The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie ***

Reading dates: 24 April – 16 May 2014

I read a lot of Agatha Christie in my teens. I considered her a genre of her own. But youth is always premature and reflection-less and my love of her began to wane as I read modern crime fiction. Reading P.D. James’ Talking about Detective Fiction also had a hand in the demise of my admiration, as she showed how the golden age of the genre is a pure exercise in form, not grounded in reality or the social (which is not true for many modern crime writers). The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is ok. It is a famous example of detective fiction because of one thing only, one I cannot reveal because it would spoil it for you. That punchline, a trait for which Christie became famous, is innovative but vapid. A little bit like liquid nitrogen in food. I have never seen The Mousetrap but, having recently watched the awesome Witness for the Prosecution, I wonder if her material works better in a form containing time and movement than on the page. Not that reading doesn’t have movement and time, but it is too disperse. Theatre, TV or film would contain and force decisions.

Monsieur Poirot and his little grey cells also leave me cold. He is patronising and pompous, both of which I forgive in Suchet’s portrayal, perhaps because of the time-based element. The book and Poirot lack visual, depth, gut. The structure is neat and lovely, but I have always preferred Wilhelm de Kooning to Mondrian.