Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Agatha Christie's The Golden Ball and Other Stories

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction community meme is continuing on its perilous journey. This week, thanks to our leader Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, we’ve arrived at our seventh stop, the letter “G.” My contribution for this week is Agatha Christie’s The Golden Ball and Other Stories, first published as a collection in 1971.

This collection of short stories shows, as much as anything else, Christie’s versatility. First, novels and short stories are quite different forms of writing. It’s hard to be skilled at both kinds, and many authors aren’t. But Christie wrote some fine short stories as well as, of course, her novels.

Another way in which this particular collection shows Christie’s versatility is the themes of the stories. While some of Christie’s collections focus on just some of her sleuths’ cases, this one explores several different kinds of short stories, with several different characters. There are, of course, mysteries. But there are also some romantic mysteries, some stories that explore the paranormal and two that you might possibly call stories of psychological suspense. All of the stories have Christie’s trademark twists and unexpected happenings as well as some interesting characters.

You may notice as you read about these stories that you’ve read one or more of them in another collection. Several of Christie’s stories have been reprinted in multiple collections, so you can find them in various places.


Mysteries

The Rajah’s Emerald

In this story, James Bond (yes, that’s the name of the character) is taking a holiday at Sopworth-on-Sea at the request of his social-climber girlfriend Grace. One morning, he decides to go into the sea for a swim, and sneaks into a private cabana to change his clothes. When he returns from his swim, he hurriedly dresses and leaves the cabana before he’s caught. A short time later, he realises that he’s put on the wrong pair of pants accidentally and that in the pocket of those pants is a very valuable emerald. He discovers who owns the emerald and gets involved in the mystery of how it was stolen from the owner when he himself is accused of the theft.


Jane in Search of a Job

Jane Cleveland is desperate for a job, but so far, hasn’t found anything. One day, she reads an unusual employment opportunity. The job offer is very specific about what the successful applicant must look like, and that she must speak French. Since Jane matches the required physical description and can speak French fluently, she decides to apply. She’s chosen for the position and is then told what she’s to do. It seems that Her Highness the Grand Duchess Pauline of Ostrova is in danger from revolutionaries in her own country. She’s decided to hire a look-alike double for a fortnight, so that she can make some public appearances with less risk of kidnap to herself. Jane takes the job and soon finds that she’s gotten more than she bargained for when she doubles for the Grand Duchess one day and ends up in real danger.


Swan Song

Renowned opera singer Paula Nazorkoff is invited to take the lead in an opera production to be sung at the country home of Lady Rustonbury. She agrees, but on one interesting condition (no spoilers). All of the arrangements are made, but on the night of the production, famous baritone Roscari, who was to sing the male lead role, is taken ill and has to be replaced at the last minute by Edouard Bréton, who lives nearby. This matter settled, the opera begins. Everything’s going beautifully, and Lady Rustonbury’s guests are transfixed. At the pivotal point in the production, though, Bréton is murdered. In the end, it turns out that Bréton’s past has, as you might say, caught up with him.


Romantic Mysteries

The Listerdale Mystery

Mrs. St. Vincent is a “well-born” but badly-off widow who can barely afford to keep the lodgings that she shares with her daughter Barbara and son Rupert. Barbara especially minds the poverty; she met a “well-born” young man on a cruise that a cousin invited her to take, and now she’s gotten word that he wants to visit her. Both women are afraid that if he sees the way Barbara really lives, he won’t be interested in really getting to know her. By chance, Mrs. St. Vincent sees an advertisement for a beautiful little house to let at a very cheap rent. It’s perfect for her and would be perfect as a place for Barbara and Rupert to get their starts in life. Rupert, however, is very skeptical and when he finds out the address of the house, connects it with the mysterious disappearance of the house’s owner Lord Listerdale. Listerdale’s butler Quentin, who’s now working for the St. Vincent family, seems to be the only one who knows anything about what happened to Listerdale and why the house is available at such a nominal rent. Rupert decides to play sleuth and find out the truth, and when he does, there are surprising consequences.


The Girl in the Train

George Rowland has had a quarrel with his wealthy and snobbish uncle and is now on his own. He decides to leave, and is taking a train from Waterloo station when a young woman bursts into his carriage, begging him to hide her. Having nothing better to do, Rowland does. Just then, a strange man follows her in, claiming to be her uncle and demanding that Rowland return her. Rowland feigns ignorance and gets rid of the intruder. As soon as it’s safe, the young woman, who calls herself Elizabeth, makes her escape, but gives Rowland a small package and asks him to guard it. Before he knows it, Rowland’s involved in an international mystery. In the end, he discovers who the young woman really is and gets to the bottom of the mystery. When he does, he also sees the solution to his own problems.


The Manhood of Edward Robinson

Edward Robinson, who’s a bit of a dreamer, has fallen in love with a beautiful red sports car. Against his better judgement (and, he is sure, against the wishes of his very practical fiancée Maud), Robinson buys the car. On the first day he owns it, he takes a long drive. That evening, he’s on his way back home when he stops to admire some scenery. He takes a walk but when he returns and begins the drive home, he realises that he’s not in his own car. To his amazement, he finds a valuable diamond necklace in the car’s map pocket. He also finds a cryptic note telling him of a meeting place and time. On a whim, he goes to the appointed place and meets a mysterious beautiful young woman who seems to think he’s someone else. Before he knows it, Robinson’s caught up in an exciting adventure involving mistaken identity and burglary. At the end, he finds that he’s changed and that to his surprise, Maud’s treatment of him has, too.


A Fruitful Sunday

Edward “Ted” Palgrove and his girlfriend Dorothy Pratt are taking a Sunday drive in Ted’s new Austin. They stop at a roadside fruit stand for a basket of cherries. When they stop for a rest and a picnic lunch, though, they find a beautiful ruby necklace underneath the cherries in the basket. Neither of them has ever had a lot of money, and since neither knows who owns the necklace, Dorothy is all for selling it and keeping the money. Ted, however, wants to return it to its owner. Besides, he worries that it might have been stolen, and he doesn’t want to get mixed up with a gang of thieves. Eventually Dorothy persuades, him, though, and Ted determines to find a “fence” to buy the necklace. The next day, though, Ted reads something that changes everything for both of them.


The Golden Ball

George Dundas has just had a terrible argument with his employer and wealthy uncle Ephraim Leadbetter, during which his uncle has fired him. Just as he’s trying to decide what to do next, Dundas encounters wealthy society beauty Mary Montresor, who’s engaged to be married to the Duke of Edgehill. The two take a drive together and on a whim, decide to look for a perfect country house they’d like. They find one and go up to the windows where they peep in. To their dismay, they’re seen by a butler. Mary tries to get the couple out of the awkward situation by giving the name of a fictitious family and saying they were looking for that family. To the couple’s surprise, the name turns out to be the name of the house’s owner, and the butler ushers them inside. Now there’s no way to gracefully get away, so George and Mary go in, and wind up in a great deal of danger.


Paranormal

The Hound of Death

Mr. Anstruther hears an intriguing story from an acquaintance, journalist William Ryan. Apparently, a Belgian nun, Sister Marie Angelique, has unusual visions and psychic powers. Ryan never got the chance to look into the story himself, but Anstruther is curious, since this nun now lives in the same village as Anstruther’s sister Kitty. By chance, Anstruther himself is planning a visit to his sister, so when he arrives, he asks about Sister Marie Angelique. Kitty refers him to Dr. Rose, who’s been taking care of the aging nun. Rose arranges a meeting with Sister Marie Angelique and Anstruther soon discovers that Rose believes that his patient may indeed have odd psychic powers. Rose has decided to try an experiment to see just what visions the nun actually has. He has no idea, though, of the consequences that experiment will have.


The Gipsy

Dickie Carpenter is oddly afraid of gipsies. One day, he tells his friend Macfarlane the reason. It seems that Carpenter had troubling childhood dreams where a gipsy frightened him, and he’s never gotten over them. He’s had a few encounters in real life, too, with gipsies and they’ve disturbed him as well. Now, Carpenter needs an operation, and one of the nurses, who looks rather like a gipsy, has warned him against it. When Carpenter unexpectedly dies “on the table,” Macfarlane decides to find out more about the nurse who warned his friend. His search for the truth leads him to an unusual – and eerie – truth about himself.


The Lamp

Mrs. Lancaster is looking for a home for herself, her aged father Mr. Winburn, and her son Geoff. She finds a wonderful bargain, and learns from the house agent the reason why the house is so cheap. Years ago, a child died there when his father, who was a wanted criminal, left the house for a trip to London and never returned. The house agent says that there are stories that the child’s spirit has been heard crying, but the practical Mrs. Lancaster doesn’t believe those stories. It’s not long, though, before Geoff makes it clear that he’s seen the little boy and wants to play with him. Strange events and sounds also begin to occur and although Mrs. Lancaster wants to put them all down to natural explanations, her father isn’t so sure. And then Geoffrey becomes very ill and the real truth eventually becomes clear.


The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael

Dr. Edward Carstairs is asked by his friend Dr. Settle to give a professional opinion about one of Settle’s patients, young Sir Arthur Carmichael. He agrees and travels to the Carmichael home, where he meets Sir Arthur, his stepmother and his fiancée Phyllis Patterson. It seems that Sir Arthur has been behaving very strangely, and although he’s physically quite healthy, Settle can’t explain the way his patient has been acting. Carstairs is a mental health expert, and Settle’s eager for his view. Before long, Carstairs is treated to several examples of Sir Arthur’s odd behaviour, and as he tries to get to the truth about it, he realises that something besides mental illness is going on.


The Call of Wings

Wealthy Silas Hammer seems to have everything. Not only is he a millionaire, but he is contented. He’s left behind his poor background and has earned his way to vast comfort. He’s by no means greedy, but he is comfortable in the lap of luxury and that comfort is very important to him. Then one night, he has a near-death experience, and that causes him to begin to re-think things. On the same night, he hears some unearthly beautiful music and tracks it down to an unusual man he meets. That experience and that man change everything for Hammer and in the end he makes some surprising discoveries about himself.


Psychological Suspense

Magnolia Blossom

Vincent Easton has fallen in love with Theodora “Theo” Darrell, although she’s married. She says very little about herself or her marriage but when Easton asks her to go away with him, she does. They’ve no sooner arrived at their destination, though, when Theo reads in the paper that her husband Richard has become embroiled in a financial scandal that could ruin him. Out of a sense of loyalty, she leaves Easton and returns to Richard, who doesn’t know of her relationship with Easton. When Theo gets back to their home in Chelsea, Richard is overjoyed that she’s decided to stay with him. Then, he asks her help in getting him out of trouble. It turns out that Vincent Easton has certain papers that would incriminate Darrell if they get into the wrong hands. All Theo has to do is go to Easton and get the papers from him. Theo agrees, and her husband thinks his problems are solved. Then, Theo discovers an ugly truth about Richard that changes everything.


Next to a Dog

Joyce Lambert is looking for a position as a governess. The only problem is, all of the positions she’s really qualified for involve going abroad, and Joyce isn’t willing to do that. She knows she couldn’t take her beloved dog Terry with her, and she refuses to abandon him; she’s all he has. Joyce is desperate for money, though, and although her landlady is kind and compassionate, she knows that she can’t live rent-free. So she makes what may be a deal with the devil. Snobbish Arthur Halliday has wanted to marry Joyce for quite some time, but she doesn’t love him. Still, for Terry’s sake, she agrees to marry Halliday. Then in one moment, everything changes for Joyce.

As you can see, there’s quite a variety in this collection. Fans of Christie’s sleuths Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford may be disappointed; none of those characters appears in these stories. However, it’s a fascinating look at another aspect of Christie’s work. But what do you think? Have you read The Golden Ball and Other Stories? If you have, what’s your view?

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for this contribution to this week's CFA Margot. Some of these stories appeared in other collections too. I've read some of them but not in this collection which apparently was just for US release. Here is my list

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  2. Kerrie - That's what I suspected - that this collection was a US thing. I'm glad some of the stories appear in other collections, too. That makes them more widely available. Folks, do check out Kerrie's list of Christie's short stories. It's as comprehensive a list as I've seen and will definitely get you started if you would like to explore that side of Christie's writing.

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  3. Oh, I remember one or two of these, I am surprised because it has been forty years.

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  4. I know I've read some of these stories...so it must have in the other collections. Either that or I just neglected to add The Golden Ball to my list of books read. Either is a possibility. Thanks for reminding me of these short stories by Christie!

    Here's my G: http://myreadersblock.blogspot.com/2011/02/alphabet-in-crime-fiction-letter-g.html

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  5. Patti - When it's a good story, it sticks in one's mind, I think. I know it's been a long time for me, too, for some of these...



    Bev - As you say, several of these stories have appeared in more than one collection. So I'll bet you that you have read some of them in other places. And trust me, it's always my pleasure to remind everybody about Agatha Christie's work :-).

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  6. Some of the stories sound vaguely familiar but not the others. Must have read them in different collections. The one thing common to all of the ones that I have read is that you get totally engrossed in them.
    Must dig out her short stories someday. Thank you for reminding me of them.

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  7. I don't think I have read any of these - I've never been much of a short story reader and don't recall these in this or any other collection

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  8. Rayna - I agree; for those who enjoy short stories, Christie's really do draw one in. And I wouldn't be surprised if you have read some of these elsewhere. The thing about short stories is that they show up in different collections; I know I've read some of these in more than one place.


    Bernadette - Short stories are definitely not everyone's cuppa. And a lot of people who love short stories aren't as much for reading novels. That's what I love about crime fiction; it comes in all sizes.

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  9. This is one thing I love about this series/challenge. You introduce wonderful 'new to me' book each week. These short stories sound intriguing. I'll have to add this to my wish list.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  10. Mason - How kind of you to say such nice things :-). I hope you'll enjoy this one. Not everyone is a short story fan, but for those who are, this is a solid collection.

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  11. Wow, these sound pretty good. Jane Cleveland. I LOVE that name. I must have read these since I know I've read every single novel and short story Christie ever wrote. But damn if I can remember the individual short stories. And that's basically the same as NOT having read them - right? Time to get my hands on this collection again.
    Thanks, Margot. Great selection for the Letter G.

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