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Review: The Act of Roger Murgatroyd

February 23, 2012

Author: Gilbert Adair
Title: The Act of Roger Murgatroyd
Published: 2006
Pages: 304

This is the first in a trilogy centred around the fictional mystery writer, Evadne Mount who has written novels such as The Timing of the Stew, No Murder in the Title and The Proof of the Pudding.

The story revolves around an apparently impossible murder at the fflolkes (their surname is not capitalised) Manor at Christmas. Raymond Gentry, invited by the fflolkes daughter — who immediately gets under everyone’s’ noses, is found dead in the attic with the door locked and the windows barred. The guests decide to call upon retired Chief-Inspector Trubshawe who questions all the guests together.

Obviously, the title alludes to the classic Agatha Christie novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but it is also a parody of all the classic whodunnits of the past. You have all the elements: an impossible murder, a large house, terrible weather, servants, a collection of English gentility all of whom have skeletons in their closets, and the obligatory drawing room reveal of the murderer. And you have Evadne Mount, whose very flaws — her boisterous ability to make everything about her novels — is the very thing that governs her appeal. I was both exasperated by her constant need for telling about the plots of her stories and humoured by them.

The Act of Roger Murgatroyd is witty and charming. While it does poke fun at the old fashioned whodunnit, it never descends into mud slinging. There were flaws; none of the characters really amount to much depth — mostly there for parody purposes — and there is not much difference between characters’ voices, they all speak in that refined, English upper-class accent. Occasionally, I was getting tired of the novel sometimes it dragged on as Adair tended to waffle.

Saying all that, I did enjoy it and it works as whodunnit — without the reader having to be knowledgeable about what it’s referencing. Plus there is a great moment when Evadne Mount is explaining how the murder was done, she makes a comment on the mounting tension for the a reader of her novels when they come to reveal of the murderer, where they must keep their eyes from scanning ahead lest they inadvertently spoil it for themselves. I found myself doing the same thing.

In the end, I enjoyed this and probably will read the second book in the trilogy at some point.

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