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Tigerlily’s Orchids – Ruth Rendell

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Ruth Rendell’s Tigerlily’s Orchids was a disappointment. The story wanders around the apartments in one building in a neighborhood outside central London—the novel is half-over before anyone dies and you don’t much care when they do. The flats are occupied by a motley bunch of losers, students, suicidal alcoholics, pedophiles, hapless naifs and hippies way past their primes. (Sigh.)

The intrigue isn’t very intriguing, the crimes are pedestrian and sort of grimy—murder excepted. But the main victim fails to elicit much sympathy, the second corpse has already taken too long to die by the time it’s toes-up, much about the lives of the inhabitants is sordid or just relentlessly banal. None of the large cast seems to have much future—or much present, for that matter.

I was bored. But I did learn something–I figured out why some books work for me and some don’t, even in the same genre and even when the authors are well-regarded. When I don’t like a book it is often because the characters are unappealing, do stupid things that will cause them foreseeable problems and don’t have anything I would find interesting to look forward to. I just can’t care about dull-witted characters. Personal failure of imagination, no doubt.

So, Ruth Rendell may be a genius of crime novels but Tigerlily’s Orchids had no orchids, no Tigerlily, a flaccid plot and a double-decker busload of forgettable people. I’ve read books that are really bad and this wasn’t one. But I wouldn’t have pushed through it if I’d had time to crack another novel and finish by day’s end.   

Tigerlily’s Orchids: A Novel   Ruth Rendell | Scribner   2011

A Caribbean Mystery – Agatha Christie

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Miss Marple gets around—but she drags her portmanteau of closed societies spilt open by most puzzling murders with her. So, when Agatha Christie sends Jane Marple to the Caribbean, trouble is bound to follow. Maybe it would be fairer to say that, in A Caribbean Mystery, the redoubtable Miss Marple is sharp-eyed enough to catch what lesser mortals miss—mortality in its most unnatural guise.

This island resort, a panacea for arthritis, rheumatism, and the respiratory distress of a gloomy British winter, is as small a stage as any village. Every character is tainted with suspicion and scrutinized by the practiced eye of a little old amateur detective who is easily bored. She knits. She engages in and suffers through polite conversation. She sees plot, motive and conspiracy in the banal—and, of course, she is absolutely correct.

But the mystery of the killer is as tangled as Miss Marple’s yarn and Christie spins a lively yarn in the untangling of it. There are bodies—some violently managed and some that appear to have slipped the bonds of the living unharmed. Hah. Jane Marple’s antennae are madly waving throughout and no one is safe from her prying, poking and perceptive gaze.

There are drugs—a lot of drugs. Most of them are prescription but not always administered to those for whom they were prescribed. There is a fair amount of wandering around in the tropical moonlight and much of it isn’t the least romantic. Romance is calculated and the resort is one big couples swap beneath its façade. Fatal cases of mistaken identity, malicious cases of false identity and a muddle of confusion in which the killer hides in plain sight can’t stump Miss Marple in the end.

She saves the day but her knitting productivity suffers, as does her vacation reading. Oh well, plenty of time for reading when she returns home—until her next turn as the village busybody who exposes evildoers with a prodigious amount of snooping and a minimum of fuss.

A Caribbean Mystery: A Miss Marple Mystery (Miss Marple Mysteries)  Agatha Christie | Signet   2000