Friday, May 25, 2018

THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA by KJ Charles (2018) - A not forgotten or overlooked book.

And now for something a little different.

This is not a forgotten or overlooked book really since it's just newly published, but I'm writing about it anyway since this author has been overlooked by yours truly until just recently. Truth be told, I stumbled on the work of KJ Charles on Kindle while looking for Regency romances (I do get in the mood for a good romance now and again and I'm mad about historicals.) I had no clue then that Charles has made a kind of niche for herself writing imaginative, non-traditional historical romances featuring gay heroes. Also I had no clue that she was an exceptional writer with the gift of making the reader care about her characters.

Though some of her stories are set in Regency England when homosexuality was punishable by hanging, this particular book takes place in Victorian times - when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment and/or other indignities - certainly not as bad as being dead, but really. So in a way, these are kind of wishful fairy tales (yeah, couldn't help myself) with requisite happy endings but wonderfully - if frankly - written and thoroughly engaging. Between the beginning and the happy ending, though, are enough dramatic entanglements to keep anyone entertained for a couple of hours. I found myself really enjoying several of Charles' books. Who knew? 

However if you object to the depiction of romantic tales of costumed gentlemen and knaves who happen to be gay, and or, for that matter depictions of sex (gay or otherwise), then please move on about your business and don't bother reading my review or voicing your objections. Certainly there are plenty of other terrific books out there for all of us to read and talk about. I understand that not everyone can be as broadminded as moi - though I often wonder why not. But I digress, as usual.

At any rate, THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA is a devilishly good if atypical example of this genre or niche or whatever you want to call it. In this case, Charles has done something clever and in many ways, impressive. She has upended the famed Victorian potboiler THE PRISONER OF ZENDA by Anthony Hope and retold the entire story from an opposite point of view, peppering the tale with two incredibly dashing protagonists who just happen to lust after each other in a very manly and steamy way. Both men are characters who appeared in the original novel and apparently sparked Charles' imagination: one is Rupert of Hentzau and the other is a minor character named Jasper Detchard, an itinerant henchman. Both are soldiers of fortune who work for the evil Michael, Duke of Streslau, wicked brother of Rudolf, Crown Prince of Ruritania. All the characters from the original tale are here, but looked at with different and very jaded eyes.

(As an aside: Hope himself wrote a sequel titled RUPERT OF HENTZAU. The Zenda story continued from  yet another point of view. But omitting any hint of male cupidity.)

If you've seen either of the splendid ZENDA movies, the one starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr (1952) and the other starring Ronald Colman and Madeleine Carroll (1937) then you already know the official story. Link here to read my review from a few years ago, of the ZENDA movies.

And if you've read the Anthony Hope book (a short read of an evening and fun to boot) then you're that far ahead. BUT, you need not have read the original at all to enjoy THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA, in that case, just read it as a sexy, entertaining swashbuckling standalone.

P.S. And let's not forget Princess Flavia who in this instance is more a presence, even behind the scenes, than anyone bargained for. Is Rassendyll in for a surprise? I can say no more.

Itinerant henchman Jasper Detchard (who was killed off in the original story by Anthony Hope) has lots to say in Charles' version:

"When I read a story, I skip the explanations; yet the moment I begin to write one, I find that I must have an explanation.

This is Rudolf Rassendyll's introduction to his swashbuckling tale of intrigue, love, treachery, cold-blooded murder, and hot-blooded men. His account, privately circulated, has become the accepted truth amongst the few privileged to read it. It is a story of courage in the dark, honour in the teeth of love, nobility above all. It gives us a beautiful, passionate princess, a man who renounces love and crown for the sake of a greater and purer cause, and a villain - such a villain. 

Rupert of Hentzau: reckless and wary, graceful and graceless, handsome, debonair, vile, and unconquered. Rupert flees the pages of Rassendyll's story a thwarted monster, never to be seen again; Rassendyll retires from the field with honour unstained' and the true King of Ruritania reigns in Streslau.

What a pile of shit.

My name is Jasper Detchard, and according to Rassendyll's narrative I am dead. This should give you some idea of his accuracy..."

This eye opening beginning of THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA sets us up the rest of this clever, captivating, salacious but boisterously charming tale of derring-do and Victorian chicanery in a mythical country called Ruritania. This is, of course, one of those prickly little kingdoms which may be had for the taking by feckless good-looking, lusty villains who risk life and limb for a paycheck and the keen adventure of it all. Not a typical romance type story, but more an adventure with an ending that makes sense.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would, but then I'm a big fan of Hope, Rafael Sabatini, Baroness Orczy and John Buchan. K.J. Charles gets the tone and the period and the characters just right. (Though occasionally her language is a bit too modern day, but not jarringly so.) Jasper Detchard is not your mom's nice guy hero, but (despite Rudolf Rassendyll and Anthony Hope) a hero nonetheless. And we even wind up feeling an inchoate affection for the handsome thug.

I don't recommend this book to everyone, just to those curious enough to want to read something a little different now and then because why the heck not?

This review from THE SEATTLE REVIEW OF BOOKS of THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA spells it all out better than I can. I'm glad KJ Charles' books are getting this kind of attention.

Since it's Friday once again, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Illustration by Charles Dana Gibson to the frontispiece of the original 1898 MacMillan publication of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

National Classic Movie Day - Comfort Movie Blogathon: THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (1947) starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo

What better way to celebrate National Classic Movie Day than with a bunch of movie mavens dishing about some of their very favorite 'comfort' movies. So after you peruse my post, please use the link above to see what other movies other bloggers are writing about today. Classic comfortable movies, what could be better?

Truth to tell, there are many classics I turn to when the going gets rough and life gets prickly, I've written about these films off and on over the years. THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is one I mentioned years ago but the review seems to have disappeared from my blog so I've decided to write about it again for the first time.

There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING I enjoy/enjoyed more at the movies than watching Danny Kaye attempt to be suave. Just the lift of that one eyebrow and the beginnings of that supercilious half-smile and I'm already laughing out loud. Can't help it. No one else did it as well or as funnily - or, for that matter, as expertly. It's just something about the swaggering pompousness mixed with a kind of calm, cool bravado. How he managed it - I don't know. Genius, I suppose. Danny Kaye was matchless.

And we haven't even talked about his incredible ability to fast forward through those trademark chattering songs with rat-tat-tat lyrics, usually written by his wife, Sylvia Fine. SO spectacularly mind-bogglingly wonderful. Yeah, I'm kind of a Danny Kaye fan-girl.

And since my favorite Danny Kaye film, THE COURT JESTER, was chosen by CAFTAN WOMAN for today's Blogathon, I picked my second favorite.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY screenplay was based on a short story by iconic American writer James Thurber and enlarged into a Samuel Goldwyn extravaganza by Ken Englund and Everett Freeman with some input from Thurber who was not happy with the final outcome. The film does go on for rather long and seems to run out of steam but not so much so that it ruins things, it is an extravaganza after all. Too much of Danny Kaye is always better than not enough.

The film was directed by Norman Z. McCleod who also directed another of my very favorite 'comfort' movies CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT (1954) starring Bob Hope, Joan Fontaine and Basil Rathbone - an absurd costume farce which I find strangely funny and comforting in all its ridiculousness. 'Farfel, farfel, pippick."

The cast of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is pretty darn good. Besides the genius of Danny Kaye, we also have Virginia Mayo, Fay Bainter, Ann Rutherford, Boris Karloff, Thurston Hall and Gordon Jones who I always thought of as a kind of wannabe Jack Carson without Carson's gifts. Still, he's perfect here as the thuggish bully, wannabe boyfriend.

AND we also have - inserted into the movie for no particular reason except that Sam Goldwyn decreed it - The Goldwyn Girls. They were a pack of glittery, pulchritudinous females, of no particular beauty or charm who dreamt of big Hollywood careers as they paraded around in bathing suits and clingy evening gowns. Goldwyn was fond of pretty girls jazzing up his films.

Kaye surrounded by pulchritude.

Mayo in gear.

Co-star Virginia Mayo, for all her blandness, was a good foil for Danny Kaye (she starred with him in several movies), but in this film she is hampered by one of the more dreadful wardrobes ever foisted on a starring actress. 'Costume design' indeed. The hats alone are frightening enough, but the rest of her outfits - except for maybe the first few scenes in which she is decked out in a blue/green suit - don't enhance Mayo's charms in any way. The designer was Irene Sharaff who must have been having a bad day or maybe she had a grudge against Mayo.

At any rate, none of the this hampers anything much. It's Danny Kaye's movie from beginning to end and that's just how we like it. He is perfectly cast.

Fay Bainter as Mrs. Mitty, showing her normal dissatisfaction with her son, Walter.

Walter Mitty is a hapless, bumbling, milque-toasty sort of guy who, despite his age, still lives at home in the suburbs with his domineering mom (Fay Bainter). Mrs. Mitty treats her boy like an indentured servant, having him fetch and carry and run errands as if he has nothing else to do in life but see to her needs. And Walter goes along with it.

Walter works in Manhattan. So it's not as though he doesn't earn his keep. He is an editor for a pulp fiction publishing house run by blustering, overbearing Mr. Pierce played by Thuston Hall who made a career out of these roles. Of course it's no surprise that Pierce takes credit for all of Walter's ideas.

The one on the left is Walter's fiancee, Gertrude, another dissatisfied female. She shows her dissatisfaction by snapping. The one in the middle is Queenie. She shows her dissatisfaction by growling and snapping.

Nobody respects poor Walter. Not even his fiancee, a rather stupid girl named Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford). She treats Walter as if he is simple-minded and oh-so-very-fortunate to be marrying her. Her fuzzy little dog views Walter with contempt as well. As does family friend and would-be boyfriend Tubby Wadsworth (Gordon Jones). It's obvious from the beginning that Tubby has the hots for Gertrude and she treats him with coy indulgence, as she ought to treat Walter. It's equally obvious that Walter doesn't want to marry Gertrude and is only doing so to please his mother. Sad. 

Anyway, unhappy Walter spends a great deal of his time daydreaming. I mean, wouldn't you? Instead of standing up for himself in real life, he imagines himself the grand-standing hero of an imaginary life or make that, many lives.

The insouciant RAF commander, scourge of the Nazi Luftwaffe.

The keen-eyed riverboat gambler, unwilling to take advantage of a fool. But a man's gotta' eat.

The sharply dressed cowboy defending his woman-folk.

"Oh, Doctor, you were wonderful." The sensitive but brilliant surgeon trying not to look superior. "It was nothing."

The 'topakita, topakita, topakita' machine. You hadda' be there.

Anatole of Paris. I need say no more.

Whenever Walter daydreams, the film takes off into a kind of never-never land of hilarious fantasy sequences in which Danny Kaye shines as an RAF officer, a strutting cowboy, a brilliant surgeon, a French fashion designer, a riverboat gambler, etc. Needless to say, he is wonderful in each larger than life characterization.

And then his reality takes a sudden exciting turn when on one of his train trips, a fetching young woman sits next to him and drags poor, confused, protesting Walter into a 'real life' adventure.  Her name is Rosalind van Hoorn and she is on the run from spies. Something about a little black book - isn't that always the way?

P.S. Is that a spiderweb on her shoulder? Asking for a friend.

It takes a while for Walter to get with the program once he discovers that despite his dreams, he is not much of a hero in real life. Most especially since no one believes him when he tries to explain why he's acting even odder than usual. Besides there's that skulking doctor (Boris Karloff with his hair parted in the middle) who keeps trying to push Walter out a window.

The bad guys hypnotize Walter and try to make him believe that Rosalind is a figment of his vivid imagination.

Subsequently, Walter and Rosalind play cat and mouse with some bad guys who are after a treasure hidden by the Nazis, in the course of  which they come up against a really, REALLY bad guy nick-named, The Boot. Uh-oh. 

Is that hat really necessary?

But all's well that ends well as Walter gives The Boot the boot, becomes the hero of his own life, stands up to his mom, wins the girl of his dreams and gets a promotion at work.

What I find most comfortably comforting about THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is Danny Kaye's presence, his finicky Mitty persona and the actor's professionally sure grasp of the absurd. I also love the story's happy ending of course, where everything settles as it's supposed to. And I do so enjoy the idea of a character finding his true self through adversity even if the whole thing is nothing more or less than a goofy fairy tale. I like fairy tales, goofy or otherwise. I find them soothing.

Danny Kaye and his wife Sylvia Fine by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday Salon: Happy Mother's Day!

Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919)

English painter Bernard Fleetwood-Walker (1893 - 1965)

American illustrator Amos Sewell (1901 - 1983)

American painter Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926)

Contemporary American painter Brenda Joysmith.

Inta and Karlis Dorahas. I believe they were Latvian painters, but can find no definite attribution.

American illustrator Carter Goodrich.

English illustrator Shirley Hughes. via

Contemporary Chinese painter Xi Pan. via

Paintings in the spirit of the day. Happy Mother's Day to us all.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: PLOT IT YOURSELF (1959) by Rex Stout

Not really forgotten except maybe by a few poor unfortunates who are not familiar with the wonderfulness of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books. But I felt like talking about PLOT IT YOURSELF and here we are. Besides, visiting with Wolfe and Archie is always a treat.

I am a Rex Stout fan-girl and proud of it. For reasons that are probably too bizarre to be looked into too closely, I fell in love with Nero Wolfe when I was a teenager and just never fell out. I guess I've always found brains to be a kind of aphrodisiac.

Despite the dead bodies littered here and there, Rex Stout managed to infuse his books with a special sense of comfort. The only other author who came close was Arthur Conan Doyle. It's a welcome knack. I like to think that in some corner of my imagination, Nero Wolfe lives on with Archie Goodwin by his side. The brownstone on West 35th St. remains occupied and clients still arrive in need of Wolfe's help. Fritz Brenner still house-keeps and cooks the best omelettes in the world, the orchids still bloom in the large glass greenhouse on the roof and Theodore Horstmann, the grumpy orchid man is still puttering around up there.

The rest of the gang shows up when needed and Saul Panzer is still the best freelance detective in New York. Inspector Cramer remains head of Homicide Division and Rowcliff is still a horse's ass.

I reread my favorite Wolfe books continuously, slipping them in between whatever else I'm reading at the moment. I do the same with Agatha Christie and a few other writers whose work I love. They've become old friends and I can't just walk away from them. It's a way of life for me.

Okay, let's talk about today's book:

PLOT IT YOURSELF has a serious plot fault which is only discovered near the end even as Wolfe himself mentions it in passing. (You may spot it a bit sooner.) Despite that, it's premise is brilliant and far as I'm concerned, this come close to being a perfect crime set-up. (So perfect that I'm amazed someone hasn't tried it in real life.)

The case begins when Wolfe is hired to dig up who is at the bottom of an on-going and extremely clever plagiarism scam. Within the past four years there have been five major charges of plagiarism against five best selling authors. The latest one hasn't been paid off - yet. The approach is always the same as is the set-up. No connection has been found by investigators between the various would-be writers making the accusations. One case even went to trial, but the author lost and was forced to pay thousands to the accuser. Juries are inclined to believe that successful authors might easily steal ideas from those less successful.

The latest plagiarism charge is the fifth - exact same pattern as before. Enough is enough, The National Association of Authors and Dramatists and the Book Publishers of America wants Nero Wolfe to put a stop to it.

"...You said you know nothing about plagiarism, but I assume you know what it is. Of course a charge of plagiarism against a book or play is dealt with by the author and publisher, or the playwright and producer, but a situation has developed that needs something more than defending individual cases. That's why the NAAD and the BPA have set up this joint committee..."

One of the people at the meeting, Amy Wynn, is a first time best selling author who has just received a letter accusing her of plagiarism. The straw that has apparently broken the camel's back.

I won't elaborate on the ruse used in this oh-so-successful - dare I say - brilliant, ploy. It is revealed soon enough once you begin reading, but it's just such an incredibly clever bit of business that my admiration colors my judgement. Maybe you won't be as impressed as I always am.

However, just when you think that Wolfe has figured out a way to solve the thing, the murders begin. The first brought about by a fatal mistake; Wolfe and his clients unaware at the time that they are dealing with a desperate and ruthless individual. Well, I mean, who would know? This is the world of publishing and authors and books and hardly a world where cut throat antics are commonplace. Oh, wait - let me rephrase that. 

Never mind, you all get the gist, I think. The case is such that Dol Bonner (the only female owner of a private detective agency in New York) and her associate are called in by Wolfe. It's all hands on deck as Archie keeps stumbling over corpses and the case gets uglier and uglier.

"...I walked to his address and rang the bell and got no answer. Happening to have keys and rubber gloves with me, and thinking I might find something interesting, I went in and up to h is apartment. For three or four days he had been lying on a couch with a knife in his chest, and is still there. So is the knife. He was probably fed a dose in a drink before - " 

I stopped because he [Wolfe] was having a fit. He had closed his right hand to make a fist and was hitting the desk with it, and he was bellowing. He was roaring something in a language that was probably the one he had used as a boy in Montenegro...Fritz, entering with beer, stopped and looked at me reproachfully. Wolfe quit bellowing as abruptly as he started, glared at Fritz, and said coldly, "Take that back, I don't want it." 

"But it will do-"

"Take it back. I shall drink  no beer until I get my fingers around the creature's throat. And I shall eat no meat."

"But impossible! The squabs are marinating!"

"Throw them out."

"Wait a minute, " I objected. "What about Fritz and Theodore and me? Okay, Fritz. We've had a shock. I shall eat no boiled cucumbers." 

Fritz opened his mouth, closed it again, turned, and went. Wolfe, his fists on the desk, commanded me, "Report."

After several trips back and forth to upstate New York and various inquiries involving Archie, the gang, and the police of a couple of counties - he will keep discovering bodies - Wolfe finally figures out what's what. In a way, the whole thing is simple enough, but not so simple that it doesn't get more and more complicated. All because something which might have been done at the beginning wasn't done. Though, truth to tell, it would have been difficult to do the thing at the beginning because no one, not even Nero Wolfe, is prescient. Yeah, I know, I'm driving you nuts. Read the book, you'll find out what I mean.

PLOT IT YOURSELF is on my list of Top Ten Nero Wolfe books, so you're in for a treat if you've never read it and if you, like me, like a plot with multiple corpses. By the way, the Wolfe books do not have to be read in succession except for one caveat: do NOT read A FAMILY AFFAIR until after you've read ALL the other books - in fact, don't read it at all, you'll suffer less angst.

Okay, it's Friday once again, so don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Link to my Nero Wolfe Pinterest board.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: CARDS ON THE TABLE (1936) by Agatha Christie

I am currently listening - for the umpteenth time - to CARDS ON THE TABLE narrated by Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings in the original series with David Suchet as Poirot), and what a wonderful job he does. I am especially fond of his interpretation of both Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver. Listening to the audio version is just another way to enjoy my favorite Christie mysteries while I'm doing other things like cleaning, cooking or whatnot. Good while driving too but I don't drive anymore. I have a rule, though, in general I only listen to books I've already read. Don't ask me to explain, it has something to do with comfort, I expect.

In Christie's early and rather absurdly grandiose book, THE BIG FOUR, the number 4 had much to do with the story (as one would expect) and here, years later, in CARDS ON THE TABLE, the number 4 is front and center once again. Numbers, for Christie, held some importance in several of her books as did nursery rhymes - a recurring motif. 

This time though, it's not four evil geniuses of crime, but 4 possible murderers with 4 detectives hot on their trail. (So maybe you might say it was a book in which the number 8 resonates - but let's not be contrary.) This is the book that made me wish I knew how to play bridge. However without knowing beans about it, you can still follow the story quite nicely - it's self explanatory as it turns out.

By the way, this is not one of the great Christie books, but even the lesser Christies are not to be sneezed at. Plus the actual mystery is definitely intriguing as heck, not to mention, the double ending.

Poirot had hinted, in THE ABC MURDERS, that his preferred crime of choice was a quiet domestic murder - say, some people sit down to dinner or a card game and before the evening is out, one of them winds up dead. So here in CARDS ON THE TABLE, Poirot gets his wish.

Poirot and a certain Mr. Shaitana meet casually one day at an exhibition of snuff boxes at Wessex House. The two men make desultory conversation about collecting works of art and thereby springs an idea. Shaitana posits that murder too can be a work of art. He refers to murderers who haven't been caught as the true artists of crime.Uh-oh.

Mr. Shaitana, in appearance, is the sort of man all upright Englishmen desire to kick, so that tells you his type right away. He is a self-important dandy who slithers around town with a superior air, amusing himself at the expense of others. Hard for a guy like that to get on blithely in life without someone eventually showing their resentment.

"The whole of Mr. Shaitana's person caught the eye - it was designed to do so. He deliberately attempted a Mephistophelian effect. He was tall and thin, his face was long and melancholy, his eyebrows were heavily accented and jet black, he wore a moustache with stiff waxed ends and a tiny black imperial. His clothes were works of art - of exquisite cut - but with a suggestion of the bizarre...

...He existed richly and beautifully in a super flat in Park Lane.
He gave wonderful parties - large parties, small parties, macabre parties, respectable parties and definitely 'queer' parties. 
He was a man of whom nearly everybody was a little afraid.
Why this last was so can hardly be stated in definite words. There was a feeling, perhaps, that he knew a little too much about everybody. And there was a feeling, too, that his sense of humor was a curious one."

But as Poirot states several times in the book, 'Shaitana was a stupid man.' Poirot's point is that anyone who plays truth or dare with a murderer can't be very clever. Poirot also surmises that you can admire a tiger from afar, but you would not willingly step into a cage with one. Makes sense to me.

But Shaitana disdains middle-class emotions and refuses to see the danger inherent in inviting four murderers to dinner and bridge. Of the four, one is an older, sophisticated woman, one a young, naive woman, one a hale and hearty doctor, and one an adventurer who prefers life in the wild. All, we are given to understand have at some time in their lives committed murder - at least so Shaitana would have us believe. How he knows this we are never really exactly sure. But to add to the fun of the evening, he also invites the one and only Hercule Poirot, Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, Colonel Race (secret service) and mystery writer Ariadne Oliver to partake of his vittles.

Before you can say 'we told you so' - Shaitana, sitting quietly before a cozy fire, winds up dead while in the same room, four people play bridge and four others play in an adjoining room. Who did it? Well, obviously a bridge player in the room with the fireplace. But how, without anyone noticing?

We know from the beginning that at least one of the four dinner guests (for we excuse the four detectives as a matter of course) is a murderer, if not all four. Shaitana's ill-advised dinner table conversation drew attention to the subject of unsolved murders thereby putting somebody on guard. Somebody who, by dint of having killed before, is not afraid to strike again.

Superintendent Battle, to be fair, allows Mrs. Oliver (who, after all, is only a mystery writer) to take an unofficial hand in the ensuing investigation since she was in at 'the kill' so to speak. So we have four 'detectives' on the trail of four people, at least one of whom, we definitely know, is a killer.

This is yet another of Christie's character-based murder mysteries. All four suspects are, in a way, archetypes.This very point is made early on as the wheels of the investigation begin to move forward. Poirot, of course, is the first to notice and is able to help his theory along by studying the bridge scores and style of play of each player. He believes that character, in the end, will tell. Hardly anyone, according to Poirot, is capable of acting out of character, especially when it comes to something as dramatic as murder. By studying the characters' bridge game action, he draws some very cogent conclusions.

There are multiple points of view in this story and Christie has the knack of not making the reader resent the shifting back and forth. We learn as much as she wants us to and her sleight of hand, as usual, works a treat. Since all four suspects are apparently murderers, we have to figure out which one panicked or felt threatened enough to murder yet again. And then, of course, there is a further murder as well as an attempted one. Christie even sneaks in a little bit of romance.

All in all, a terrific book, if you accept the premise. My only quibble is that one doesn't really learn just how it is that Shaitana gets his info. To my mind, it's not enough that he was very observant and perhaps, intuitive about people's secrets. Other than that, a good time was had by all. AND we get to see the inside of Aridadne Oliver's flat with its riotous jungle bird wallpaper.

It's Friday, once again so don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.