Tag Archive: Agatha Christie


Boucher Myrtle

Do not adjust your screen–this is not a repeat post.  Regular borg readers know about novelist Elizabeth C. Bunce′s reviews, and this year she has had had great success with her mystery series, beginning with Premeditated Myrtle, which won this year’s Edgar Award (honoring mystery writing pioneer Edgar Allan Poe).  We previously announced that she is nominated for the Agatha Award (honoring Agatha Christie) to be named this summer, and we’re happy to report she has just been nominated for this year’s Anthony Award!  Her book becomes one of only seven middle grade novels to have been nominated in the history of the award.

The Anthony Award is an annual recognition for mystery authors, named to honor mystery writer and Mystery Writers of America co-founder Anthony Boucher (shown above, with cat friend).  Boucher was also known for his science fiction and critical works.  Past novelists recognized by the Anthony Awards include J.K. Rowling, Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Rhys Bowen, Robert B. Parker, Max Allan Collins, Jill Thompson, Louise Penny, Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Jonathan Kellerman, Tony Hillerman, Charlaine Harris, Thomas Harris, Patricia Cornwell, Ann Rule, Alan Bradley, Sharyn McCrumb, Donald E. Westlake, Rick Riordan, and Lee Child.  This year the award will be announced at the annual World Mystery Convention (also called Bouchercon) in late summer, to be held virtually or in person from New Orleans.  It is the convention’s 52nd year.

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Find out more about Elizabeth and her novel Premeditated Myrtle here.  Check out Elizabeth’s reviews of books, TV, and movies at borg here.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the 21st century’s best comic book artists with a singular style brings her heroine back to the comics pages.  Writer-artist Cynthia von Buhler is know for her sensationalism, both in story concepts, artwork, and marketing, merging real-world events and time travel tours to the past via her comic book work, as seen in her striking The Illuminati Ball We first met her heroine Minky Woodcock in Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini (reviewed here), as she recounted the 20 days leading up to the famed magician’s death on October 31, 1926.  Her next Minky adventure is now available in single monthly issues, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Electrified Tesla.  If you like the idea of a girl Friday coming into her own, then Minky Woodcock is for you.

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It’s one of the only films this year to keep its original theatrical premiere month, and it’s still planning on coming to a theater near you.  And it’s one of the most eagerly awaited sequels of the year after director and star Kenneth Branagh delivered such an impressive adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in 2017.  A new all-star cast has assembled behind Branagh, returning as master detective Hercule Poirot, in Death on the NileDespite her many convoluted plots, Christie knew how to name a story.  Get ready for some more good sleuthing–The first trailer for the film is here.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Screenwriter Sarah Phelps (EastEnders, Dublin Murders) is back with her next project, another adaptation of a well-known Agatha Christie work, a year from release of her first Amazon Studios project, The ABC Murders (reviewed here at borg), which starred John Malkovich and Rupert Grint.  The new series is Christie’s creepy tale The Pale Horse, a supernatural mystery from 1961, directed by Leonora Lonsdale (Beast).  The series stars Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle, Zen, A Knight’s Tale) as Mark Easterbrook, a man of questionable character whose wife dies in the bathtub at the beginning of the story.  Remember his name, because it is included last on a list found in the shoe of another dead woman.  Why women are ending up dead found on the list, and why Easterbrook’s name was included, is the key mystery of this two-part series.

As Easterbrook is hounded by the local police led by Sean Pertwee (Gotham, Doctor Who) as Inspector Stanley Lejeune–who is investigating the string of deaths.  Easterbrook decides to investigate himself, to beat the inspector to the answer, which takes him to the small town of Much Deeping.  Much Deeping has an inn, an inn that is home to three witches, and he figures that somehow they are connected.  Easterbrook’s second wife, a key player in the story, is played by Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Maze Runner).  This is another Christie story of lies, and the lying liars that tell them, with the oddball, quirky twists we saw in both The ABC Murders and Murder on the Orient Express.

Rounding out the cast are familiar genre faces Georgina Campbell (His Dark Materials, Krypton, Broadchurch, Black Mirror) as the first Mrs. Easterbrook and Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Sherlock, Doctor Who) as another man interviewed in relation to the deaths.

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A celebrated Agatha Christie supernatural mystery from 1961, The Pale Horse has been adapted into a mini-series, and it’s coming to Amazon next month.  The series stars Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle, Zen, A Knight’s Tale) as Mark Easterbrook, the story’s main protagonist, a historian who accompanies a celebrated mystery author named Ariadne Oliver to a small town called Much Deeping (Oliver was based on Christie, but may or may not be a player in the Amazon adaptation).  The story’s title comes from the Revelations story from The Bible: “Then I looked and saw a pale horse.  Its rider’s name was Death…” In the novel the Pale Horse is the local inn.  An inn that houses three witches.

Sean Pertwee (Gotham, Doctor Who) is Inspector Stanley Lejeune, responsible for tracking down a series of murders.  He approaches Easterbrook when his name is found on a list hidden in a shoe of one victim.  This adaptation comes from Sarah Phelps, who adapted Christie’s The ABC Murders (reviewed here) and Dublin Murders (reviewed here).  Easterbrook’s wife, a key player in the story, is played by Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Maze Runner).

Will this adaptation be typical Christie cozy mystery or one of her more over-the-top tales?  (The witches are probably a hint).  It looks to have some of the flair of Minky Woodcock and The Wicker Man Take a look at this trailer for Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Ok, I confess: I’ve never been a big fan of the movie Clue.  It took the smart, suspenseful, iconic game of my childhood and turned it into a silly farce, disregarding the beautiful conventions of the color-coded characters, and making the measured, thoughtful play a frantic slapstick comedy.  Clue (originally called Cluedo in Britain) is about mystery and deduction and the Golden Age of British country house mysteries.  Well, Diana Peterfreund has restored my faith in the franchise, and channeled a bit of classic Christopher Pike in the mix!  Her new release In the Hall with the Knife: A Clue Mystery, the first novel from the Clue franchise (Hasbro and IDW introduced comic book versions in 2017 and 2019), reimagines the characters and game play in a contemporary New England boarding school.  Six students are stranded in a spooky Victorian mansion-turned-dorm when their remote, coastal village is besieged by a freak winter ice storm.  The campus is flooded, power, phones, and internet are down—and somebody has it in for Headmaster Boddy, the school’s beloved principal.

Is it blue-haired Beth “Peacock” Picach, the school’s perpetually angry tennis star?  Or maybe brooding townie Vaughn Green?  What about the school’s “power couple,” ambitious geniuses Scarlett Mistry and Phineas Plum?  New kid Mustard, just transferred in from a military academy?  Even sweet, bookish Orchid McKee has her secrets… and Peterfreund slowly doles them out, keeping the pacing taut and the plot clipping along until the Big Reveal.

Like the classic gameplay, each character takes a turn, in alternating, third person point-of-view chapters.  Like the game, they all suspect each other, pointing their fingers as the story goes on.  Rooms are explored, secret passages revealed, familiar weapons appear in characters’ hands… and the ultimate culprit is finally exposed.  Peterfreund gives the reader enough clues to play along and solve the mystery with (or slightly before) the characters.  And just like the game itself, the worldbuilding, scene setting, and backstory leave you wishing for more of this world and its secrets.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This month, a new book examining what makes a great character also takes an in-depth look at Hollywood and film from the silent picture era to today.  It’s Turner Classic Movies/TCM′s latest book on film, Dynamic Dames: 50 Leading Ladies Who Made History I previously reviewed film historian Sloan De Forest′s Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World here at borg, a fun read and a fun list that is more a celebration of pop culture than film school companion.  De Forest seems to have far more passion for her next subject, selecting a masterful list of 50 women worth reading about–and worth seeing their films.  She also connects the dots between actors, their characters, and their personal lives in a way you’ve probably not seen before.  In one word, Dynamic Dames is brilliant.

Everyone reading anyone else’s list of 50 people of any pursuit will have quibbles along the way, but De Forest shows an impressive knowledge of film and delivers.  Not only a selection of 50 worthy actors–she doesn’t select the roles most movie critics flock to and rave about–she also finds those finer, more nuanced performances where these Dynamic Dames probably should have scored their Oscars.  She also divides the book into eight sections and finds perfect examples that exemplify each section, from Pre-Code Bad Girls, to Big Bad Mamas, Women of Mystery, and Strong Survivors.  A category not possible until more recently, Superheroines, rounds out the list, and although the performances have not had much of a chance to steep from a historical standpoint, De Forest provides solid rationale for them all.

Authors of a book like this typically will reserve a small percentage of the list for modern readers to have something to be attracted to, but that’s not the case here.  De Forest actually embraces recent films, pulling in more than 20 percent of her list from characters appearing in 21st century films.  Most of her rationale for each of these more recent actors and corresponding characters justifies their inclusion, comparable in performance, significance, and influence, to the film greats any movie buff would expect to find on this list.  She also ties in some of cinema’s–and literature’s–best women writers; it should be no surprise that many of these outstanding characters in film over the course of 92 years resulted from great women writers of the 19th and 20th century, including Charlotte Brontë, Agatha Christie, and J.K Rowling.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is now available for streaming in the U.S. on Amazon Prime.  Christie is renowned for the cozy mystery novel, but the 2017 three-part BBC series upends the cozy qualities of Christie’s trademark storytelling with the seemingly obligatory modernizing of the classics through a dark and grotesque filter.  If you’re revisiting Christie through the lens of something like Edgar Allan Poe, then it might make sense to you to swap out your familiar vision of the enduring detective hero Hercule Poirot for someone known for his whispering, creepy, and pretentious characters.  Someone like John Malkovich.  If you’re lucky, as was director Alex Gabassi (The Frankenstein Chronicles) and screenwriter Sarah Phelps (EastEnders), you might find Malkovich in one of his finer performances.

Malkovich, in a most reserved and dialed back performance, is perfect as Poirot at the end of his career, disgraced, derided, and reviled, shunned instead of adored in a time when the native Belgian was reviled in England in a wave of anti-immigrant hatred.  He is dark, moody, uncertain, nearly off his game as he begins to receive in his batch of daily love and hate mail a single set of letters from an unknown sender with violent intentions.  Now retired (this is Poirot in 1933) he seeks the aid of Scotland Yard, always helpful in the old days, to find one Inspector Crome, a twenty-something inspector played by 29-year-old Rupert Grint.  Poirot is out and Crome is in, until Crome realizes Poirot’s warnings of a killer taunting Poirot with murder victims and towns following laid out alphabetically were all spot on.  At last Grint makes his move into a mature role, and he does it believably well, holding his own opposite the incomparable mystique of Malkovich.  Joining Grint from the Harry Potter films is Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle) as the vile landlady of a creepy young man whose initials are A.B.C., played by Eamon Farren (Winchester, Twin Peaks), and who the story follows in parallel to Poirot’s pursuit.

Unfortunately the potentially interesting switch-up to the Modern is mired in unnecessary irrelevancies, including attempts at ambience at the expense of furthering the plot.  So prepare for overlong frames of lurid, exaggerated, repulsive, and vulgar wallowing in fluids, leering at every fathomable excess, regurgitations too numerous to count, an odd sex torture scene, tasteless dwelling on spilled urine and worse.  It becomes difficult to look over and around these additions to try to hone in on the point of the whole thing, the part that works: Christie’s clever mystery story.  Not surprisingly none of the excesses were in Christie’s original mystery.  The distractions are unfortunate, because Grint shows promise as a classic British character type he could possibly bank on for future roles, and Malkovich gives a good effort at an updated take on the character, complete with an acceptable mix of accents.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We first previewed the new series back in January here at borg.com.  The Minky Woodcock story The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini is as much a showcase of the creator’s various talents as a mash-up of great story concepts.  Cynthia von Buhler is an artist, performer, playwright, and author.  Her fictionalized tale of the last days of Houdini draws a bit from the modern mainstream shock drama (think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), her unique provocative art style (fans of Stjepan Šejić will love it), her affinity for crime noir, and her own investigation into the death of a relative in the 1930s.  The result is a new, crafty, shrewd, and fiery private detective, the fictional Minky Woodcock, a character who proves she can hold her own against Arthur Conan Doyle, and would make a good lead in an ongoing noir series (in fact a follow-up story is in the works for next year, with Minky investigating the mysterious poisoning death of Ziegfeld Girl Olive Thomas).  The complete The Man Who Handcuffed Houdini is now available in a colorful hardcover edition from Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in von Buhler’s story (she both wrote and illustrated the story).  The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is later hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on the magician (a purported philanderer).  The blend of the true and the fabricated is artfully drawn into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

 

The new hardcover compilation edition includes the main cover artwork and variants for the four issues of the series.  Von Buhler balances realism with the surreal.  Her choice of color has the nostalgic flair of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series, her images of real people (like Houdini) are spot-on, and she particularly excels at skintones, which appear almost photo-real in contrast to the book’s comic page designs.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in a new four-issue comic book series by writer and artist Cynthia von Buhler.  A new addition to Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime works, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough only the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is then hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on him.  The blend of the true and the fabricated is smoothly drawn together into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

Yes, Houdini and Doyle were once friends, and their relationship fell apart over their views on spiritualism.  Doyle employed a bizarre spiritualist for Houdini (appearing in the comic) who conducted séances in the nude (who knew the 1920s had such characters?).  When Houdini’s mother was summoned, communicating through the medium in the form of a letter, Houdini was quickly able to see the fraud as an image of a cross appeared and the language was written in English.  Houdini’s mother was Jewish and spoke no English.

 

Von Buhler writes and illustrates both her heroine Minky Woodcock and Houdini’s wife Bess as fascinating women of the 1920s.  Von Buhler’s artistic style is perfectly suited for the story–her women look like they emerged from 16mm film from the Golden Age of cinema–she uses pen and ink with a watercolor method that makes the issues of the series look like they’re printed on classic pulp paper.  And her renderings of Harry and Bess Houdini look like their photographs.

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