After reading so many contemporary novels over the past few months, last week I wanted to read something old fashioned, comforting and familiar – so I turned to Agatha Christie. It seems odd to say that a book about a murder is comforting, but there is something about Christie that is so routine and recognizable and that makes her novels a nice reprieve from modern life. And haven’t we needed an escape lately?
This novel is narrated by a Dr. Sheppard of King’s Abbot, a small village to where Hercule Poirot has retired to tend to his garden and retire from society. But as everyone there knows he is a lauded detective he gets asked to help when Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy businessman, is found stabbed to death in a locked room. With the assistance of Dr. Sheppard, Poirot goes through his usual logic-based investigations, relying on village gossip and speculation to fill in the blanks.
It all smoothly hurtles along until the reader is snapped to attention by the completely astounding ending. It’s an ending that I certainly didn’t see coming and it is so admirably clever that I sat in silent admiration for Christie’s skill after the last page had been turned.
I’ve read a lot of contemporary mysteries lately and I have to say that this novel trumps them all. I’d forgotten what a skillful writer Christie is and how you can get lost in her books like nothing else. After finishing this I ordered a few more Poirots to read over the summer and I’m looking forward to spending a few lazy afternoons reading about the Belgian detective and his little grey cells.
*Thanks to Simon and Rachel for mentioning The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on their “Tea or Books?” podcast and inspiring me to read it.
I was lucky enough to have five days off at the new year and part of my time was spent watching recent episodes of Poirot. I’ve always liked to watch these mysteries around the holidays because, despite being somewhat dark, they are my idea of all that is cozy and homey. One year when I was home from grad school during the Christmas break I got a terrible cold. I remember spending days wrapped in blankets on my parents’ couch, with the heater glowing, the Christmas lights sparkling and Poirot on the television. Despite my illness, I really enjoyed that experience and now I crave Agatha Christie mysteries during every holiday season. This year I’ve been watching seasons 10 -12 , seasons that totally passed me by when they were shown on PBS. It has been so wonderful to spend my evenings watching these stylish and clever mysteries that are perfect viewing for cold and dark nights. My favorite episode so far is ‘The Labours of Hercules’ in which Poirot pursues an art thief/murderer to an isolated hotel in the Swiss Alps. Very atmospheric and chilling!
Are you a Poirot fan? Or do you prefer Miss Marple? What do you like to watch on frosty winter evenings?
Also, I apologize for changing my blog theme so often lately. This is what I’ll use for the rest of the year, promise!
I have very fond memories of Death on the Nile because it was one of the first Agatha Christie novels that I ever read. I’ve always had a romantic fascination with Egypt and so this novel really appealed to me when I was about 15 and just starting to read golden age mysteries. I like cover #1 because the colors are beautiful, but #4 also catches the eye. #6 is just magnificent in its 70’s gaudiness. Which cover do you like? What is your favorite Poirot novel?
Here are a few links that you might want to check out this weekend:
Ali from Heavenali is hosting a Barbara Pym Virtual Tea Party on June 2, Pym’s 100th birthday. You can visit the Facebook page to join in!
I was just telling a friend of mine that I wished someone would remake Rebecca – it looks like my wish has been granted.
An interview with the amazing Elizabeth Strout where she recommends that President Obama read Barbara Pym.
A handy map that shows the settings for each Mary Stewart suspense novel.
My continued craving for holiday reading brought me to A Holiday for Murder, also known as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I’ve seen the tv version of this mystery novel, but couldn’t remember who the culprit was so thought it would be safe to read it. It isn’t really a Christmas story – the murder takes place at Christmas, but there is hardly any mention of the holiday or the traditions surrounding it. That was okay, though, because reading it reacquainted me with Agatha Christie, whom I haven’t read in many years.
This novel finds Poirot spending Christmas with Colonel Johnson when they are called to Gorston Hall, the scene of a horrific murder. Simeon Lee, the wealthy patriarch of a bickering family, has had his throat slashed. His four sons and their wives, plus two unexpected guests, have assembled for Christmas and they all become suspects as the room Lee was killed in was locked from the inside and the window closed. The assumption is that an intruder would not have been able to leave the house unseen.
The usual interrogations and sly Poirot ‘conversations’ soon give him all the information he needs to reveal the killer of Simeon Lee. It is a very tricky outcome and I definitely didn’t guess who the culprit was.
Agatha Christie is a forceful writer and I’d forgotten how colorful her characters are. I wouldn’t recommend this novel if you are looking for holiday cheer, but it is a good example of the ‘locked room mystery’.
I’d like to read some of her other novels next year – do you have a favorite Christie novel? What is her best mystery?