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John Crichton

What's The Last Book You Read?

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The Secret Of Chimneys - Agatha Christie (1925)

 

Wasn't entirely won over by that one. Part of it has to do with the plot that is at times a bit hard to follow (lots of characters pretending to be someone they're not, etc.), characters that weren't particularly engrossing, a mystery that isn't quite engaging... Yet, as always, Christie manages to make you keep on reading because the way it unfolds, you still want to know what's gonna happen next and how everything is going to wrap up. And this time around, I thought it did in a way that wasn't entirely convincing. There's a twist in particular that I thought was a tad... convenient, for lack of a better word. I don't know... Maybe there's nothing wrong with it, but I had a bit of a hard time being satisfied with it.

Still, there's stuff I quite liked in this one: first, I liked that the main protagonist often finds himself in situations that would easily make him look like the prime suspect, but instead of lying to the people that demand explanations (as characters often do in fiction, which of course later backfires on them), he simply tells them exactly what happened, and instead of the other characters not believing him (which is generally what happens), here, they do. It felt like quite a refreshing way to deal with the "characters find the main protagonist in suspicious situation that make him look like the prime suspect" trope. I also really liked the character of Superintendant Battle, the stern yet friendly and pretty smart detective: he was one of the better aspects of the story (from what I understand, he appears in later Christie novels, so that's pretty cool). Eileen Bundle and her father Lord Caterham were also fun enough. And the story has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing till the very end.

Overall, this is definitely not one of my favourite Christie novels, but I'd say there's just enough good material to make it a worthwile read. I just wish the denouement was more satisfying and the characters more likeable.

 

6/10

 

 

P.S.: I saw the "adaptation" of the book as a Miss Marple episode: what a mess! The story has been changed so much that Anthony Cade, the hero in the book, becomes a secondary character, and they even had to change the murderer's identity! What the heck? On the plus side, Stephen Dillane (good ol' Stannis Baratheon) was pitch perfect as Battle. But oh boy, does this deserve a better adaptation...

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Ah... Agatha Christie. I began a collection few years ago... bought 25-30 books of her... but after reading 5 or 6, I saw a "pattern" of writing, and I stopped suddently.

 

"Did you get your new Agatha Christie for Christmas?" The poor old woman wrote at least a book by year.

 

Anyway, I always loved much more Poirot than Marple, because generally the choice of investigator, goes with the subject of the novel... Maybe one day, I will continue to read them.

 

But generally, I disliked the idea that when a woman wears a dressing gown, it Inevitability leaves strands of fabrics on a door handle... and Poirot will find it and take it as a proof.

 

1930... 2017... It's not always "CSI" level. Some plots aged not so well ;)

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The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie (1926)

 

Well, well, well... That twist is... problematic, so to speak. So much of this story relies on it that it may make or break the whole experience for some people. Unfortunately, to me, the twist does not work. It simply does not work... I'll discuss it right away because the other stuff was pretty good (the characters, the investigation...): it's just that twist that... Argh! OK, here we go!

 

Spoiler

So, before going into more detail, I'd like to say I'm fine with the twist in itself: the narrator is the killer? Fine (as long as everything before that fits with that premise!). The problem is what this twist implies. The first thing that comes to mind after the twist is revealed is: "Christie used the unreliable narrator device!" and, had it been the case, the twist would have worked for me. But the problem is: it's not a case of the unreliable narrator device being used, as far as I'm concerned (or at best, it used clumsily). Let me explain.

Throughout the whole story, we follow Dr Sheppard, who is both the narrator and the killer. Of course, as the narrator, we are told everything he does and we are revealed his thoughts as well. And that's where the problem lies... While his actions do fit with the twist (Dr. Sheppard simply omits some events that would reveal him as the killer, he doesn't actually invent events that didn't happen, so that works fine), his thoughts do not. OK, I'll admit maybe I'm wrong and I didn't pay enough attention, but from what I remember, throughout the whole book, Sheppard's thoughts seems to be those of someone who is innocent: he wonders why Poirot is curious about the chair that has been moved, he sometimes wonders who could be the murderer, etc. But why would he think about that, when he already knows the answers?

And the answer to that question is: "simply to mislead the reader". And that's why it doesn't work for me: I can't find a good in-story reason for Sheppard sharing such thoughts. If the only reason the narrator thinks like an innocent person is to mislead the reader, I feel it's a bit of a cheap trick, it's too easy. Sheppard does say at the end he intended to publish this as the story of the first case Poirot didn't manage to solve. OK, that could possibly explain the "thoughts" problem I mentioned above (though even then, it isn't entirely convincing, as I'm concerned), but if we're going to use this "Dr. Sheppard wants to publish a novel based on this case" frame for the story, why not mention it right away, so that it doesn't almost feel like an afterthought at the end? Because, as it is, it feels like Christie saying "Oh, by the way, I used the unreliable narrator device, and here's why", instead of giving us right away a frame of reference where the reader is unconsciously made aware that the narrator may not be actually revealing the whole truth.

To put it differently: instead of suddenly changing the narrative frame at the very end ("Hey, by the way, it's actually a book meant to be published, hence you shouldn't have trusted the narrator!"), making for an easy way out for a twist, Christie could have had Sheppard revealed right at the beginning that he intends to publish his writings, thus making the end more satisfying ("Right from the beginning, you were warned the narrator may not tell the whole story faithfully, but you didn't pay enough attention!").

Not sure if I made my point clear, but whatever! I understood what I meant, and that's what matters...

 

On a sidenote: I actually guessed the twist before the end. Now, I won't pretend it's just because I'm clever or whatever: it's simply because I knew it was one of Christie's most famous novels, so I assumed the twist had to be something big, and the only possible murderer reveal that could be a huge shock was "the narrator = the killer". I can't claim I would have guessed it, had I not known about the reputation of the novel, though I guess I would have suspected something, since there are some hints, if you pay attention: Poirot, who is someone who generally sees everyone as a suspect, befriends the doctor and doesn't seem to consider him a suspect somehow, and there's also the scene where Poirot gathers all the persons related to the case and tells them each one is hiding something from him, and those characters' secrets are all revealed one by one (and they're all ultimately not important secrets), except the doctor's, so that's suspicious, too...

Just mentioning that, because I admit it may have affected the way I felt about the twist: maybe if I hadn't guessed it early on, I would have been fine with it, I would have thought it was brilliant... I don't know.

 

That twist is also interesting in the way it makes adaptations of the book a bit difficult: how do you preserve the device on which the twist relies and that is the main reason behind the appeal of the book? The Suchet adaptation tried to preserve the device while still slightly altering it somehow, and the end result was a bit meh, as far as I'm concerned. Would be interested in seeing more adaptations, just to see how the writers would deal with that particular problem...

 

On an unrelated note, something I wanted to mention: the chronology of these Poirot stories is starting to get really messy: they keep going back and forth in time! In The Mysterious Affair At Styles, Hastings is reunited with Poirot for the first time on a case (after meeting him some years ago), then in the following Poirot novel, The Murder On The Links, Hastings gets married at the end and apparently goes to Argentina to live there. Then in Poirot Investigates, Hastings is working with Poirot on multiple cases, and there is no mention of his wife or Argentina (so I'm assuming all those stories are supposed to take place before The Murder On The Links). And here, in The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot is retired and talks about his friend Hastings who left England for Argentina... And in The Big Four (which I'm currently reading), Hastings returns from Argentina to visit Poirot. My head is starting to hurt!

 

Anyway! It is a bit of shame, that twist, because, as far as I'm concerned, with just a few tweaks here and there, it could have worked beautifully, but as it is, I'm simply not quite convinced by it. Better luck next time, Christie!

 

6/10

 

 

So, what did @Incanus thought of that one? And @Nick1066?

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22 hours ago, BloodBoal said:

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie (1926)

 

To be honest, it was years ago that I read the Christie mysteries, and a lot of them sort of flow together for me. I do remember that I enjoyed the language in them immensely,and I always recommend them to non-English speakers looking to improve their English. They're actually incredibly popular in the former Soviet states for that reason.

 

I wouldn't try to make too much of the chronology except in a general sense...though you're quite right to read them in chronological order. It is cool that Christie was thinking about some kind of continuity between the books before most writers were. She was ahead of her time on a lot of things.

 

If you get a chance (and if audiobooks are you thing), listen to one of the Poirot audiobooks with David Suchet or Hugh Fraser reading. Both do a fantastic jobs. 

 

There was a really interesting documentary a while back on BBC or ITV called The Agatha Christie Code that used a computer to analyse every word she ever wrote. The determined that there was actually a scientific reason her books are so addictive...

 

 

Quote

Agatha Christie believed that economy of wording was particularly important in detective stories; that the reader did not want to heard the same thing repeated three or four times.

 

She also uses very simple everyday language, and repeats it, rather than trying to introduce new words and phrases. She also relies heavily on dialogue throughout her books. In addition, the solution often depends upon the reader’s interpretation of something that a character says. Therefore by keeping her dialogue very simple and straightforward, and not challenging the reader with the vocabulary, she leaves us free to focus on the plot.

 

The research team also analysed each of Christie's books for its word length, frequency and sentence structure. They found that all of her books are very similar in style, using the same number of letters in a word on average, and approximately same number of words in a sentence. This is true for books written at the beginning of her career as well as books at the end of her career; it was as if she found a successful formula which captivated her readers and stuck with it.

 

The researchers also found that there was a level of repetition of key concepts in her words within a small space. When Agatha is getting a concept across, she repeats key words and words which are similar in meaning in rapid succession and in a condensed space. This theory is also backed up by believers of neurolinguistic programming, which is how language affects the mind and how the words can have an affect on how we think and feel. By repeating words at least 3 times in a paragraph, it enables the reader to become convinced about something.

 

In addition, the programme claims that a person’s conscious mind has a very limited focus, and can only focus on between five and nine things at one time. Once there are more than nine things to focus on, the conscious mind can’t continue to track them all, and so the person literally goes into a hypnotic trance. The Agatha Christie Code claims that Agatha often uses this by using more than nine characters, and by having more than nine plot lines taking place at any one time. As the reader’s mind gets overloaded, they start to begin really experiencing the book, feeling the book, and getting lost in it. And because feelings are infinitely more memorable than thoughts, people associate the feelings with Agatha Christie’s name and also with her novels.

 

Finally, the research team discovered that Agatha Christie very precisely controls the speed at which we read her books, by changing the level of descriptive passages. There are more descriptive passages at the beginning of her book than at the end, which has the effect that we read more quickly towards the end of her books... literally we are rushing towards the end to see who did it!

 

 

Read on brother!

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As far as I know, the plot twist at the end of The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd was the first of its kind at the time, so I wouldn't be too hard on it.

 

Also, the thoughts, for example about Poirot wondering why the chair was moved, isn't irritating at all for me because it reveals a flaw in the murderer's thought process, namely that he didn't think of it when he planned and executed the crime. The murderer is wondering about it because he is curious if that could lead a trail to him, or more generally speaking, if and why it was that helpful to Poirot.

 

It's like in those old Columbo episodes, when Columbo walks up to the murderer and goes "there is just one thing that's been bothering me all day", and after explaining the most petty detail, the murderer goes "well, why the hell should that be of any significance?"

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20 hours ago, Nick1066 said:

To be honest, it was years ago that I read the Christie mysteries, and a lot of them sort of flow together for me. I do remember that I enjoyed the language in them immensely,and I always recommend them to non-English speakers looking to improve their English.

 

I'm actually considering that, now. Probably will do that when I'll revisit some of them.

 

20 hours ago, Nick1066 said:

If you get a chance (and if audiobooks are you thing), listen to one of the Poirot audiobooks with David Suchet or Hugh Fraser reading. Both do a fantastic jobs. 

 

Audiobooks... Ugh!

 

20 hours ago, Nick1066 said:

There was a really interesting documentary a while back on BBC or ITV called The Agatha Christie Code that used a computer to analyse every word she ever wrote. The determined that there was actually a scientific reason her books are so addictive...

 

Some interesting comments. Thanks for sharing!

 

32 minutes ago, gkgyver said:

Also, the thoughts, for example about Poirot wondering why the chair was moved, isn't irritating at all for me because it reveals a flaw in the murderer's thought process, namely that he didn't think of it when he planned and executed the crime. The murderer is wondering about it because he is curious if that could lead a trail to him, or more generally speaking, if and why it was that helpful to Poirot.

 

Good point. I guess I can buy that.

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Murder of Roger Ackroyd doesn't pass muster for the modern OCD geek reader used to tight, superpseudophychologic mystery ala Sherlock. What a surprise!

 

Superb book! What are you talking about?

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2 minutes ago, BloodBoal said:

Just because you accept any half-arsed twist just like because you don't want to think about it doesn't mean that everyone should! You über duper twit of a fuck. Or some insult like that.

 

Christie would be most proud of this discourse.

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49 minutes ago, BloodBoal said:

Audiobooks... Ugh!

 

You can't read a book on a bike! I usually have two books going at any given time, one I'm reading and one I'm listening to while biking, walking, etc.

 

I'm actually surprised this thread isn't more popular, I didn't even know it existed.  Do so few of us here read!?

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1 hour ago, BloodBoal said:

 

So, what about you, my friend? Have you read any Christie books?

 

The ABC MurdersMurder on the Orient ExpressAnd Then There None and Death on the Nile.

 

I'm not a Christie scholar or completist, but I did grow up with Poirot. I'd like to revisit and delve more into her work though. Any recommendations?

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1 hour ago, Nick1066 said:

You can't read a book on a bike!

 

While would you want to read a book on a bike? You're not making any sense

 

45 minutes ago, KK said:

Any recommendations?

 

Well, I've only just recently started reading her works, chronologically. So far, I'd recommend The Mysterious Affair At Styles (the first Poirot novel and Christie's first novel, too), The Secret Adversary, Poirot Investigates (collection of short stories, so if you're looking for quick, easy reads, this is perfect), and The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd (even I didn't love it, hey, it's supposed to be a classic, so you should read it).

 

Talking about Ackroyd, I'm a bit surprised that, even though it's one of Christie's most famous novels, there was only one adaptation of it (unlike, say, Murder On The Orient Express). I'm guessing this has to do with that twist and how you can (or cannot) work with that on a screen adaptation.

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Stephen King's The Stand. Very long, mostly incredible journey. I really hope it gets a proper cinematic treatment at some point; it's considered by many even today to be King's best. 

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On 2.1.2018 at 7:32 PM, Richard said:

I read GREAT EXPECTATIONS, the other d-  oh, fuck it.

I actually finished the book just before Christmas. I quite liked it apart from Dickens' penchant for writing out local dialect for some of the dialogue which sometimes took a bit of deciphering.

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