#HistoricalMondays Book Review | “Death In A Desert Land” (Book Three: The Agatha Christie series) by Andrew Wilson

Posted Monday, 8 July, 2019 by jorielov , , , , , 0 Comments

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I’ve launched a new weekly featured concentration of book reviews on Jorie Loves A Story which celebrates my love and passion for the historical past! For those of whom are regular readers and visitors to my blog, you’ll denote a dedicated passion for reading Historical Fiction (and all the lovely segues of thematic therein) – I am a time traveller of the historical past every chance I get to disappear into a new era and/or century of exploration. There isn’t a time period I haven’t enjoyed ruminating over since [2013] and there are a heap of lovely timescapes I’ve yet to encounter.

This feature was inspired by the stories I’ve read, the stories I’ve yet to experience and the beauty of feeling interconnected to History through the representation of the past through the narratives being writ by today’s Historical Fiction authors. It is to those authors I owe a debt of gratitude for enlightening my bookish mind and my readerly heart with realistic characters, illuminating portals of living history and a purposeful intent on giving each of us a strong representation of ‘life’ which should never become dismissed, forgotten or erased.

I am began this feature with the sequel to a beloved historical novel I first read in [2013] – it was one of the first ARCs I received and it was the first year I was a book blogger though it was through a connection outside my life as a blogger. I celebrated K.B. Laugheed’s literature to kick-off this feature and hopefully will inspire my followers to take this new weekly journey with me into the stories which are beckoning to read their narrative depths and find the words in which to express the thoughts I experienced as I read.

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Acquired Book(s) By: I have been hosting blog tours and reviews for Simon & Schuster off and on for nearly a year now. I’ve had the joy of discovering their stories through Contemporary and Historical narratives whilst happily finding a lot of their authors are writing the kinds of stories which keep me engaged and rooted in their narratives.

This time round – it was a Historical Suspense novel and series which whet a thirst of interest to be reading as it is rooted in my love of Agatha Christie – this series puts Dame Christie in the driving seat of the sleuth rather than one of her characters and I have a propensity for seeking out these kinds of mysteries. Previously, I gave the Jane Austen mysteries my attention and there have been a few others over the years where living persons are the ‘sleuths’ who tuck us into their worlds. I find it a bit fascinating how living history is now a foundation for Mysteries, Suspense & Thrillers – as it extends my love of Biographical Historical Fiction.

I received a complimentary copy of “Death in a Desert Land” from the publisher Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

Ahead of reading “Death in a Desert Land” I also borrowed copies of the first two novels in this series: “A Talent for Murder” and “A Different Kind of Evil” from my local library which I happily shared ruminations about on this post for my personal edification and for continuing to share my bookish life with my readers. I was not obligated to do so in other words and felt it was beneficial to sharing my joy of the series.

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Why I didn’t cosy into A Talent for Murder:

I do appreciate following the vision of a series from the beginning of how an author pens the stories – however, in this particular case, I didn’t find an easy entrance into A Talent for Murder – in effect, I found it hard to adjust to the writing style and find a compelling reason to read it. It was written in a rather brisk fashion and although the premise was a curious one – how Agatha Christie would go from writing to sleuthing was a strong component of why I wanted to read the story as a precursor to reading the second volume of the series and then, the recently released third Death in a Desert Land – I mused, perhaps this series might follow suit of a previously read Historical Romance series.

I am finding recently there are certain series which benefit from skipping over the first few volumes in exchange for the latest release. This did not used to be the case for me – I would generally find myself smitten by the first novel of a series in-progress and have a lot of good folly to follow through with the installments leading into the newest one being released – until, I’ve found that sometimes series grow more appealling with age than they do with their first entries into the rhythm of their stories.

Two series prior to this one worked this way for me recently – as soon as I picked up Death in a Desert Land, I found a different voice within it. A different method of delivery in the narrative and because of that – I found myself about to cosy into this story far easier than my first attempts within A Talent for Murder. Thereby, despite my personal preferences to read series in sequential order, there are apparently a few series out there which benefit me to skip round and find the installments which suit me best to be reading. You might have noted I borrowed the second novel in this series but opted instead to read the third.

This suited me as what initially had drawn my interest into reading the Agatha Christie series is by having a life-long pursuit of the author’s collective works. My favourite stories are those of Miss Marple even if in recent years I’ve had a glimpse of Poirot and have taken a firm liking to his quirky ways of sleuthing – there is still a stronghold of appreciation on my behalf for Marple. I dearly had hoped to find entrance into this series as I was most keen to discover how Christie would be presented as an independent sleuth and how that would counter to the image and impression I had of her previously.

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#HistoricalMondays Book Review | “Death In A Desert Land” (Book Three: The Agatha Christie series) by Andrew WilsonDeath in Desert Land
by Andrew Wilson
Source: Direct from Publisher

Fresh from solving the gruesome murder of a British agent in the Canary Islands, mystery writer Agatha Christie receives a letter from a family who believes their late daughter met with foul play. Before Gertrude Bell overdosed on sleeping medication, she was a prominent archaeologist, recovering ancient treasures in the Middle East. Found near her body was a letter claiming that Bell was being followed and to complicate things further, Bell was competing with another archeologist, Mrs. Woolley, for the rights to artifacts of immense value.

Christie travels to far-off Persia, where she meets the enigmatic Mrs. Woolley as she is working on a big and potentially valuable discovery. Temperamental but brilliant, Mrs. Woolley quickly charms Christie but when she does not hide her disdain for the recently deceased Miss Bell, Christie doesn’t know whether to trust her—or if Bell’s killer is just clever enough to hide in plain sight.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781501197451

Genres: Amateur Detective, Biographical Fiction, Crime Fiction, Hard-Boiled Mystery, Historical Fiction

Published by Atria Books, Washington Square Press

on 9th July, 2019

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 352

Published by: Washington Square Press | Atria Books (@AtriaBooks)
{imprints of} Simon & Schuster ()

The Agatha Christie series:

A Talent for Murder by Andrew WilsonA Different Kind of Murder by Andrew WilsonDeath in a Desert Land by Andrew Wilson

A Talent for Murder – book one

A Different Kind of Evil – book two

Death in a Desert Land – book three

Converse via: #AgathaChristieMysteries, #AgathaChristie + #HistMys

as well as #HistoricalMystery + #HistFic #Mysteries

About Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson Photo Credit Johnny Ring_Location Courtesy of Royal Institute of British Architecture

Andrew Wilson is an award-winning journalist and author. His work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Sunday Times, and the Smithsonian Magazine. He is the author of four acclaimed biographies, a book about the survivors of the Titanic, and the novels, The Lying Tongue, A Talent for Murder, A Different Kind of Evil, Death in a Desert Land.

Photo Credit: Johnny Ring

Location Courtesy of Royal Institute of British Architecture

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my review of death in a desert land:

Wilson begins this installment on the premise of having had the crime already occurred – to where Christie is being called in to assess what the investigators presume to be the truth rather than having her in the throes of the situation ahead of time or shortly thereafter. It felt like a bit of time had eclipsed since the person had been found – as Christie speaks about where she had been during that particular year – interestingly enough, she is captured by the circumstances surrounding the case despite having to deal with a rather aloof investigator who doesn’t seem to take kindly to responding to her direct enquiries about the case’s particulars. I could readily see why she grew short in temper to yield to his quirks in this regard as one would have presumed he’d like to dispense of information she could use to chew on in regards to making an attempt at solving an unresolved crime. He took the opposite course of action and elected to remain a bit more ‘mum’ about the pertinent details – dragging his heels, if you were before disclosing anything of relevancy.

On the surface of it, of course, it appears to be rather straight-forward, but you had a glimpse of this being anything but routine by the way Christie was imploring Davison to reveal a bit more details regarding the letter-writer Gertrude – of whom, whose letters begin Death in a Desert Land. They were penned by a woman in full belief she was in danger and as the two letters are read together, you gather a sense of ill-ease from Gertrude but the reasons behind her fears and the purpose of her being stalked or even, terrified were omitted. There is no cause listed and that lent itself more suspense to find Christie and Davison speaking on her behalf long after she had been found.

The atmosphere of this novel is quite exquisitely depicted and settled into its setting – housing us momentarily alongside Christie to see the sights through her own eyes and to catch a scent of a whiff of what she is breathing in herself. I love novels which transform our readerly experience into a sensory experience – where we feel we’ve lived a portion of the experience with the lead character and have traipsed after them to the far off locale in order to seek the immersive adventure they themselves are undertaking as we read through their escapades! Christie herself was diverted from a holiday she had planned to the West Indies, settling in step with the heat, humidity and the desert landscape of the Middle East. It is here we find her smitten by the ruins of the past (archaeologically speaking), the mysteries of the present which lent themselves to the past and the curious ways in which her family and/or friends are attempting to sway her choices ever since her disappearance in ’26.

You gathered through what she’s disclosed at this junction that all is not entirely well in Christie’s life – there are elements amiss and pieces of herself she is not quite settled with as she moves forward; thus, giving her greater interest to tackle this case, peering into a life she might be able to resolve and give a good turn at letting a few lost souls rest quieter. Wilson gave us a keen sense of her adventurous spirit – how she was taken with the locality of where she was walking and how the uniqueness of their culture took her on a sensory adventure. You could understand her happiness at being at the market – all those sights and smells to take-in but also, the curious nature of just being present to feel the rhythm of the day.

When Christie crosses paths with Mr Miller, a photographer on site at the archaeological dig at Ur, this is where things turn interesting,… not just because she was rescued by his presence but because of his connection to Gertrude. It seemed quite happenstance their paths would cross especially at that junction but moreso, what was interesting was how Miller himself had begun to consider the evidence of how Gertrude died in a similar vein of thought as Christie herself. They both were noting how something was amiss even if they did not know the particulars. From here, we journey with Christie as she makes her way directly to Ur via the Orient Express – the train which left me in smirks because of how well I knew that train had impacted Christie.

Archaeological digs have fascinated me since I was a child – how the past can become unearthed simply by scouting out the right location per the right set of coordinates with just a pinch of luck to guide your shovel. What is unearthed never fails to make me smile – as I still remember how thrilling it was to be at the Archaeological Museum in Mexico City – seeing what had been recovered and preserved; all these centuries forward from when the tools and artifacts had once been made by hand. Archaeology is an intriguing study in science but the dangers which lurk on digs is well-known and thus, the premise behind this installment was a fitting one I felt as you just never know when something might go wrong in the pursuit of the past.

Just when you think Christie will be given a nugget to chew on about whom Miss Jones suspected of being involved with Gertrude’s death – the one character I wasn’t entirely keen on seeing step forward in the plot made her first pronouncements – Mrs Woolley! And, yet for all the built-up about how disagreeable she is to everyone round her, I found it a bit sombering to discover she truly suffers from the wreck migraines can inflict on you. Not sure if she’s in the clear in regards of whom might be behind all the nefarious events of the story but in this one regard, being a migraineur myself she had my sympathies; they are beastly and they do exhaust you of your energies. This of course is if even the migraines were the culprit to her troubles – the way Wilson was revealling her character’s medical histories, the more I was implored to consider alternatives to what was being disclosed.

Wilson tucks you close to the dig itself – letting you get a proper feel for how digs operate and what is like to excavate a site. I applauded how he kept the authenticity there – how he pulled you into Ur by showing you everything Christie was seeing herself but with the lovely back-histories Woolley was describing as he took Christie through the motions of where he was searching and what he had set-up for himself to work through here. It was rather fascinating as all these sites can become as a lot of lost history was found through archaeologists who re-discovered where history was lying just below the surface of ordinary places.

Everything started to spiral a bit out of control from here – so quickly did the tides of the subterfuge start to surface, that I barely could draw a pause of breath to turn the pages! There were more characters of interest in this story than I first believed plausible but in the end, what truly struck at the heart of the narrative is how Wilson conceived of the ending! It wasn’t just about the long way round people go to avenge what they feel is justice in their own pursuit of a wrong they feel they can make right again but how the secrets of your past have a way of surfacing in the future.

Christie was able to solve this case because she took care and attention to listening to the words in-between the conversations. She noticed a few details the others had readily dismissed and she pieced together the evidence based on her own knowledge of medicine having lived once as a nurse. It was through this discourse we started to see the fuller picture Wilson was painting for Christie to unravel and then, at the right moment in the latter half of the novel: reveal. The revelation of course was far beyond what I thought would have been the truth long since buried – though fittingly, it did befit the foundation of the story. How sometimes you can overlook someone you should have questioned a bit more and how the events as they play out cannot be taken directly on their superficial revelation. Sometimes there is more percolating beneath the surface and sometimes people are more complex than they appear similar to the complexities of a rubix cube. Depending on which surface they reflect of themselves, so too, does the puzzle of understanding them alter through that perception they’ve given you to analyse.

By the conclusion, I was both uplifted by the ending and felt a sombering sense of sympathy – especially for one of the characters in particular who looked up to Christie with intense admiration and respect, even knowing that they could not live up to the reputation they found within her but evenso, it was this person’s story which was the most gutting of all to be told.

on the historical writing styling of andrew wilson:

By brisk narrative I was referencing earlier which took me out of the shadows of A Talent for Murder is that the impression I have developed of Dame Christie over the years I’ve read her stories – upwards of thirty+ years as they lent an early impression on the genre of Mystery & Suspense of which I am still captivated and enthralled by today; gave me a different cogitation of her personality and mannerisms than how she was first depicted within this series. Counter to that impression, I honestly wasn’t a ready fan of the more blunted styling of the narrative – wherein, what pulled me out of its context was more the voicing of its style than of the overall arc of the story.

Although it is true, I read a diverse and eclectic mixture of Mysteries, Suspense and Thrillers – within each of them is a particular style of narrative I am seeking out and of which I enjoy finding. Whenever a narrative feels much more insidiously in intention and direction of how its delivering itself unto the pages, I find myself the wrong reader for those kinds of stories. I do like a bit of light permeating throughout the context and construct of the stories I am reading – even if the light is dimmer than most of the other stories I read (due to the fact their Crime Fiction) – but with this first installment, it just felt grittier if you will. And, honestly, gritty isn’t my first go-to inclination to read a novel of Suspense. In fact, its quite the opposite – a bookish turn-off. Thus, before I could decide how I felt about this series, I gave Death in a Desert Land a bit of a go to read – finding something quite interesting – the style of how Wilson approached developing the opening bridge of this novel is quite uniquely different than how he began the series? I was quite perplexed but readily intrigued which is why I found myself captivated to read this installment over the others.

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As soon as I found myself attaching into Death in a Desert Land, I started to see the vision Wilson had for the series emerge. Christie has a wonderful capacity for empathy and for noodling out the facts before she was told them; a credit to how she crafted her Mysteries for having a second sight almost about human nature. She was therefore a perfect choice for a sleuth – the entire back-story of hers to get into the Middle East was quite believable as well; given the era and the circumstances of what caused her to have the back-story – it seemed to necessitate the plausibility of her actions and of how she took special concern to understand whom she was investigating whilst she pulled the pieces together from a puzzle which had lost its picture.

I can tell there is a strong layer of continuity in the series – Wilson reflects on Christie’s past cases as we entreat into her current on here. There was one scene I could have done without – about an eye and a particular exotic flower as it was just shelved a bit in a paragraph before the current time-line continued – honestly, I could have done with it just for the depiction it gave but I felt the flashback of its origins didn’t befit the context of where it was re-shared. Outside of that stumble – he offers a lot of clues towards A Talent for Murder as well. You can sort out a lot of those details by what doesn’t belong in thread of movement in this story vs how Christie chooses to reflect upon her own living past.

The interesting thing of course is how Christie inserts herself into the investigation. She lies in wait – seeking to observe and overhear more than what she needs to uncover the culprit rather than going straight ahead and asking direct questions. In some regards, she reminded me more of Marple than Poirot in that moment – of seeking to take the secondary route towards letting the truth surface round her and then confirming it through her own series of questions. The techniques she’s using to sleuth are aptly reminiscent of her own stories and for that, it was a wonderful read.

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!

Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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Reading this novel counted towards my 2019 Reading Goals:

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2019 New Release Challenge created by mylimabeandesigns.com for unconventionalbookworms.com and is used with permission.

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{SOURCES: Cover art of “A Talent for Murder”, “A Different Kind of Evil” and “Death in a Desert Land” along with the novel synopsis, author biography and photograph of Andrew Wilson were provided the publisher Simon & Schuster and are used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: #HistoricalMondays and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2019.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Monday, 8 July, 2019 by jorielov in 19th Century, Amateur Detective, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Crime Fiction, Historical Mystery, Lady Detective Fiction, Silver Hair Sleuths, Simon & Schuster

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