Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Still Going Strong: A Review of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie

The Mayfair Auditorium looking smart in its heyday
An image of the auditorium interior, but I not that old!
One of my early recollections, at least in the "I'm a big boy now" category, comes from seeing a production of "Ten Little Indians", a play by Agatha Christie. The Southwest Iowa Theater Group performed the play at the Mayfair Auditorium in 1961 or 1962. This 1920s-era auditorium was built in the early days of radio, when KMA, a radio station in our little town of Shenandoah, was big player in the radio business. The auditorium was a grand affair with ornate decorations. (The owners tore it down a few years later and replaced it with a hideous looking lime green office building. But I digress.) It was a fine night out for a grade-school kid. A  neighbor girl sat beside me. During the play, several (off-stage) murders occurred and a there was even  a gun shoot in the dark. It was all pretty cool.

I think of all this because at Indian bookstores one found rows of Agatha Christie books. And it occurred to me that I'd never read one. I'd seen plays and movies, yes, but I'd never read one of her classic mysteries. Thus did I buy a title considered by many as one of her best and most representative, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1927). The book features her most prominent character, the Belgian detective (here retired to an English village), Hercule Poirot.

The setting is a quaint English village in the 1920's. The characters read like a list from the game of "Clue", and clues are strewn liberally here and there, some red herrings, others of significance. But it's unlikely that the reader will recognize the murderer until the end. In one sense--although probably not at the time of its original publication--it seems almost formulaic, but that only adds to its venerable status. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And for all its recognizable qualities, it still holds a hint of shock. After all, this is murder we're reading about. And while in Christie's world the crooked is made straight, it takes the concerted effort of the hero. In this case, the eccentric but delightful Mr. Poirot.

If you want a whodunit of the classic variety, something different from the gritty world of contemporary police procedurals, one couldn't do better than this classic. It took me back to my roots, and it was a fun visit indeed.

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