Murder on the Links

Murder on the Links is Agatha Christie’s second Poirot novel and is one I had not read before. 

Poirot receives a mysterious letter from Mr Renauld who fears he is in danger and travels to France with Captain Hastings. Unfortunately, their arrival is too late: Renauld is dead, murdered following an encounter with two bearded men who wanted to discover an important secret he had. Poirot and Hastings must endeavour to discover the truth behind what happened to Renauld, which is complicated even further with the discovery of another dead body, and the arrival of the mysterious ‘Cinderella’ who Hastings met on a train only days before the crime.

If I’m being completely honest, it took a while for this story to grab my interest. The beginning certainly seemed to be slow going, and at times there were a few too many characters to keep track of. However, the ending was well worth it and I felt glad that I’d stuck with the story for that reason. I wouldn’t place it with Christie’s best books, but it was enjoyable and there were plenty of the usual clues and red-herrings, designed to keep the reader guessing. Worth a read if you’re already a fan, but if you’re looking for an introduction to the Poirot stories I’d recommend you start elsewhere (The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or Murder on the Orient Express would be my suggested choices).

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I am a big fan of literature written in or set in the Victorian era. Even so I often wonder what exactly it is that appeals so much to modern readers (myself included) about this time period. Maybe it’s that such a lot of English literature that we read at schools, colleges and universities comes from the 19th Century. Or maybe it’s a TV thing: period dramas seem to have an enduring appeal to viewers, which spills over into our reading habits.

The Essex Serpent, set in the late 19th Century,¬†tells the story of widow Cora who travels into Essex in search of scientific discoveries. She soon hears the tale of the Essex Serpent, a mysterious creature that stalks the village of Aldwinter. It was last ‘seen’ in the 17th Century, but a rising tide of hysteria seems to be gripping the villagers. Cora views this as a scientific adventure and hopes to be able to bring a newly discovered species to London to display. In this she disagrees with William Ransome, the local vicar who is filled with faith, yet also entirely rational when it comes to the presence of the serpent. They are drawn together into a friendship and mutual affection, which threatens to develop into something more.

This story is so beautifully told, with amazing descriptions of natural landscapes, but also a focus on historical detail from a time period where the world was under-going rapid change and discovery. The relationship between Will and Cora is subtle and entirely believable, but also the focus on medicine, science and socialism draws the reader into a much broader world than that of just two characters. In fact we follow several different characters from a variety of backgrounds, all trying to find their place in a world that is changing around them at a rapid pace.

A well-told, intelligent work of historical fiction that I would most definitely recommend.