Agatha Christie was a great games master

This piece contains spoilers for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

I read my first Agatha Christie book over the weekend – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which I gather is actually a pretty stupid place to start as it’s seen as being one of her best. Where to go from there? I wanted to read a bit of Christie in part because we’d just binged the cheerful pantomime of the Branagh films. Mostly, though, I think something had been put into my head when I read Stuart Turton’s luminous mystery, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a few years back. Christie felt like a locked door, behind which a deeper understanding of what Turton was up to awaited. This is true, I think, but there’s much more to it as well.

What surprised me the most – and I appreciate how stupid it sounds to be surprised by this – is how much of a game Roger Ackroyd is. It seems dumb to read a mystery novel and discover that there’s something the reader can actually solve in there, but in my defence, the mystery novels I’ve read until now don’t really bear that out. I don’t read Chandler or Hammett or Mosley to solve the plots – I read it for everything else the plot allows for. With these writers, it feels like the plot exists to give the characters a reason to stay on the page being fascinating or illuminating the themes and preoccupations of the work. If all of Christie is like Roger Ackroyd, the reverse is true for her stuff. Everything in the book – characters, settings, tone of voice – is there to serve the plot itself. Roger Ackroyd is a book that exists purely to be solved.

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