Cozy Read Wednesday: the Beach Trees by Karen White

cozyreadwedThis week’s cozy read is another by Karen White but is a standalone rather than part of a series.  The Beach Trees takes place in the New Orleans/Biloxi area and features a young woman named Julie Holt who has inherited a 5-year-old boy from her best friend sending her life in a whole new and unfamiliar direction.

From the back cover:

beachTreesWorking at an auction house in New York, Julie Holt meets a struggling artist and single mother who reminds her very much of her missing younger sister.  Monica Guidry paints a vivid picture of her Southern family throughs stories, but never says why or how she lost contact with them. And she has another secret: a heart condition that will soon taker her life.

Feeling as if she’s lost her sister a second time, Julie inherits from Moncia an antique portrait — as well as custody of her young son.  Taking him to Biloxi, Mississippi, to meet the family he’s never known, Julie discovers a connection of her own. The portrait , of an old Giudry relative, was done by her great grandfather — and unlocks a surprising family history . . .

This is a story told from two different 1st person perspectives:  the current day story of Julie as she struggles to find a way to honour her friend Monica’s wishes that she be guardian of her son Beau in her home town of New Orleans, and the backstory of the Guidry family as told by Aimee, the great aunt who raised Monica and her brother Trey.

I found this to be a very slow-paced book that was difficult to keep reading.  Disappointing after I enjoyed the previous book I had read by White.  I stuck with it but found it quite predictable.  The title comes from the trees along the beach in Biloxi, trees that were killed by hurricane Katrina and subsequently sculpted by artists into wildlife — herons, dolphins, marlins, penguins — as a sign of hope, life going on despite devastation.  It represents all of KarenWhitethe characters in the book as they try to make sense of some secrets, murders, and disappearances.  That sounds like it should be pretty exciting but I felt no urgency to read late into the night or even to read instead of watching TV.  While at times I felt the writing was beautiful when describing settings or even Julie’s thoughts as she tries to come to terms with her situation, at times I felt Aimee’s story — which she relates to Julie — was more like an author writing for a reader rather than someone sharing her past experiences with a friend.  I really never understood Trey’s hostility toward Julie at the beginning and found his change in attitude rather abrupt. This is a good story, a slow read, rather long and predictable but with some interesting, redeeming qualities and worth reading. It would have been nice if there had a been a picture of one of the Biloxi tree sculptures on the cover.  They can be found on the web however and I’m including a few here. * * 1/2

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Mystery Monday Meme: Along Came A Spider by James Patterson

This week’s Monday Mystery is the first in James Patterson‘s Alex Cross series, Along Came A Spider.  Alex Cross is not only a deputy chief of detectives in the Washington Police Department but is a qualified psychologist who is able to read suspects and witnesses and put together a picture of a killer’s motives and mindset.  There are more than 25 books in this acclaimed series, the first eleven taking their names from nursery rhymes.

From the back of the book:

It begins with the double kidnapping of the daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and the young son of the Secretary of the Treasury.  Gary Soneji is a murderous serial kidnapper who wants to commit the crime of the century.  Alex Cross is the brilliant homicide detective pitted against him.  And Jezzie Flanagan is the female supervisor of the Secret Service who completes one of the unusual suspense triangles in any thriller you have ever read.

It was the Prologue that captured my attention right away — it features a 1st person alternative theory to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby from his home in Hopewell, N.J. in 1932.  With the beginning of the current story there is an abrupt switch to 1992 Washington, D.C. and the life of Alex Cross.

Cross has 2 young children and his grandmother lives in and cares for them since his wife Marie was killed in a drive-by shooting 2 years earlier.  They live in the Southeast of D.C. — a poor black area where folks are suspicious of the police, even of Alex who is one of them.  He volunteers weekends at the area soup kitchen and has great compassion for victims like the ones he gets called to see early this particular morning.  His partner is John Sampson, also black, and 6’9″ tall.  They’ve been a team for a long time and can read and anticipate each other’s moods and reactions.

When Cross & Sampson get called off the Southeast murder investigation, Alex is really angry that the abduction of 2 white kids from a fancy private school is going to take precedence over the murder of a black family.  The mayor wants him on the case for political reasons and he’s to collaborate with the FBI and the Secret Service on whose watch the kids were taken.  The Secret Service agent in charge of assigning the details, Jezzie Flanagan, is a rising star in the service — divorced, tough, and a bit wild on her black BMW K-1 motorcycle.  While the kidnapper/killer leads law enforcement on a merry chase, Cross and Flanagan develop a romantic interest, the first he’s had since his wife’s death.

This is a fast-paced story that takes many twists and interesting changes of perspective.  We get to see into the twisted mind of the killer and his double life and possible multiple personalities.  We experience the mind of the kidnapped little girl first buried alive, then a slave with some foreign family in an unnamed, isolated location.  The interviews in prison between Cross and the killer, dissension between areas of law enforcement and politicians about his sanity and the best way to prosecute Soneji, and his manipulative methods all combine to keep the reader on the edge of the seat.

The character development was really well done and the frequent harking back to the Lindbergh kidnapping added some context to the mind of the killer.  The change of scenes from the poor area of D.C. to the wealthy suburbs, to the Caribbean, to Disney Orlando and the broken down, isolated farm in New Jersey near the 1932 home of the Lindberghs, the settings were almost as interesting as the characters.  It was all very realistic and more than a little scary at times, for me anyway.  I’ll probably read more as I’m interested in seeing Alex Cross solve more crimes and I liked the pace.  Very easy to read and hard to put down.  * * * * 1/2

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If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mention my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review.  You can also copy my MMM badge to your post or your sidebar.  (Links to books are Amazon affiliate links!)


 

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On My Bookshelf — March 26th, 2021

Lots of books still On My Bookshelf.  I don’t seem to be getting through as many books as I would like yet so I’m only sharing 8 for the coming month and am hoping to get caught up.  A Top Ten TBR is a nice idea but I’m not ready for it yet.  Here are some I’m hoping to review in April.

As always, if you’ve read one of these and would like to share some thoughts about them, please do so in the comments below.  I’d love to read your opinion.  Happy Reading!

 

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Cozy Read Wednesday: Heartwishes by Jude Deveraux

This week’s Cozy Read is by an author I haven’t read before — Jude Deveraux.  She has about 50 books to her credit and more than 6M copies of her work published world wide.  I picked it for my cozy read from the blurb on the back cover.  When I later looked at the front cover, I had 2nd thoughts — I don’t normally choose books that have bare-chested guys on the cover — but I’m glad I read it.  It’s called Heartwishes, #5 in the Edilean series.

From the back of the book:

Graduate student Gemma Ranford wants the job cataloging the documents of one of Edilean’s oldest families so much that she is ready to do battle to get it.  Desperate to finish her dissertation, she’s sure that investigating the Frazier family history will yield new information to invigorate her research.  But she is surprised to find among the papers references to the legend of the Heartwishes stone, a magical talisman said to grant wishes to anyone named Frazier.  And as she spends more time with the family in their small Virginia town, she realizes that the most secret wishes of each of the Fraziers are coming true _ and that she’s falling hopelessly in love with Colin, the Fraziers’ eldest son.

But now the the Stone’s powers have been awakened, so have the designs of an international thief.  Gemma and Colin must find the Stone before it can be used against the family but not before each of their deepest desires is fulfilled. . . .

I found myself drawn to Gemma right from the start.  She sees herself as the underdog in the competition for the post which seemed so right up her alley.  The guest house on the Frasier estate is scrumptiously decorated and the library all set up with shelved boxes of documents from the 17th century onwards which Gemma can hardly wait to get into.  It’s at least a two year post as there are hundreds of boxes and Gemma, whose most secret wish is to find a place to belong, soon finds herself not only with the position but meeting and being accepted by not only the family in the big house but their relatives in the area and the residents of the small town of Edilean.  Colin is especially attracted to her from the beginning.  He can’t stand the other two applicants and begins showing Gemma around the town and introducing her to people.

Colin is the small town’s sheriff — one of his life-long secret wishes come true.  Everyone in town loves him, especially the kids, and because it’s a small town everyone knows everything about everyone so he’s never dated anyone local.  His mother’s wish, not so secret, is to have grandkids and to have Colin marry.  The youngest brother, Shamus, is a very talented artist who immediately is attracted to Gemma and begins spending his afternoons sketching her.  The whole family is interesting and so is its history.

This is a book about secrets and wishes.  I loved the way the characters built and interacted and layers of secrets were laid bare from the distant past and from the not-so-distant past.  Jean, Colin’s ex-girlfriend, held many secrets.  I also enjoyed the old houses and the secrets they held.  The story is definitely “cozy” and a romance but the mystery that unravels as the story progresses was also good.  I’ll certainly be looking for more in this series in particular and possibly others by Jude Deveraux.  An adult book.  * * * 1/2

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Be a part of Cozy Read Wednesdays — leave a comment with a link to your own review of a cozy read!  Love to know what you’ve been reading!

 

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Mystery Monday: One Good Deed by David Baldacci

Today’s Mystery Monday novel is the first in a new series by author David Baldacci, the Aloysius Archer series: One Good Deed.  The story is set in the late 40s, post WWII, and Aloysius has just been paroled from Carderock Prison early and has to spend the next three years in Poca City (a 7 hr bus ride west of the prison) reporting to his parole officer, Earnestine Crabtree.  All he has to his name is the suit, tie, shoes, and hat he wore into prison and his parole papers with a long list of dos and don’ts and the few bills he’d been given on his way out the door.  On arrival, he checked in to the Derby Hotel in Poca and before he went to bed, he’d already broken rule #14: no bars or drinks.

Archer has been given a raw deal.  He left college to go to war, came home to wander, picking up odd jobs and seeing his country.  He got fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison.  Early parole for good behaviour has enabled him to come out with a really positive attitude and a determination to do well and never see prison again.  Although he breaks rules when he thinks he can get away with it and if it’s important to him, before he meets with Crabtree the next morning, he’s been hired to collect a debt for the largest business owner in the town, Hank Pittleman, and been given a $40. advance.  He’s met Hank’s mistress (she likes to call herself his chattel rather than mistress), Jackie Tuttle, and it’s her father he’s to collect a 1947 Cadillac from.  He’s also met another parolee, a dangerous, psychotic man named Dill who is working at the slaughterhouse owned by Pittleman and Archer wants to avoid him at all costs.

Archer is at first unsuccessful at collecting the debt or Cadillac from Tuttle, is hit on by Jackie, and when Hank then turns up dead in a room down the hall from Archer’s, he becomes the prime suspect.  After the state detective, Lieutenant Shaw starts asking questions, he eventually decides that Archer isn’t really a suspect, and the two form a loose alliance to try to solve Hank’s murder.  Then, when Pittleman’s warehouse manager turns up dead, an attack is made on Jackie, her father is found dead, and Shaw ends up in hospital, Archer is put on trial for his life.

This is a kind of slow moving story that reveals Archer’s character and philosophy of life carefully as he interacts with his various contacts in the small town of Poca.  Those honest citizens who really get to know him learn to respect and like him, as did I.  The plot meanders around to the degree that you’re unsure, along with Archer, as to just who can be trusted.  Shaw encourages Archer in the ways of detecting and tells him he should become a ‘shamus’, that he has good instincts.  Ernestine, who has gone out of her way to help him, disappears in the middle of the night along with her clothes and her typewriter.  There are lots of twists and surprises as Archer decides to investigate on his own and defend himself in the trial.  This was a differently paced book than I’m used to with Baldacci but quite enjoyable and well executed.  I’m assuming that in the next novel in the series, Archer will be embarking on this new career path.  * * * * *

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If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mention my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review.  You can also copy my MMM badge to your post or your sidebar.  (Links to books are Amazon affiliate links!)

 

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People of the Raven by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

I was attracted to this book by the fact that it was written by archaeologists as I have an interest in archaeology fostered by the grade 5 & 6 curriculum I taught for several years in Ontario schools and since retiring I have worked as a volunteer on two digs and hope to work on more.  People of the Raven is called “a novel of prehistoric North America” and takes place in British Columbia, Canada.

From the back cover:

Award-winning archaeologists Michael and Kathleen Gear spin a vivd and captivating tale around one of the most controversial archaeological discoveries in the world: the Kennewick Man — a Caucasoid male mummy dating back more than 9,000 years, found in the Pacific Northwest on the banks of the Columbia River!

A white man in North America more than 9,000 years ago? What was he doing there?

With the terrifying grandeur of melting glaciers as a backdrop, People of the Raven reveals animals and humans struggling for survival amidst massive environmental change. Mammoths, mastodons, and giant lions have become extinct, and Rain Bear, the chief of Sandy Point Village, knows his struggling Raven People may be next.

My imagination was captivated by the Prologue which deals with the modern day story of Kennewick Man and the legal battle which at the time was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.  It presented the dilemma of archaeologists and judges when faced with evidence of great importance which may be suppressed because of indigenous law and religion and the world denied the truth that it could reveal.

Once into the novel, however, I found the prehistoric story so full of violence, cruelty (often to their own children), betrayal, jealousy, hatred, and greed that it overshadowed almost all of the spiritual aspects that were very interesting and some of the protagonists who were under such pressure to work for good and the survival of their people.  It was a very long slog — 557 pages — and I had to force myself to finish it.  When I started it, I thought I would probably want to read others in the series by these authors, but before I was even half way through, I knew I would not.  Hugely disappointing — and I had started it with such enthusiasm.  *

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Teen Read: Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell and Kate Cotugno

Rules for Being a Girl exposes all those contradictory rules that girls are expected to adhere to no matter how impossible it may seem.  This could be seen as a great read for teenage girls but it’s an interesting book for women of any age and men, too.

From the back of the book:

REMEMBER GIRLS Put a little colour on your face. Shave your legs. Don’t wear too much make-up. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t distract the boys by having a body. Don’t be one of those girls who can’t eat pizza. You’re getting the milkshake too? Whoa. Have you gained weight? Don’t get so curvy you aren’t skinny.  Don’t take up too much space. Be funny but don’t hog the spotlight. Be smart, but you have a lot to learn. Don’t be a doormat, but God, don’t be too bossy. Be chill. Be easygoing. Act like one of the guys. Be a feminist. Support the sisterhood. Don’t be easy. Don’t give up. Don’t be a prude. Don’t be cold. Don’t put him in the friend zone. Don’t act desperate. Don’t let things go too far. Don’t give him the wrong idea. Don’t blame him for trying. Don’t walk alone at night. But calm down! Don’t worry so much. You can do anything! You can be whatever you want to be! Just don’t forget to smile.

Marin is having a pretty good life — editor of the school paper, boyfriend from the lacrosse team, a shoe-in for Brown University, popular — when she suddenly finds that navigating the teen years is more complicated than she imagined.  Marin and her friend Chloe are rather obsessed by their young, handsome, friendly English teacher, Beckett (Bex) who happens to be the faculty advisor for the school paper.  When he offers Marin a drive home from school one afternoon but makes a stop at his own place and makes a pass at her, Marin is caught between feelings of flattery and the unease of his actions being inappropriate.  Then, when the principal humiliates a girl for breaking school rules wearing her skirt too short and wearing knee highs, Marin begins to reevaluate the way

Candace Bushnell

her boyfriend talks about girls and how the rules for girls and those for boys are unequally enforced.  As an editor of the school paper, she decides to comment on this disparity and in doing so, opens a can of worms.  Should she report Bex for inappropriate behaviour?  Will she be believed?  When Bex slaps her down in class for questioning his all white male reading list, she finds another teacher, Ms. Klein, an advocate, and together they start a feminist book club.

Katie Cotugno

I love books that make me want to follow up with other books and authors mentioned within the novel and this is one of those books.  Topics that come up in the feminist reading club Marin & Ms. Klein start led me to lots of interesting articles and books that I might otherwise not have explored.  And while children, even teens often have crushes on their teachers, it’s up to the adult to be appropriate and draw the lines and protect them.  This is an excellent exploration of this premise and things that could happen and how coming forward can make a difference.  The characters are realistic, the school setting believable, and the tendency to overlook complaints all too real.  A great book!  * * * * *

The Feminist Book Club‘s reading list:

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margret Atwood

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Sister Outsiders by Audre Lorde

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth by Warsan Shire

 

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Cozy Read Wednesday: Christmas at Lavender Cottage

Today’s Cozy Read is Christmas at Lavender Cottage, a romantic novella by Susan A. Jennings, an Ottawa, Canada author.  Known for her historical fiction, Susan is a member of the Ladies Historical Writing Group and The Ottawa Story Spinners.  This novella is part of her Lavender Cottage Series.

Kate Saunders is making a brand new start.  After a devastating unexpected divorce, she’s moved to the small canal village of Springsville, purchased a Victorian style B&B, made new friends, seen her daughter marry a wonderful man, and, surprisingly, found a spark of romance.  Piers Bannister, a doctor still in mourning from the passing of his wife, who lives on a  narrow boat and has begun to show signs of being ready to have a fresh start himself and has allowed himself to be coaxed to Kate’s Christmas gathering this year.  The last-minute booking by Olivia Moreland threatens to through a severe damper on the  coming festivities.  Olivia’s prickly attitude seems to be covering up some kind of sadness only slightly moderated by the renewal of an old friendship with Cyril Winthrop, the secretive and curmudgeonly local antiques dealer.

As Christmas Day draws nearer, Olivia claims to have had a valuable necklace stolen and accuses the maid, Lydia, of taking it.  Everything is thrown into turmoil as Kate and friends and family try to track down the necklace, help Lydia’s family have a nice Christmas, and seek to solve the mystery and problems surrounding Olivia.

The characters in this story are both believable and interesting.  I especially liked Adam, who sits rocking on the porch talking to his wife who invisibly sits in the matching rocker rocking away as well and liked learning about narrow boats, apparently a common feature on British waterways.  Kate’s friend Judy, who is a nice contrast for Kate and takes no guff from Olivia, and the various townsfolk who have their foibles but are friendly and sincere.  I liked the way the story resolved and hope to try at least one of the recipes at the back of the book.  A good solid cozy read. * * * *

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Be a part of Cozy Read Wednesdays — leave a comment with a link to your own review of a cozy read!  Love to know what you’ve been reading!

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Mystery Monday: On Folly Beach by Karen White

Today’s title for Mystery Monday is by an author I’ve never read before, Karen White.  It’s called On Folly Beach.  It takes place in two different time periods centred around a small town on one of the barrier islands off the South Carolina coast where two women are thrown together and find they have more in common than they first thought.

From the back cover:

When Emmy Hamilton’s mother encourages her to buy the local bookstore, Folly’s Finds, she hopes it will distract her daughter from the loss of her husband.  But the seller has one condition that changes everything: Emmy must allow Lulu, the late owner’s difficult elderly sister, to continue selling her bottle trees from its backyard.

For the most part, Emmy ignores Lulu as she sifts through the love letters she finds in a box of used books.  But the more she discovers about the letters, the more she understands Lulu.  As details of a possible murder and a mysterious disappearance during WWII are revealed, the two women discover that circumstances beyond their control have brought them together on Folly Beach.  And it is here that their war-ravaged hearts can find hope again. . .

Emmy’s story begins in 2009, in Indiana.  She has what her mother calls “the knowing” — she senses things, sometimes from proximity and sometimes just from a strong awareness.  She knows instinctively when her husband Ben is killed, a casualty of the war in Afghanistan.  With her master’s degree in library science, Emmy could be a museum curator handling historical documents or hold a position with a university procuring historical letters but for now she is content to own and run a bookstore in the town of Folly — Folly’s Finds.  She’s not sure she really wants a new start but the mystery behind notes she finds in the margins of some of the books she inherits with the bookstore intrigue her almost to obsession.

Morris Island Lighthouse

Lulu’s story begins in 1942 in Folly, South Carolina.  Her older sister, Maggie, runs the bookstore inherited from her mother where Lulu helps out after school.  Their cousin Catherine, a very young and attractive war widow lives with them.  It’s war time, there’s a nearby naval base, and the town is popular, especially for the dances down at the pier.  Ever since Cat’s father left and mother died, she’s had this competitive streak — she uses her looks to attract men in her quest to feel loved, even to the point of taking her cousin Maggie’s beau.  She does it because she knows she can; she loves the challenge.  But it doesn’t work with Peter.  With Peter, the ladies get more than they bargained for.

I’m not always a fan of story lines flipping back and forth in time and at the beginning I wasn’t keen.  However, it wasn’t long before I was anxiously awaiting the next flip to find out what happened.  I really liked the characters Maggie and Emmy.  Maggie did her best to take care of her little sister, Lulu, and even to care for Cat despite her often “catty” attitude.  She had made a promise and she had an understanding of where Cat was coming from.  Lulu was a bit of a strange character, taking a long time to warm up to people, being blunt and straightforward to the point of being rude, and yet caring very much about those closest to her and about doing right by them.  Her artistic streak and the bottle trees she creates and sells are fascinating and it was rather neat the way people used them to send private messages.

I was intrigued by the name of the town, Folly, and ended up searching it out on the Internet.  Folly’s Beach is a real place off the South Carolina coast, one of the barrier islands, and the FBI did round up German spies all along the east coast after Pearl Harbor.  I liked the love of books the characters had and how people were named after their favourite characters or authors.  Heathcliff, who prefers to go by Heath, figured if his mother could name him after her favourite character, then he could name his dog Frank after his idol, architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  I also enjoyed the architecture parts of the story as I, too, am a Wright fan.

This was a story I originally thought would be a Cozy Read for Wednesday.  It has a bit of romance in it (and broken hearts) and was certainly a fast read.  But given the mystery and possibility of a murder and a suicide, it kept me on the edge of my seat and I decided it would definitely be a good candidate for the mystery category.

I was intrigued by the name of the town, Folly, and ended up searching it out on the Internet.  Folly’s Beach is a real place off the South Carolina coast, one of the barrier islands, and the FBI did round up German spies all along the east coast after Pearl Harbor.  I liked the love of books some of the characters had and how people were named after their favourite characters or authors.  Heathcliff, for example — who prefers to go by Heath — figured if his mother could name him after her favourite character, then he could name his dog Frank after his idol, architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  I also enjoyed the architecture parts of the story as I, too, am a Wright fan.

I will definitely be reading more books by White.  I enjoyed her descriptive writing which put wonderful images in my mind without being overly flowery.  I liked her characters and the structure of the novel, how Lulu bridged the time periods and finally held the last clues to solving the mystery.  White has many stand alone novels, a Tradd Street series, and other books that take place in Folly.  * * * *

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If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mention my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review.  You can also copy my MMM badge to your post or your sidebar.  (Links to books are Amazon affiliate links!)

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Classic Movies: Death on the Nile

There are two brilliant film versions of Agatha Christie‘s classic detective novel, Death on the Nile, available now and a third to be released in September of this year.  The Peter Ustinov version from 1978, directed by John Guillerman, has a star-studded cast including Ustinov as Poirot, Maggie Smith as Marie Van Schuyler’s nurse, Bowers, Schuyler played by Bette Davis, David Niven as Colonel Race, Angela Lansbury playing the aging author Salome Otterbourne , whose daughter Rosalie is played by Olivia Hussey.  Lois Chiles plays the filthy rich, selfish airhead Linnet Ridgeway Doyle who has managed to offend, hurt or totally ruin almost everyone on the cruise and Mia Farrow plays the jilted Jacqueline while Simon MacCorkindale plays Simon Doyle who marries Linnet.  George Kennedy plays the corrupt trustee who tries to get Linnet to sign papers that will make it look like his stealing has been authorized and Jack Warden is the doctor Linnet has slandered publicly.

Ustinov (1921 – 2004) is brilliant as the Belgian detective even though Poirot is usually depicted as having a more slight build.  Ustinov was more than just an actor on stage and screen where he won Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globe and Bafta awards.  Fluent in 6 languages with some Turkish and modern Greek thrown in, he was a diplomat, writer, film maker and frequent guest on the Jack Parr Tonight Show.  Somewhat less obnoxious than the David Suchet portrayal can be at times, although in the Suchet episode (Season 9, Episode 3, 2004) he can be very sympathetic and understanding, Ustinov is perhaps the quintessential Poirot and played the character in several Christie film adaptations.

Guillerman had the movie shot at exotic authentic locations and the opening credits run over the blue water of the Nile then switch to the status car with chauffeur taking the new owner of the Wode Hall estate (near Walton-under-Wode) through the village and the countryside to the front door of the manor where her new staff is waiting to greet her.  The house has been extravagantly redecorated but not exactly in keeping with the Art Deco style of the 20s as it is in the David Suchet episode which I liked much better. Both versions use the original Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, the Nile Hotel in the movie, and use the steamer the S.S. Memnon called the Karnak.  Other locations such as the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and temples at Abu Simbel and Karnak were used as well as the cities of Cairo, Aswan, Abu Simbel, and Luxor.

There are some deviations from the original plot in the movies.  For instance Guillerman dropped the whole replacing jewels with fakes plot line with Tim Allerton and his cousin Joanna Southwood which made for fewer cast members.  Colonel Race (James Fox in the 2004 version), rather than joining the cruise after the first murder, joins the cast at the Nile Hotel and boards with all the others, thus eliminating the plot line about the terrorist.  And the final murder/suicide takes place in the saloon with the whole cast watching rather than on the gangplank after most of the cruise members have left.  Of course, the murderers are the same as in the book.

The Poirot tv series, begins with a dark and stormy night around the manor house of the incredibly wealthy Linnet Ridgeway (Emily Blunt) and then the scene switches to the lovers Simon (J.J. Feild) and Jackie (Emma Malin) with delightful 20s jazz in the background, Mad About the Boy.  Switching to Linnet’s huge bedroom (redone in wonderful Art Deco), where she and Joanna Southwood (Elodie Kendall) are sharing girl talk, as Joanna admires and arranges to borrow Linnet’s exquisite pearl necklace.  Jackie arrives and talks Linnet into hiring Simon, a pouty boy who turns flirty the instant he meets Linnet.

The crooked American trustee, Pennington, is played well by David Soul but Tim Allerton (Daniel Lapaine), Joanna’s cousin and partner in crime in the jewel switching, to my mind doesn’t fit up to his description in the book.  He seems too short and rather a belligerent sycophant rather than a secretive, impoverished aristocratic jewel thief ready to go straight for the right gal.  He’s in it right from the beginning.  But here, too, the film is a departure from the plot in the book for he doesn’t end up with the girl — he tells her “she’s barking up the wrong tree”.

Frances de la Tour is perfect as the aging author of steamy novels Salome Otterbourne and Zoe Talford plays the daughter Rosalie perfectly as she hides her love for her mother in brash indifference.

This episode skips several introductions/vignettes but nothing that can’t be caught up and it gives the plot a faster pace.  It goes straight to Egypt and the opulent Nile Hotel where we see colourful skiffs on the river and the painted buildings on the far shore, then after dark, the steamer Karnak lit up and reflected in the water.  Great atmosphere.  Very authentic costuming — the Egyptian garbed waiters and maitre d’, Europeans all in correct garb, and the bustling on the dock and up and down the boarding ramp.  The deck of the steamer is decked out with palm trees and gardens where the passengers have tea and an extremely elegant dining room.

Again, the locations are great and the massive monuments make a powerful backdrop.  The director, Andy Wilson, has eliminated Miss Bowers, the nurse accompanying Maria Van Schuyler (Judy Parfitt) and the naive niece (Daisy Donovan plays Cornelia perfectly) is the observer making sure anything the light-fingered Ms. Van Schuyler picks up gets returned.

Both films are excellent in their own way but I love the way the Ustinov movie has added some interesting and fun “extras”.  It’s hilarious when the first evening at the hotel, Angela Lansbury steals the scene dancing a flamboyant tango with Col. Race.  At the beginning several native boys are running along the far bank as Van Schuyler is taking in the scenery from the deck garden when a couple of the boys turn their backs and moon her.  Poirot returns to his cabin to find a python in his bathroom so begins to hum in an effort to put it in a trance meanwhile knocking on the wall in Morse code to attract Col. Race’s attention, who draws a sword out of his cane and rushes in to pierce the offending snake through its neck. It’s a delightful rendition with so many things to recommend it but do watch both if you haven’t seen them.  I’m anxiously awaiting the Kenneth Branagh version, the trailer of which can be seen here.  Both of these movies are 5 stars in my book!

 

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