Since Friday falls on Christmas Eve this week, I thought it would be a good idea to read a Christmas-themed mystery as my Forgotten Book. Or in this case, re-read one.
When I was growing up in the Sixties, Carter Brown books were everywhere. You couldn’t find a paperback rack without at least a couple of Carter Brown titles in it, and the used bookstores had shelves after shelves of them. And I was a fan. What teenage boy wouldn’t be? The books had fast-paced plots, racy dialogue, and McGinnis covers. I gobbled ’em up.
One of them I remember reading was A CORPSE FOR CHRISTMAS, but that’s all I recalled about it. So I scrounged up a copy (ordered it off ABE, to be precise) and read it again. The results were sort of mixed. This is one of the books featuring Lt. Al Wheeler, probably the best-known of Brown’s detective characters. I’ve always liked Al, and he’s his usual abrasive but charming self here. The action takes place during the last few days before Christmas, and at one point the murderer wears a Santa Claus suit, but overall there’s not much Christmas atmosphere in this one, despite the title. The fact that the fictional Pine City, where Al works as a detective for the sheriff’s department, is in Southern California probably has something to do with that. And Brown’s writing was never really very strong on any sort of atmosphere to start with, being concerned mostly with plot and dialogue.
Add to that an unimpressive cover and a fairly bland plot about the murder of a guy who owns a public relations company, and you have a book that’s something of a disappointment. However, it does pick up steam late, with more murders and a flurry of plot twists (the Carter Brown novels tend to be fairly complex and usually well-plotted), so I wound up enjoying it enough to consider the couple of hours it took to read it not wasted time. And it’s put me in the mood to read more Carter Brown books, although who knows when or if I’ll actually get around to it.
Now, as a bonus since the book I picked didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped it would, here’s a rerun of a post I wrote back in 2005, before the Forgotten Books series began and I suspect before many of you were reading this blog:
I'm a nostalgic kind of guy, and let's face it, I never really grew up to start with. I still read comics and pulps and old paperbacks. But some of my interests have faded away over the years. During my junior high and high school years, I read lots of British mysteries (along with all other sorts of mysteries). Many of them were by Agatha Christie. I haven't read anything by her in years, though.
Until recently, when on a whim and a desire to revisit that part of my earlier years, I picked up a copy of her novel MURDER FOR CHRISTMAS. This is a Hercule Poirot novel that I never read back in the Sixties, and he was always my favorite among her characters. I'm afraid I never cared much for Miss Marple. Anyway, I've now read about a third of MURDER FOR CHRISTMAS, and I'm enjoying it very much. True, at this late date the plot seems almost like a parody of itself: a dysfunctional British family, plus a couple of mysterious outsiders, gathers at the family's country estate for Christmas, and the obnoxious patriarch of the family winds up being murdered. Naturally, Hercule Poirot happens to be visiting one of the local police officials, so he's drawn into the investigation.
Sure, it's a hokey set-up, and characters tend to have conversations with each other about things they already know, simply as a means of filling in the readers on the backstory, but I'm willing to forgive that. The characters themselves are pretty interesting and Christie does a good job of sketching them in without going overboard on the background. The prose is fast-paced and quite readable, and I haven't figured out who the killer is yet. (Unlike a novel I read recently by a current big-name thriller writer, where I saw every single plot twist for the entire book in the first fifty pages or so.)
So, while I doubt that I'll ever gobble down Agatha Christie mysteries like I did in the old days, I'm having a lot of fun with this one and will probably read a few more now and then.