Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bring on the comfort reads

It’s November, and the chilly breeze carries the sounds of the season - sniffling and coughing. You’re drinking your juice, making sure you get your yearly flu shot, and washing your hands after you touch, well, anything. And you’re probably going to get sick at some point this winter anyway.

For me, getting ill means undemanding reading. The award-winning novel, the controversial history, the troubling memoir - I put those aside for later. Sick time is the time for Agatha Christie.

During my last bout of the crud, I read Peril at End House, a rather excellent Hercule Poirot mystery. I devoured the whole thing in one bedridden day, and then got to thinking - just why is Agatha Christie such good comfort-reading?

It certainly isn’t the characters. Peril at End House is about a young woman named Nick who is the target of someone’s murderous wrath, and once you meet her you can understand why. When Poirot explains to her that someone is trying to kill her, Nick says brightly, “I think the whole thing is perfectly marvelous. Too, too thrilling.”

Whatever. Poirot himself is not much better - there’s a reason no one cares about him the way they care about, for instance, Sherlock Holmes: he’s one-dimensional and annoying.

But Peril at End House is a splendid puzzle: it exercises the brain without engaging the emotions. Who tampered with the brakes of Nick’s car? Why was Nick’s cousin wearing her red shawl? Why did the servant behave so strangely the night of the fireworks, and why was Nick sent two identical boxes of chocolates?

Even though (or maybe even because) I don’t care about the characters, I found getting to the bottom of the whole business very satisfying.

The Newport Library has a great selection of golden age mysteries: for your sick days, I recommend Dorothy L. Sayers and Rex Stout as well as Agatha Christie.

What’s your favorite comfort read?

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