Monday, 15 July, 2024

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie Murders Detective Literature

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In the book that turned her into the rising star of the literary fantasy world over ninety years ago, Agatha Christie managed to surprise even modern readers, but in a way that betrayed one of the most important principles of the genre

Agatha Christie is one of the world’s most well-known and bestselling authors, especially in the detective literature realm. With an incredibly impressive arsenal of over eighty books, including over seventy detective novels featuring colorful characters like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, it’s easy to understand why she’s dubbed the queen of mystery. Christie was a trailblazer, opening the genre to women (both readers and writers), and in recognition of her achievements, she was awarded a damehood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1971. You can glean that much from Wikipedia trivia (I spared you the curious story of her disappearance and the fine details of her book sales record). But we’re here to discuss Agatha Christie’s books, not just her, as fascinating as her story might be. Specifically, we’re here to discuss one book and the detective at its center.

It’s challenging to dispute her importance to the detective genre, but does quantity come at the expense of quality? The recurring main claim often heard about her works is that they represent relatively low-quality literature. That her writing is overly simple (some might say poor) and that frequently, her mystery solutions are contrived and not quite believable. Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that her books are enjoyable. After all, who doesn’t enjoy diving into a murder mystery in the English countryside? However, these claims are well exemplified in the book “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” where (spoiler) the central case revolves around the murder of one Roger Ackroyd.

Coincidence is credibility’s greatest enemy, not only in literature but also in real life. And Agatha Christie doesn’t shy away from employing coincidences in her books. In nearly all her works, these coincidences are thrown around liberally to drive the plot and precisely place her characters without even considering the possibility that such things could happen in reality.

“The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” isn’t different from Christie’s other books, being a fan of coincidence linkages. In this case, Hercule Poirot decides to retire in the small, idyllic village of King’s Abbot. Coincidentally, he befriends his neighbor, Dr. James Sheppard, who happens to be the story’s narrator, and coincidentally, the village doctor is invited to dinner at Roger Ackroyd’s house the night he is murdered.

Indeed, too many coincidences are wedged in this book, but that’s not what irked the writer of these words and the household members so much. With Christie’s books, we’ve become accustomed to these coincidences. Surely, there can’t be that many murder cases and crimes happening coincidentally everywhere Poirot goes. Truthfully, if I were to encounter Poirot somewhere, I would do everything in my power to flee to the other side of the ocean because something sinister is undoubtedly about to happen in his vicinity. No, I nearly threw the book in anger when I reached its end because I felt cheated. I felt that the author had betrayed one of the most important principles of detective literature.

A good detective book lays out all the necessary facts before the reader, allowing them to solve the puzzle themselves, but skillfully leads them astray by presenting several potential suspects based on the facts, and only the astute literary detective manages to connect the dots correctly and reveal the true culprit. In Christie’s case, this principle is repeatedly broken in her books, where the mystery’s resolution depends on a piece of information hidden from readers until the very last moment when the detective presents the facts. This is glaringly evident in this book when she obscures the murderer’s identity through a particularly convoluted trick, leaving the reader baffled and this writer feeling betrayed.

Does this book, written over ninety years ago, stand the test of time? Absolutely. Here, Christie’s simple yet engaging writing actually works to the book’s advantage, not committing the excessive verbosity that might distract the modern reader struggling with digital attention deficit. It doesn’t make it better, but at least more accessible. Nevertheless, despite it all, it is recommended to read this book, if only to be exposed to the book that famed Agatha Christie and her Belgian detective.

In summary, it’s certainly not the best detective book you’ll read, but it’s also not the worst, and as such, it can help an enthusiastic reader pass a few leisurely hours.

Three suspicious late-night phone calls.

P.S.
I didn’t touch upon the character of Hercule Poirot at all in the critique, and there’s a very good reason for it. I don’t like him. I’ve never liked him. Not in this book and not in other books I’ve read featuring him. And you know what? I’m pretty convinced that Agatha Christie didn’t like him either; otherwise, she wouldn’t have portrayed him in such a mocking manner.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd / Agatha Christie / Macmillan Collector’s Library

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