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The compilation of short stories which "The Listerdale Mystery" heads is an ideal choice for those who wish to read some of Christie's more lighter works. Whilst there are exceptions to this (the chilling "Philomel Cottage" being one such example), for the most part the stories are lighthearted, allowing us a short glimpse into the lives of a variety of characters. Throughout them Christie shows her unerring ability to provide the reader with an insight into the differing pyschologies of people and the effect that numerous events have on them. From the unexpected reactions of George in "The Golden Ball" and Edward in "The Manhood of Edward Robinson" when they are thrust into circumstances outside their usual remit, to the terrified mental state and desperate planning of Alix Martin in "Philomel Cottage" we can observe a breadth of situations and responses. Burglaries, murder, attempted murder and deception feature throughout this collection and the brevity of the stories does not underestimate either their entertainment capacity or their occasional capacity to shock.
This is not to say that these stories do not deserve any negative criticism. The blatant and unashamed snobbery of "The Listerdale Mystery" is especially galling and, whilst the characters portrayed within it are pleasant enough, it is difficult not to feel rather irritated at them at frequent points in the narrative. Moreover, the remarkable coincidences revealed in "The Rajah's Emerald" and "The Girl in the Train" do seem a bit too far fetched and we have to remind ourselves that the stories are written to allow us to indulge in escapism.
There are, as has been stated, some particularly powerful stories within this group, however and they merit high praise. "Accident", though at one point veering towards the supernatural in a way that veers towards the melodramatic, is a tense plot with a surprising twist. Furthermore, "Swan Song" leads us through a heartrending and passionate narration which almost seems to mirror the emotional drama of the opera that is being performed in the story.
As we read the stories our own emotions and perceptions are taken through a malestrom of contrasting situations. With such short stories it is difficult to gain any strong insight into the characters or the events described, yet a fair effort is made. We can see comparisons between Jane in "Jane in Search of a Job" with the more rounded heroines like Tuppence Beresford or Bundle Brent, for example. In "The Rajah's Emerald" the aggrieved James Bond (obviously no connection) manages to instill a mixture of both sympathy and aggravation and the calm planning of Paula Nazarkoff in "Swan Song" suitably provides us with the finale of these tales. For a change from the detectives such as Poirot and for a simple and uncomplicated read, these stories are well deserving of persual.
The new-look series of Agatha Christie Signature Editions books for the 21st century -- with each of the Queen of Crime's characters liveried in an individual yet complementary jacket style. Twelve tantalizing cases! the curious disappearance of Lord Listerdale; a newlywed's fear of her ex-fiance; a strange encounter on a train; a domestic murder investigation; a wild man's sudden personality change; a retired inspector's hunt for a murderess; a young woman's impersonation of a duchess; a necklace hidden in a basket of cherries; a mystery writer's arrest for murder; an astonishing marriage proposal; a soprano's hatred for a baritone; the case of the rajah's emerald. All have one thing in common: the skilful hand of Agatha Christie.