Friday, 1 January 2010

The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks

There are some stories which I stumble over by accident. James Anderson’s “The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks” is one of them. I went to my favourite bookstore on Tuesday this week and found it lodged in the small section of books in foreign languages (mostly English with a handful of French books thrown in). As I was desperately looking for something to read during the time ‘between the years,’ I picked it up, opened it at random and read about half a page. (That’s how I always ‘test’ possibly interesting books.)

Among the first mysteries I’ve ever read were quite some Agatha Christie novels. (Those and Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” – just reinstalled my digitized complete collection of “Sherlock Holmes”-stories.) Unlike Doyle, who starts his short stories (and even his novels) off with a very short introduction before he launches the main plot, Agatha Christie has always been in the habit of easing the reader into the story. That’s true for most of her novels, in fact, like “Murder on the Orient Express” which starts with Poirot at the train station, catching not the Orient Express, but a train that will take him to the starting point of the Express. Or like “Evil under the Sun” which starts with a thought about how interchangeable people look on the beach from afar, all tanned and wearing bathing costumes. (This, of course, is one of the main plot points, but at that time it doesn’t seem that important.)

James Anderson also eased me into the story. He gave me an old woman who thinks about all the people (well, almost all the people) who will benefit from her will. He showed me short scenes which served well to characterize the people. Then the old woman died (peacefully and of old age) and the plot started to thicken in a manor – sort of a ‘locked room’ problem, as everyone entering or leaving the house would have set off an alarm. Then a murder and various possible suspects. A classic mystery story, not a thriller, just a book you can leisurely read on your sofa on a rainy day (we’ve had loads of them lately) with a good cup of tea beside you. (Well, I read it on my parents’ sofa, mostly, because I stayed with them throughout Sylvester afternoon. But there was some tea.)

There are times when I don’t have the necessary patience for a book with a slow start. Then I pick up a thriller, usually, because they tend to launch you with the first of many murders. But there are also times when a good, old mystery (Agatha Christie, Charlotte McLeod [usually her “Balaclava”-series] or someone else with that kind of storytelling) is just the right thing for me. Yesterday it was “The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks” (why thirty-nine? read the book yourself and find out).

When you don’t need the immediate action of a story to be able to finish it, I suggest you give “The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks” by James Anderson a chance. You might find it worth your while.

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