too much for Karin Murphy, as I’ve never really had much truck with people who only see things as black and white. Her indifference to Harry’s reluctance to pursue checking out how a spell was to be worked, her demands for results (tantamount to ordering him to solve the case for her,) on deadline no less and, her attempt to arrest him (showing a distinct lack of faith,) were off-putting.

********** END SPOILER ALERT **********

> I’m rating this an “A-” and promoting it into my Parthenon of Favorite Audiobooks. It held up very well on the re-listen! I have the next three (Full Moon, Grave Peril and Summer Knight) on my iPod and plan on listening to them after I finish with the Geographic/USA Challenge.

Death Masks (#5) is on my audible wishlist and I may dnload it this year, but I probably won’t listen to it until next year as I gotta lotta stuff on the backlog list! Titles #6 & #7 have yet to be produced. If they never are, then I may very well stop at #5 since I’m not particularly interested in reading these books in print and; I may have reached my limit in the series anyway. Titles #8-11 have been produced in audio but I really don’t want to skip titles to get there.

The only other thing I see that James Marsters has done in audio is take part in a performance of The Importance of Being Ernest (by Oscar Wilde.) It has one five-star rating but no reviews. I don’t know about that.

[Ultimately, Storm Front‘s production issues and suspect writing had me reconsider Storm Front from inclusion in my Personal Pantheon of All-Time Great Audiobooks; though it and The Dresden Files remains a guilty pleasure 🙂 All twelve titles in the series have been produced and are available. I did go on to listen to The Importance of Being Ernest (by Oscar Wilde as well as Death Masks (#5 in the series.)

Other Stuff: I purchased an MP3-CD of Storm Front from Buzzy Multimedia

Flashback Friday: The Importance of Being Ernest


The Importance of Being Ernest

by Oscar Wilde
Live performance featuring James Marsters, Charles Busch, Emily Bergl, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, Christopher Neame and, Matthew Wolf
2.0 hours


    Product Description (taken from LearnOutLoud.com, the goto site for L.A. Theater Works’ audios:)

    This final play from the pen of Oscar Wilde is a stylish send-up of Victorian courtship and manners, complete with assumed names, mistaken lovers, and a lost handbag. Jack and Algernon are best friends, both wooing ladies who think their names are Ernest, “that name which inspires absolute confidence.”

    Wilde’s effervescent wit, scathing social satire, and high farce make this one of the most cherished plays in the English language.

    My journal entry of 05/24/2010:

    > Even though I have seen and read the play a few times, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST bears up under repeated scrutiny. The performance by L.A. Theater Works (starring James Marsters) had me laughing aloud, delivering the lines with excellent comic timing and all the appropriate absurdity. As an audio-only performance, the listener might expect to feel cheated in not being able to see the actors, but it’s a testament to Oscar Wilde’s writing and the performers that nothing was lost in this rendition. My only quibble was the inclusion of an interview with the director afterward: It simply wasn’t interesting.

Other Stuff: I purchased a digital dnload copy from audible.com

Flashback Friday: In Cold Blood

Recently a few people on twitter decided to listen to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (narrated by Scott Brick.) As I listened to this fairly recently and, I already was committed to another audiobook, I wasn’t up for a re-listen; but I wanted to play too! So, today I offer this, my journal entry from July 2008:

In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote
Narrated by Scott Brick
14.45 hours

Listening to In Cold Blood was close to having someone read the newspaper aloud to you. Scott Brick was absolutely neutral in his reporting of the text, lending accented language when appropriate, bur never over-the-top. There are some noticeable intakes of breath as Scott Brick launches into a sentence or two and; if you try to up the bass on your stereo, be aware there is no bass to “up!” Overall, however, this is a clean recording. The story itself is intriguing in that you know who, what where, when and, why up front, but you’re compelled to listen to the story anyway. The listener is eager to understand the dynamic between Perry Smith and Dick Hickock (the murderers) and how the KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigation) puts the case together. The final discs address capital punishment and are definitely served as food for thought.

You can join @bostonbibliophi, @braincandybr and @lithousewife in their twitter listen-along of Truman Cappote’s In Cold Blood from July 5-10, 2011. On July 10, 2011 at 8:00 p.m. EST, they will conclude with a discussion (on twitter.) The hashtag is #ICBaudio.

Flashback Friday: 1984

In Monday’s feature, The Pink Chair: Where’s My 1984, Narrated by Simon Vance?, I talked a little bit about rights and mentioned that Blackstone Audio, Inc. currently holds the exclusive rights to the straight narration of 1984 (by George Orwell.) Though you can’t get the audiobook as narrated by Simon Vance, I happen to think that the audiobook produced by Blackstone is pretty good! In fact, it’s one of the titles in my personal Pantheon of All-Time Great Audiobooks! Some other people think it’s pretty good too because it was a 2008 Audie Award Finalist in the category of Classics. LOL, I always love validation of my good tastes!
I listened to the audio in January of 2009 and below is my journal entry from that time:

1984

by George Orwell
narrated by Simon Prebble
11.40 Hours

> For those who have not read “1984” or read it and forgotten it, “1984” is a novel published in 1949 about the totalitarian society that George Orwell imagined in place by 1984. Superficially, it is an expression of the post-war zeitgeist, which was still tainted with the bitter after-taste of Nazism, Fascism and, confronted with new fears of Stalinism and The Atomic Age. On a more academic level, it is a political treatise about citizen complacency and, the mechanics and motives for power. The story itself contains finely wrought tension and sere descriptions of time, place, and character. There is a horrific quality to the story and you need to remind yourself that, this is a work of fiction. This is a near definitive narration of a novel, SP shaping the text with nuance and boldness alike. Small narration and production issues prevented me from grading this higher: A slight lisp tended to spike against the eardrums a bit, causing me to change out headsets to more forgiving speakers; The narrator sounded a slightly rushed in the final tracks; The overall recording is mastered at a very high volume causing me to lower the gain and; finally, there wasn’t an auditory cue to delineate the end of the story from the Appendix (even a longer pause would have been nice.)
GRADE: A-

Other Stuff: I borrowed a MP3-CD edition of 1984 from Blackstone Audio, Inc. The production issues mentioned above may have since been or probably were taken care of since then; so you need to take my comments with a grain of salt :-/

Flashback Friday: BEA

Crunch time! I’m in the midst of wrapping up last minute work details (how can they possibly live without me!), running errands (buying shoes) and packing for the week-long orgy of publishers, librarians, bloggers, books, audiobooks, breakfasts, lunches, teas, cocktails and dinners in NYC known as, concurrently, APAC (Audiobook Publishers Association Conference culminating in the Audies, the audiobook industry’s version of the Oscars,) BEA (Book Expo America) and BBC (Book Bloggers Convention.) My schedule looks pretty jammed packed, even though I’m deliberately keeping Thursday and Friday nights open for on-the-fly possibilities 🙂
As I’m running around the office this morning, making sure I can leave with a clear conscience, my eye fell upon my BEA badge from four years ago. Four years ago! And only one day! And the last, lamest day! I was in NYC primarily for the Audies and Blackstone graciously granted me a pass for the final day of the expo. I’ve been dying to go back for the full event and this year is it, sorta. Even though I have a full pass for BEA because I’m on a panel for BBC, I will be working in the Blackstone booth, so I won’t be able to circulate and take advantage of all the events I would like. But the tradeoff is that, for working the Blackstone booth, I get to go to the Audies! So it’s all good 🙂
This next week, will be interesting as I try to update my twitter followers et al with status tweets in an area notorious for bad cell and WiFi reception; but I’ll do my best! Tomorrow, it begins with #undercoverspy, when I tweet what I see people reading in the airport… Anticipated hash tags for next week:
#undercoverspy (books I see people reading while I’m traveling)
#APAC2011 (mixer, plus actual conference)
#AUDIES2011 (live tweets of the winners)
#BEA2011 (from the booth and what happens when I manage to sneak away)
#iheartadriana (MC-host of the Audies, plus lunch on Thursday!)
#ShakenNotStirred (A James Bond thing involving, martinis, Casino Royale, Simon Vance and lithousewife)
#BBC2011 (book bloggers convention)
So, if you’re not already, follow me on twitter! Better yet, come visit and gossip with me at booth #4281 at BEA!

Flashback Friday: The Shoes

There are days, days when modern technology defeats me, my husband buys an ugly green couch behind my back, other parents seem to think their kids are some sort of entry in a life contest, the book I’m reading is quickly heading for the DNF pile… or, for the purposes of this story, you get stood up on a virtual movie date. Last October, there was supposed to be a live tweet-up of The Amityville Horror (directed by Stuart Rosenberg; starring Josh Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger.) For whatever reason it didn’t happen. So, left to my own devices, iPhone and third party twitter app in hand, I went out to dinner with my husband to an Italian restaurant. To be honest, the restaurant wasn’t that good; but the bar served mongo drinks, drinks with presence. I actually don’t remember the particulars of the drink I tried, except that I’m pretty sure it involved vodka, pomegranate juice and some other high sugar-content mixers that would ensure maximum alcohol saturation. I think I had two of these cocktails (I wasn’t driving – because my husband was with me and for some reason he always drives – like somehow my mundane ability to parallel park is thwarted in the face of his Kryptonite-mad driving skillz… but I digress.) Anyway, like I said, I wasn’t driving and I was drinking and I wasn’t watching a really bad horror flick from thirty years ago and even though I had had a couple of most excellent cocktails, I was still feeling vaguely dissatisfied. My husband and I went home and it was still early enough that we weren’t going to bed; but late enough we weren’t going start a movie. So that left me with the internet. And I went shoe shopping. And this is what I got:

Ralph Lauren, Fareeda, Black, Oiled Suede

And this is what they cost: $150.00. Now I realize in this day and age $150 is not a lot to pay for a pair of shoes; but all things are relative. But this is the thing, they were advertised as having four-inch heels, which is pretty daring for me since I haven’t worn anything but flats since 9/11. When the shoes arrived, I actually took a tape measure to these boots and they actually add close to six inches to my height. Why is all this important? Because baby, these shoes have changed my life! Now when Other People seem to lock in on my office and startle me with their absurdities, when my sexy iPhone turns into a sexy iBrick, when my daughter somehow manages to lose another sweatshirt, whatever… I put on the shoes. I can take charge, I tower over Other People and my problems and, vanquish them all. I become empowered. I kick ass. I take names. I become a Woman of Presence. Oh yeah, and baby? I’m driving.
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Adriana Trigliani is hosting a Special Contest for Lunch and a Walking Tour of Greenwich Village with Adriana Trigliani. Click on the link for full details.
BTW, Adriana, if we end up having lunch together, I am definitely wearing the shoes; BUT I am also taking a pair of sneakers with me for the walking part. Just saying… 🙂