This month’s review was brought to you by the number 1800 and the word Dipsomania.
I’ve actually wanted to read some Agatha Christie ever since she appeared on an episode of Doctor Who fending off a giant alien wasp and David Tennant’s raw sexual appeal, but aside from that I was also curious to see what variety of detective stories she writes, because there are certainly a few different flavours out there. There’s the kind where the explanation is so improbable you can only marvel at the brilliant deductions of the protagonist (that’d be your Sherlocks), there’s the one where we know who did it and we watch to see how the protagonist figures it out (ala Colombo), then there’s the type which gives the audience some clues and lets you try and figure it out yourself (as seen on Scooby Doo), and finally there’s the kind that throw out some random bullshit explanation at the end that sort of ruins things, a bit like finding out your lover poops at climax, (that’d be The Luminaries and sometimes the Sherlocks, lest we forget the one where the solution is ‘pigmy with a blowpipe’). Anyway it turns out The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is mostly the third one with just a dash of the fourth.
The trouble with reviewing mysteries is their vulnerability to spoilers more than any other form of fiction and while I won’t give much away if you want to go in cold you should probably stop reading at the end of this paragraph. Actually you probably should have stopped at that climax-poop bit but that was more in the interests of good taste, anyway if all you really need to know is ‘is it worth a read?’ then yes, I’d say so, it’s an easy read and even at its most meh I still wanted to keep going and found that it occupied my thoughts enough afterwards to say I enjoyed it, though those thoughts were largely towards whether or not I though it really worked as a mystery. What does that mean? Follow me into incredibly mild spoiler territory!
Spoiler Warning, Threat Level Marmalade
I think this is what you might call a standard murder mystery for the most part; there’s a dead guy, someone who was blackmailing his recently alive wife and a list of suspects who were all in the stately manor at the time of the murder, each with something to hide and one of them is a butler, because there must always be a butler, I don’t know if it’s because no one outside the aristocracy has ever murdered in England or that it’s just that every English Thomas, Richard and Harold just happened to have a butler. We follow the GP of a sleepy town of King’s Abbott, the good Dr. Shepherd as he follows Hercule Poirot, the famed detective who thought he could retire and leave the old life behind but just when he thought he was out they drag him back in because he didn’t choose the sleuth life, the sleuth life chose him, dammit. An early complaint is that it’s one thing to be watching the detectives but it’s another thing entirely to be watching someone watching a detective work. I know the point is to steady the reveal of information by having a Watson or a Hastings as an audience proxy but it’s still kind of annoying because at times while Poirot is off sleuthing it up Dr Shepherd’s often taking tea or playing mah-jong or gossiping with his sister, so in parts of the story it feels like we’re spending the day with Clark Kent instead of Superman.
From there it’s all standard fair, Poirot plods along sniffing out clues and taking statements all the while throwing out vague hints as to what it all means but what separates The Murder of Dan Ackroyd to other mysteries is its big third act reveal and simply knowing that there is such a reveal is all the spoiler marmalade you’ll get from me. Suffice to say that it’s something that makes me honestly wonder if this counts as a mystery novel at all because while it’s a clever little twist in terms of narrative it renders much of the accumulated knowledge and deductions about the crime a bit null and void. I had suspicions of said reveal about three quarters of the way through but dismissed them because they didn’t seem to fit and being given only the tail end of the book to swallow the sudden change left me somewhat unsatisfied but not entirely unfulfilled, sort of like swallowing actual change.
So, before this spoiler marmalade turns into peanut butter I should probably wrap things up. All said is The Murder of Jim Belushi worth it? That depends on your personal context I suppose, because while I liked it well enough upon completion I like it a fair bit less now than when I started writing about it all those minutes ago when I was young and reckless. The fact that I can call it a stock standard mystery novel is sort of a problem and while I haven’t read any other Christie I get the distinct feeling that it’s all pretty much like this, save for the aforementioned marmalade twist towards the end, a twist that I feel may actually keep this from being a true mystery, at least in terms of one where the reader can follow the clues and conclusions the same as it’s protagonist. It’s a difficult call but I’d say if you want something easy and intriguing to read without too much commitment, because hypothetically you’re an insomniac with gout and a fear of flying so you’re travelling by train between Venice and Prague with several hour to kill then yes, give it a shot and get the gout checked, but for most I can’t help but come back to the notion that in creating a clever twist Christie might have ruined her own mystery because you can’t change a key element so late in the game and still claim that it’s mysterious, like how you can’t freeze soup on a stick and call it dessert or how I can’t sell ice cream from the back of an unmarked panel van and still be surprised when it all ends in handcuffs and TASER burns.
Written by Mix Master Metaphor B.T. Calloway