Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I’ve read a few of Christie’s Poirot stories before and while diverting enough, wasn’t overly impressed. I found the stories to be inferior versions of Sherlock Holmes and didn’t much like the narraror Hastings. Luckily in this book, Hastings is not the narrator and the book works better for it.

Hercule Poirot, the renowned Belgian detective is headed home to England after assisting in a matter in Syria. Boarding the express he finds himself among a diverse group of characters, from various countries.

He is approached by one passenger, Ratchett who believes someone is out to kill him. Not liking the man, who has an evil look, Poirot refuses the case. However, that night with the train stranded in the snow, Ratchett is murdered.

The killer is still aboard and Poirot is asked to solve the case. First he uncovers that Ratchett has lied about his identity and is in fact a notorious criminal. But who among the passengers would have cause to kill him?

I really dug this book and was through it in a few days. The story and set up is interesting and well done. Poirot chips away at each passenger’s testimony and pieces together the whole far fetched situation in an entertaining matter.

The case is quite ridiculous, but Christie keeps you hooked and injects subtle humour, often at the expense of the rather pompous detective.

The only flaws are it’s dependence on national stereotypes and the fact that most of the case is based on some pretty big guesses on Poirot’s part.

The final reveal and Poirot’s explanation for the crime is brilliant, as is the ending which doesn’t follow the traditional “criminal is arrested” ending.

Great fun.

Verdict: The story runs the risk of tipping into the absurd, but Christie keeps it moving along well and draws out the truth in a cunning and entertaining way. A good read and a great page turner. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Empty Hours by Ed McBain

Next up from the out of order omnibus I bought is this book, actually a collection of three separate stories involving the men of the 87th Precinct. All are loaded with McBain’s usual hard boiled, fast flowing dialogue and knack for character.

While each story is shorter than the normal adventures, each is a well executed crime story, with an interesting, gripping case at the heart.

The book also works in that it gives McBain an opportunity to tell slightly different stories, and to bring other detectives forward. The lead of the series thus far has been Steve Carella, who is the lead detective in the majority of cases. The other detectives play their parts, but Carella is the major hero.

Here, Carella is the lead in the title story, where he uses a victim’s cheque book to piece together the woman’s life. There’s a neat twist in the story and as in many of their cases it hinges on a small detail dropped in early on.

In the second case, J, Carella is a supporting player. When a rabbi is killed during passover it leaves the squad’s joker Meyer reflecting on his own faith and place in his community. Meyer has before been on the sidelines offering quips and humour, but here the jokes are less frequent as he faces antisemitism and fanatacism. It works extremely well and there is some clever wrong footing on display. 

Carella is absent entirely in the third, Storm, where Cotton Hawes is embroiled in a murder investigation while on a ski trip. The story strips him of allies and forensic techniques, and relies on Hawes’ instincts and questioning.

It’s a thrilling read and the ending shows McBain’s writing at its best, bringing intelligence and something approaching poetry to a genre tale.

Verdict: Three great short stories which show McBain’s skill and each hooks the reader. Easy to plough through and entertaining on every page. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.

Book Review: Lady Killer by Ed McBain

This is the seventh book in McBain’s 87th Precinct series and it is definitely one of the strongest. The setting and characters are the same, as the detectives of the precinct work a case but the plot is an utter gem.

On a baking hot day in the city a cryptic note is delivered to the detectives saying that in 12 hours there will be a murder. While they suspect it to be a crank the detectives can’t ignore it and what follows is a tense twelve hours for the men as they try and work out who the potential victim might be.


It’s a really gripping read with the “ticking clock” aspect paying dividends (McBain says it was written in a similar way as he faced a deadline). The plot never lets up and McBain really ramps up the tension and uses the blistering weather to create a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere.

The detectives are familiar faces by this point and McBain writes them and their interactions with ease and a tough, gritty sensibility. His talent for creating a cracking page turner is evident and I breezed through this. The plot as well, loaded with red herrings, is possibly the best in the series so far.

McBain’s humour is present and his writing is fantastic in places.

Verdict: An intensely gripping thriller which McBain keeps moving throughout, it’s hard to put down and wonderfully entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Killer’s Payoff by Ed McBain

I really love McBain’s 87th Precinct series, with each novel continuing the lives of the detectives but dealing with a separate case. What makes them is McBain’s dry, sarcastic writing which is wonderfully evocative in places and flows nicely. He also has skill in writing good, pulpy


In this installment the focus is on Cotton Hawes and Steve Carella as they investigate when a blackmailer is gunned down, gangland style. The case takes them after the victims marks as they try and work out whether what he had over them was worth killing to keep secret.

It’s a tight, clever thriller with a few nice subplots and touches, and while the final mystery is easy to solve, it still works and keeps you gripped.

What also works is that the focus has moved to Hawes who is a tough guy but learning the ropes. His mistakes add tension and his womanising ways make for entertaining reading.

It’s an easy read and flows well and McBain continues to impress as a talented and capable writer.

Verdict: Gripping and fun it’s a quick, easy read. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: The Con Man by Ed McBain

I’m really getting into McBain’s 87th Precinct series now, and this, the fourth installment, may be my favourite so far. It follows the standard formula, dealing with the same bunch of detectives and moving on the strands and subplots from the previous stories.

con man

Here there are two cases developing next to each other, both involving cons and swindles. Detectives Brown and Kling work to track down and stop a serial con man and his partner who have been fleecing the residents of the city with various schemes, a case which angers Brown immensely.

Meanwhile, returning to duty after being shot in The Pusher, Steve Carella investigates a series of murders. Several young women turn up in the river, all killed by arsenic poisoning and all with similar tattoos on their hands. Carella begins looking into it, talking to different tattooists to track down his killer.

At the same time McBain shows us Priscilla, a woman responding to a lonely hearts advert and who meets a charming, good looking man who proposes, before revealing he’d like her to get a tattoo on her hand…

Will Carella find his man before Priscilla becomes the next victim? Is there a connection with Brown and Kling’s case?

What I love about this book is that McBain’s writing style, which is tough, vivid and loaded with sardonic wit. He’s a clever, funny writer who includes little riffs and insights between the action. It’s an engaging story and his decision to give Carella’s hearing and speaking impaired wife, Teddy, more of a role is quite a nice touch and lead to a thrilling and gripping conclusion. McBain builds the tension fantastically and I blazed through the closing stages, totally swept up in the story.

A fantastic, engaging crime thriller.

Verdict: McBain is a fantastic writer, showing his skills with building tension and naturalistic dialogue. This is a wonderfully crafted thriller and a great, quick read. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: The Pusher by Ed McBain

This third outing for the men of the 87th Precinct is a fantastic read, with McBain continuing to show his skills as a tough, witty writer of punchy crime fiction and he boasts a fine ear for dialogue. The story here is a little darker than earlier installments, but it works to craft a tense tale of drugs, murder and blackmail.

McBain’s skill is in switching focus, with the plot jumping from one cop to another, even into hushed conspiracies of the crooks, meaning that the story unfolds at a good pace and we get to see the situation from a variety of perspectives. McBain is a master at quickly creating a sense of character and each bull at the precinct approaches things in a different manner and from a different perspective.

the pusher

Starting with a supposed suicide of a junkie and low-level dealer, that raises questions for Detective Steve Carella, who soon works out that it’s been staged to look like a suicide and he actually died from an overdose. But why the cover up? Does it have something to do with a mysterious new pusher on the scene?

As the detectives dig deeper it hits a little bit closer to home for one of the cops, and he finds himself faced by a dilemma, to protect his own or share with his colleagues. As the plot develops several of the witnesses start hitting the deck and tension builds. Will Carella and co. be able to ID the new dealer who’s taken the dead man’s place? Why all the effort to conceal an overdose? And how many more people are the conspirators willing to kill to protect themselves?

It’s a great thriller, zipping along at quite a good place and shot through with little bits of humour. The dialogue is fast paced and tough, and it has a pulpy feel to it. A ripping crime yarn with some fantastic writing on display.

Verdict: The 87th Precinct series continues to impress and McBain shows his skills as a clever, witty writer of thrillers. Darker than the other books, but still a fun read. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: The Mugger by Ed McBain

Halfway through this book I realized I’d read it before a few years back and kinda remembered how it finished, not that it’s a massive stretch anyway. That’s not a criticism though, because I kept on reading because it was hugely entertaining.

McBain’s writing is extremely pulpy and this a fantastic page turner. I blazed through it in a couple of days and it was a great read for my breaks at work because I could zip through it quite easily.

the mugger

The plot follows various cops operating out of the 87th precinct in a fictional city. A mysterious mugger known only as Clifford, has been striking across the area, hitting women to ensure their silence and with rare flair bowing and thanking his victims. Detective Hal Willis is investigating, and enlists Eileen Burke, a female detective to serve as bait in a sting operation.

Meanwhile, patrolman Bert Kling is recovering having been shot and is approached by an old school friend who wants him to talk to his sister-in-law, a teenager who’s been acting oddly. Kling talks to the girl but gets no luck.

The girl is then murdered, seemingly by Clifford in a mugging gone wrong. Willis is still after Clifford, while Kling, at the request of his friend’s wife, investigates further, trying to work out whether the mysterious man in her life was Clifford and if so why she was killed. The situation gets murkier when it’s revealed that the girl was pregnant at the time of her murder.

I really dug this book, which is written with a real pulpy/noir vibe, full of fast paced dialogue and tough guy heroes it’s a gripping thriller and McBain’s writing is also quite clever and funny in places, sure, some of the mystery is easy to see coming but it’s still a fast paced, enjoyable read and further installments of the 87th Precinct series have already been added to my Kindle thanks to their new Unlimited deal (which is alright, if limited in what you can get).

Verdict: A gripping, pulpy yarn with a nice eye for character and some tough, gritty writing. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is apparently the highest selling author of all time, having churned out quite a few books which continue to be widely read today. My Dad and big sister are big fans, but I’ve never read any of her stuff before.

The reason I’ve never been tempted to try is because of the television adaptations I’ve seen, which have left me with a dislike of her two biggest characters- Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. My problem with Marple is that her doddery old woman schtick gets old quickly, don’t get me wrong it’s a good idea to have a sleuth who noone takes seriously but if I want that I’ll watch Columbo, the guest stars are better. Also, if you’re the killer and you start to get suspicious of her snooping around she’s an old woman- one nudge down some stairs and problem solved.

As for Hercule Poirot while I find David Suchet’s portrayal mildly amusing, I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that he’s a bit of a Sherlock Holmes knock off, but without Holmes’ sly wit and Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius ideas.

David Suchet as Poirot

David Suchet as Poirot

But, I decided it was time to dip my toe into Christie’s work and borrowed this from my sister. It’s a collection of 11 short stories about the Belgian detective tackling various cases.

poirot cover

The stories are diverting enough and Christie writes them in a lively, light hearted way which is quite fun, and a few of the ideas are rather clever, and she writes them in short, entertaining installments. However, I still couldn’t shake my problems with the character.

Firstly, there’s the narrator Captain Hastings, who’s essentially a dimmer Dr. Watson. There are moments when our narrator is suckered in by a pretty face or far fetched tale, and as a reader I found it immensely frustrating that are guide into this world was a blithering idiot. Hastings reacts with surprise when his friend reveals the truth, but the problem is quite often I found I’d already put the pieces together already.

With the stories where I was genuinely mystified until the reveal, I couldn’t help that Christie frequently cheated by hiding information until the end. How is the reader supposed to figure it all out and play along with the whodunit style, when the vital clue is kept in the dark? Poor show.

My major beef is with Poirot himself, the character is insufferably smug and a bit of a douche at times. I know some will say that Holmes was pretty self-assured and pleased with himself, but I never found ACD’s investigator as annoying, I think because there was always some kind of humour under the surface and genuine respect and liking for Watson. Poirot likes to show he’s the smartest man in the room and his penchant for talking of his “little grey cells” and referring to himself in the third person grated on me after a while.

I found myself agreeing with Hastings when he states:

“Do you know, I’d give a considerable sum of money to see you make a thorough ass of yourself- just for once. You’re so confoundedly conceited!”

But these quibbles I can see why Christie’s writing has been so successful, because it does make for a diverting entertaining read and the sort of thing you can easily dip in and out of. Will I read more of her stuff, possibly, but I don’t think the Poirot books will go high on my reading wish list.

Verdict: Quite good fun, even if the lead character is infuriating at times. Christie has a light touch and a sharp mind, but for my money you’re better off with Arthur Conan Doyle. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.