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What to Read Next: The Masters of Suspense
Issue #301, featuring Agatha Christie and Louise Penny
Happy Friday, readers!
Before we depart October and head into November, I wanted to treat you to one final suspense-driven edition of the newsletter.
I’ve started a lot of suspense/mystery/thriller series, but haven’t finished many in their entirety. Without fail, I end up bored somewhere between books three and five — plots run together and there isn’t enough differentiation to keep me interested. There are two notable exceptions: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series and Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series. If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ve heard me talk about them before and I won’t stop singing their praises.
With Christie, I keep going for the simple fact that her stories have no fluff. The books are shorter than most in the genre and they’re always entertaining — even though I often forget the plot almost immediately after finishing.
With Penny, I stick around because her main characters are so damn well-written — they’re complex, earnest, and endearing — that it feels like returning to a group of good friends every time I crack open a new book in the series.
For both authors, there’s not much need to start at the very beginning. This is especially true for Agatha — there are almost no secondary plots that carry between books and I’ve had no problem jumping around her canon. Penny offers a bit more continuity between titles, but my wife has jumped around a bit in the series and hasn’t been bothered by it.
Let’s get to it!
Great audiobooks on sale right now
Chirp Books is an a la carte audiobook retailer. Along with Libby (for library audiobooks), Chirp has been a fantastic addition to my audiobook consumption.
When you sign up with my link, you’ll get your first book for just $2. Below are my favorite deals this month.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius ($2)
Wool by Hugh Howey ($6)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre ($6)
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead ($5)
Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt ($4)
FYI, I get a small cut of any purchase.
Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
“There was only one thing about his own appearance which really pleased Hercule Poirot, and that was the profusion of his moustaches, and the way they responded to grooming and treatment and trimming. They were magnificent. He knew of nobody else who had any moustache half as good.”
Published: 1969 | Pages: 250 | Genre: Fiction (Crime)
Published in the UK as A Haunting in Venice, Agatha Christie’s 1969 mystery novel has been getting fresh attention because of the new Kenneth Branagh film. It’s not often counted among her best Poirot books, but it’s pitch-perfect for the season.
At a Halloween party in the countryside, a teenage girl is found murdered. It’s not quite a locked-house mystery, but our culprits are somewhat limited to those who prepped or attended the party. Of further interest is that a well-known mystery writer was in attendance and is eager to help Poirot with the case.
What I love about Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories is how tightly written they are. There’s no fluff, there are no secondary storylines, there’s not a whole lot in the way of backstory — it’s just murder and Poirot solving that murder. At under 300 pages, this book was a vintage breath of fresh air in a world of 400-page (or more) mystery novels that are rife with gimmicky plots and long character lists.
Honestly, I’ve already forgotten the guilty party. Whether it’s the COVID fog (I read this book while our entire household had COVID a couple of weeks ago) or simply a not-so-memorable story, it doesn’t really matter. I was highly entertained while reading Hallowe’en Party and am happy to recommend it to any fan of murder mysteries. You’re in for a rollicking good time.
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
“There is always a road back. If we have the courage to look for it, and take it. I'm sorry. I was wrong. I don't know. I need help. These are the signposts. The cardinal directions.”
Published: 2016 | Pages: 389 | Genre: Fiction (Crime)
I don’t always write about the Louise Penny books that I’ve read, but A Great Reckoning was good enough to warrant sharing with you.
This book is Penny’s version of a campus crime novel. There’s a murder in the dorms, students trying to solve the crime, a cartographic mystery to solve, and protagonist Armand Gamache taking on a more pronounced teacher/mentor role.
I’ve always enjoyed the campus crime niche — The Secret History, I Have Some Questions For You, etc. — so I was excited to see Penny wade into this territory. She hits on many of the fun tropes you expect to find in this academic setting (as noted above), but with Penny’s trademark empathetic style.
Though it’s the twelfth book in the Gamache series, A Great Reckoning can absolutely work as a standalone mystery. You won’t have all the background information, but it’s not as necessary in this story as in many of Penny’s others. This might just be the title that gets you hooked and has you wanting to start the series from the beginning.
Thanks so much for reading. I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space!