Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to Write a Novel: Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Reading Agatha Christie over againImage by FL4Y via Flickr

Christie, Agatha (1890-1976) a British mystery writers dominated the genre for most of the 20th century, a domination that was accomplished by the creation of two major detectives: Hercule Poirot and Mrs. Marple.
With the publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie was crowned by her reading public as the ‘Queen of Crime.’ In this novel of detection, the author showcases the foppish Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The combination of a strong, deductive-method detective, a challenging plot, and the rural setting of a small English village, make the novel not only entertaining but also complex; a real treat for detection-oriented fans.
But not everyone was happy with the novel, and we shall see why not in a moment.
Since his side-kick Captain Hastings was not by side, the freshly retired Poirot engages the local doctor in the detection of what seems an insoluble mystery. Roger Ackroyd —a wealthy industrialist— is found murdered in his own study; the problem for Hercule Poirot and the fine doctor —Dr. Sheppard, the Captain Hastings substitute— is that everyone in the house is a suspect, but no particular one had an edge over another: Ackroyd's niece, Flora; Major Blunt, a big-game hunter romantically interested in Flora; Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd's secretary; Ursula Bourne, a parlor-maid; and Ralph Paton, an adopted son with gambling debts.
Or at least this is what readers are told by the narrator, Dr. Sheppard. Take this as a clue. If you are a student writing an essay, take Dr. Sheppard’s narrative as a text filled with essay writing tips.
While readers got used to the obtuseness and dullness of Captain Hastings’ intellect, years will go by and probably will never accept Dr. Sheppard in the same manner as they did with the captain. If you are familiar with Hercule Poirot, you can immediately picture the little man, his fastidious attention to his waxed handle-bar mustachios, spats, and heavy Belgian-French accent. But all these details will fall by the wayside once he goes into action, for he is portrayed as a giant of psychological insight. Neither technology, nor logic, much less science is needed by the tenacious detective—only his “brain cells” are!
Dame Christie obfuscated the plot and reader's expectations with a plot twist that caused some aggravation, indignation, and guffaws among fans and critics alike. The main complaint of the innovative and daring plot —and its solution— was that the author had violated the rules of the genre. This much we can tell you. Not only is the end unexpected, but also unorthodox, and it is worthwhile to read and enjoy. And despite all the remonstrations, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has become a classic and one of its kind.
For some, the novel is a trove of story writing tips, for others a sample of how to write a novel, yet for purists of the detection game— it will be nothing but a sham.
Although she wrote hundreds of novels, the ones that have escaped the dunes of oblivion are: The Man in the Brown Suit, Murder at the Vicarage, Murder on the Orient Express, and Crooked House.
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