THE ACT OF ROGER MURGATROYD (2006) by Gilbert Adair


The late Gilbert Adair (1944-2011) would have been 70 this year. He wrote essays, screenplays, film reviews, novels and much more besides. His books are usually about other books, and this clever whodunit was inspired by an acknowledged Agatha Christie classic. Is Murgatroyd the controversial attack on the Golden Age mystery in general, and Christie in particular, that some claim it to be? Or an affectionate pastiche? It could be a bit of both actually because this reader, on reflection, still found its cunning and humour equally beguiling, not least for concocting an outrageous but not completely implausible locked room murder method …

“Never known a locked-room murder to happen in real life,” he muttered to himself. “Might be worth writing to The Times.”

Celebrated mystery author Evadne Mount, a cross between Agatha Christie and her fictional alter ego Ariadne Oliver with just a dash of movie star Margaret Rutherford thrown in, is the star of this book, a locked-room mystery set circa 1936 in a snowbound country house over the Christmas holidays. The least likeable character, a gossip columnist with dirt on all the guests, has been found shot inside a locked attic and the murderer must be found. Trubshawe, a neighbour and more importantly a retired Scotland Yard Inspector, is asked to investigate until the proper authorities can be reached once the weather clears.

“You may like to think of it as a bit of a game, but, don’t forget, there’s not much point to any game, be it Ping-Pong or Mah-Jongg, if you refuse to abide by the rules.”

Adair_Murgatroyd_pbOn re-reading Gilbert Adair’s four mysteries the phrase that kept coming to my mind is one used in film studies to describe a certain type of camera technique, the ‘unattributed point-of-view’ shot. In murder mysteries the POV of an unidentified character is used often to show the killer at work without giving away their identity, either as they spy on others or when they bump people off (often dramatically though unrealistically as they are seemingly staring at their gloved hands as they do the murder rather than looking at the victim). This is now a completely accepted part of modern film syntax (examples of it go back to the teens and twenties) even though it means that as a viewer we have to accept an abrupt shift from a neutral, seemingly objective third person mode of narrative presentation to a purely subjective one.  It is this complex commingling of signifiers and narrative effects and codes, and the way that audiences (viewers, listeners and readers) have come to unquestioningly accept such narrative and representational conventions, that lies at the heart of what, with his quartet of mysteries, might be termed the ‘Adair project.’

“Oh, I know I’m a colourless character, a bit of a cookie cut-out figure.”

Adair_Murgatroyd_frenchWhile some have questioned just how honourable Adair’s intentions with Roger Murgatroyd (and its sequels) actually were, what comes through time and again is his affection for the detective genre in general and a marvel for the effect it has on the reader, especially its Golden Age variant. This being a book by a master of the post-modern entertainment, there are plenty of literary references (the locked-rooms of John Dickson Carr and the moors and escaped convicts from The Hound of the Baskervilles all get a mention) as well as slightly more elaborate in-jokes. At one point we learn that Evadne once wrote a book about identical twins called ‘Faber or Faber’ and of course not only were Adair’s mysteries are all published by Faber and Faber, but despite the company name the publisher was founded solely by Geoffrey Faber, the second Faber added to the name purely for effect. The joke seems to extend even to the publisher’s ‘ff’ logo, which appears on the cover of the book, as  the location for the mystery is ‘ffolkes manor.’

“You know who you are. Why don’t you speak up for yourself?”

15761367On the other hand, as the author of The Death of the Author, one should expect games, tricks and postmodern effects. What is surprising is the extent to which Adair subordinates this desire to the needs of creating a plausible mystery – but then again, given that authorial invisibility is perhaps the main theme here, making it necessary therefore not to draw too much attention to Adair’s presence. indeed, one might argue that, as constructed, this is not a book written by Adair at all, but by someone who has enjoyed Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – because, without wanting to give too much away (this is a whodunit after all), is only with the closing sentence of chapter 12 that we realise quite what Adair is playing at:

“So it was that out dolorous little procession forged its slow and solemn path across the snow-mantled snow”

Why is this significant? Quite simply because until this point, 212 pages in, we the reader were sure we had been reading a book written in the third person. But in fact the author is the killer, only we don’t know who has in fact been narrating and won’t know that, of course, until the final chapter. Adair within the book itself has his characters debate the effect and power of the classic detective story’s denouement, something he described in a newspaper article which, fittingly, incorporated material ascribed to his Evadne Mount in the novel – here is how Adair himself expressed it:

“I realised that the real tension resides exclusively in the reader’s own mind … the reader himself, already keyed-up, begins to grow as nervous as one of the suspects in the novel … he can;t bear the prospect of its climax proving to be a letdown, either because it’s not clever enough or because it’s too clever by half.” Gilbert Adair’s article ‘Unusual Suspect’, published in review section of The Guardian newspaper (11 November 2006) and also available online)

My fellow blogger Patrick, who is not only a very precocious young whippersnapper but an all-round good egg, absolutely loathed this book – and as he is so often at his best when venting his spleen, I urge you to check out the detailed review-cum-deconstruction-cum evisceration that he performed for his blog, At the Scene of the Crime.

I recently wrote an essay on Adair’s five mystery novels – The Death of the Author (1992), A Closed Book (1999) and the Evadne Mount trilogy comprising The Act of Roger Murgatroyd (2006), A Mysterious Affair of Style (2007), And Then There Was No One (2009) – for a forthcoming festschrift dedicated to Adair being published by Verbivoracious Press. Details on the volume, including how to order a copy for a very modest outlay, can be found on their website:

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in Agatha Christie, Evadne Mount, Gilbert Adair, Postmodern. Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to THE ACT OF ROGER MURGATROYD (2006) by Gilbert Adair

  1. Fascinating! I’ve seen Adair’s books around but never picked them up. I love a good parody with the rest of them, and I’ve read plenty of them, taking on Sayers, Christie and their ilk. I love the golden age writers but I can see that people need to take the pee out of things that are popular. However, having followed the link to At the Scene of the Crime, and read the very excellent article on this book there, I think it’s safe to say I won’t be reading Adair!

    • Sorry I couldn’t persuade you Karen – I obviously don’t agree at all with Patrick’s take and think is very clever stuff – ah well, I’ll have to just keep lugging 🙂

      • kaggsysbookishramblings says:

        Hmmm – well, I suppose I could always see if the local library has a copy – if it sends up Campion it might be fun!

        • Well, it’s more of a structuralist pastiche, reworking the idea of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from a more modern point of view – I like it a lot, but that’s my idea of fun, something that moves the puzzle notion on to the next level

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Sergio – Excellent discussion as ever! I’d read Patrick’s view of this one, and it’s so interesting to read yours as well. I think that’s the thing about parodies and pastiches; either they work very well for a person…or they don’t. Thanks very much for this.

  3. richmcd says:

    This is such a strange book. Almost worth reading for the critical workout.

    Personally, I hated it for all the reasons Patrick did (long middle section where nothing happens; it’s a parody of Gilbert Adair’s idea of mysteries, rather than anything that’s actually ever existed). BUT… it’s a much better mystery than the source material. And I’ll defend that statement with force if need be 🙂

    Although I like meta-fiction, I don’t much enjoy references as jokes, especially if that’s all your getting. It’s a bit like if there was an episode of the Simpsons that consisted entirely of the family driving past those parody shop names they have. References are background jokes, and Adair loves them so much he forgets to put anything in the foreground.

    I’ve read five different Adair books, and with the natural exception of A Void, all his characters sound like “Gilbert Adair with a point to make” or “person who exists to set up Gilbert Adair’s next point”. And while that goes with the meta-fictional territory, to a certain extent, other writers in the field have a lot more variety of style and technique.

    But as I said, purely considered as a mystery, it’s much better than The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It makes sense, doesn’t contradict itself, and the text gimmick is maintained cleverly and consistently. In Ackroyd it drops in and out all the time – people who maintain Christie “keeps it up all the way through” either haven’t read it again or don’t understand, as Adair does, that what you don’t say can be as important as what you do.

    But even though it’s ingenious, I’m not sure it’s particularly interesting beyond a writing exercise. (Although POV control is something I always have to work on with clients, so it’s a very useful exercise.)

    But for the average reader, “Huh. Yes, language is ambiguous like that” is hardly a jaw-dropping sort of twist. There’s a point, I suppose, about the way servants are treated in Golden Age mysteries, but Adair doesn’t seem very interested in that. Maybe if the rest of the book was stronger it would carry the ingenuity of the idea.

    • Thanks very much for all the great feedback Rich – I suspect that because I tend to like Adair’s voice I probably don’t notice it so much but your point is well taken, like a lot of those Twilight Zone episodes where it feels like one Rod Serling speaking to another Rod Serling I suppose – strong>A Closed Book is perhaps the only case where this doesn’t even have to matter! In this case I thought, like you, that the story and the gimmick was solid – it does sag a bit in the middle, it’s true, and perhaps one wishes that Adair would dhow his characters a bit more love – but I still think this a smart and entertaining novel with something original to say – not bad in my book (sic)

  4. Colin says:

    Hmm, not sure what to make of this. In some respects it should be right up my street but I have to admit the whole parody business doesn’t work well for me a lot of the time. I like the sound of the basic setup but I’m unsure how well it plays out as a mystery in its own right.

    • Well, it’s not for everyone, definitely – it’s not an obvious send up in some respects – I mean, yes, there are jokes, but there is a proper solution too, not one of those parodies that just gets caught up in its own cleverness and forgets to actually tell a story – the plot is actually one of the best things about it, as rich mentioned further up int he comments (he put it much better than i did though 🙂 )

      • Colin says:

        I don’t mind pastiche elements as long as they don’t take over and negate the plot, and that can sometimes happen. One to add to the list I think.

        • The plot is solid in my view but the main issue for many, I think, beyond perhaps not agreeing with Adair’s critique, is that the characters are not especially sympathetic – which is definitely true!

  5. Kelly says:

    I love the idea of books based on other books, but I would definitely feel compelled to read the source material first.

    • No question about it Kelly, I think that was certainly the idea here – or rather, then make you re-read the original – certainly ACKROYD doesn’t feel quite the same afterwards 🙂

  6. TomCat says:

    The first time I attempted to translate my revulsion for this abomination into words, it was something along the lines of being an atrocity only second to Hitler’s shenanigans. And, guess what, time doesn’t heal all wounds. I’m still mad at the money and time wasted on this.

    There wasn’t a single thing I liked about the story, but Evadne Mount was easily the most hateable character I ever come across in any work of fiction. I could barely repress the urge to assault the very book I was holding when, for the umpteenth time, she was revealing the solution to one of her own mystery stories to reveal an even cleverer joke. You see, one of her stories was titled “The Family Jewels,” because the thief stuffed them in his underwear! Get it!? The “family jewels” were near his crotch! That was edgy in the 30s! Oh, those post-modern humorists and their high brow comedy.

    So, no, I’m afraid I have to strongly disagree with you on this one, Sergio. Patrick never spoke truer words in that video. Never

    • So what you’re trying to say TC is … well, i think i understand where you are coming from, but I’ve got to tell you, there are so many really crappy books out there, ones that are just weighed down by mediocrity (and yes, I mean those hundreds and hundreds of ‘cozies’ with talking cats …) without a single original idea in their pages, and I just can’t put this in that group – if nothing else because it really pisses some readers off, and you know? That’s actually hard to do if you don’t touch a nerve 🙂 But always great to have your opinions here TC, always.

      • TomCat says:

        Well, you can say Adair struck a nerve with some of his readers, but I don’t think you’re on the right track, as an author, if as a result your readers begin to symphatize with wife beaters. Did I mention I really hated Evadne Mount? Not as much as the book as a whole, but close enough.

        • But you are supposed to find her annoying, aren’t you TC – that is the point Adair is making – why penalise him for a job well done? As for sympathising with the enemy, well … 🙂 maybe these are not the only alternatives TC – maybe one can find the result irritating but be intrigued by the intention behind it. Or at least admire the gleams of originality even if they come at a revered subject without the proper respect. Surely to loathe something so intensely, when we are talking about a book that doesn’t advocate anything really offensive as do the often racist attitudes on display in ‘genuine’ GAD fiction, is to acknowledge its success as a disruptive implement? Or maybe I am just kidding – you know the territory much more thoroughly than I do TC and I feel like I have much less invested here – some books I like, some I don’t, for all kinds of personal and not entirely rational reasons. but I still say the structural gimmick here is a really good one!

          • richmcd says:

            It’s an interesting point. As you know, I broadly side with the ‘haters’ on this book. But I certainly agree with part of your comment: the many faults this book has are abundant in the genre it (mis)represents. Plenty of Golden Age novels are overlong and filled with lamentable jokes. So why do people find them so egregious here, but are happy to overlook it as part of the territory with the real deal? If I had to guess, I’d suggest that (rightly or wrongly) people find Adair’s approach rather smug. Botching a joke is one thing, but botching a joke with an (assumed) air of superiority gets right up people’s noses.

            But there’s certainly a discussion to be had here. I’m currently working through Carr’s The Skeleton in the Clock, a book that’s just dripping with unpleasant sexism and chauvinism. But I’ve basically just sighed and ignored it. Why can I do that, but just thinking about The Act of Roger Murgatroyd sets my teeth on edge? Those are some seriously misplaced priorities on my part!


            I do disagree with your first sentence though, and maybe this is the part of the answer. Irritating (or boring or offending etc.) the reader isn’t a triumph just because you deliberately set out to do it. Self-referentially pointing out your book’s own faults isn’t clever; it’s a feeble excuse for not fixing them. I don’t rule out the possibility of worthwhile art that’s deliberately irritating or boring or offensive, but there should be a point to it. What’s the point here? That Ariadne Oliver is irritating and self-indulgent but Christie perhaps didn’t realise it? And Adair demonstrates this by creating a character that’s even more annoying and self-indulgent? Or maybe just generally that the genre is replete with irritating detectives making a game out of death? Or that homosexuals, servants, minorities in general are invisible or underrepresented? Well what then? What’s the conclusion to that argument? Did Adair really think he was shining a light on things here? If so, then he’s seriously underestimated the audience. People are well aware of the faults in the genre. We’re just happy to overlook them. Investigating THAT in a book might be interesting, but that’s not what Adair’s done here.

          • Well, and I think you are mostly right here Rich, you could argue (or at least, I am so doing) that Adair, by making the point as he does, might make a reader revisit those GAD works and begin to wonder why we overlook things in one context and not in another. I also think think that he was presenting quite a personal reflection and that it was not really an attack – he clearly enjoyed constructing his very solid plot along Christie-like lines in both this and the sequel and so there is a lot of devotion here. Also, actually, I don’t find Mount either that annoying or that unlikely – that is to say, she is a plausible version of a fictional construct. Also, when you say that many of his targets are well-known to you, I bet they are but I do not think you are representative of the majority of Christie and ‘cozy’ (with a zed) readers and are much much better read than they …

  7. Santosh Iyer says:

    I agree fully with Patrick regarding this book.
    An abomination!
    The stupidest solution to a locked room mystery!

    • Good to hear from you Santosh and always humbling to see just how feeble persuasive efforts can be at times 🙂 I take it the fairly audacious narrative device didn’t do much for you then?

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        I agree that the narrative device is ingenious, but the other things are simply atrocious and pull it down. It is possible that John Dickson Carr might have produced a brilliant story with the same main idea and come out with a more decent impossible crime mystery.
        In this book, Evadne Mount says,”I never touch locked rooms. I leave them to John Dickson Carr.” Gilbert Adair should also have left locked rooms to Carr.

        • curtis evans says:

          Actually, as John Curran methodically shows in Mysteries Unlocked, Christie touched a few locked rooms in her work!

          • Thanks Curt, and I must read the Curran – Poirot’s Christmas is the only really obvious locked room novel of hers I can think of though …

          • richmcd says:

            The Poirot short The Dream is a proper locked room, isn’t it? And there are a few general impossible crimes. The Miss Marple short where the guy gets stabbed in the woods at the fancy dress party (The Idol House of Astarte?) is even referenced in The Three Coffins’ locked room lecture. But I think she wisely steered clear, in general. Her style doesn’t really suit the kind of dialogue you need to establish the criteria of a locked room.

          • I must admit I was only thinking of the novels. Is the locked room formula so different from the ‘unbreakable alibi’ of Death on the Nile though?

          • richmcd says:

            I think so. In fact I think it’s almost the opposite, because the locked room is an overt challenge, while in Death on the Nile you aren’t supposed to question the alibi. You’re suppose to accept it as airtight, and focus on the other characters, all of whom had the opportunity.

            Evil Under the Sun seems a better comparison. That’s like an impossible Rube Goldberg machine, with everyone seemingly having a different airtight alibi. And actually I think that supports my point that Christie wasn’t so strong on those kinds of puzzles. Evil Under the Sun gets quite bogged down in the ins and outs of where everyone was and why they couldn’t have done it. Impossible crimes can be a real pacing killer.

          • Hmm, except that (spoiler alert)I have always considered EVIL UNDER THE SUN as being a straight rewrite of DEATH ON THE NILE with the same plot mechanics, motive and killers in fact. I do think you are being very harsh on my beloved Carr – there are other authors who got bogged down in timetables and who was where at a precise time – not Carr, i do reject that.

          • richmcd says:

            Hey! You’re getting paranoid 🙂 For once I wasn’t mean about Carr. I just said Christie couldn’t do it.

            He’s generally good at keeping things moving, because he usually establishes pairs of characters that can quickly discuss all the ins an outs of an impossible situation. Fell and Hadley or HM and Masters can do that, because they’re basically equals. And similar Poirot/Hastings conversation would take forever.

          • Well, OK then, just so we’re clear 🙂 Truth is, I have very little patience with that sort of thing myself – I am also a slightly disorganised thinker so that kind of book has little appeal as I usually get lost and bored very quickly. Just read a book by Josephine Bell that was just like that – perfectly amiable but I just couldn’t have cared less about who coshed and who and where they stashed the murder weapon (somewhat desultory review is coming – consider that also to be fair warning!)

          • richmcd says:

            I completely agree. Out of interest, do you have an opinion on Obelists Fly High, by C.Daly King? That seems to be hailed as a classic, but (no surprise!) I think it’s a load of old bobbins. Even if the surprise made sense and was fair, which it doesn’t and isn’t, the middle section is the worst kind of timetable tedium, exacerbated by the fact that it’s not even plausible timetable tedium! Does C. Daly King really think that you can accurately measure people’s movements in helpful minute-long intervals and use the resulting spreadsheet so solve a crime? Bleugh and double bleugh, I say!

          • Been too long since I read it I’m afraid (read many of these sorts of books in my teens) but I remember being amused but not blown away by the ending – I liked the concept but that is all that’s stayed with me over the years. I still have my copy but I’ve not re-read it so that may tell its own story …

        • Well, I think the think the bizarre locked room device is meant to be on the ludicrus side, Santosh 🙂

  8. patrickohl says:

    **spoilers below**

    Sergio, I will agree that the idea behind the narrating gimmick is ingenious. What would have worked better would have been hiding the existence of a character behind third-person narration the entire time, instead of randomly picking a character to turn out to be the narrator.

    That being said, I found the locked room to be absolutely idiotic. My brain has deleted the specifics, but I recall there being a plot hole so gigantic in the construction of the locked room that the entire plot — plus an elephant — could be driven through it. And I’m not much inclined to revisit the book to remind myself what that was.

    In Sergio’s defense, his high opinion of Adair got me to revisit the author by reading A CLOSED BOOK, and I found it much more clever and intriguing a book. Evadne Mount, however, was so thoroughly irritating that I cannot bring myself to read another one of her escapades. If Harry Stephen Keeler were a much, much, much duller writer, and also one who thought he was hilarious, he might have churned out this book.

    • Thanks for the great feedback Patrick (I think) – Adair was a very smart cookie but you have to be devoted to postmodern literature to enjoy this escapade, no question about it.

  9. TomCat says:

    @Sergio: Rich’s comment worded my opinion on this book so much better and far kinder than I ever could or want to. Lame puns and word jokes wrapped in literary respectability masquerading as a mystery novel is what this book really is. Oh, but he used the initials of the publisher in the plot, that’s clever! Read Berkeley’s The Silk Stocking Murders and Christie’s The ABC Murders back-to-back, if you want to see how this game is played the clever way. Christie knew!

    @Patrick: The locked room idea had potential, in the hands of a competent plotter, but what a joke that ended up being. And the idea isn’t even all that original. It’s basically C. Daly King’s “The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem” or MacKinlay Kantor’s “The Light at Three ‘O Clock”-style solution crossed with an idea from one of the horror stories from Edogawa Rampo’s Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

    Poor Sergio. All this negative feedback on a book you enjoyed. We’re a bunch of ghouls.

    • Quite enjoying being handbagged so relentlessly TC, though I am saddened by my clear inability to make any inroads whatsoever – I must try harder, otherwise what will happen to my diplomatic career? I actually really like the book’s approach to the Ackroyd gambit and the fact is that his basic point of view (sic) is politically-speaking one that I share and the same goes for the sense of humour. I do find it utterly fascinating how fiercely negative this debate has become – Adair is by no standards a poor prose writer, his sense of humour was his own and it’s purely a question of taste, there is no objective right or wrong, and the POV gambit does clearly works and is clearly quite clever – and yet just watch the venom spew out! I think he would have been thoroughly amused because in the last of the trilogy he does in fact attack ‘Adair’ pretty much the way he has been here – you might, just might, want to borrow a copy of AND THEN THERE WAS NO ONE (honest) – reviewing coming soon to fedora … (that’s what you call fair warning I think 🙂 )

      • TomCat says:

        B-borrow… more Mount?! Ha, ha! Don’t be silly, Sergio. I’ll sooner volunteer to clear landmines in Bosnia-Herzegovina than do that.

        And for some reason, your comment on your lamentable diplomatic career conjured up a mental image of you shaking your head sadly… while we’re stringing up Adair and Mount by the ankles in a southern town of Milan. Hey, every group has its radicals.

        Anyhow, thanks for the warning and I’ll promise to make up for all this negativety the next time you review one of my darlings (Carr, Roos, etc).

        • Yeah, but the odds of me saying anything even remotely negative about Carr are really, really slight … and please lets keep the Duce out of this, though I’m all for doing something really awful in a locked and padded cell to Berlusconi – but I mean it, Adair the author gets an absolute pasting in the last book, you really might enjoy that 🙂

          • TomCat says:

            That’s the first problem I have with And Then There Was No One: you’re NOT supposed to “roast” yourself. First annoyance, and I haven’t even read the synopsis. Great start. 😉

          • There are no rules TC …

          • richmcd says:

            Despite Sergio’s noble intentions I wouldn’t recommend it, TC! If you didn’t like Act I think you’ll HATE And Then There Was No One. (And since you seem to already hate Act, there may not be anywhere left to go. Your brain might just drip out your ears in pure molten rage…)

            Even I can’t find much kind to say about it, I’m afraid, except that I always admire books that try something new rather than settling for something safe, and perhaps there’s a certain ghoulish interest in studying the technique of how to make your readers utterly despise you (I don’t think I’m being cruel or flippant; that was surely Adair’s intent?). But why would you want to write something like that, except to show that you can? A combination of masochism and onanism? Therapy? Sympathy? Catharsis? But the book doesn’t seem to want anything from the reader except hatred.

            Art? Maybe, but I still don’t quite see it.

            But then maybe that “because I can” attitude fits the kind of mind that willingly translates lipogrammatic books and writes entire novels in ambiguous first/third person.

            It’s interesting what you say about Adair being “by no means a poor prose writer”. I suppose I technically agree with you, but in a very limited sense. He has a fine command of language, and his sentences always very clearly express what he wants them to. That’s more than can be said for, say, Dan Brown, Jeffrey Deaver and a lot of other modern thriller writers, where the surface gloss is fine but the actual words often don’t form a coherent picture. But then often good surface gloss is all that’s required. That can be a good technique in itself. Precision can be its own enemy.

            Because I find most of Adair’s prose very annoying to read, in that he’s sacrificing lots of the standard aspects of storytelling to make a point, and I usually think he could have made that point more subtly, quickly and impressively. A Closed Book was a good example of that. I found that simultaneously tense and incredibly boring, which is a weird combination to evoke. I don’t think it was deliberate (but it’s hard to tell with such a non-standard writer). I guess maybe, to my taste, he’s an extremely proficient writer of prose but a very poor stylist? He always says what he wants to, but I rarely agree that what he wants to say and how he chooses to say it is a good choice!

          • When was the last time time there was so much bloodletting and handwringing over one book and one author (well,actually, I know when that was for this blog, when I had the temerity to diss Dorothy l Sayers) – fascinating stuff. In terms of the prose style, I agree, no big deal, I just meant that compared with many authors of great popularity (some of who you mention …) who rally can’t string a sentence together, he actually could – but yes, if you don;t care for the message and the way it’s being delivered … sigh!

          • richmcd says:

            I think partly my reaction is a selfish one. If I read a cozy mystery about magic canaries in a haunted thimble store, my expectations are so low that that I can’t be that disappointed. But I think Adair could have written something I really liked. He just didn’t. It’s like when I read The Flanders Panel. That book covered so many topics I have a personal interest in, I couldn’t imagine not liking it. It’s the only book I’ve found where I’d read every single book mentioned in the start of chapter quotes! So the fact that it’s pure rubbish hit me much harder than if I’d accidentally read a Hamish Macbeth novel because I’d forgotten that I don’t much like twee procedurals.

          • Ouch! Sorry to hear about The Flanders Panel, not actually read that one! And I take your point, it is a personal litmus test, has to be, and it’s only right that we question Adair’s motives as well as his effects (sic).

  10. This is sparkling stuff, Sergio, both your review as well as all the feedback. It was nice to sit back and enjoy the discussion. Since I read and liked “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” I’d be interested in reading this book and when I do read it, it’d be my first literary pastiche or whatever one might call it. Thanks, Sergio!

  11. patrickohl says:

    Well, Sergio, I’m genuinely surprised at all the negative feedback on this post. You loved the book, and yet everyone seems to hate you for it. I even find myself in the weird position of defending you, and by implication, Gilbert Adair. Really, all that’s left is to tie Paul Auster into the discussion somehow.

    I respect your opinion, of course. You’re a very intelligent fellow and you have articulated your ideas admirably. I suppose when it comes to me Adair begins with a disadvantage — I don’t like postmodernism, especially some of its philosophical aspects which I object to on nearly every level. But postmodernism done well — see my piece in MYSTERIES UNLOCKED for an overview of Rene Reouven, who often shows shades of postmodernism in his books — can have points of interest. It’s postmodernism done poorly which leaves me terrified, because the fact that it’s pointless is the whole point and so HOW DARE YOU CRITICIZE SUCH LITERARY GENIUS???

    But what exactly *has* Adair done well? The idea for the twist is ingenious, but I thought it was poorly developed, in some ways being arbitrarily resolved. (I think I would have liked this book much better if the third person narrator had turned out to be a character you never realized was at the scene, but when reading back you could see that the language was ambiguous about their presence.) Evadne Mount is thoroughly annoying — and yes, “that’s the point”, but *why* should it be the point? *Why* must Mount be infuriatingly annoying? Why are there inaccuracies about mysteries on every page? (Example: Near the end, Adair delivers a long lecture about mystery writers, half of whom had yet to hit it big when this novel is set, and discussing Chesterton only so he can throw in the line “Gilbert is a genius” — ho, ho.) Why does the middle act sag completely, becoming totally lifeless as characters spew their guts about secrets it wasn’t worth finding out? Why does Adair think it’s hilarious and totally original that the only reason the victim was killed is because he was annoying?

    I will give Adair this much — there was a genuinely brilliant idea at the center of this book (which I think could have been better, but oh well)… but also, stuff (however absurd or dull) actually *happened* in this book, whereas the work of Paul Auster was 200 pages of the postmodernist’s smirking “I’m just so clever, aren’t I?” attitude with no plot attached whatsoever. Apparently that is literary genius. If that’s true, then I’m going to continue reading the literary schlock being produced by such degenerates as Bill Pronzini or Donald E. Westlake.

    A CLOSED BOOK is much more interesting, IMO. There is an actual plot worked out pretty well, there is an interesting and sinister situation, and the structure of the novel is very interesting indeed. If approached as the Francis-Iles-inspired thriller it is, it’s a very good read. If you trust the publisher, desperate to market it as a Christie-like whodunnit, you will be disappointed.

    • Thanks Patrick, and yeah, I love it that you are having to come over to ‘my side’ just a little bit – that’s true friendship for you 🙂 And I agree, though I like Auster, he is actually much tougher to swallow than Adair in many respects and would argue, in fact, that he displays none of the affection that Adair clearly had for the form. I think the anachronisms are deliberate, don’t you (like quoting the Watson ‘mayhem parva’)? I do give Adair credit for knowing his stuff – he was very well read and, as I say, points a lot of this out in the third and final volume in which GAD fans have a pop at him (and he also creates a Sherlockian pastiche that is not so great).

  12. neer says:

    Sergio, this must be very gratifying, if a review can spark off such discussion.

    I am with Prashant on this one. I’d love to read it just to see what has been done to the classic. And incidentally, I do not mind somebody poking a little bit of fun at Dame Agatha.

  13. Yvette says:

    But I must say that AND THEN THERE WAS NO ONE is a very funny spin on Christie’s tale. I don’t know this author, never heard of him. Don’t know if I’d read his stuff if I ran across it or not. I might take a look just to see what all the furor is about.


    • Well, finally, someione who enjoyed that book – you’re mt BFF Yvette 🙂 Wpould love to know what you make of the other two in the trilogy. I’ll be reviewing them both very shortly (hopefully with just as much engagement from the mystery reading community!)

  14. Pingback: A MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR OF STYLE (2007) by Gilbert Adair | Tipping My Fedora

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