#189: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Back to the Beginning with Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

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The first month of 2017 sees The Tuesday Night Bloggers — again, it’s not a closed group, you’re welcome to pitch in whenever you like — reflecting on firsts, debuts, starting points, and anything else that lends itself to the beginning of something (provided it’s detective fiction-related, of course).  So I thought I’d get all dewy-eyed over not just my first Christie but also my first classic detective novel ever, the entry-level drug that started me on this path to blogging, obsessing over obscure classics, and spending every spare moment in second-hand bookshops.

I’ve talked about my first experience with Carr here, which was something of an (ultimately very happy) accident resulting from the excellent Crime Masterworks series produced by the UK publisher Orion (they of the departing and to be greatly missed The Murder Room) in the early 2000s.  Starting Christie was more deliberate than that: I, like just about everyone else on the planet, knew the name — my school library had about 30 or so titles, though I was busier reading Michael Crichton, Philip Kerr, and John Grisham at the time — and I had a vague awareness of the David Suchet Poirots; so when visiting the University of Bath on an open day in 1999 I found TMoRA in their bookshop and thought “Well, why not?”.  It was, I remember the author bio in my school library copies saying, her masterpiece, and if you’re gonna read one it might as well be a good ‘un.

Ah, from such casual acorns do giant trees grow.  And these trees propagate to become first woodland, then forests…  But I get ahead of myself.

Regrettably, I don’t have that copy any more.  I leant it to a friend who I have no doubt never read it and then probably disposed of it somehow (not that I mind — if he still has it I’ll be frankly amazed, and it’d be a bit awkward to bring it up now after all this time…).  And the actual reading of it I remember now, some 17-and-a-bit years later, only very vaguely.  I remember thinking it odd that Christie had effectively retired her detective in like her fifth book, and the whole marrow fixation…well, that completely passed me by.  I wanted murder, dammit, and plenty of it, and I was a little impatient to get it, so spent most of the setup suspecting everyone who appeared on the page and doubting everything they said and their reasons for saying it — there was no discernment, no delineation about where something seemed questionable, I just laid out a blanket of suspicion and wrapped everyone and everything in it and carted it along with me, filling it up as I went.

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And then, between a third- and halfway in, I realised I knew the solution.  Now, I have a narrative habit in these posts of going “Oh, yeah, I absolutely knew the solution” as a way of communicating how hilariously wide of the mark I was when the actual solution rolled around, but I mean it in the most literal sense here: I knew who the killer was.  Not because I had worked it out — you’ll notice I only claim knowledge, and neither perception nor insight — but because someone had told me.  Yup, actually told me in advance.  So why didn’t I remember before I bought it, you want to know?  How much of a forgetful idiot am I, for pity’s sake?!  Yeah, it’s not quite as simple as that…

It’s difficult to remember the exact timeframe, but I’m going to say it was the better part of six to eight months previously (and that’s a low estimate) another friend — check me out, back when I had two whole friends — had told me about a very famous detective novel where it’s revealed that the killer is…someone who exhibits the qualities of the killer in TMoRA (it’s possible you’re reading thing without knowing, and I’d hate to ruin it for you, whoever you are…).  He didn’t tell me the title of the book but, since I was doing a lot of reading in crime fiction at the time, he was pretty sure I would encounter it before too long — and I distinctly remember thinking that I could always go and ask him what the book was if I didn’t track it down.  Well, these months later, I knew I’d found it: it was famous, it was considered a ‘masterpiece’, it was doing the thing that I was told the novel where this happens did…yup, and that’s exactly what happened.

So, friends, I never got to experience Roger Ackroyd completely pure, and as a result I have no idea what my reaction to it might have been (and, in fact, my second Christie was Murder on the Orient Express because I wanted to get it out of the way since I’d somehow — I can only imagine it was via osmosis — picked up the solution to that, too).  I remember thinking it was a very clever idea when my friend told me about it, but I didn’t get to experience it properly and so, well, I’m especially keen to preserve it for anyone who doesn’t know it.  Others may deem it in the public awareness, the book being 81 years old soon, but I say there are always new people coming to things and we should respect that.

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I’m aware that Pierre Bayard has written a book cashing in on building upon the note of doubt in the solution entitled Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? (2000), and I’ve never had any interest in reading it because…I dunno, it’s never really interested me.  The only person I know who has read that book, apart from being insufferably smug about having done so even though it was a set text on their university course, implied that it was all to do with picking apart precise timings, and it doesn’t sound to me like an especially worthwhile endeavour (hell, I could pick apart the precise timings of a lot of detective fiction and offer alternative solutions).  It’s not The Poisoned Chocolates Case, that’s not the point Christie was trying to make, and there’s something even now that seems to miss the point in such an endeavour.  And talking of missing the point…

I remember catching the Suchet televisation of it (from, it turns out, early 2000, so it’s entirely possible I watched it ‘live’ so to speak) and it ending with the gun wielding killer being chased by Poirot through some sort of factory (?) while taking pot-shots at our duo and (my memory gets hazy here) possibly falling into some sort of machine and so evading justice.  And even then, with only one Poirot novel under my belt, I remember thinking “Hmmm, Christie didn’t strike me as the sort of author to have a Thrilling Chase After the Murderer as her denouement”, and I’ve been suspicious of these televisations ever since (and this was back before they were taking the ludicrous liberties of late!).  I resolved to keep away from them, I think, precisely because having had two very famous surprises spoiled for me I wanted to make sure there were still going to be some solutions left that I could either be shocked by (hello And Then There Were None, The Moving Finger, Murder is Easy, Peril at End House, The Seven Dials Mystery, Three-Act Tragedy, etc, etc, etc…) or work out myself (take a bow Taken at the Flood, Death in the Clouds, Dumb Witness, Death Comes as the End…).

Looking back, I find it interesting how quickly I got on board with the whole “play along at home” aspect — my reading at the time was mostly thrillers and the odd Ian Rankin or Michael Connelly where the line blurs somewhat — and how new that felt, and how much I looked forward to finally figuring one out.  And it was the longest time before I really sought much else in the way of detective fiction — really, Christie was it for me for a good few years before it started to drip into my consciousness that I wanted more puzzles and less Woe-Is-Society-Look-At-How-This-Reflects-The-World-Today (yaaaaaawn).

But that, as they say, is a story for another time…

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~

Worry not, after losing my first copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd I acquired another for my shelves, namely the Agatha Christie Collection hardcover shown immediately above.  It is this that I submit for the Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt 2017 at My Reader’s Block under the category Hand Holding Weapon.

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30 thoughts on “#189: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Back to the Beginning with Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

  1. Always interesting to see what people’s first Christie was. I’ll make sure to add you to the roundup post later today. Though I can’t believe someone told you the solution! Still reeling as well from the fact your another friend didn’t return the book. Very bad book etiquette.

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    • Well, maybe he’ll read this and return it… And I think the friend who told me the solution was simply trying to capture my interest, in fairness to him; I was a callow teenager with a burgeoning interest in reading, and he saw a chance to hook me in more deeply — not gonna resent him that, it bloody worked after all!

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  2. Good grief! The people who don’t like Christie inevitably tell a story like, “Oh, I decided to finally try her, so I picked up Third Girl and At Bertram’s Hotel . . . ” I just shake my head. You, on the other hand, had a different experience, so bravo to you, sir, for trucking on.

    My first Christie was And Then There Were None. And, come to think of it, my babysitter had regaled us with the story – including the solution – a couple of years before. I can’t recall if I remembered that while reading – I was 12 – but ATTWN benefits from being so amazing it almost doesn’t matter. My second was Orient Express. Didn’t know the answer – jaw dropped. Then The Mousetrap. Yeah, I know, it’s not great, but it was another jaw-dropping success for me at 13. I thought, is there anyone in this woman’s universe who COULDN’T be the killer? What about a simple country home mystery without all that surprise and wonder?

    That’s when I picked up Crooked House.

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    • Your ‘people who don’t like Christie’ comment remind me of the following story: a friend and her husband came to mine for dinner once and, via the medium that is my bookshelves (decidely more over-stocked then than now, following a hefty clear out a couple of years back) conversation got round to reading and my probably 50-odd (at the time) Christie books.
      “Well,” scoffs the husband, “I can’t stand all that; it’s just cosy murder, isn’t it?”
      “Oh,” I enquire politely, “which ones have you read?”
      “None of them,” comes the reply, “I Don’t like that kind of thing.”
      I have never had those people back again, and that three-line conversation is the reason why. And, on the off-chance either of them are reading this, now you know why, guys.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I obtained a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd this summer with the intention of it being my first Christie book. And then, based on your recommendation (!!!), I read The Man Who Could Not Shudder by John Dickson Carr. You know the book, right? The one where it gives away the ending to TMoRA?

    So, there you go, the curse continues. I now find myself in your same position, having to read the great classic full well knowing who the killer is.

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    • I legitimately do not remember TMWCNS giving away TMoRA — my sincere apologies! To be fair, it’s controversy aside, I’m not convinced it’s one of Christie’s best; it’s a great idea, but she had far better, and there are easily ten solutions I’d put ahead of this one. But, still, that doesn’t excuse me (or Carr, come to that) allowing it to be spoiled, so I apologise again and shall attempt to remember this for future reference.

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      • To be fair, I did recall reading a blog that mentioned that the ending of TMoRA was given away in one of Carr’s books. I remember thinking “I should probably find that reference again so that I can make sure to read TMoRA first.” Ah, procrastination…

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      • SPOILER ALERT

        Towards the end in TMWCNS, when the narrator asks Dr. Fell who committed the murder, Dr. Fell looks at him and says,”You did.”
        Then Dr. Fell goes on to say,”But don’t misunderstand me. This is not Roger Ackroyd all over again. “

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      • I’ll definitely be looking for some recommendations when the time comes – I’m guessing that will be a year or two out, given my current pace with Carr. The nice thing is that I have access to Christie’s full library, as a family member was a big fan.

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        • There IS something to be said for reading them in chronological order because occasionally Christie will reference an earlier case in a later book, mainly with the Poirots. She gives away the ending to Orient Express in Cards on the Table, and in Dumb Witness, Poirot rattles off the names of six murderers from previous books – including TMORA! But I know you like to mix the great and the good (and the just okay). We have time – we’ll talk!

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          • Oh, yeah, do ’em chronologically. Seriously, the appreciation I have for Christie’s work is enhanced all the more by reading them in the order she wrote them. There are some deifnite winks in later books to stuff that camer earlier, too; not spoilers as such, but deliberate attempts to recall aspects of what came before, almost as if she became quite nostalgic as her career wore on.

            As I made clear in my posts on A Caribbean Mystery, Bertram’s Hotel and others, there’s something about Marple that becomes all the more compelling once you have an old lady author writing an old lady sleuth, particularly as they’ve both seen so much up to that point…it’s wonderful, not to be missed, but you’ll only get the most out of, say, book 71 if you’ve read the previous 70!

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  4. Yes, it’s truer with Anatole than with Poirot – a sense of growth and change in the world around her. And Tommy and Tuppence’s five books chronicle their life story and make more sense read in order.

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  5. Pingback: Tuesday Night Bloggers: First Encounters | crossexaminingcrime

  6. My first Christie was (shudder) ‘Postern of Fate.’ It put me off her novels for several years, and actually put me off the mystery genre as a whole, which I hadn’t read much of. I thought to myself ‘This is supposed to be one of the greatest mystery writers, and this book is awful! What must the rest be like?’ I literally threw ‘Postern of Fate’ down in disgust, and didn’t touch a mystery for a long time. I’m afraid I was similar to the guests you had to dinner JJ. (In my defence, I was only 20! I’m older and wiser now).

    it was ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, borrowed from the library on a whim one day a long time afterwards which made me give Christie another chance- a decision I am extremely grateful for. After that came ‘Ackroyd’ which had also been spoiled for me- I think when I was reading a history of the detective novel, and an oblique reference was made which allowed me to guess the murderer quite easily. I still really enjoyed it though. I’ve read about two thirds of her novels by now, my appreciation of her skill and style growing with each one.

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    • Ah, similar to those dinner guests, yes, but different in an important way: you actually tried to read one! For that alone, you would have been invited back 🙂

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  7. Great article! My first Christie surprisingly was The 13 Problems, which I LOVED and still do. Then in my early (lack of knowledge) desire for Locked Room Mysteries I read Murder in Mesopotamia, and also had a terrible pre-revealed experience when my closest friend said “that’s not the one where -fully reveal the solution- happens is it?…” That was the closest time I came to committing a murder myself. A few more Christies down the line I read TMORA, and didn’t know the solution, but there did come a time about a third of the way in, having got to know Christie a bit, when I thought wait it’s not THAT PERSON is it, and I was right. So in a weird way I felt I didn’t experience the twist properly either, although the way the book is written, it still made me jump even though I had already guessed it. But it didn’t hit me as much as say Endless Night… goodness me, I couldn’t sleep after that ending.

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    • Hey, if the experience of Murder in Mesopotamia was frustrating, consider my experience the other year when the Suchet episode of Curtain, the final Poirot novel, aired and a friend — knowing full well that I’m working my way through the Christie canon (and have been for years!) and that this was going to be the final encounter with that fussy Belgian — went: “Oh my god! Did you see Poirot? I can’t believe [name] was the killer!”. Still pretty furious about that.

      And, yeah, Endless Night — whew! Given the received wisdom of how lousy her late stuff is, it’s actually quite refeeshing to be working through them in order and finding out for myself that so much of it is actually pretty bloody good. None of it is, say, Evil Under the Sun, but there are ideas and themes and surprises here in her “weakest” period that far outdo many authors in their full pomp. Christie’s only real failing in this regard was in being so damned good in her own heyday!

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  10. I must count myself very fortunate, since I’m among the very few people who were able to experience this great novel completely pure, being completely unaware of its classic status when I first read it. I had heard of Death On The Nile and ATTWN, but Ackroyd came as a complete surprise.

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  11. POSSIBLY SLIGHT SPOILER I also had MORA spoiled for me when I was a teenager just starting to read Agatha Christie. It was on a TV show no less, University Challenge in the U.K. Back in the 1960s.One of the questions was ‘what is unusual about the solution to MORA?’ And of course the answer was given. Thankfully it didn’t put me off Christie or detective stories.
    New to the blog and to Brad’s which I found through EQMM. It’s great to come across others who love ‘proper’ detective stories. BTW I recently obtained an incredibly mangled edition of DOQC which includes Blind Mans Hood which is one of my favourite Carr short stories. Just has a hint of that creepiness which he can do so well.

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    • I had The Mousetrap spoiled for me an a review of The Streets’ second album in the NME — it’s probably somewhere online if anyone is interested. Furious, I was. Bloody furious.

      It’s an interesting question for something like University Challenge, too, especially as there are other books which took on the same conceit. I remember the killer in Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue being a question on The Weakest Link before I’d read it, too. Godammit, quiz shows, leave detective fiction alone!

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