Friday, November 8, 2013

"Why on Earth Did They Want to Tell This One?"

Season 8, Episode 1 (46th of 70).
First aired (U.K.): 2 January 2000.
On the MYSTERY*FILE blog (19 December 2008Steve Lewis reviews David Suchet's made-for-TV film:
If you know the story about Roger Ackroyd's murder, and without my saying more, I am assuming that you do, you might wonder how it could be filmed. If it were up to me, I'd do as direct an adaptation as I could, but [screenwriter] Andrew Grieve goes at it sort of sideways and this misses the point of the tale entirely.
About Christie's original story:
A justly celebrated tour de force of misdirection, in which Christie walks a highly risky and particularly fine tightrope; it is much to her credit that she is able to play perfectly fair. — Nick Fuller, The GAD Wiki
Poirot, the great detective, discovers the culprit, but not many readers will be able to do it. — Full review from THE BOOKMAN (October 1926), archived here.
And here's the full review from THE SATURDAY REVIEW (July 24, 1926, by William Rose Benet), archived here:
FOR some years Agatha Christie has been an adequate practitioner of the detective story. Her "The Murder on the Links" seemed to us distinctly above the average. Later we read "The Secret Adversary," "The Secret of Chimneys," and "Poirot Investigates." But up to the present work, which is her seventh, "The Murder on the Links" remained for us her best tale. Still, her name to a mystery novel meant more than usually interesting craftsmanship, even though today detective fiction numbers its practitioners by dozens. We have ceased, indeed, to be able to keep up with the voluminous J. S. Fletcher and our interest even in R. Austin Freeman has somewhat flagged. A. E. W. Mason's "The House of the Arrow" and Mary Roberts Rinehart's "The Red Lamp" were excellent. The late Isabel Ostrander did some rattling things in her day. But if one is a detective-story devotee one is always an Oliver Twist, and the belief persisted that this Agatha Christie was worth watching. In "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" we believe our faith to be fully justified.
To us at least "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" really turns a new trick in detective fiction, a difficult enough achievement "with the competition so strong." Most writers of detective stories develop their own special detectives, following the lead of the famous. Agatha Christie's pet detective is Hercule Poirot, a Frenchman [sic]. She has cherished him and his exploits through other tales. No, he did not disappear from a cliff finally, to necessitate perpetual resurrection! But in this her seventh book he has retired from "active practice." Nevertheless from such retirement springs his greatest achievement—and hers.
Not that any "Sherlock Holmes" glamour surrounding the figure of Hercule Poirot makes her present story as good as it is. Poirot is merely one factor in a tale so ingeniously constructed, so dextrously plotted as to warrant our complete admiration. It is unfortunate for us that we may not indicate here the most original element in Miss Christie's planning of the story. But that would be treachery to the author, and the reader has no right to be too well informed in advance. No real devotee of mystery stories would, for instance, commit the treachery of reading the end of a book first to discover how it is all to "come out." That would be half-witted, destroying his whole pleasure of anticipation.
Suffice it to say that Miss Christie's dedication of the book is to one "who likes an orthodox detective story, murder, inquest, and suspicion falling on every one in turn!" So she set herself to write such an orthodox story, with the strange result that she has succeeded in producing one of the few notable for originality.
For those who prefer certain backgrounds to others for their mystery tales Christie's are always English in setting. To those who hate "loose ends" we may remark that this author ties all her knots neatly and bites off the thread. Her characterization is sharp in outline, her motivation is sound, complications of the plot never get away from her. Everything in the puzzle falls neatly into place, and the complete picture leaves upon us an ineradicable impression. There are no inexplicable and glozed-over details. It is all an almost mathematical demonstration so far as the fundamental brainwork goes. Yet that it is no mere clever intellectual exercise, witness the fact that the reader is left with the strongest emotions of pity and wonder over the disastrous coil the weak and erring weave. There are indications, in fact, of an even deeper psychological insight than can be actively exercised in a book of this kind. For a detective story must move. The author cannot pause to philosophize. But one is rather closer in touch, in this tale, with the mad logic of actual criminality, with the criminal as a mainly average human being with one tragic twist, than is at all usual.
We do not overpraise this story, we believe, when we say that it should go on the shelf with the books of first rank in its field. The detective story pure and simple has as definite limitations of form as the sonnet in poetry. Within these limitations, with admirable structural art, Miss Christie has genuinely achieved.

Category: Detective fiction

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