In Defense of Agatha: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

kathleen-kaskaKathleen Kaska is the author of the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book, The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book. All three books have just been reissued by LL-Publications. Kathleen also writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mystery series set in the 1950s. Her first two mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the largest book group in the country.

The first edition of my trivia book What’s Your Agatha Christie I. Q?, (now titled The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book), was released in 1996. A local bookstore in Austin, Texas hosted my first book signing. Soon after I sat down at the table and uncapped my pen, a rather respectable line began to form, mostly friends and family, attending to give their support and help me celebrate this long awaited moment. The atmosphere was party-like, introducing out-of-town friends to work colleagues and family.  A dear friend from Dallas just left the table with four signed copies when an elderly woman stepped forward. I reached out to take her book and realized that she did not have one. I picked one up off the table and asked if she’d like me to sign it. This was her response.

the-agatha-christie-triviography“I am not here to buy your book. I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd decades ago and I have never read another Christie book.” I raised an eyebrow. She continued. “Agatha Christie cheated when she wrote that book. In my opinion she had no idea who the killer was and just made up the ending at the last moment.” She stormed off.

I knew what she was referring to. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, written in 1926, has become known as Christie’s most controversial novel. In fact, it is one of the most talked about detective stories ever written. She’s gone on record to say that this Hercule Poirot mystery was her masterpiece. If you’re a Christie fan, you’ve most likely read this ingenious mystery; if not, I will not spoil the ending.

In Christie’s defense, the author knew exactly what she was doing. The idea had been put to her the year before by her brother-in-law, Jimmy Watts. Then a short time later, she received a letter from Lord Louis Mountbatten (uncle of Prince Philip) who had made the same suggestion. The idea intrigued her and she ran with it, using a technique that had never before been used. Nevertheless, colleagues accused her of breaking the mystery-writing rules, but rules are made to be broken murder-at-the-arlington(excuse the cliché), and if done well, prove effective. Eighty-eight years later, the controversy still remains. I’ll say no more. Read the book and decide for yourself.

Had the disgruntled woman at my book signing stayed a few moments longer, my response would have been, “Dame Christie knew what she was doing. In fact, she offered a few brilliant hints on page one and scattered many more clever clues through the book.”

Kathleen Kaska covers every aspect of the Queen of Crime’s life and career in The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book. She has packed an astonishing number of quotes, characters, plots, settings, biographical details, and pure fun into these quizzes. As Poirot might say, your “little grey cells will get the exercise!”

This book, fiendishly clever and remarkably researched, is pure gold for fans of Agatha Christie.

—Kate Stine, editor of Mystery Scene magazine.

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18 thoughts on “In Defense of Agatha: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

  1. Thanks for having me as a guest on Buried Under Books, Lelia. I enjoy writing about the Queen of Crime as much as I enjoy reading her books. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of my favorites.

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  2. Interesting post. I agree that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is carefully plotted and the clues are there from the beginning. The book doesn’t just pull a rabbit out of the hat at the end. (It’s hard to talk about it without spoilers, isn’t it?)

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  3. I figured out the murderer with no problem, and, not having read anything else using a similar twist, thought she was playing fair. I must admit I didn’t particularly *like* the book though!

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  4. Thanks for your comments, Karen and Sandra,
    It’s interesting to me how the book is still talked about today after more than 80 years.

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  5. It was fair. It was brilliant. One of her other books — MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS — was the first I read, and naysayers could have similar objections to it. But it was fair as well. She broke the rules, fairly. Years after I first read them, I started writing mysteries as a result of the inspiration and the enjoyment I had reading them.

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  6. Enjoyed your post. Christie was certainly fair – just more clever than most and definitely way more clever than the elderly woman at your signing. Since however the customer is always right, it was best you didn’t leap over the table, tackle and strangle her in homage to Christie. Instead you remain free to amuse us with the tale.

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  7. I believe I’ve read everything she wrote as Agatha. Read most of them twice and some 3 times. Needless to say, a major fan, and I started with The Clocks! Though Roger isn’t my favorite, I do believe it is brilliant. In the true tradition of the English mystery it had one of the best twists ever written.
    Rules, schmules, a well told story and the kind that needed to be told. Many mystery readers have wanted just that kind. Being vague so as not to spoil, but who has not read Roger?
    Patg

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  8. I am pulling out my Agatha collection and rereading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I obviously had no trouble with it the first time and your intriguing comments make me want to read it again. I will have to check out your 1950’s books since I like taking a look back to the near or far past every now and then.

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  9. Roger Ackroyd is a stunning story and I agree it’s her masterpiece. I’m sorry the crabby woman couldn’t recognize the genius of that tale. I’ve actually reread it quite a few times to study it. But that first time–wow!

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  10. I recently read THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD with the library mystery book club I lead. I asked if anyone had figured out the murderer before finishing the book. No one had. To my surprise, this was the first Agatha Christie many of them had read though they’d seen plenty of TV presentations of her work. No one seemed bothered by the twist at the end. It never bothered me. I think Dame Agatha was successful in pulling it off.

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  11. Dan,
    Know what you mean. This twist is not something that can be repeated.

    Marilyn,
    It’s good to read that your library group was stumped. Christie was such a master at plotting, but it took her a long time to think of her craft as a profession. For years, she just viewed her writing as a hobby.

    Eleanor,
    People were always giving her idea for mysteries, but this intrigued her the most.

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  12. Kathleen, this has been fun. I’ve been a Christie fan for many years and now I think I’m going to have to go read about poor old Roger again 😉

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  13. I think I am in love with her writing. I wish I could kiss her hands.
    She is the best. At par with the legendary Sherlock Holmes.
    I don’t want and I don’t like to see criticism of such excellent story writer

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