Responding to a call for help, private detective Hercule Poirot arrives at his new client's home, only to find the client already dead, murdered on the adjacent golf course. Investigating the case, Poirot runs into competition from another detective, a whole webwork of false identities and impersonations, and another, identical, murder. Meanwhile, his companion, the indefatigable Captain Hastings, finds himself smitten by a mysterious woman who may or may not be part of the plot.
Funnily enough, I've never read any Poirot before ... so I don't know if this one, with its convoluted explanation (it taxed my little grey cells. Not to mention my credulity) is typical or not. It's neatly constructed stuff, if a little contrived in places - caused me no pain, anyway. I've seen several film and TV adaptations of the Poirot books, in which the man comes over as a mass of quirks and affectations; he's a lot more bearable in the book, which is nice.
42 Alistair Maclean, HMS Ulysses
The cruiser Ulysses is operating at the limits of its endurance, and there are mutinous rumblings in the crew. But it's wartime, the vital Arctic convoys to supply the Russian Front have to go through, and so the Ulysses is sent out one more time, with its exhausted crew and dying captain, to guide a task force through polar storms, U-boat packs, and air raids on the way to Murmansk.
Gritty wartime drama in the novel that made Maclean's name for high-tension thrillers; it's a bleak book, but packed with incident and convincing period detail. Maclean's a good writer, within a fairly limited range, and HMS Ulysses is one where his particular style works pretty well. A good read, but not a very cheerful one.
43 Agatha Christie, The Mystery of the Blue Train
Wealthy Ruth Kettering takes the Blue Train across France, but when she reaches her destination, she is dead, her face disfigured by a crushing blow. Enter Hercule Poirot, using his little grey cells to unravel a complex net of deceptions and relationships, before he can put an elegantly manicured finger on the killer.
Hmm. More of the same from Christie ... the crime's seen very much as an intellectual problem in this one (Poirot's solution has significant consequences for an innocent party, which are barely addressed), and it's riding that thin line between "convoluted" and "contrived" again ... Still, it's fun stuff, considered as an intellectual puzzle.
44 Gavin Lyall, Midnight Plus One
Ex-intelligence officer Lewis Cane is a former worker with the French Resistance; now, twenty years on, he does freelance work, such as escorting a businessman from Brittany to a vital meeting in Liechtenstein. Of course, there are a few problems, such as the businessman having been framed on a rape charge, and a number of men with guns who don't want the meeting to take place, and someone close to Cane who's reporting his every move to the opposition ...
I think "hard-boiled" is the right way to describe this one. It's a tough-guy story, with tough themes, narrated by a tough-guy first-person narrator ... it's tough, all the way through. So tough, in fact, that it's a bit difficult to take it seriously in places ... Still, one thing you can say for it, it keeps its pace up; the action just keeps on coming ... Low on subtlety, high on gunfire, this is an "entertaining if you're in the right mood" book, but not a particularly good one.
45 Agatha Christie, Death in the Clouds
A luxurious airliner, a notorious French moneylender, and a dart tipped with a rare South American poison ... a recipe for disaster, you might think, and you'd be right. Suspicion naturally falls on one other passenger, a man who is no stranger to exotic crime, one M. Hercule Poirot ... who, therefore, has to clear his name by finding the real murderer.
I'm beginning to see a pattern or two emerging, here; I have to admit, though, it's a neatly constructed story. Poirot is not as much of a pain as I'd expected, and some of the subsidiary characters seem to come into focus better in this one ... I may persevere with Poirot. I've certainly read worse.
46 Charles Stross, Singularity Sky
The human race has been dispersed among the stars following the arrival of a "technological singularity", and a whole host of different societies have sprung up. When an authoritarian quasi-feudal state (rather like pre-revolutionary Russia) is contacted by an advanced group of post-human artificial intelligences ... well, it would be an understatement to say that "complications ensue". As the feudalists plan to use potentially disastrous methods to preserve their way of life, a couple of agents from Earth try to sabotage their mission.
Good stuff - fairly straightforward plot; basically, a space-operatic storyline, but loaded with little thinky bits about the social impact of nanotechnology, or the causality violations implicit in FTL flight, all that sort of stuff. Entertained me, and made me think, which is pretty much what I like to see in an SF novel. Recommended.