Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

This is Agatha Christie's breakout hit, and no wonder, because it's really marvelous, a real masterpiece among murder mysteries.  Even almost 90 years later, it's fresh and fun.  And the murderer!  I imagine in 1926, people were gasping with pleasure at Christie's brilliance.  And probably some haters were gnashing their teeth.  The characters are all brilliantly drawn, particularly Caroline Spencer, who is a proto-Marple.  

I read this long ago, so I already knew who the murderer was this re-read.  I don't remember what I thought of it so long ago, but this time I read for "clues" that Christie left.  There are a few; it's a puzzler, but possibly you could put it together from the hints dropped throughout the story.  It's the narrator's voice that I think is particularly brilliant, and knowing ahead of time whodunnit allows you look for clues in the narration, which was great fun.  

The first book in my Christie quest that I truly enjoyed - I read the entire thing excitedly!

On the tapis.   "I don't know what Mrs Cecil Ackroyd thought of the Ferrars affair when it came on the tapis."  Under consideration or discussion.  Tapis is an obsolete french word meaning tapestry or carpet.  "On the carpet" in English means something completely different, essentially "in trouble" so the two must not be related.  Another definition of tapis was "a tapestry or carpeting, esp as formerly used to cover a table in a council chamber," which may explain the context of consideration or discussion, as that is what one would do in a council chamber.  Wikipedia calls it a "Victorian phrase."  

Dipsomaniac.  To put it bluntly, Mrs Ackroyd was a dipsomaniac. She succeeded in drinking herself into her grave four years after her marriage.    An old timey word for alcoholic.

Vegetable marrows.  CHAPTER 4 The Man Who Grew Vegetable Marrows.  Various kinds of summer squash.  It looks like Mexican squash to me.  Hercule Poirot is famous for them.

Leetle.  Twice Christie used this word, and I can only think it's meant to be the word "little."  It's like a bad Spanish accent though.  "he is just a leetle peculiar about money" and "'If you would only play a leetle quicker, dear,' said Caroline."

Poirot French.  Inutile: unnecessary.  Pas de blagues:  I'm going to assume this means "I'm not kidding" because the literal translation is "no jokes." C'est dommage:  what a pity. Amour propre: esteem.  

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot, #4)The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bet murder mystery lovers in 1926 were gasping then giddy after finishing this - and haters were gnashing their teeth at the big trick Agatha Christie pulled off.  This is my second time reading it; my first being in seventh grade long ago; so this time I was reading for clues rather than for whodunnit.  I have to admit, if you're careful and thoughtful, Agatha Christie plunked down plenty of clues - and some doozies of red herrings as well.  Her characters are not fresh (although they may have been in 1926) but are interesting (and stock; it's two other things stand out and make this great.  The character of Caroline Spencer, the proto-Marple, is great and every time she disappeared from the narrative I waited impatiently for her to return.  And the narrative voice is incredible.  I would hazard a guess that no one had written anything quite like this before in the world of the murder mystery, and using that voice really shows Christie's brilliance in the genre.  I think because of this, the story holds up remarkably well, and with a few changes (technology, drug paraphernalia)could be plucked from 1926 and plopped down in the 21st century.  Most of Christie's works are probably throwaways; but this is one of those books that will never go away.

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