Tuesday, 25 April 2017

TNB: A is for…. Agatha (Again) and Ackroyd

 
The Tuesday Night Bloggers are a group of crime fiction fans who choose a different topic each month, then write a weekly post on it. Our current theme is 'A is for April, A is for Anything'. We can take the A any way we want to, so there have been some very varied blogposts….
 



A for April logo


Please join in if you would like to – one-offs and casuals always welcome.

This month I am collecting the links, so just let me know (in the comments below or on Facebook) if you have anything to add.


Brad at the Ah Sweet Mystery blog did a post on Alfred Hitchcock

Kate at Cross-Examing Crime looked at Aristocratic Sleuths

The Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel is wondering about favourite  Agatha Christie novels, and looking for audience participation



As ever, Bev at  My Reader’s Block did the splendid logo.

In previous weeks I have done posts on Agatha Christie, Catherine Aird, and Patricia Wentworth’s seminal Anna Where Are You

And this week I am back to Agatha Christie, and one of her most famous works:
 
 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

published 1926
 
 
Ackroyd'England is very beautiful,' said Poirot, his eyes straying over the prospect. Then he smiled. 'And so are English girls,' he said in a lower voice. 'Hush, my friend, and look at the pretty picture below us.'

It was then that I saw Flora. She was moving along the path we had just left and she was humming a little snatch of song. Her step was more dancing than walking, and, in spite of her black dress, there was nothing but joy in her whole attitude. She gave a sudden pirouette on her toes, and her black draperies swung out. At the same time she flung her head back and laughed outright.

As she did so a man stepped out from the trees. It was Hector Blunt.

The girl started. Her expression changed a little.

'How you startled me - I didn't see you.' Blunt said nothing, but stood looking at her for a minute or two in silence.


Ackroyd kimono


bonus picture…

[Earlier, when the body was discovered, Flora was in bed] Flora descended the staircase. She was wrapped in a pale pink silk kimono. She looked anxious and excited.


commentary: As I am forever saying, a middling murder story is much the best one to re-read: you may well not remember the solution, or important details, and such a book can be full of surprises. But no-one who has read it will have forgotten the solution of Roger Ackroyd (and that’s true for at least a dozen other Christies too) – so is there any interest in re-reading?

Yes, definitely, is my experience. First of all you can admire the writing – there must be 20 different points, tiny unnoticed turns of phrase, that mean something new when you know the secret. And secondly, it is full of fascinating details of the time and the place and the kind of village they all live in. And thirdly it is a very entertaining and very funny book.

It’s more than 90 years old (astonishingly) and that adds interesting points – someone has made a fortune in wagon wheels (no, not the chocolate snack beloved of 1970s youth), dictaphones and lie detectors are new and mysterious, and one character has made his own wireless. The attitudes are old-fashioned too: is the maid too well-educated? – but at least she is still prepared to wear a cap and apron. A proper flapper young lady has ‘boyish shoulders and slight hips’. And a goose quill, intriguingly, brings a suggestion of drug-taking. Poirot has a mysterious housekeeper – an old lady in a Breton cap. Whatever became of her? (Buried under the vegetable marrows perhaps.)

The relationship between Dr Sheppard and his sister Caroline is hilarious. At one point she is longing to tell her brother the latest gossip, but then in mid-story he mentions in passing that he has met their new and unknown neighbor (who is going to turn out to be Poirot):
Caroline visibly wavered for a second or two, much as if a roulette ball might coyly hover between two numbers. Then she declined the tempting red herring.
So she continues with her story of a male character meeting up secretly with an unknown female. Her brother then says:
‘I suppose you hurried on to the Three Boars, felt faint, and went into the bar for a glass of brandy, and so were able to see if both the barmaids were on duty?’
It’s been suggested that Caroline contains the seeds of Miss Marple, and you can totally see Miss M counting the barmaids in the pub in an attempt to identify an unknown girl.

There is a Mah Jong party at which information, gossip, rumour and speculation are exchanged, and it is a tour de force of village life and jokes –
‘The Chinese put down the tiles so quickly it sounds like little birds pattering.’
For some minutes we played like the Chinese.
It is as funny as anything from EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia.

As a detective story – Christie plays fair, but there is information which is not given to the reader. It is so hard now to imagine someone reading it for the first time, and not being ultra-aware, looking out for a surprise twist: but I think a blank reader would be unlikely to guess the solution. Two secret meetings in, and a separate visit from the murderer to, the summer-house: sounds a bit much, but Christie never really minded that. I loved the silver table – such an Agatha Christie item in books and in real life; she was an avid, manic, magpie-like collector of bits and pieces, and you can see shed-loads of them at her house in Devon, Greenway. But I still don’t know why Miss Russell closed the silver table… And I don’t know why neither Sheppard or Parker thought of going round to the window when they were worried that Ackroyd wasn’t responding.

The ending is sad and creepy, as much so as the first time I read the book, which must be 40 years ago.

Truly this is one of the great detective stories of all time, and will be read forever.

Flora in black is a 1929 photo from Kristine’s photostream.

Pink silk kimono is by Frederick Carl Frieseke, from the Athenaeum.

























24 comments:

  1. I'm constantly rereading Agatha Christie and always enjoy them, as you say finding different things to admire. The crime solving is the least of it.

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    1. Yes, I do agree with you. I am always finding new things in them, and I love the picture they give of life.

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  2. Moira, you make me feel guilty that I labeled it "overrated" at my blog. Of course, I need to re-read immediately and savor it just for the writing alone!

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    1. Off to re-read it at once I hope! Not judging you too harshly, books do strike us in different ways. (on the other hand, you are wrong...)

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    2. Just finished directing EARNEST. As Gwendolen says, "My first impressions are invariably right!" But then, she is quite, quite wrong!

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    3. It's well known that we all act on our first impressions, whether they are wrong or right...

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  3. JJ's blog is actually The Invisible Event. In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel belongs to the Puzzle Doctor (Steve--but I don't think advertises his real name on the blog).

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    1. Thanks for putting me right Bev, I have corrected it now. I think I did promise some inefficiency! This is me rushing to do it late in the day and getting it wrong ;)

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    2. :-) Now we just need to prod JJ into providing one. [she says as she puts off getting her own together...work isn't a good place to do it, unfortunately]

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    3. It's amazing how the time gets filled up, isn't it... how hard could it be to find an hour? very hard!

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  4. I really need to reread this book. I put it off because I actually remember more about this one than any other Christie novels.

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    1. Well - Brad and I obviously have different views on that, so you can choose his version and decide to leave it a bit longer!

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  5. What I find amazing is that as far back as 1926 she was already analyzing the mystery novel, working out what the unspoken, unconscious assumptions of her reader were, and then using them to trick the same reader. I suppose that modern readers are far more aware that 'anything goes', but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the ending still surprises a lot of first-time readers.

    I love that very arch, cynical style that she used in the '20s and '30s (THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS contains a strong element of parody, whilst still working as a fairly straight mystery-thriller). I would have loved her to try, at least once, a Wodehousian-style humour novel.

    As we have said before, the books are little time-capsules of current mores, fads and obsessions, and she did attempt to keep up with changing times. It's quite startling to think that her first book was being published alongside E. Phillips Oppenheim, whilst her last were produced at the same time as John Le Carre. Both were writing about espionage, but in a very different world.

    ggary

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    1. Yes! She seems so traditional now, but she really wasn't: I recently read a 'women's' novel by E Nesbit (whom in general I like), published 1922, and reading Christie afterwards was like moving centuries, you couldn't believe it was the same decade. She had a sharp cold eye, that's what I most appreciate.

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  6. So sorry to be late the party, Moira! This is one of those classic whodunits that is very much worth the re-read. As you say, I do like the relationship between the Sheppards. And I feel for several of the characters, caught in the times, as you might say (don't want to say more for fear of spoilers). I think it's a great portrait of a small town of the times, too. And, of course, there's that solution... So excited you highlighted this one!

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    1. Thanks Margot - and don't EVER apologize. Like everyone else, I so much appreciate the fact that you are such a lovely regular visitor, always with something positive to say. You have created a world of kindness.
      And yes, I knew you would feel the same way as I did about this one..

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  7. Good news. The ebook edition of this classic novel is currently on sale at only $1.99 at the Kindle Store.

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    1. Indeed great news! Her continuing popularity means that she doesn't often get reduced in price, so people should grab this one now.

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  8. I suppose I'll have the dust off my copy of this one day, but not just yet!

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    1. Noir it is not, but you might just have your attention caught...

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  9. A is also for audacious, which this still is, even after all this time! It really does pull the rug from under the reader's feet. And yes, the relationship between the doctor and his sister is so beautifully done. That is such a Golden Age trope, isn't it: the sister who housekeeps for her brother?

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    1. Yes, audacious is the right word, it still takes your breath away, even if you know it all. And yes, sister and brother... like the much younger pair in Moving Finger, where the anonymous letter accuses them of NOT being siblings. (And I'm not sure Joanna does much housekeeping..)
      And why did neither Dr Shephard nor his sister ever marry?

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    2. To some extent a reflection of social reality in the 1920s for women? Not enough men to go round after the war and careers for women still weren't the norm.

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    3. Yes, and also those pairs of women who lived together - it was just still a reality when I was at school that some teachers did that. Nowadays their all-too-aware pupils would assume they were lesbians, but we just accepted it.

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