Recommended Readings, The Times We Live In, Weekly Reader
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In some cases, it is obvious who committed the crime

I am getting my plot lines and characters mixed up as I binge watch the most recent season of Shetland while reading Agatha Christie.

Blame it on the pandemic.

Not being a big puzzle-person, I was never a fan of murder mysteries. Oh, there was the occasional game of Clue where you move around the board and collect information, all so the winner can eventually identify the killer, the place, and the weapon: “I suspect Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the candlestick.” However, I seldom paid attention to detective stories or murder mysteries. Until 2020.

The pandemic affected all of us in various ways, and one of our earliest responses to lockdown was to binge watch British murder mysteries on PBS. In no time at all we were immersed in priest detectives (Father Brown, Grantchester) and female detectives (Miss Fisher, Miss Scarlet & the Duke, Frankie Drake), all playing against cultural norms for their eras. We also sampled others from the genre. It was a small leap to books of crime stories and murder mysteries and last year I stuck my toe in the water, reading Raven Black and Lemon.

Then at Thanksgiving, our friend Oakley Pearson gave our puzzle-loving son Andrew an entire box of Agatha Christie mysteries. I dove in and decided to read at least one murder mystery a month. It seemed appropriate, given the national discussions of 2023.

Which is how I came to devour the classic Agatha Christie mystery And Then There Were None (1939) last week.

What do you say about the best-selling crime novel of all time, and the book that made Christie the best-selling novelist of all time (her books trail only the Bible and Shakespeare in sales)? Not much, other than to suggest that even if you’ve read it before and know the general story line, it holds up on repeated readings.

The plot is a delicious puzzle that begins as ten strangers arrive on an island invited by the mysterious U.N. Owen (or is that UNKNOWN). Each — including a reckless playboy, a troubled doctor, an elderly yet formidable judge, a detective, an unscrupulous mercenary, a God-fearing spinster, two servants, a highly decorated general, and an anxious secretary — has a dark secret and a crime to hide. One by one they are picked off, with copies of an ominous nursery rhyme hanging in each room suggesting the awful fates of those who are left. There is no one else on the island, so who, exactly, is the murderer?

In 1972, Agatha Christie was asked to name her top ten books. The response as to the top choice is telling but not surprising:

And Then There Were None — a difficult technique which was a challenge and so I enjoyed it, and I think dealt with it satisfactorily.

One reason that Christie’s famous novel works is the focus on accountability for unsolved crimes. That makes crime novels perfect reading given the landscape we face in 2023.

Accountability — if we are fortunate — will be an important theme this year.

Not all blockbuster crime stories are fiction, of course. Many are based on true cases. With that in mind, one other book I’ll be reading may end up being the most influential work of the genre: Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

For those who don’t want to wade through 800+ pages, former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance has prepared a useful summary to help readers understand the report, with comments around accountability, transcripts, and witness tampering. And distinguished historian Timothy Snyder (author of On Tyranny) has helpfully listed the key facts arising from the report, including the damning 15th and last in his list:

Even had Trump believed that he had won the 2020 election, which he did not, his coup attempt would remain a coup attempt, and his crimes would remain crimes. 

All of a sudden it hit me. The January 6th’s committee report, organized as a narrative to address each major step that eventually led to the attack, makes the compelling case that the crimes — including the killing of Capitol police officers — were led by the lifetime con man, while he was in the Oval Office, using his bully pulpit.

The old Clue structure works pretty well in this instance.

We’re going to be dealing with the implications of these crimes well beyond 2023. Might as well read up and get ready for it.

More to come…


This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry. 

Photo of Agatha Christie novels by Jeremy Horvatin on Unsplash. Photo of U.S. Capitol from Pixabay.


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