Spoiler Warning – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie

You voted for it, here it is: a spoiler-filled discussion betwixt Brad, Moira, and myself about Agatha Christie’s none-more-audacious The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926).

You have hopefully figured out that there will be much in the way of spoilers, so ensure you have read the book before listening in — it means you stand a better chance of following what we’re talking about, and you’ll also have had the chance to read unspoiled one of the most tricksy and inventive pieces of narrative legerdemain the genre produced.

We opted to focus on this book in particular, rather than pull some of the supplementary material that goes with it — the Agatha Christie’s Poirot episode starring David Suchet, for example, or the bandwagon-jumping alternative theorising of Who Killed Roger Ackroyd (2000) by Pierre Bayard — but they get a mention, and any thoughts on them are, of course, more than welcome. It’s fair to assume going forward, however, that these discussions will be based around the books and the books alone, not least because I don’t have sufficient interest in the adaptations to indulge in a study of those as well.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below. 

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As mentioned in the above, you’ll get a chance to vote for the Christie titles you’d like us to discuss in the three remaining Spoiler Warnings for this year, and here’s the poll for that:

[The poll is now closed]

The poll will stay open for about a month, after which I shall announce the winners and the schedule, and we’ll see you in April for more Christie-centric spoiler talk.

Thanks, as always, to Moira and Brad for their continued involvement, and to you for listening and voting and generally indicating that this is something you as an audience are interested in seeing continue. Kudos, too, to Kate at CrossExaminingCrime who reread the book and posted her own spoiler-filled thoughts in advance of this discussion.

Previous Spoiler Warnings can be found by clicking here; the normal podcast service of In GAD We Trust will recommence in a fortnight.

67 thoughts on “Spoiler Warning – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie

  1. Pingback: It’s Podcast Time Again!! | ahsweetmysteryblog

  2. Picking up on a couple of the points mentioned:

    1. Unlikelihood of Poirot retiring to the country – I think this is only in light of all that comes after. Up to this point he has only appeared in the novels Styles and Links and his retirement is hinted at in The Big Four (novelised after Ackroyd but serialised as short stories beforehand) which is an epic case taking place over more than a year – he deserves a break. The question of his age is never really addressed but I think initially Poirot is meant to be much older than his vastly extended life implies him to be – but that is a whole other debate.
    2. Fishing for the ring – I think his fastidiousness comes more to the fore, at least for me, from Suchet’s portrayal. In Styles he runs and in Links climbs a tree, so sticking his arm in a dirty pond is not too much of a stretch.
    3. Ralph’s age – Goddard discusses this in “Agatha Christie’s Golden Age” – my take is that there is so much detail about ages and dates that Ralph is 25 and Ackroyd is 43 and the error is where Sheppard says he is “nearly fifty” which would be taking rounding up to a new level. However this is a psychological point from Sheppard to justify murder. In other books of this era thirty-five is described as middle-aged, so someone who is nearly fifty is virtually dead so killing them can’t be that bad!

    Excellent fun as always so thanks to all three of you.

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    • Yeah, we were of course discussing this more from a character inconsistency of what Poirot became, but I agree on both points that there’s nothing in the first couple of books to suggest he wouldn’t do this in the third.

      I had intended to posit that this book, with Poirot being much older, is actually set after some of the ones that follow it — that way, he gets to be holder here and more active in the books from 1927 onwards. Dunno how that works out — I have a feeling the murderer herein is discussed in a later book, but equally not everything between this and Curtain had to be a prequel…

      And, yeah, great point about the ages — an unmarried woman being an old maid at 35 was fairly common, so the rounding to that degree, in order to emphasise Ackroyd’s seniority, might be on the cards.

      Or Christie made a mistake, of course 🙂

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    • I think the point I was trying to make about Poirot’s retirement is not that he retired per se – in 1926, he certainly was of the age to retire, and while Christie invented him to compete with long-running detectives like Sherlock Holmes, there’s nothing to say she intended to write about him for another 45 years – but in the manner in which he retired. I see Poirot in a sterile apartment, living an orderly life, visiting fine restaurants, and taking occasional trips overseas where he feigned disinterest in fellow tourists fawning over him but actually relished the fame. In fact, that IS what Poirot became. This Poirot is living incognito in a small village and basically doing nothing with his life except the scientific challenge of creating a squash that tastes good. But, again, this is early days for the character and his creator.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed; even after Styles and Links, there wasn’t a single person saying “Wow, I can’t wait for this guy to settle down to a remote village and start gardening” — he was never on that course.

        I’d love there to have been a retrospective refitting of this where he was actually in the village because he’d heard of all the odd murders happening down that way…

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  3. Not sure what’s going on here, the audio isn’t showing up properly in the podcast feed! It’s just considering this as a text post rather than a podcast episode, so I can’t download the file.
    Given you’re talking about a WordPress update in the post there I think I can guess the culprit for this one :p

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    • I think the error might have bee mine there; I’ve corrected what I hope went wrong so maybe update your podcast feed or give it a little while to update itself and hopefully this episode will now appear.

      Thanks for the heads up, apologies for the error. let me know if this doesn’t work!

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      • Thanks, after a bit of prodding I was able to refresh it, and it seems to work now.
        Great episode as usual – I did not reread it before listening, and now I really want to. You all picked up on so many subtle touches that I’m sure I missed when I read it before. (And also a bunch of plot flaws, but never mind that…)
        When it comes to where to rank this, this book is not my favourite (that would be Vicarage) nor is it the best – I think it takes a little while longer before Christie’s writing and plotting reaches its top level. It’s probably the best twist, but really I think about so many things other than the twist when I’m reading a mystery novel, and this book doesn’t do them as well, despite being a great achievement.

        Liked by 1 person

        • As to whether it’s Christie’s best, it feels a little ungrateful to me to suggest that she peaked in her third whodunnit and wrote 74 books for another 50 years in the genre without ever achieving this peak again. So I’m with you — she gets better in plotting and writing, and in misdirection despite the fabulously subtle touches on display here.

          I could pick ten books easily that I consider better than this without any of them</i being her best. But that is perhaps a disagreement for another time 🙂

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  4. JJ – Brilliant podcast once again. It is clear how much fun Moira, Brad and you have doing this and we all benefit from the insights, wit and humour.

    Is this her best? I think not and all of you point out a number of reasons why it isn’t. For example, I believe that there are better books, plots, characters and puzzles amongst the nine you nominated in the vote for podcasts later this year. It may be her most remarkable book though and the fact that we’re still re-reading it and talking about it nearly 100 years since it was written is proof of that.

    I agree with the speculation that Caroline was an inspiration for Miss Marple, who appeared for the first time the very next year (1927) in the short story, The Tuesday Night Club, which then was included in the collection, The Thirteen Problems, in 1932.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent point, we should have thought to consider the individual story dates rather than the three years later collection date of The Thirteen Problems.

      Well, that’s one piece of speculation laid to rest, at least.

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  5. Great discussion as always, and a great book.

    Obviously the narrative is what is most memorable about the book. In Styles Hastings clearly says that he is writing for publication, and there is some similar comment in at least one short story. This is very much in the tradition of Dr. Watson, and if we think that Christie is doing something similar here this forms part of the misdirection, since we don’t think the murderer would be publishing the story.

    By actually mentioning (as you discussed) that Sheppard has read Hasting’s work and is emulating it it strengthens our belief that what we are reading is something that might be read by the in-universe characters. It also in my view allows Christie to poke a bit of fun at the convention, since she has an allusion to the surprisingly acerbic comments Hastings makes about Poirot in his narrative. (Surprising if it really was published in-universe, that is.)

    In Lord Edgeware Dies there is another reference to Hasting’s stories being read in-universe, and a character writes a letter intended specifically for inclusion in the narrative. Murder in Mesopotamia also has the framing device of being written for publication by a Watson character. Christie clearly liked not only first-person narration but this Watson device, but it is usually a rather thin pretence, not nearly as clever as the narrative structure of this book.

    Returning to this book, another, related, misdirection is that Sheppard’s narrative seems to be written afterwards, and by someone who now knows Poirot better. Eg, he tells us that he later learned something was Poirot’s favorite beverage. (Someone should try to figure out when he could have learned that.) He also informs us in Chapter 14 that he “later” learned secrecy was a characteristic of Poirot. I think the comments in chapter 14 are close to cheating, it is difficult to not read it as saying that after Sheppard learned the solution of the case he discovered that Poirot usually keeps his Mahjong tiles close to the chest, but that does not work with the timeline. He also mention that to Poirot belongs the “renown” of fitting the pieces in place, which strengthens the idea that the document is for public reading. It is amusing to consider that he must have gone back and edited in these comments in his narrative on the very night he will kill himself, always being careful not to give too much away before the end. Very considerate towards the police officers who will be his only readers, even though they must already know he is guilty by the very fact that they received the manuscript.

    The most blatant cheating in my view is the claim in Chapter 2 that he had only a vague premonition. He must have had concrete fears of exposure at this stage, and concrete plans. He is at the very least worrying that Mrs. Ferrars had confided in Ralph Paton, as I think he later confesses he had worried about since he saw them together.

    The things I point out here are things you maybe pick up on your third read of the book, and they don’t detract from the fact that is a work of genius.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, these are some great points — the idea of knowing things about Poirot that he can’t know from the events in the narrative especially. So so we assume that they may not be true? That Sheppard put them in purely to fool the reader, and that Poirot may not exhibit that behaviour?

      This reminds me of the various re-imaginings of Sherlock Holmes, with — I think — Laurie R. King making reference to something Doyle claimed about Holmes in the original canon (IIRC, that he waves his hand in time to the music when at a concert) and deciding she didn’t like it and thus attributing the behaviour to Watson and saying that he mistakenly attributed his own trait to his friend…

      Makes thee head spin a little.

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  6. Probably your most amateurish discussion ever. You all dismissed Bayard too easily. He came up with more implausibilities than the three of you combined.
    You need to be more serious in your research.

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    • I have no problem with not being universally praised for these undertakings, Richard, discussion and disagreement is part of what makes this community such fun, but I’d hope people would be a little less…discourteous when criticising what we’ve done.

      Yes, it’s literally amateurish — we’re doing this for fun, for free, with no cost to you, without cramming the episode full of adverts to interrupt the enjoyment, during a time when we’re all — frankly — also wrestling with bigger concerns. It’s a piece of entertainment and you’re welcome to not find it entertaining, but I’d ask that you’re a little more considerate in doing so.

      As for research….when discussing The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the only research that seems necessary to me is to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We all did that, we were frantically flipping through copies as we spoke. The introduction to the episode even says that we mention the Bayard but never intended to get into it. If “serious” research requires us to read every book we mention in an episode, We’d never record anything.

      A more reasonable set of expectations might help you enjoy these more, perhaps.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Christophe.

          I’m not expecting everyone to fall over themselves in admiration for these — nothing is universally adored, and people are very welcome to think them bad — but one of the things I think we as a community do very well is be respectful in disagreement. It’s important to retain that, I feel; now more than ever.

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      • One of your guests speed-read Bayard’s book in a bookshop. So much for his in-depth research. And you arrogantly dismiss both Bayard’s book on Roger Ackroyd and the Hound of the Baskervilles even though you haven’t read them. Do your penance and read both books. Then come back and discuss them in an updated podcast. You may well be surprised and discover some fascinating material! That is my challenge.

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        • Bayard himself recommends from the outset that we should read or re-read the original book. There’s no disagreement there.
          As for courtesy, you clumsily used the expression ‘bandwagon-jumping’ in relation to Bayard’s book and I find this throwaway line rather negative.

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  7. Fantastic job, Jim, Brad, and Moira. Constantly interesting, and I agreed with most of what all of you said.

    My view on fairness, of course, is not about whether a work such as Roger Ackroyd is fair or unfair, but whether not only the term but the very concept of fairness is applicable to the genre (which It isn’t— one might as well ask if Roger Ackroyd is more musical comedy or operetta).

    But I think I have a strong sense of what is generally meant by the use of the term, and in regards to the common (and — I gotta say it— immeasurable, inappropriate, and IMO genuinely deleterious) use of it in reference to detective fiction, I’d say there are two separate categories of “fairness” at issue here: narrative “fairness” and clue sufficiency.

    As for clue sufficiency, Jim is quite right that there are some rather significant incidents not in any way indicated, and I’d assume that if there were a threshold of clue sufficiency, indication sufficient for inference would probably be included among the minimum requirements. So I would have to say no, it’s clearly not sufficiently clued, though how much more WOULD constitute sufficiency, neither I nor (I believe) anyone else can say (I.e. indication is necessary, but I doubt it could be deemed sufficient).

    However, on the question of subjective clue sufficiency— the matter of sufficiency for reader satisfaction— I say, hell yeah, there’s certainly enough there to provide a sense of retrospective inevitability for me. All the Christie double meanings come back in a new light with an immensely satisfying glow. The old “it was there before me all the time” is in full flower.

    And on the issue of narrative “fairness,” I find the work astounding. This is the one work for which I feel I can almost visualize Christie’s mindset upon writing it. She knows she’s going to throw a surprise narrator killer upon a readership already starting to think in terms of “rules” and “fairness.” She know she’s highly subject to cries of foul play. So just as the producers of the potentially highly controversial film version of The DaVinci Code hired the likable “All- American nice boys” team of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, and the Democratic Party balanced the ticket of old white man with young black woman (that’s not aspersion upon qualifications, just a candid acceptance of prudent strategy), Christie hedged her bets and arranged not one, not two, but three lines of defenses:

    (First line of defense)

    The first is the single point upon which Sayers absolved Christie of cheating: “nothing need be true except that which is vouched for by the author as himself.” Which basically means that the only rule of narrative fairness is that a third-person narrator (which is accepted by readers as the voice of the author) can make no false statements. As Dr. Sheppard is a character within the narrative, not a third-person narrator, he would (according to Sayers) have no obligation to such truthfulness. And because of this, Roger Ackroyd must be considered far more fair than such rarely questioned works as And Then There Were None and Death on the Nile, which have definite (if very minor) incidences of third-person narrative mistruths. Note that, according to Sayers notion, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd would not be cheating EVEN IF HE WERE TO LIE THROUGHOUT. But of course…

    (Second line of defense)

    It’s commonly pointed out that Dr. Sheppard makes no false statements, deceiving purely by omission. This is the point everybody makes such a big deal about, and I admit it’s cool, but I really don’t think it’s it’s as important or impressive as:

    (Third line of defense)

    Christie gives Dr. Sheppard a believable motivational justification for wanting to deceive the reader. It justifies all of his playful ellipses and double meanings. This I consider the greatest brainstorm of Christie in writing Roger Ackroyd. “I meant it to be published some day as the history of one of Poirot’s failures!” Brad says that sounds like gloating, and I agree it is! I’ve always felt that Dr. Sheppard intended the manuscript would end with the truth given… gloating about his cleverness in both hiding and indicating that truth earlier.. but revealed only by himself, not the stupid Poirot who got it wrong. And the “someday” it would be published would be many years later, after his own peaceful death of natural causes. Incidentally, Dr. Sheppard’s deception is much more motivationally justified than Captain Hasting’s whodunit structuring of Poirot’s cases, which by all rights should start, “The way Poirot figured out that Carmichael Clarke was guilty of the A. B. C. murders is one of his greatest triumphs…”

    My point here is that Christie didn’t have a third person narrator lie (alone sufficient to satisfy Sayers), didn’t have her first person narrator lie, and gave him a reason for his clever deceptions. Few detective stories could ever claim to have as strong a defensive line.

    I agree that Bayard’s book is largely nonsense (I can’t agree with Mr. Stokes’s commemt above), but it does make one good point… though admittedly that was perhaps better made by The Poisoned Chocolates Case… or even in a way by Orson Welles who said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” As it applies to detective fiction, the truth is dependent upon where you end the story. There’s always room for one more entire revolution, making the truth we know to be part of someone’s plot. Dr. Sheppard indeed could have written the manuscript to protect the guilty Caroline, and all the discrepancies Brad finds with that could be part of the doctor’s inaccurate account given toward that end. Or indeed, Caroline could’ve forged the entire manuscript as part of making the murder of her brother look like suicide (just as that clever Mrs. Rodgers framed that poor innocent Judge Wargrave). I’m not suggesting that these endless revolutions don’t start to get ridiculous, but we do have a tendency to believe the final solution given merely because the book ends.

    Jim, you’re a smarter man than I am, but I still can’t credit your assessment of your likelihood of seeing thru the central deception of the novel from a starting point of innocence. It’s not that I feel certain that you wouldn’t have seen thru it, but I doubt your ability to have a strong sense of whether you would. I think you may be underestimating the power of “the curse of knowledge” (which is beautifully discussed as it applies to fiction in Vera Tobin’s “Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot,” which I highly recommend). It posits scientifically that it’s fairly impossible for any of us to put ourselves in a mindset of innocence once we are “in the know.”

    And I think there’s actually evidence indicating that you would not have found Ackroyd transparent. After all, the reason most people who are surprised by the solution to the novel are surprised probably has little to do with the subtleties of Christie’s cunning or the cleverness of Sheppard’s alibi, but the simple fact that the possibility of a narrator killer does not even seem an option to them. They never considered that a narrator could be the killer. Likewise for the reason many people still continue to be surprised by the ending of The Mousetrap (which doesn’t even feature subtlety or a clever alibi). They’ve never considered that the character in that function of the story could be the culprit… otherwise it’s hardly much of a surprise (which is the reason I never recommend any works dependent upon the reader never once entertaining the possibility of the culprit’s guilt [Ackroyd, Peril at End House, Crooked House, Hercule a Poirot’s Christmas] as good first Christies— they’re great books, but if they do figure it out through familiarity with that same trick from a Diagnosis: Murder episode, I fear they may never come back to Christie). You, on the other hand, were already aware not only of the possibility of a narrator-killer solution but of the fact that it was a device that had been used. And even with that knowledge— which I consider 80% of the trip there— Dr. Sheppard’s guilt, while considered, was not patently obvious to you.

    It brings to mind something Brad said about his first exposure to Christie’s works. He said that he came to all of Christie’s works as a child with no preconceived notions. But I think he’ll agree with me that in a way that’s no true at all. He came to his second Christie novel with his knowledge of his first Christie— perhaps a new knowledge of how a mystery novelist could surprise, and an high expectation of joy that hadn’t accompanied the first. And by the third novel he had more understanding— even at that age— of the kind of things she could do. As he clearly tells us, she could still fool him, maybe to the last Christie he read, but by that time he was surely aware not only of some of her techniques, but of more possibilities of the genre. I assume that if I had read A Murder is Announced as my first Christie, it would’ve blown me away. As it was, my experience with at least five other (less clever) examples of what I refer to as Christie device 1A (from Christie and others) made it rather transparent to me (or at least I considered the culprit possibility, which was enough to diminish the surprise).

    Anthony Shaffer titled his memoirs “So What Did You Expect?” ending each chapter with a line involving the idea of expectation. And thinking it over, I’m rather convinced that expectations are the single most significant factor in our experience with detective fiction. Which is why I think The Murder of Roger Ackroyd can still flabbergast… or underwhelm.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, Scott, where to begin with this? 😄

      The three defences are smart, I agree, and Christie would definitely have gone into this knowing she would face cries of “Foul!” — though, of course, Messrs. Knox and Van Dine were still a few years away from trying to codify this new form of fiction. It’s a shame so little of Christie’s process remains, because we’ll never really know how ‘fair’ she intended it to be — she’s coming off the back of more than a few decades of Big Smash Ending writing, so as long as it surprises I think she may not have worried too much about the finer points of declaration (you’d never write the thing if you worried over such things too acutely…).

      I maintain, as I said in the podcast, that after a sufficient amount of GAD reading — less than the 20 years I’ve put in — I would solve this if I came to it pure. As it is, we’ll never know, but I’m not bragging…it’s more an observation, for the reasons I state in the above: the vagueness really leaps out, like in that Berkeley. But, pish posh, I imagine I’ll be defending myself on this claim for the rest of my natural life 🙂

      And I haven’t forgotten that we’re going to get into Fairness in Season 3 of IGWT, Scott, so start gathering your notes. I’ll be in touch!

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      • I’m not suggesting she was aiming for “fairness,” (whatever the hell it means), I’m just saying that’s a lot of ammunition, indicating (I think) that she knew she was in for some loud complaints (and she was).

        I can’t say what you would or wouldn’t figure out, but for the most part I know that this work is still tremendously deceptive for many people today who have never considered the possibility that a narrator can be a culprit (which is still a surprisingly substantial percentage of the population). The Agatha Christie Facebook groups are filled with people recommending it, and saying “you’ll never figure it out!”— foolish, I think, because that very statement is a red-flag of a “revolutionary” concept, and one that has shown up in so many places since. Like many of those works largely dependent for their surprise upon the reader never considering the culprit as a possibility, it’s like a long odds-bet: particularly rewarding if it comes as a surprise, particularly disappointing if it doesn’t. I do consider it among Christie’s better works, but I think recommending it as a first Christie (which so many in these groups do) is rather idiotic. It’s fragile.

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        • Yeah, we can agree on both fronts: Christie knew full well how much attention — not all of it positive — this would stir up, and over-recommendation of this book is not a healthy thing.

          I’ve been thinking of late that I need to generally pull back on recommending the same stuff too much, because if I was able to come to it in relative ignorance then it seems only fair that others do so too, without me boosting its standing. How this realisation coincides with me running a blog specifically set up to recommend detective fiction is a contradiction I have yet to figure out.

          Beyond the obvious, of course.

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    • Oh, Scott, Scott . . . how are are we going to pull you out of your naturally shy reticence and get you to share your thoughts. Open up, Scott, you’ll feel better . . .

      I think I agree with all you say here, and I want to comment on the point you made about coming to Christie as a kid. As I stated, I knew the plot of ATTWN from having had it told me by a babysitter; it’s too good a book for me to have not enjoyed despite that, but it hardly mattered what I might have picked for my next read, as Christie wrote NOTHING like this again. So let’s consider my second book, Murder on the Orient Express, my first blind read of Christie. I remember that i jumped out of my chair (at the age of 12) when I got to the end of that one. My third read was the novella “Three Blind Mice,” based on the play. So that one has a similar surprise ending, and I certainly was surprised, but as you described, I probably didn’t have as strong a reaction as I had to MotOE. I’m not sure if this is because “TBM” is an inferior story and solution to MotOE; I was too young to have that level of critical skill. While it’s possible that I was becoming inured to surprise as far as Christie was concerned, I remember jumping just as high out of my chair a year later when I read my first Ellery Queen, The Greek Coffin Mystery. By then, I had some experience for such an ending, but it still managed to shock me here.

      Maybe the answer here is in the relationship between reader and author: can the author’s methodology be as integral a factor as her/his plot? Did Queen do something with TGCM (which I have since re-read and find a bit boring) that made the surprise fresh? This brings up John Dickson Carr, who I consider my second favorite author (between Christie and Brand): I think in general I have enjoyed reading Carr more than I enjoyed Queen, but I have rarely been shocked by the endings. Not that I’ve solved them – I rarely have – but I think they’re better written, and Carr has a brilliant way of parsing out partial and fake solutions. He builds the suspense for me, and I usually feel quite satisfied with his endings. But I don’t jump out of my chair for his reveals. I think the biggest surprise for me was She Died a Lady, and I was too old to jump. 😉 But that one had a brilliant reversal, not only over who the killer was, but how it affected my relationship with a major character who was NOT the killer.

      At the same time, I am older and, hopefully, wiser, so I appreciate aspects of plot and character that have nothing to do with whodunnit. I was utterly shattered at the end of He Who Whispers by that last page, which has NOTHING to do with whodunnit. In fact, I spotted that killer very early on, even if I didn’t totally understand who they were and what their plot was. This is sometimes a problem for me with Carr, as it happened with The Emperor’s Snuffbox and The Reader Is Warned, two much-loved titles. And, as even the Puzzle Doctor recently noted, none of us REALLY want to figure out whodunnit, do we???

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      • Well, there a plenty of people who say that they really enjoy arriving at the solution before the authors reveals it, and who am I to call them liars.?I just don’t get it though— the pride of having great detective prowess simply can’t compare with the joy of sudden retrospective illumination for me (which, as I’ve said, I believe provides a subconscious sense of existential validation— how can one compare being a good figure-outer with assurance that one’s life has purpose?).

        I wasn’t trying to claim any knowledge of your specific mystery reading odyssey, just suggesting the general truth (I believe) that any reader comes with greater baggage reading their 100th mystery than their first, and even if Christie could fool you with the last one you read, you were probably a significantly “easier fool” with the first one (that’s not a personal comment— I’d say we were all easier fools with our first mystery). I don’t think we read mysteries in remotely the same order, but I suspect the fact that Christie, Carr, and Brand are our three favorite mystery writers (even if in a different order) suggests their ability to withstand varying degrees of reader experience (as well as our good taste!).

        He Who Whispers offers a great example for comparison, I think. When I first read it, I was so concentrated the “how?” of it all that I don’t even think I suspected that there would be any kind of surprise culprit. I didn’t know what to expect of the novel, and the killer’s identity came as a great surprise to me (though a double-edged sword, as the culprit’s identity both surprised me and revealed a fundamental flaw in the story). Had I read more Carr’s prior to this, I no doubt would’ve been on the lookout for more culprit identity deception.

        The nice thing about works such as Five Little Pigs, After the Funeral, Death of Jezebel, Till Death Do Us Part, even Rim of the Pit is that they can often fool even a seasoned mystery reader, not dependent upon an unreflective assumption that the ____________ can never be the killer (Did I ever mention that I was fooled by Endless Night? I clearly remember my surprise being based on my assumption that had she gone to that well again, I surely would have heard about it. Once again, outside expectations was the primary factor).

        Fewer things surprise me these days, but there are still mysteries beyond me… like how the hell do you get italics on WordPress?

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        • Oh, I took absolutely no offense in your description of my reading experience; I thought I made it clear that I agreed with your premise, having had less of a reaction to “Three Blind Mice” (surprised though I was) than to MotOE.

          And to make sure you understand how little offense I took, mon ami, I will teach you how to do italics: right before the word or phrase you wish to render in italics, you type . That’s . (Obviously, I can’t just type it out or you’ll find a message in italics. But all three symbols run together.) Then, when you are finished with whatever you wanted to place in italics, you type (all in one bunch) right at the end of that word or phrase (no spaces) . . . and you’re done.

          If you follow the exact same process and insert a “u” instead of an “i”, you will underline what you have highlighted.

          I hope that provides you with the illumination you need, cher Hastings.

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        • The books are undeniably more entertaining if you, the non-specific reader, don’t figure it out in advance. But I wonder how much the book as a story and the book as a reading experience can be separated.

          I look at my experience of Brand’s Tour de Force: great book, but an underwhelming encounter for me because I saw through it so easily. Carr has written books that were less good as books — Snuffbox, say — but the fact that I did not see it coming from a deductive perspective (the who stands out a mile, but how Kinross proves it is delightful) made it so much more enjoyable.

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  8. Turning to some comments that do not concern the narrative structure:

    I don’t understand how Flora expected to get away with her lie to the police about what she was doing outside the door. She has no idea Roger Ackroyd is dead, she must think he would contradict her story immediately.

    I happened to read The Bowstring Murders by Carter Dickson recently, where a character comments that one could never confuse a voice from a dictaphone with the real voice of the man. Given technological limitations on sound record and reproducing technology, this sounds plausible. In Ackroyd’s case there is also the unusual phrasing that should make people think something is odd. Maybe someone can test a 1920s dictaphone to see if it would work. Ackroyd is also lucky that anyone hears the voice at all, it is a risky way to get an alibi.

    The attitude to blackmail is interesting. Ackroyd is angry at the blackmailer for tormententing Mrs Ferrars, but it seems he would be fine with Dr. Sheppard sending her to the gallows by reporting her. And then at the end, Poirot essentially blackmails Sheppard into suicide.

    There are lots of other points of sociological interest. I am not convinced though that a real life Urusula Bourne would enjoy being a house-maid.

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    • I read a book a little while ago in which a similar dodge is used with pre-recording a voice on a vinyl record — it never occurred to me to compare the two technologies (that book came out later than this one), but then I’m pretty ignorant of the dictaphone technologies of any age. If Carr says it can’t be done, though, I agree — I can see him, for one, being keen to banish the trope from all detective fiction.

      Flora’s theft is interesting, too, for the reason you state. She steals, if I recall, 5£40? That’s roughly £2,000 GBP ($3,400 USD) in today’s money. No-one is starting a new life on that!

      Ursula Bourne’s displeasure at being a housemaid might be evinced in her marrying the Ackroyd Heir. Clearly the life didn’t appeal to her 🙂

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      • I use a variation of the dictagraph alibi in Kill A Better Mousetrap (partially as a tribute to Ackroyd, of course). I know that the technical aspect of my device could work (a lot of the recent cellphone technology helps), but I don’t really know if the sound would be deceptive. But it’s not bothered me.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. “I maintain, as I said in the podcast, that after a sufficient amount of GAD reading — less than the 20 years I’ve put in — I would solve this if I came to it pure. As it is, we’ll never know, but I’m not bragging…”

    Well if we were in a novel, we would no doubt hypnotise you so you had no memory of the book and no knowledge that there was a Christie book which does the famous twist, and then get you to read it and see if you can live up to your bold claim lol

    Very much enjoyed listening to this podcast, as per usual, makes me miss the group chats we have at the conference.

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      • Jim, as I said, I don’t doubt that you would have gleaned the truth from a “pure” state nearly so much as I doubt that you can know whether you would. It is the impossibility of recapturing that mindset of innocence— even for purposes of supposition— that lies at the core of “the curse of knowledge.” The standard method a magician employs to make a small hankerchief disappears is an excellent example of this— it fools most “lay” audiences, but anyone who knows the secret has difficulty believing that it anyone could not see the mechanism clearly in front of their face. Would we be fooled if we didn’t know? There’s no way of knowing.

        I know that I watch the screen and think “that looks just like Marlene Dietrich in an ugly wig,” and hear the voice and think “that’s got Dietrich’s speech impediment” and have trouble believing anyone wouldn’t recognize that (I knew the story before I saw the film). But most people don’t, and I know that I have no way of knowing whether I would.

        I don’t even think it’s a matter of being told of this particular twist. It’s just an awareness of the scope of possibilities. The “twist” in my one act— the most transparent twist around, I’ll freely admit— has come as a big surprise to many people who are simply not expecting it to be a play that would have a twist of any kind. Likewise, I believe that someone who has seen The Mousetrap has a substantially larger chance of catching on to the solution of Roger Ackroyd, and vice versa, because once one recognizes that such an “outside the box” possibility exists— once one truly recognizes that “anyone” can be the culprit— the gates are wide open. Until then, there’s a helluva lot of sudden vagueness and other oddities we will overlook and justify.

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        • The Moustrap — note the italics — is another one I’m sure I would have solved but was told in advance (in easily the most annoying manner possible…). So, dammit, maybe I’m cursed…!

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          • I noted the italics and the misspelling (I’m guessing that’s your clever tribute to the Monk[s]well Manor sign in the play). I think (hope?) I made it clear that I think knowing the end of The Mousetrap would do much of the work clueing someone into to considering the Roger Ackroyd solution, and vice versa. The mere exposure to the concept that culpability might not be limited to those overtly identified as suspects is the big thing— the idea that anyone could be guilty.

            That said, I consider the solution deception to Roger Ackroyd to be significantly better insulated than that of The Mousetrap. All the play has to protect it is people never considering that possibility (which makes its advertising tag line of “Suspect Everyone” particularly foolhardy), while Roger Ackroyd has that (its primary protection) as well as the alibi with which Sheppard is deceiving those character. I see that as extra protection, akin to setting the parking brake after putting the car in park. Another automotive analogy, which strikes me as humorous, as I’m not into cars.

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            • Oh, Ackroyd does a far, far superior job to The Mouseetrap (that’s where the missing e was intended for) in terms of its misdirection. Indeed, the guilty party in TM stands out so much because of how atypically that sort of character is written for a Christie work — there’s a distinct air of Priestley’s Inspector Goole about them, which immediately made me suspicious. Or would have. Probably.

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            • Well, I feel it’s like a guessing game in which I were to say, “I’m thinking of something. Here’s a hint: it’s in the United States of America.” Even an affirmative answer to “Is it bigger than Nebraska?” might not be all that helpful a clue until we learn that “The United States of America” is a permissible answer, but after we do, it’s a pretty simple problem.

              The primary thing that still fools readers and viewers of Ackroyd and Mousetrap is that many people look upon it as a multiple choice problem, and they don’t consider that “narrator” or “detective” are among their options. Ackroyd has a little more reinforcement than that, but it’s still the primary factor of deception.

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  10. Nice discussion but I am really dissapointed to see that the Spoiler Warning series has turned exclusively Christie. Nothing against her but I feel that all of her books have already been discussed to death. Seriously, you can find thousands of reviews of all the books in your list online. I know that these podcasts are just for fun but it does seem a bit pointless going over all that again.

    I liked when you did in-depth analysises of lesser known books. Your blog is probably the only place on internet where one can find thorough examination of solutions of books like Ten Teacups, Wire Cage, Rim of Pit, Invisible Weapons etc. There is nothing more fun than picking apart the solution of a rare classic mystery to see if it holds!

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    • Hey, Neil!

      Sorry you see these efforts as pointless. What I see is my first chance in fifty-five years of reading Agatha Christie to discuss her in depth with two wonderful people. I never had a friend who cared about her enough to get into a deep, nerdy analysis of different works. I totally get your opinion that Christie is over-covered, but the joy that I have spending time with Jim and Moira, two people I have only met once and had hoped to meet last summer before I got locked in my home for going on eleven months, talking about my favorite author, is boundless. Perhaps we have been unable to come up with anything new about her, and for that I apologize for my part in that issue. In all selfishness, it doesn’t really bother me if only a handful of people listen to these and respond to them; I’m having so much fun that I hope they never stop, at least until we get to Passenger to Frankfurt around the year 2036.

      Secondly, I know that JJ is not the only one who talks about “lesser known books.” I do that over at my place, and Moira does it even more at hers. Among other authors that I focus on, I’m working my way through the Carter Dickson canon, most of which I’m reading for the first time since I grew up only focusing on the JDCarr titles. A while back, I talked in detail about Helen McCloy with Kate at Cross Examining Crime. A year or so ago, I did a very detailed spoiler-filled analysis of The Red Widow Murders, and I hope to be doing another on Death in Five Boxes with blogger John Harrison in the not-too-distant future. If you have a suggestion for a book that you would like to hear any one or all of us discuss, that might be a great, positive way to extend this process.

      And I’d like to end by saying that probably nobody I know offers more varied fare than JJ: his interest in pre-GAD authors, self-published locked room authors, modern crime fiction, non-Western crime fiction, and so on is unrivaled, particularly the attention he calls to new writers. He also manages to eke out two strains of podcast, including In GAD We Trust, which focuses on a wide range of topics. The fact that he has invited me to contribute regularly, and on a topic that I feel I know something about, has been literally a life-saver for me this past year, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

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      • There will always be readers who are relative newcomers to Christie, who aren’t familiar with everything that’s been said about her. I know I enjoy listening to discussions of my favorite subjects by people who are more knowledgeable than I, and who obviously have a good time exchanging opinions and insights..

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    • Well — and here’s a spoiler of sorts — the In GAD We Trust podcast only has a limited run remaining as it will probably come to an end when I return to work in September. I’ve been toying with the idea of some sort of “use an episode to look at a book” format for exactly the reasons you state: it’s fun to pick stuff apart. So who knows? Not even me, and I’m the guy who’d be doing it!

      I suppose the decision to settle on Christie was, again, much as you say: she’s so well known that it’s easy for people to get involved. I was always acutely aware with the previous form of SW that the books not be so obscure no-one could find them but also be “new” enough for not everything to be said. Honestly, some of the discussion that went into settling on a title both of us involved felt worked took aaaages 🙂

      The ubiquity of Christie cuts both ways, I’m aware, but rest assured that I also thoroughly enjoyed getting into the less-examined corners of GAD and would love to find a way back, So you may yet get your wish…!

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  11. Delighted to see this pop up a few days ago (I listened then but late at night so couldn’t respond at the time). As always a really entertaining conversation.
    I would slightly disagree with the assertion made toward the end of the podcast that this is the most famous work – that may be true within our community but I think if you were to do a Family Feud-style poll it would come behind And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express. It is probably her most easily spoiled work though as it is so easy to accidentally hint about the twist.
    The question about the sound quality of the dictation machine is an interesting one. I don’t think you could just mock up the same conditions and attempt to repeat it yourself because the results would be influenced by our own knowledge of the technology. If you’re not expecting that you could be hearing a recording of a voice then why would you jump to the conclusion that is what you were listening to? In other words, while I cannot be certain it would work, it was credible enough for me.
    Like JJ, I wish later books had placed this after all of his other cases. It would make the chronology so much easier. Unfortunately Poirot and Japp talk about his experiences growing vegetable marrows and how encounters with crime were inevitable so I don’t think it works which is a shame.

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    • Actually, I think you’re spot on Aidan: in the general populace there will be far greater recognition of Express and Nile, not least because of the films that exist (ATTWN…I dunno — the Phelps version aside, it hasn’t really had the same chance to penetrate into the public mind). We tend to forget that not everyone has the joy of being a detective fiction fan!

      Dolores Gordon-Smith wrote a book based around the recording technology of the 1930s, so I’m sure she’d have sufficient coverage of the technology to be able to rule on this. I suspect it’s not quite as good as Christie needs it to be, but I’m also — on account of that doubt — more than happy to let he have it.

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      • One of the biggest surprises I had recently was when an eleven year old at a program I ran proudly told me that And Then There Were None was their favorite book saying they also liked Stephen King and Dean Koontz. What I realized from that is that it is one of those books that is often percieved to be an atmospheric horror story as much as it is a mystery novel.
        I definitely agree with your point about the film adaptations playing a large role in making people more aware of those specific titles.

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        • Oh, man, we all go through a Dean Koontz Phase, don’t we? Thankfully mine was in the early 2000s when he was putting out some great books (False Memory, say, which is still one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read) alongside the usual crap (One Door Away from Heaven, I want to say — yeesh!).

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    • I agree that Murder on the Orient Express is now more famous to the public at large, but that’s primarily due to the success of the 1974 film (and later the 2017). Growing up prior the Finney film, I remember the most spoken and written about Christies being And Then There Were None, Roger Ackroyd, and— believe it or not— The ABC Murders.

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  12. Incidentally, rewatching Double Indemnity, I note that it was related in flashback, some of it accompanied by voice over narration, some not. There were also ellipses of time, and though none of them proved to retrospectively be significant, I don’t see any reason why Ackroyd couldn’t be filmed that way.

    As it was, the Suchet version somewhat substituted for Ackroyd’s narrative gimmick one she used in a couple of places in of And Then There Were None— where we know that we are hearing the thoughts of a murderer, but we dont know which character is relating them. It’s a fine idea, but I don’t see how it’s much easier to pull off than the original.

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  13. I notice that Bayard’s most recent book is a reconsideration of “And Then There Were None” – maybe it also posits that the letter which concludes the book turns out to be a forgery?

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    • Why not? There’s little reason to accept Wargrave’s letter as authentic, other the fact that he’s the most likely character to have the wherewithal to arrange for everything. Everything else (and maybe that as well) may be chalked up to the fact that he’d serve as the most believable scapegoat (including the three “self-admitted” clues that may have been arranged for that same purpose). It is difficult to see how any of the last three victims could have pulled it all off (in terms of opportunity), but if we can somehow believe that one of the other six could have convinced the doctor to help them fake their death, so that they may fool U. N. Owen, the whole thing is very simple. My money is still on that saucy minx, Mrs. Rodgers.

      Again, it’s a case of the final truth being accepted largely because the book ends.

      Incidentally, ommon misconceptions about this book are that Mr. Owen’s motive was abstract justice, that at the time of Vera’s hanging she is the most likely possibility as Mr. Owen, and that the seaweed incident discounts the possibility that Vera is Mr. Owen. None of those are true.

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