Sad Cypress (Poirot) (Hercule Poirot Series Book 21)

Elinor Carlisle is on trial for her life – accused of murder.  Hercule Poirot is not convinced she is guilty.  One of Elinnor’s well wishers asks Poirot to investigate even though the evidence against her seems to be overwhelming.  Poirot starts to unravel the circumstances which led to the death of Mary Gerard apparently from eating fish paste sandwiches made by Eleanor.

The whole episode starts with the death of Elinor’s aunt and her own engagement to her aunt’s nephew which is broken off after her fiancé falls for Mary Gerard – providing Elinor with a motive for murdering Mary.

But all is not what it seems and Poirot soon manages to unravel the web of connections and secrets to reveal the murderer in a tense and exciting court room drama.  I enjoyed reading and listening to this well plotted and well written mystery.

Peril at End House

Nick Buckley meets Hercule Poirot and his side kick – Hastings, who narrates this ingenious mystery.  Nick seems to be in danger and Poirot is determined to protect her from whoever appears to want her dead after he picks up her hat which has a bullet hole in it.  She herself tells him about some lucky escapes from an assortment of potentially fatal accidents. Who could want her dead?  Poirot and Hastings are puzzled.

Gradually the evidence builds up which suggests Nick is in danger.  Can Poirot prevent a murder?  Or will the murderer outwit him?  This is one of the most baffling Christie mysteries in my opinion and one which keeps me guessing every time I read it.   Poirot as ever picks up the little details that everyone overlooks and Hastings provides the rather less observant foil for his brilliance.

The Poirot series can be read in any order and I am enjoying reading them completely at random.  I’ve never been as keen on Poirot as I am on Miss Marple but he is definitely growing on me.

The Body in the Library (Miss Marple) (Miss Marple Series Book 3)

The body of a young woman is found in Colonel Bantry’s library. Mrs Bantry immediately sends for her friend Miss Jane Marple and the Colonel sends for the police. It seems the victim is working temporarily at the Majestic Hotel as a dancer and has inveigled her way into the affections of one of the guests to the extent that Mr Jefferson wants to legally adopt her.

This is of course means there are plenty of people who might have wanted Ruby dead including her fellow workers at the Majestic and Colonel Bantry’s neighbours who are starting to mutter about there being `no smoke without fire’. Can Miss Marple discover the murderer even though the police are baffled before the Colonel is completely ostracized by his friends?

This is an intriguing mystery which will definitely keep the reader guessing right up until the end. Of course the solution is obvious when you look back on it but at the time it seems far from clear. This well written mystery shows Miss Marple at her best as she displays her inimitable knowledge of human nature.

Cat Among the Pigeons

An unpopular games teacher is found murdered in the sports pavilion.  It seems like a random attack, until another body is discovered and the tension mounts.  Some parents take their daughters away from the school in fright but there are some girls left and at the moment the murderer seems to be preying on the teachers so the pupils feel quite safe.  Then Julia Upjohn realises that she could be the next victim and she asks Hercule Poirot to investigate.

I thought the picture the author creates of a well run boarding school thrown into chaos by murder was very well done.  I thought the teachers were well drawn and they each stood out as characters and I had started to like and dislike them before the first murder. As ever Poirot himself was excellent though he doesn’t appear until more than half way through the book.

The series of novels featuring Hercule Poirot can be read in any order and I’m enjoying reading them at random as the description catches my interest.

Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success

I found this a totally fascinating and thought provoking read.  It looks at a subject which we tend to try and avoid in the twenty first century – failure.  The culture is to cover up failures and not talk about them or even think about them.  The author uses examples from the airline industry, medicine, inventions and many other backgrounds – including the industrial revolution – to illustrate failures which can be very useful and instructive.

If you have had recent experience of a medical situation where mistakes were made then maybe this book should come with a warning as you could find some of the situations described uncomfortable.  I almost gave up on the book in the first chapter because it reminded me of a personal experience but I persevered through that first chapter and found myself completely absorbed in the book.

Airlines and aviation generally has learned from its failures which is one of the main reasons why air travel is so safe.  Failures are studied closely to try and establish ways of preventing them.  People are encouraged to report failures so that situations can be addressed.  The author explores failures in medicine  which could have lead to constructive changes and opportunities for people to examine their behaviour .  In medicine consultants are regarded as God and rarely challenged but to avoid problems medicine needs to change its culture so that failures are examined so that future failures can be prevented.

The author quotes some interesting examples from industry where a culture of reporting failures results in a much more relaxed and creative working environment when compared with an environment where failures are punished.  He also quotes James Dyson and his thousands of prototypes for the original bag-less vacuum cleaner.  The point being that you don’t just invest something new – you have to make a lot of mistakes and have a lot of failures before you finally arrive at the finished product.

The idea that failure is part of life and you need failures in order to learn is an interesting one and it made me wonder if schools which don’t allow people to fail aren’t doing their students any favours.  Failures and mistakes are part of life and need to be treated constructively.

Their Angry Creed: The shocking history of feminism, and how it is destroying our way of life

I always like to read more than one point of view on controversial subjects and I was pleased when I came across this book.  Unfortunately it isn’t what I was looking for – which is a calm, rational critique of feminism.  This is an angry and at times a vitriolic book. I finished reading it with the overwhelming idea that women frighten the author – especially women daring to express an opinion which doesn’t agree with his own view of what life should be like.

There are many inconsistences and inaccuracies in this book.  On one page the author says all feminists express the same views and a few pages later he says feminism is an amorphous collection of opinions and it is impossible to find a definitive list of feminist beliefs.  This is because while there are broad areas of agreement between feminists, no one agrees on the details.

The author seems to think that feminism is about hating men – it isn’t.  There was great anger and some extreme views expressed by feminists such as Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer.  Greer especially expressed herself in extreme language to get people talking.   There were also more extreme writers than those two but mainstream feminism was never about hating men and nor are all feminists lesbians as the author suggests more than once in this book.

This book isn’t all bad and the author does deal well with the history of feminism.  Where I part company with him is over his comments about rape and about the so-called rape culture and on his constant denigrating of feminist writers and thinkers as all being mentally ill – as though to even think about  upsetting the status quo means that person must be insane. I do agree that all violence – whoever is the perpetrator – is abhorrent but here the author needs to look to his own gender for the vast majority of the violence.  I also don’t agree that flashing really isn’t a crime if it happens in front of a mature woman who should be able to deal with such things.

I think a woman’s sexual history shouldn’t be brought up in a rape trial because rape is still rape even if a woman has a chequered sexual history. If, as the author suggests, this should be admissible in court then so should the sexual history of the accused.  I also think – though this isn’t a popular view – that neither accused nor defendant should be anonymous. I didn’t like the suggestion that unless a victim fights back it can’t be rape.  This fails to take into account the way the human body can freeze in a dangerous situation and nor does it take into account the usual advice of not trying to fight someone who has greater physical strength than you have.  Presumably the author thinks the only good rape victim is a dead rape victim?

To me – and I grew up when Germaine Greer was first popular – feminism is about giving both men and women choices about their lives.  The nuclear family need not be the only version of the family – with breadwinner father, stay at home mother and two point four children.  By suggesting that other versions of the family may just be viable feminists aren’t advocating abolishing men.

Patriarchy – for want of a better description – is a straightjacket for men just as much as it is for women.  It ought to be possible for men to stay at home and bring up the children and for women to be the breadwinner without men screaming that it is undermining the fabric of society.

This book is worth reading but you need to constantly check the statements the author makes all too often – ‘everyone knows . . .’; ‘everyone agrees . . .’  No Mr Purdy – not everyone shares your views and that doesn’t make those who don’t agree mentally unstable. Nor is feminism a synonym for lesbianism or Marxism.

The Trophy Child

I found this book compelling reading.  It starts with what seems like a fairly conventional family.  Noel – a GP, prosperous and successful; his second wife, Karen who is determined that their daughter, Bronte, should excel at everything; Noel’s teenage daughter, Verity and Karen’s son Ewan from a previous relationship.

But it is soon clear to the reader that Karen has crossed the fine line between concerned parent to Tiger mother as she strives to fill the whole of ten year old Bronte’s waking life with study and music practice to the extent that they don’t eat proper meals because activities come first.

The rest of the family is feeling neglected.  Noel seeks refuge in the bottle.  Ewan in drugs. Verity in almost anything which doesn’t involve any sort of contact with her stepmother.  Gradually it becomes clear to the reader that all is far from well in this family and I found myself just waiting for something shocking to happen.  The author builds up the tension well as she gradually reveals telling details about this family.

I actually found myself hating Karen after the first few pages though I liked Verity and the much put upon Bronte.  Noel I thought was trying to avoid all his problems instead of doing anything to tackle them.  I didn’t really get a clear picture of Ewan – which probably actually fitted his lifestyle quite well.

This book kept me reading throughout one afternoon and evening and it’s one of those books which you just have to keep reading whatever else you neglect.  You may also find that there are characters you love or hate and you will also think you have met people who resemble those in the book.  If you enjoyed Girl on a Train then you will probably enjoy this book.