The Agony ColumnSeptember 29, 2010
It’s really hot in London, and Geoffrey West is coping by going to the Carlton for breakfast every morning, partly because it’s a bit cooler there, and partly because it’s the only place where you can still get strawberries. The American girl who comes in with her father one morning has the bad taste to prefer grapefruit to strawberries, but she shares West’s fondness for the Personal Notices section of the Daily Mail, AKA the agony column. People use it to discreetly send messages, whether they be love letters, “fly at one; all is discovered,” or cryptic remarks about fish. And so it seems perfectly reasonable, if a little unconventional, for West to use it to communicate with the girl, with whom he has fallen in love at first sight.
For some reason, she demands that he write her a letter a day for a week. In the first, he tells her about the flat he’s renting, and his building’s wonderful garden, and his slightly awkward relations with the man who lives upstairs. In the second letter, he tells her about the man who lives upstairs’ murder.This is very successful at engaging her attention.
There were two twists in The Agony Column (by Earl Derr Biggers, author of the Charlie Chan mysteries), one of which I saw coming miles away, the other of which I should have seen, but didn’t. I enjoyed noticing the first and I enjoyed being surprised by the second. Now I just have to figure out whether The Agony Column is a romance disguised as a mystery, or a mystery disguised as a romance.