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Towards Zero (Superintendent Battle, #5)
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Book of the Month Reads > CLOSED March 2014 - Towards Zero

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Carolyn F. | 4562 comments Mod
Originally published 1944. Features Superintendent Battle.

Lady Tressilian, an old and humourless woman confined to her bed, invites several guests into her seaside home of Gull's Point for two weeks at the end of the summer. Tennis star Nevile Strange, former ward of Lady Tressilian's deceased husband, incurs her displeasure by bringing his new wife, Kay, and his ex, Audrey, under her roof together, thus causing awkward romantic misunderstandings. But events soon turn when Lady Tressilian is killed and Superintendent Battle, who is vacationing nearby in the home of his nephew, Inspector James Leach, finds himself in a labyrinthine maze of clues and deception.(


Adrian Farr | 15 comments Only recently bought this and am going to save it. Am not really up to date at all with the non Marple, Poirot or Tommy and Tuppence stuff.


Carolyn F. | 4562 comments Mod
I'm looking forward to this one Adrian.


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Raymond (nothingpetty) | 21 comments Adrian wrote: "Only recently bought this and am going to save it. Am not really up to date at all with the non Marple, Poirot or Tommy and Tuppence stuff."

This is classic Christie, I think you will enjoy it immensely


Mitali | 52 comments Hey folks! How exactly do these Book of the Month threads work? Do we start reading the books at the beginning of the month (i.e. on 1st March for this one) or finish it before then, and start discussing it on the 1st?


Carolyn F. | 4562 comments Mod
We usually start around the beginning but whatever works. You can even read it now and discuss it in March.

What a lot of people do (I'm raising my hand) is read some of the older ones because they didn't read them on the month they were our BOM and then go back and discuss those. We're very flexible here. :)


Brad Friedman | 191 comments This is one of my top ten favorite Christies! I just re-read and am looking forward to discussing in March!


Janet (octoberbabye) | 5 comments Getting this in time for the reading. I'm not familiar with it, only having read Poirot, Marple and T & T.


Luffy (monkey-d-luffy) This book made for a very entertaining read. It's so good. Every single sentence was loaded with looming mystery. Better than many better known Christie works.


Mitali | 52 comments Carolyn F. wrote: "We usually start around the beginning but whatever works. You can even read it now and discuss it in March.

What a lot of people do (I'm raising my hand) is read some of the older ones because ..."


Thanks for the clarification! I'll probably start reading it on 1st March.

And I'm glad that it's ok to comment in the older threads as well. I'm planning to reread a number of Christies in the near future, and I'd like to add my two cents to the discussions of earlier ones.


Victoria_Grossack Grossack (victoriagrossack) | 74 comments I haven't read this for many years. Am sorely tempted!


Luffy (monkey-d-luffy) Victoria_Grossack wrote: "I haven't read this for many years. Am sorely tempted!"

It's worth re reading I think.


Janet (octoberbabye) | 5 comments Just picked this up from the library today. Have been excited all afternoon. Finishing up a "trashy" novel {needed a break from books I think about}. So well looking forward to tomorrow morning, first cup of coffee and Agatha.


Alberto | 15 comments Just started it. If it's as good as I hear, that might mean I'm ready to discuss it tomorrow. Also grabbed myself the other Battle books.


message 15: by Mitali (last edited Mar 02, 2014 02:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mitali | 52 comments I started reading this yesterday, and finished today. I was rereading it - I first read it about 12-15 years ago. I did remember the basic plot, but much not much else, including the identity of the murderer. So it was like reading a 'new' Agatha Christie mystery - the closest I can get to that feeling now, given that I've read all her mystery novels and short stories.

(Lots of spoilers follow.)
I really enjoyed this one - the murder is rather an unusual one, for one thing. It doesn't fall into the usual Christie formula of one main murder, with one or two follow-up murders, usually of people who 'knew too much', but were foolish enough not to tell when the time was right. Instead, the main murder - (view spoiler) In that sense, it reminds me of Three Act Tragedy - (view spoiler)

The setting, though, is fairly standard - the usual upper class country house with its various guests, all of whom have troubled histories with one another (that setting was best done in The Hollow, I think). However, the unobtrusive presence of Superintendent Battle adds a different feel to the story than the more usual Poirot and his flamboyant ways. A Poirot story tends to be about How Hercule Poirot Solves A Crime. This book, on the other hand, was more focused on the characters and their interplay.

The only thing I disliked about this story is the all-too convenient character of (view spoiler). He's almost a Deus Ex Machina, plopped into the story to (view spoiler)

Overall, an excellent example of Christie's works.


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Brad Friedman | 191 comments Mitali wrote: "I started reading this yesterday, and finished today. I was rereading it - I first read it about 12-15 years ago. I did remember the basic plot, but much not much else, including the identity of th..."
I agree so much with your very insightful commentary, and if I can figure out again how to do that spoiler thing, I'll talk more in detail! The Hollow is another of my favorite books, and it is interesting that Christie always felt it was a mistake to include Poirot in it. (The stage version dropped him entirely with no ill effect.) The Hollow doesn't read like a typical Poirot (as you describe it), and I think Superintendent Battle is the perfect sleuth for Towards Zero, given that the focus rests more with the varied cast of characters. I also agree with you about that deus ex machina, although it gives one main character a happy ending. I don't care much for luck helping to solve a crime. But really, Battle does so much more by connecting one confession with his own experience at his daughter's school. I found that use of personal experience to be delightful!


Mitali | 52 comments Brad wrote: "I agree so much with your very insightful commentary, and if I can figure out again how to do that spoiler thing, I'll talk more in detail! The Hollow is another of my favorite books, and it is interesting that Christie always felt it was a mistake to include Poirot in it. (The stage version dropped him entirely with no ill effect.) The Hollow doesn't read like a typical Poirot (as you describe it), and I think Superintendent Battle is the perfect sleuth for Towards Zero, given that the focus rests more with the varied cast of characters. I also agree with you about that deus ex machina, although it gives one main character a happy ending. I don't care much for luck helping to solve a crime. But really, Battle does so much more by connecting one confession with his own experience at his daughter's school. I found that use of personal experience to be delightful!"

Thank you!

I too liked the connection Battle makes between his experience with his daughter and the crime - it was an interesting parallel, and a good insight into how authority figures or plain old fear can (view spoiler)

The way to add spoilers is to add the following tag before the part you want to hide < spoiler> and this one at the end < /spoiler> (but without the spaces).


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Brad Friedman | 191 comments Mitali wrote: "Brad wrote: "I agree so much with your very insightful commentary, and if I can figure out again how to do that spoiler thing, I'll talk more in detail! The Hollow is another of my favorite books, ..."

A lot of my enjoyment of Christie comes from the fact that I started reading her when I was ten years old, and although I was a clever child, I wasn't so clever that Dame Agatha didn't beat me much of the time. Towards Zero was one of her novels whose solution held quite an impact for me because I was so sure I had picked out the killer. (view spoiler) So I was a bit jealous of you when you said that you had forgotten the solution and therefore felt you had come upon a "new" Christie! Wouldn't that be wonderful? Now, as I re-read my favorites again and again, I can marvel at them anew and look for other interesting factors about the writer: her observations of English life, her close attention to the technical details of her plots even as her characters are sketched in with a few deft strokes, her (unfortunate) early and blatant tendencies toward racism and anti-semitism. But I think it would be so much fun to come upon a "new" Christie and read it as an adult!


Adrian Farr | 15 comments Christies' "racism" or "anti-semitism" are just a product of her times. Societies attitude to all minority groups are much more liberal now. I write it off as just a historical quirk and just ignore it.


Janet (octoberbabye) | 5 comments Each time I put it down, I kept wondering... so no surprise that I too read it quickly. I usually do not try to guess the killer, rather letting it unfold before me, but it seemed obvious to me. This usually does not happen with Christie for me, in fact, I don't think it has before.


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Indiabookstore | 7 comments Mitali wrote: "I started reading this yesterday, and finished today. I was rereading it - I first read it about 12-15 years ago. I did remember the basic plot, but much not much else, including the identity of th..."

I really enjoyed reading what you had to say about this book. I agree with everything you've written, particularly about Angus McWhirter. I think his inclusion may have something to do with Christie being such a romantic at heart. May of her books have 'knights in shining armour' who rescue the women. (view spoiler)

Mystery apart, what I really enjoyed about this book was the domineering figure of Lady Tressilian. Her commentary on the 'romantic triangle that has established itself under (her) roof' is incisive and amusing. I think it is Christie's character sketches, even more than the brilliance of her plots, that has made her books so popular, even the ones with plot holes the size of Mumbai's potholes.


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Brad Friedman | 191 comments Brian wrote: "I haven't started yet, but i'm looking forward to it. I also wanted to add that i was reading a bit about the adaptation to T.V. and was surprised to see that they made it into a Marple episode ins..."

Brian, I have watched the episode. The BBC has done this with many of the non-Poirot/non-Marple novels by putting Marple into the mix. I'm sure they have to do this to allow inclusion of these books as it's the detective, not the story, that is hooking viewers. Towards Zero is one of the few examples where the original story is pretty much adhered to, but it's clear that Miss Marple does NOT belong in this story, and her presence, in my opinion, doesn't help matters.


Luffy (monkey-d-luffy) Adrian wrote: "Christies' "racism" or "anti-semitism" are just a product of her times. Societies attitude to all minority groups are much more liberal now. I write it off as just a historical quirk and just ignor..."

These 'quirks' are still actual today. These quirks are still the product of our times.

That aside, I don't understand the hatred for the quirky white people. A white person, of Italian descent used to be called a Dago (I think), and Jews are shunned by many. If you're not Catholic in some circles, you're discriminated against. If a white person is a hillbilly or redneck he's ridiculed with taunts of inbreeding. Being a white, especially in the US, is not the piece of cake it superficially seems. The environment is competitive and vindictive so much more pointedly than where I live.


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Pat (patfillery) | 3 comments I am about half way through the book and enjoying the way that 'the plot thickens' with all the foreshadowing and gentle hints. It is not a very well known Christie which is a shame... Waiting in anticipation to see just who did what...


Sharla Brad wrote: "Mitali wrote: "Brad wrote: "I agree so much with your very insightful commentary, and if I can figure out again how to do that spoiler thing, I'll talk more in detail! The Hollow is another of my f..."

I too began reading Christie when I was very young. Even then I was uncomfortable with the racism and anti-Semitism but because I enjoyed her books so much I was willing to chalk it up to the attitudes of her time and ignore it. I still enjoy Christie very much or I wouldn't belong to this group but to some extent reading her books has become a bit of a guilty pleasure because these days I have an even harder time accepting the racist attitudes. I'm not completely sure we should give her a pass on the attitudes because Ngaio Marsh wrote during basically the same time frame and to my knowledge was never racist but quite the opposite. Of course they had different backgrounds and childhoods, which would probably make a big difference.


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Brad Friedman | 191 comments Sharla wrote: "Brad wrote: "Mitali wrote: "Brad wrote: "I agree so much with your very insightful commentary, and if I can figure out again how to do that spoiler thing, I'll talk more in detail! The Hollow is an..."

Sharla, I'll bet Ngaio Marsh's growing up in New Zealand and being familiar with the Maori gave her a different attitude. But I agree: I love Christie, but it is very hard to read those passages that reflect her narrow minded attitude toward other cultures and religions.


Alberto | 15 comments I was really enjoying it, but the plot mechanism was too similar to Styles and Vicarage.


message 28: by Brad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brad Friedman | 191 comments Alberto wrote: "I was really enjoying it, but the plot mechanism was too similar to Styles and Vicarage."

I understand what you're saying, Alberto, but Christie had fewer variations on the twist ending than one might think and used the same devices over and over again: the couple in cahoots, the killer posing as intended victim, the most likely suspect AND the least likely suspect gambit. I see the similarities, of course, but I think that this one is done well, or at least comes from a slightly different perspective.


Vivien | 2 comments I read the book last weekend and enjoyed much more than I thought it would, it not being one that I have ever bothered to reread. I remembered who done it, but found myself second guessing, which I think added to my enjoyment of it.

This weekend I am going to watch the new Marple version (ITV3 4.55pm UK readers if your interested). I haven't liked a lot of the new versions, but I did enjoy Ordeal by Innocence which is another book that doesn't actually include Miss Marple so fingers crossed that it's not that bad.


Janet (octoberbabye) | 5 comments Could not get enough Christie so I read Three Act Tragedy.


Denise (dulcinea3) | 262 comments I love reading all of the Christies in order, because it means I reread so many that I haven't read in a long time, and don't remember much about. I don't think I had read this one in 40 years (I used to write the date I read them inside the front, and this one has a date of 1974 noted). So, for me, too, this was almost a 'new' Christie.

There were so many red herrings that I continually suspected one person or another. (view spoiler)

I don't know why I never reread this one, because it is a very good one, and I really enjoyed it!


Amanda | 5 comments Has anyone else watched the Miss Marple "movie" after reading? Just watched it and they took out two of the important characters and combined their roles to make Miss Marple. The change was interesting... Kinda fixed the deus ex machina problem that some mentioned earlier.

I preferred the book!:)


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Brad Friedman | 191 comments Denise wrote: "I love reading all of the Christies in order, because it means I reread so many that I haven't read in a long time, and don't remember much about. I don't think I had read this one in 40 years (I u..."

Denise, I agree that the romantic pairing off at the end is the weakest thing about Towards Zero! I almost expect young love to triumph in a Poirot mystery: he boasts about bringing lovers together, and when one member of a young couple turns out to be a killer, Poirot likes to set up the bereft partner with a more suitable (i.e., not homicidal) beau! (See Death in the Clouds or Cards on the Table.) but this book seems more mature and less in need of a perfectly happy ending, so the forced pairing come across as even more jarring.


Denise (dulcinea3) | 262 comments Brad wrote: "Denise, I agree that the romantic pairing off at the end is the weakest thing about Towards Zero! I almost expect young love to triumph in a Poirot mystery: he boasts about bringing lovers together, and when one member of a young couple turns out to be a killer, Poirot likes to set up the bereft partner with a more suitable (i.e., not homicidal) beau! (See Death in the Clouds or Cards on the Table.) but this book seems more mature and less in need of a perfectly happy ending, so the forced pairing come across as even more jarring.
"


Thinking about it further, it did also resolve another issue. (view spoiler)


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K | 1 comments just finished it. this was the first christie play I have read and as usual, it was great.


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Asti | 13 comments Loved reading it as all other Agatha Christie's books, but this is not among the memorable one.
Some of her books are simply unforgettable: the plots, the characters. But this book is not one of them, for me that is. The setting is Christie's usual, and none of the characters had made deep impression to me.
'Just' another great book from the great Agatha Christie.


Carol (mansonville) | 55 comments Denise wrote: "Brad wrote: "Denise, I agree that the romantic pairing off at the end is the weakest thing about Towards Zero! I almost expect young love to triumph in a Poirot mystery: he boasts about bringing lo..."

I agree, Denise, that the final pairing off of characters was a convenient device, allowing the other pairing off to occur (Thomas and Mary). I'm not sure how much pressure Christie actually had to create happy endings. There seems almost a quiet irony in Audrey's departure with her new fiance. Andrew's - can I say redemption? - has been hinted at in the beginning of the novel with the intuitive nurse's prediction. The novel's narrator, however, suggests that this nurse, though intuitive, is also simple-minded (ie. unintelligent). This again casts a shadow on the prospective marriage of the last two characters. Christie is not really giving us a clear-cut, black and white view of these characters. Again, she's keeping us guessing.


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Brad Friedman | 191 comments Carol wrote: "Denise wrote: "Brad wrote: "Denise, I agree that the romantic pairing off at the end is the weakest thing about Towards Zero! I almost expect young love to triumph in a Poirot mystery: he boasts ab..."

Given Christie's own rocky road to love, Carol, I can see where she might be ambivalent about romance! Her murderers often bear some resemblance to a certain handsome, athletic and unfaithful cad named Archie!


Sharla Amanda wrote: "Has anyone else watched the Miss Marple "movie" after reading? Just watched it and they took out two of the important characters and combined their roles to make Miss Marple. The change was interes..."

I liked the Miss Marple version of Towards Zero starring Geraldine McEwan. Honestly in that case I liked the movie better. I love all the Geraldine McEwan movies except By The Pricking Of My Thumbs. Putting Miss Marple in with Tommy and Tuppence in that one didn't work for me.


Carolyn F. | 4562 comments Mod
I've just started the audiobook. Hugh Fraser is the narrator.


Denise | 22 comments I actually picked this one up last month not realizing that it was the book for March. It worked out fine though because I couldn't get the February book in time. I really like this one. When I read the back I knew who would be murdered but that wasn't the first murder that occurred. It was also suspenseful because you know at the beginning a murder is going to take place in the future. As usual Christie kept me guessing about the murderer.


Denise (dulcinea3) | 262 comments Sharla wrote: "I love all the Geraldine McEwan movies except By The Pricking Of My Thumbs. Putting Miss Marple in with Tommy and Tuppence in that one didn't work for me."

I agree, Sharla! I always enjoy Geraldine McEwan, so I am willing to overlook some inaccuracies, but, really, that was just too much! And it was really only with Tuppence. It actually made me angry that it was suggested that Tommy and Tuppence were having marital problems!


Sharla Denise wrote: "Sharla wrote: "I love all the Geraldine McEwan movies except By The Pricking Of My Thumbs. Putting Miss Marple in with Tommy and Tuppence in that one didn't work for me."

I agree, Sharla! I always..."


I didn't like the way they portrayed Tuppence at all and like you, I really got a bit angry about it.


message 44: by Brad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brad Friedman | 191 comments Sharla wrote: "Denise wrote: "Sharla wrote: "I love all the Geraldine McEwan movies except By The Pricking Of My Thumbs. Putting Miss Marple in with Tommy and Tuppence in that one didn't work for me."

I agree, S..."


I think when we all talked about N or M, the topic came up about how much we LIKE T&T's marriage and how this is one of the few examples of Christie acknowledging the passage of time AND specific historical events. T&T grow old together and solve crimes that connect to their age and to the times they lived in. They didn't have marital troubles. Since the TV adaptors evidently have no interest in T&T's chronology, they seemed to feel it necessary to spice up their story in the By the Pricking...adaptation. And the show suffered for it!

In regards to inserting Marple into non-Marple books, I understand that there weren't enough original Marple mysteries to maintain the longevity of the series like Poirot, but at least they could show more respect for the original plot. I think they did for Towards Zero to some extent, but in other books they killed off important characters (Ordeal by Innocence) or changed the identity of the murderer (The Sittaford Mystery) or transformed the plot entirely (The Secret of Chimneys). This seems to have happened for financial reasons (albeit with the blessing of the Christie estate, I assume) and shows little respect for the fans. I'd almost rather see the estate allow original mysteries to be created for the characters, like Elizabeth George allowed for Lynley!


Carol (mansonville) | 55 comments Brad wrote: "Carol wrote: "Denise wrote: "Brad wrote: "Denise, I agree that the romantic pairing off at the end is the weakest thing about Towards Zero! I almost expect young love to triumph in a Poirot mystery..."

Very interesting. A jaded perspective on love might taint any romantic ending. Biographical info. also enlightening - yes, we've run into that sort of character more than a few times in this journey through Christie's books. Thanks for the insight.


Carol (mansonville) | 55 comments Sharla wrote: "Amanda wrote: "Has anyone else watched the Miss Marple "movie" after reading? Just watched it and they took out two of the important characters and combined their roles to make Miss Marple. The cha..."

I just put a hold on the movie. Should be fun.


Katherine Since it is the 28th of March, I thought I should start reading, Towards Zero. According to the notation I made in the beginning of the book, I read it in May 2013. Until I started reading it today, I couldn't remember much about it. I am now happily into the story!


Amanda | 5 comments Carol wrote: "Sharla wrote: "Amanda wrote: "Has anyone else watched the Miss Marple "movie" after reading? Just watched it and they took out two of the important characters and combined their roles to make Miss ..."

Let me know what you think! It was interesting to watch it so soon after reading the novel.


Carolyn F. | 4562 comments Mod
Carol wrote: "Brad wrote: "Carol wrote: "Denise wrote: "Brad wrote: "Denise, I agree that the romantic pairing off at the end is the weakest thing about Towards Zero! I almost expect young love to triumph in a P..."

I agree about the "out of left field" romantic(?) ending. She was almost stalkerish in her pronouncement.


Katherine I'm glad I read this book again. It was good. I didn't realize the first time I read it there were so many hints! The last two sentences of the book creeped me out!


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