I am very fond of Agatha Christie and have read many of her novels over the years. But amazingly enough I had never read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, despite its being one of her most admired novels. I've read it now -- just finished it -- and have moreover read it in French. I thought -- rightly as it turned out -- that the rather old-fashioned and conventional style might make it easier to read than a more contemporary French novel. And yes, I managed it pretty well, only looking up the odd word every couple of pages.
I don't tell you this to show off, though I think it probably sounds that way. I'm living in France and my French, which has always been fairly good because I learned it from a very early age, is gradually improving but can always do with a boost. Anyway, it was fascinating to read an Agatha Christie in a foreign language and made even more so because this novel features Hercule Poirot, whose comic command of the English language is such a vital part of his character, and one that is completely missing when everyone else in the novel speaks French anyway. I learned a lot of possibly not terribly useful words -- did you know, for example, that maitre d'hotel is the French for butler?or that chantage, which sounds as if it must be something to do with singing, is the word for blackmail?
Both of these things pop up fairly early in the novel, because the butler -- the rather creepy Parker -- is suspected of blackmailing his master, the eponymous Roger Ackroyd, who has been found dead in his study, a silver dagger in his heart (there they both are in the delightful cover picture above). Needless to say everyone in the house is immediately a potential suspect, and indeed everyone turns out to have something to hide, though not necessarily directly connected with the murder. Poirot, who is missing his dear friend Captain Hastings, allows the local doctor, Dr Sheppard, to help him with his investigations. It is Sheppard who narrates the story, and who indeed turns out in the end to have been a wholly unreliable narrator. We could start bandying around terms like modernism and metafiction, but don't let's. If you've read it you will know what I mean and of course this is the reason why this is such a famous novel.
Published in 1926, this is a really historic work in many ways, and I enjoyed it tremendously. I'm not sure if I'd have picked it up if it had been in English, but for 50 centimes it was a bargain and an excellent way of learning a bit more French, so I'm glad I did. I shall be on the lookout for more Christie -- I wonder how Miss Marple and St Mary Mead will survive the Channel crossing?