I must confess that detective fiction, or crime novels, have not featured that highly on my list of literary priorities over the years. However, the lure of Agatha Christie's work proved too strong, and I therefore recently sought out The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, first published in 1926, and often cited as one of the most important detective novels of all time.
Almost as soon as I commenced reading the book, the thought struck me that its impact had been dulled by the fact that I had seen the British television adaption, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, even if that adaptation differed from the novel in several respects. On the other hand, the small-screen version did assist me in my "visualizations".
The employment of a central character as "narrator" helps to give this story its distinctive feel. Again, the effect might be different, more pronounced, to those who are unfamiliar with the story in any format.
For me, the character of Hercule Poirot both irritates less and charms less when his idiosyncrasies emanate from the printed page. Even so, one can readily appreciate how Agatha Christie supposedly came to dislike the character, her own creation. I guess that modest, anodyne characters do not inspire strong emotions, or persuade people to read books. Perhaps the reader should develop a method of "tuning out" Poirot's less agreeable traits?
I should stress that my evaluation of The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd may have been coloured by the slant of my fiction-reading in recent times, which has tended to focus on meatier, "philosophical" fare, such as Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann. So, when a sense of time and place, and historical perspective, seems largely absent, as with this novel, the natural reaction may be "what is all the fuss about?". An adjustment has to be made, to accept things on their own terms, and to concentrate on the detective elements and the "human nature" angles.
The plot has some compelling elements. Suicide, blackmail, jealousy, resentment, avarice, deceit and of course murder. The characters themselves are projected quite strongly in the novel, so that one acquires a reasonable understanding of their attributes and vices. The ending can be seen to fulfill more than one function. It surprises, especially to newcomers, but it is also left sufficiently enigmatic to leave some people wondering, and even proffering alternative, if sometimes fanciful, interpretations...
I did enjoy this book, but I wish earnestly that I had experienced it before I saw the television version. Its novelty and "shock" value was much diminished, I think. Repeated readings may alter my attitude, but it does surprise me a little that The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd is revered to the extent that it is. I guess that opinions depend largely on the personal tastes and literary palate of the reader.
Despite the cleverness of the plot, and its gripping nature, I was not heavily engaged emotionally or spiritually. I was not left feeling inspired or emboldened, or moved by any sense of being uplifted or animated. I had finished the book, and that was pretty much that. It was an interesting and well-constructed novel, but its alleged status as a masterpiece was, I admit, lost on me, during this first encounter.
To my mind, there was little genuine examination of the motives behind the culprit's deeds, or of his underlying grievances, if he had any. Also, the story is not really placed in any contemporaneous social context, in a way that could penetrate this reader's conscience and imagination. I would have recoiled at the callousness of the murderer, whilst simultaneously pondering any injustices or iniquities which might have been perceived to have fuelled the tragedy.
I think the message to me is either that I prefer pure crime stories to be audio-visual, or that glossy and atmospheric TV shows with lavish production values have tarnished or distorted my approach towards the crime novel genre....