Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book-A-Day #19: THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, best twist EVER


William Morrow
$6.99 Kindle edition, available now


The Publisher Says: In the village of King's Abbot, a widow's sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study--but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow's blackmailer. King's Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd's wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim's home. It's now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King's Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd--a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard's ingenious sister, Caroline.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the book that made Agatha Christie a household name and launched her career as a perennial bestseller. Originally published in 1926, it is a landmark in the mystery genre. It was in the vanguard of a new class of popular detective fiction that ushered in the modern era of mystery novels.

My Review: The Doubleday UK meme, a book a day for July 2014, is the goad I'm using to get through my snit-based unwritten reviews. Today's prompt, number 19 in the series, is to reveal the book with the best plot twist. Ummmm....

Undoubtedly the most famous novel written by Dame Agatha. It is well-known even among non-mystery readers, poor benighted sods, and has been cited by scholars as a turning point in the history of the mystery genre as a literary force. An English professor, [[Pierre Bayard]], has even delved deeply into the text to propose, from the book that Dame Agatha wrote, an alternative (and very interesting) ending!

I'm not going to spoiler the ending's Big Twist because the ten or twelve literate-in-English people who have never read it will come screaming in from the Internet to call me unpleasant names, and I'm done with that. It is indeed a Big Twist, it makes the entire experience of the book far more interesting than it otherwise would be, and it's just flat fun to come to, that first time, all unknowing.

So that said, when I first read this novel in 1973, I was all unknowing and was I gobsmacked! My oldest sister had a copy of it in her house, where I was visiting her, and she was deriving major amusement from my responses as the pages turned. It was a great way to spend a summer weekend.

Then after what, maybe 35 years, they make a Poirot TV episode out of the story. The vast bulk of you, having read the book, are now looking bemused, befuddled, or annoyed. How, you're asking yourself, can the Big Twist be preserved? How can the essential frisson-granting narrative device translate onto film, for pity's sake?!

Not all that well.

It's still a stylish and entertaining film, and I liked watching it, but it was NOT the equal of the book. For one thing, Inspector Japp appears out of nowhere and assumes his usual role as Poirot's foil-cum-sidekick. WTF? I screamed at the screen, WTF IS THIS HOOPLA?! (I used a dirtier word, but I am attempting to portray myself as a sweet and mild-mannered old man.) (Stop laughing.) Japp appeareth not in the novel! Not even close. It is but one of many shifts required to bring the story to the screen.

And for the only time in the entire history of the series Agatha Christie's Poirot, I wished they had just left the book alone and unfilmed. So why four stars? Because the book is five, and the film is three. Do the math. But don't bother with the show unless you're a completist.

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