The Shameful Book Club: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

December’s genre is mystery, my personal favorite. I paired it up with December because it’s usually a cold and stressful time with the holidays and the winter and such, so I figured I should be allowed to treat myself to my favorite genre in the midst of unpleasantness. I picked The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because it is arguably Agatha Christie’s best novel, and I, as a massive Christie fan, had not yet read it. I actually haven’t read as much Christie as one would think. I can count on one had the number of novels and novella’s I’ve tackled, so I personally find that rather shameful.

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Me and a real cool dude on Halloween. I am Agatha Christie, holding her book Halowe’en Party, at a Halloween party.

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Annd a close up. The only thing I can explain in this picture is that I deliberately drew age lines on my face so I look old.

I was very excited to finally get to Ackroyd. I’ve seen it appear on tons of lists like “Top 5 Biggest Twist Endings of All Time” and “Novels That Will Make Your Head Spin So Hard It Will Pop Right Off You’ve Been Warned”. And a coworker of mine, who actually hates this kind of old-school Scooby Doo novel, told me she really enjoyed Ackroyd because of it’s unique twist. I was very successful in avoiding spoilers and could not wait to try to guess who committed the crime, which I did at around page 133. I was very proud of myself.

In order to track my progress and prove exactly when I predicted the identity of the killer, I used a new tracking app called Bookout. I learned about Bookout from Bookriot.com, and I’m having very mixed feelings about it. I’m a tracker and an organizer, which shouldn’t be a surprise since I’m a librarian. I also love data and data analysis, so when I saw that a function of Bookout was that you could harvest stats about your reading habits and then export a data visualization of your reading experience with each book, I was in! Sadly, the damn app gives me crazy anxiety. The way it works is that you enter in a book and then when you start reading the book you hit a button in the app and a timer starts going. You leave the timer going for as long as you’re reading and then when you’re done you turn it off and enter what page of the book you are on. As you can imagine, this allows you to track reading speeds, days of most time read or most pages read, how many hours it took you over all, etc. Then you can download the pretty data vis.

I don’t like having the timer on. My boyfriend comes in and talks to me when I’m reading ALL the time and I want to strangle him, but usually it isn’t a problem because my reading time isn’t being meticulously tracked. I can just stop, listen to him, tell him to leave, and begin again. With this app I have to stop reading, unlock my phone, stop my timer, listen, tell him to leave, unlock my phone, start the time, continue reading. The same is true for when I start daydreaming or if I take a break to walk around or check Twitter to see how our national dumpster fire is raging on. Maybe this wouldn’t bother me so much if I wasn’t so particular and concerned with “accurate stats”, which is a laughable notion anyway.

Another issue I have is that, as far as I can tell, I can only export a data vis for one book in complete isolation of the other books and their stats recorded in the app. What if, after a long year of reading, I want some data that looks at all of my reading habits not just the ones expressed during this one book? Maybe this is an option I don’t see yet because, honestly, I stopped using the app after this book. I might try again just for the sake of science however. And I do like this data vis!

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Ackroyd takes place in a small English village with your standard English folk being nosy as all hell. The town itself has had some scandal. A woman’s husband dies of what some conjecture to be poisoning, and shortly after his death she begins seeing a prominent member of the community, Roger Ackroyd, whose wife died some time before leaving him with a step son. This woman suddenly ends up killing herself after revealing to Roger that she did in fact kill her husband with poison and was now being blackmailed by another member of the community. Roger invited the town doctor over one night as his trusted friend and confided in him, telling him most of what he knows. After this visit, and I do mean directly after, Ackroyd is killed. Hilariously, our hero Hercule Poirot is in town resting in retirement, but of course he gets on the case. An investigation is launched by Poirot and the police, and all current residents of the Ackroyd home are considered suspects. As with most Christie mysteries, it proves to be a twisted web! There’s the niece who is engaged to the step-son but definitely hooking up with the Major and her mother is always bitching about how Ackroyd was stingy with money and the young secretary who probably didn’t get paid shit and where is his step-son anyway?? Was he in town or not? Don’t even get me started on the staff of the house! There’s evidence of secret relationships, heroin use, and tons of sneaking around climbing in and out of windows and the changing of many shoes. And now I will get into a couple of spoilers…

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What is fun about this book, and why I think everyone loves it, is the play it has on perspective. It is told from the point of view of the town doctor, who had his meeting with Ackroyd right before his death. He teams up with Poirot and acts as his kind of assistant throughout. As a result, we get all the details through the doctor’s conversations with the detective, as well as the doctor’s own thoughts and accounts of the events to himself and other characters. Also, we experience a very interesting relationship between the two men, one in which Poirot never accuses or suspect the doctor of any wrong doing. We as an audience believe in Poirot and his judgement, and we unconsciously assume two things: a) that Poirot believes the doctor is beyond reproach and trusts him completely and b) that the doctor has told even us the truth. We should not have believed either of these, as we witness the doctor leaving parts of his own story out during his conversations with Poirot.

But all humans lie here and there when they don’t think the details are important, and that is a basic truth that Christie tends to fall back on in most of her twisty mysteries and thrillers. We only see small versions of the truth from other people, either due to omission, lies, or straight up deception. Christie falls back on this human trait during Ackroyd and it twists the plot so delightfully. Because of weird omissions and fibs told by the characters, the odd and elaborate scheme set up by the real killer is actually reinforced by accident by the suspects. So I pretty much suspected everyone at one point or the other, that is until…

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…there is a very distinct tonal shift. And who controls the tone of the narrative in this story? The doctor. Poirot catches him in a fib, he reveals that he does not actually trust the doctor implicitly. What is more, this fib was one that he gave to us as well. And it wasn’t just the lie, but the way he reacted to it. He was grouchy and cold, and the tone of the book shifted. This interaction between the doctor and Poirot is not a huge one, and it doesn’t seem significant at the time, but the way the vibe of the story changes is pretty telling. It was there that I realized that we were intentionally led away from the doctor as a suspect. Christie used her incredible talents for manipulation to play with the perspective and her knowledge of how people interact with narrators to trick us into a false sense of trust and comfort with the doctor. It was amazing! And yes, he did it. I won’t say why, and I won’t spoil any of the other fun, because even if you decided to read this spoiler there are still a ton of questions you might want to know more about. Not to mention the immense fun it is to read the twisty plots that Christie crafts.

I gave The Murder of Roger Ackroyd 4/5 stars, and that’s really just because I’m trying to be more strict about my ratings. I highly recommend it to everyone! So now I’m a bit behind on my reading as well as my posting, because I’ve accidentally found myself in 5 different book clubs and that’s a lot to keep up on while also trying to work a ton and save our country from itself.

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I am currently still reading January’s pick. January is humor (because January is cold and dreary and post holiday slump is for real), and I have chosen The Princess Bride by William Goldman! I love the movie so much, but have not had the pleasure of reading the hilarious book. I can tell you now that I’m finding the book to be even funnier than the film. February is romance because uh, Valentine’s Day (I’m not creative), so I will finally be reading Outlander! I own this book in every form…physical, Kindle, and audio. I loved watching the first season of the show with my mom, and I even got to attend a STARZ panel at New York Comic Con the year before it came out, which featured Ron Moore, the show runner, and author Diana Gabaldon. It was excellent! I have absolutely lied about this book to so many people, but I’ve also told the truth about not having gotten to it yet. The paper copy I own was gifted to my by a wonderful Geek Girl Brunch member for Christmas one year because she knew I hadn’t been able to read it yet. I will try my hardest to tackle both The Princess Bride and Outlander this month so I can be all caught up.

And just for the sake of letting you guys know what is coming up in case you want to play along, March is science fiction, a genre I absolutely love but have the biggest gap in. I was planning to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, but I am switching to 1984 by George Orwell. You know why. And yes, I have never fucking read it I ADMIT MY SHAAAMMEEEE!

Ok friends. I know this is a hard time right now. I’m trying to prioritize reading as my self-care tactic, but it’s been hard. I’m definitely not ok with what has been happening, and I’ve been trying to be as active as possible with my #resistance. part of that resistance, however, has been my self-care and also my reading of mind-expanding materials. I am very proud of my friends, family, and all of you who are kicking ass right now, but remember that we need to keep the momentum up, and that means taking care of ourselves too. Fight on, lovely badasses!

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