When the season calls for merry murder mysteries


My “mystery winter” reading theme continues, and this week I decided to turn to the “Queen of Crime” herself: Agatha Christie.

I asked my sister, a whodunit connoisseur, for her recommendation. She instantly suggested “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” a Poirot mystery that many consider to be Christie’s masterpiece. Not only is the plot suitably twisty and the setting suitably typical (richest man in a sleepy village found murdered inside a locked room of his fancy house), but the characterizations are sharply hilarious. And the final reveal, which exploits the conventions of the mystery genre to deliver a genuinely unconventional denouement, is evidence of Christie’s skill.

Next up was her 1941 mystery, “Evil Under the Sun,” set in a glamorous seaside hotel. It evokes the particular claustrophobia of many social novels, with the characters feeling surveilled and scrutinized because they are part of the same broader web of class and society, even if they do not actually know each other. (If you need a last-minute Christmas gift and have a spare $19 million, the island and hotel that inspired the novel are for sale.)

Next on my list is “The Penguin Book of Murder Mysteries,” which The Times’s crime critic promises is full of “overlooked and underappreciated” gems from the 19th and 20th centuries.

I also have my usual stack of political science and history books, but for the moment, I’m going to leave them on my desk. I’ll be taking a break for the holidays, so The Interpreter will be off for the next couple of weeks. And while I usually find that kind of reading engaging and fun, I’m feeling more of a need than usual to disconnect from the news and its historical antecedents. So at least for the next few days, I’ll be in fiction-only mode.

Happy New Year to all of you, and thank you for reading, emailing, and otherwise being part of the wonderful Interpreter community. See you in January.

Shava Nerad, a reader in Arlington, Mass. recommends “When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda,” by Mahmood Mamdani:

I am rereading this because of the dynamics of the Israel/Gaza conflict. It’s an analysis of the Rwandan genocide with a lot of thoughts on human nature and dehumanizing neighbors. Hard read — but worth it.

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