Monday, July 11, 2016

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

First Sentence:  Mrs. Ferras died on the night of the 16th-17th September--a Thursday.
When Mrs. Ferras has commits suicide, it is speculated as being due to her guilt over poisoning her first husband.  There are also rumors she was being blackmailed and that she had a secret liaison with Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy resident.  Dr. Sheppard, Ackroyd's friend and neighbor, receives a mysterious call telling him Ackroyd has been murdered, and murdered he he has been.  Can Sheppard's new neighbor identify the killer? 
It's always wonderful to start with a cast of characters.  Those of us readers who are getting slightly older do appreciate it.  Even with the initial cast of characters, Christie takes just the right approach to introducing each characters as they enter the story.  One cannot help but love Christie's descriptions of people-"I am sorry to say I detest Mrs. Ackroyd.  She is all chains and teeth and bones." 

The introduction of Poirot is delightfully done.  We are missing Colonel Hastings in this book, so our narrator is Doctor James Sheppard, one of the village residents and a main character, who first assumes Poirot to be a hairdresser, judging by the moustache.   It is also fun that although we meet Poirot fairly in the story, he doesn't truly become a focus of the story until later. One cannot help but smile at--"That, too, is my watchword.  Method, order, and the little gray cells."--and that we learn his eyes are green.
It is refreshing to have a police inspector who isn't completely set on one suspect, but still can't ignore the evidence leading a particular direction--"I'm trying to judge the thing fair and square..I'm not wanting him to be the guilty one-but it's bad whichever way you look at it." 
The plot is wonderfully complex.  What is remarkably clever is that one is given all the clues:  everything is there.  However, there are red herrings aplenty and it is only when all the clues are laid out on the board does the whole picture become clear.
"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" is as impressive today as it was when first published. It is easy to see why Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, with this being considered one of her very best works.

THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD (Trad Mys - Hercule Poirot - England -1920s) - Ex
            Christie, Agatha - 4th Poiriot
            William Morrow Paperbacks - March 2009

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Red Thumb Mark by Richard Austin Freeman

First Sentence:  "Conflagratam An 1677."
A valuable cache has been stolen from the safe of a diamond business owned by John Hornby and newly joined by his two nephews.  The safe appears untouched, except for a piece of paper in the bottom and two blood-smeared thumb prints which are identified as belonging to one of the nephews.  It is up to Dr. John Thorndyke, and his new assistant Dr. Jervis to prove the young man's innocence before he's found guilty and hanged.
Gratefully, the story has no prologue.  There is, however, an author's preface that is well worth reading.  Not only is it fascinating in its own right, but it also accustoms one to the style of language used; a much more elegant style than is used today.  It is interesting to see how our language has evolved.  In Edwardian times, the word "intimately" does not mean nearly what it does today.
From a casual meeting, we are introduced to Thorndyke, an M.D. and D.Sc. who had hoped to become a coroner but became a lecturer on medical jurisprudence, as well as Polton, Thorndykes' manservant and scientific assistant.  Our narrator is Jervis, a young general-practice physician without a practice who is hired by Thorndyke.  Mrs. John Hornsby, flighty-mannered wife of the business owner, and Juliet Gibson, strong-spirited, long-time companion to Mrs. Hornsby, are significant to the plot.  
There is a sense and influence of Sherlock Holmes, including interesting observations on the way in which people from different professions move.  However, what is nice about Thorndyke and Jervis is that their relationship is both more equal, but also one of master and apprentice, and certainly, of employer and employee.  Thorndyke appreciates and compliments Jervis' contributions, rather than just views him as a chronicler. 
One thing that is particularly nice is that Freeman really explains how Thorndyke reaches the conclusions he does.  The information on the various scientific experiments and analyses is fascinating.  Although there is one major coincidence, it is acknowledged by the characters as being such.  And who doesn't appreciate a good courtroom scene that ends with a good plot twist.
"The Red Thumb Mark" is a very good pre-"Golden Age" mystery with a very satisfactory ending.  If Freeman is an author unknown to you, it's well worth becoming acquainted with his books.

THE RED THUMB MARK (Hist Mys-Dr. John Thorndyke-England-Early 1900s/Edwardian) - VG
            Freeman, Richard Austin - 1st in series
            Skyhorse Publishing, July 2016