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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Act of Roger Murgatroyd

Gilbert Adair

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To purchase The Act of Roger Murgatroyd

Title: The Act of Roger Murgatroyd
Author: Gilbert Adair
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 286 pages
Availability: The Act of Roger Murgatroyd - US
The Act of Roger Murgatroyd - UK
The Act of Roger Murgatroyd - Canada
Mord auf ffolkes Manor - Deutschland
  • An Entertainment
  • The first volume in the Evadne Mount Trilogy

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Our Assessment:

B : slightly uneasily balanced between loving and satirical homage, but certainly clever

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 31/10/2006 Jane Shilling
Financial Times . 11/11/2006 James Urquhart
Financial Times . 28/7/2007 Julia Taylor
FAZ . 22/9/2006 Martin Halter
The Guardian F 4/11/2006 Michael Dibdin
The Independent B- 17/11/2006 Andrew Taylor
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 25/1/2007 Thomas Hermann
The Spectator . 7/10/2006 P.D.James
Sunday Telegraph . 29/10/2006 Toby Clements
Sunday Times . 29/10/2006 Hugo Barnacle
Sunday Times . 5/8/2007 Nick Rennison
The Times . 11/11/2006 Marcel Berlin
TLS . 27/10/2006 Matthew Dennison
Die Welt . 22/7/2006 Ulrich Baron
Welt am Sonntag . 23/7/2006 Andreas Schäfer
Die Zeit . 10/8/2006 Ulrich Greiner

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, but most think it is quite clever fun

  From the Reviews:
  • "Armchair literary detectives will note that Adair's grasp of the minutiae of women's clothing falls notably short of his admired original's excellence in those areas. Nevertheless, admirers of Christie have much for which to thank him, while admirers of Adair who think they loathe detective fiction may be pleasantly surprised." - Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

  • "The Act of Roger Murgatroyd is an intelligent caper around the timeworn scenario of the 1930s English country house murder mystery. (…) There is a stagey feel to Adair's whodunit (…..) Adair has produced a witty piece of fun - unserious but well written, with a gentle undercurrent of literary game-playing." - James Urquhart, Financial Times

  • "This witty pastiche parodies the era of Agatha Christie" - Julia Taylor, Financial Times

  • "Mord auf ffolkes Manor ist perfekt und kompliziert, ein Pasticcio nach Art Agatha Christies und zugleich ein vertracktes Literaturrätsel. Gilbert Adair ist nicht umsonst ein Postmoderner der unterhaltsameren Sorte: Der Tod des Autors ist bei ihm der Anfang detektivischer Lust. (…) Derlei Übungen verrutschen leicht ins Gemachte, in virtuose Mimikry oder unterkühlte Experimente. Hier kommt der Liebhaber postmoderner Dekonstruktionen wie der naive Leser altmodischer Konstruktionen auf seine Kosten." - Martin Halter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "There's precious little pleasure on offer here, only a parade of the usual suspects washing their dirty linen in public to establish a motive for their having committed a crime which is never investigated. Faking an orgasm may be a kindness. Faking it while indulging in the solitary vice is simply sad." - Michael Dibdin, The Guardian

  • "The story is thick with in-jokes. (…) Unfortunately, it entertains only some of the time, perhaps because this type of parody works best as a sprint and is difficult to sustain over the marathon of full-length novel. The book flatters the reader's intelligence at first but the pastiche of 1930s prose is oddly uneven, and the narrative has too many knowing winks for its own good. Adair gives us some excellent jokes but, in the end, his paradoxical achievement is to make us appreciate the solid literary virtues of Agatha Christie." - Andrew Taylor, The Independent

  • "Adair has taken trouble with his research. (…) And if Adair occasionally misses the authentic voice, we must remember that the murder-fabricating ladies of the Thirties had an advantage: they believed in what they were doing. (…) There are one or two incongruities, but they don’t detract from the entertainment." - P.D.James, The Spectator

  • "I cannot recall Christie holding her below-stairs staff up to such base ridicule, but Adair's point is well made and here, as elsewhere, the novel is full or references to the conventions of the genre, some of which were beyond me, but others of which made me smile (…..) For fans of the genre there is much to enjoy, and even if Adair imports a jarring and anachronistic sloppiness to the dialogue (…) he has done brilliantly in making what is to all intents a parody into something the reader genuinely cares about; not an easy thing to do." - Toby Clements, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(M)ainly Adair treats the genre with a proper intellectual respect and turns in a good period detective story that also comments on the novel as a form. Quite why he did it, though, is anybody’s guess." - Hugo Barnacle, Sunday Times

  • "Parody seldom works at book length, but Adair’s affectionate pastiche of the classic crime fiction that was practised by the likes of Agatha Christie sustains our interest by providing a mystery as intriguing as those in the best of the stories he is spoofing." - Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

  • "A delightful entertainment." - Marcel Berlin, The Times

  • "Gilbert Adair's new novel operates on several levels. It is a classic whodunit, with a period country-house setting, a cast of equally suspect suspects, not one but two apparently unfathomable murders, and an ingenious solution, the very ingenuity of which overrides the reader's feeling that it is all extremely improbable. It is also a parody -- as its title suggests -- of Christie's novels, in which the veracity and plausibility of individual elements are sublimated to the writer's need to outwit her reader. The characters are drawn from a small pool of types; their speech is brittle and shallow; description is generic and minimal; but the writing, with few attempts at meaningful insight, is sufficiently fast-paced to capture the reader's attention and advance the plot." - Matthew Dennison, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mit Mord auf ffolkes Manor hat Gilbert Adair eine hintersinnige Hommage an die Oldtimer des Kriminalromans geschrieben. Der Reiz dieses Revivals liegt gerade darin, daß man nicht nur deren Mechanik sieht, sondern ihr auch beim bisweilen scheppernden Funktionieren zuhören kann." - Ulrich Baron, Die Welt

  • "Das Lächeln, mit dem Adair den Leser durch dieses nach Zigarren und altem Leder duftende Spiegelkabinett geleitet, führt zwar zu manch langatmigem Dialog, aber auch zu einem recht unerwarteten Ende." - Andreas Schäfer, Welt am Sonntag

  • "Adair ist ein solcher Virtuose an der Bar, und weil man dort in der Regel nicht genau hinhört, kann einem leicht entgehen, welche Kunst es ist, Vorhandenes, Überliefertes in ein neues Muster zu fügen. Die Tatsache, dass sich Literatur fast immer auch auf Literatur bezieht, ist für Gilbert Adair die Quelle einer unerschöpflichen Lust am Spiel mit parodistischen Verweisen, ironischen Überblendungen." - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title, The Act of Roger Murgatroyd, already makes obvious what author Gilbert Adair is up to: this is a twist on the Golden Age-mystery -- obviously The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Agatha Christie in general, but extending also to locked-room-murder-specialist John Dickson Carr and others. It's a 1930s period piece, the setting a snowed-in English manor on Boxing Day -- ensuring a small cast of characters (i.e. suspects), one of whom must be a murderer, as one of the guests is discovered shot in an attic room that morning. One outsider is called-in -- retired Scotland Yard Chief-Inspector Trubshawe's cottage is conveniently only a few miles away, and they go fetch him, the best they can do in lieu of the impossible to reach actual police.
       Trubshawe is the Poirot stand-in, and since all the potential suspects are conveniently assembled they decide to launch something of an investigation. Mystery writer Evadne Mount -- whose first play was the Sophocles-variation, Oedipus vs. Rex, but who has since enjoyed greater success with traditional mystery novels -- is one of the guests and provides a summary of events in the time leading up to the murder, and Trubshawe then gets all the guests to agree to being questioned about their movements and (possible) motives.
       The deceased is one Raymond Gentry -- "a professional gossip columnist for that despicable rag, The Trombone" --, an unexpected guest who arrived late with the daughter of the manor, Selina ffolkes (yes, with a small 'f'), and her American beau, the unfortunately named ("but his parents couldn't have anticipated that when they christened him back in 1915") Donald Duckworth. A shot was heard, and those who rushed to see what had happened found themselves faced with a locked door, with blood seeping out from under it. Breaking it down, they found Ray shot dead -- but no murder weapon and no trace of any other living being. As Trubshawe sums up:

In effect, the murderer contrived to get in, kill Raymond Gentry, then get out again, apparently without opening a door or window. I don't mind admitting I'm dumbfounded.
       Unsurprisingly, the dislikable gossip columnist had: "somehow got wind of the sordid secrets in each of our lives", and had been showing off what he knew; he managed to quickly alienate and infuriate everyone assembled for Christmas -- and practically each of them had some reason for wanting him dead. Indeed, most of them admit they wouldn't have minded killing him .....
       Trubshawe gets them to agree to sit for interviews, each telling their story -- of their movements in ffolkes manor, and the secrets Gentry had let on he knew. Oddly, Trubshawe suggests -- indeed, insists -- that everyone be questioned together, and that they all have to agree to this public airing and sharing of information -- surely improper and inefficient police procedure, which tries to keep suspects and their statements apart. But, of course, having the whole group assembled is more in keeping with the murder mysteries of the age -- as, indeed, the characters are also constantly comparing what they're going through to crime fiction examples (including, but not limited to, the books of Evadne Mount).
       The interviews reveal that the guests did have a lot to hide -- though most of them were more or less aware of each other's secrets. As unpleasant as many of these revelations are, it's fairly clear that they don't have all that much to do with the murder; sure, everyone has a motive, sort of, but the mystery here isn't so much about motive as about the how -- it is a locked-room-mystery, after all. Things do get more interesting when another shot rings out -- this one not overheard by anyone, but its consequences certainly impacting the speculations.
       It is, of course, Evadne Mount, rather than the Scotland Yard professional, who puts together all the pieces. Even if she's always avoided locked-room-mysteries in her own work, she gets to the bottom of this one -- and brings it to its resolution true to style (i.e. not entirely straightforwardly -- much less just blurting out the name of whodunit -- , and with a few additional kinks in the final resolution ...).
       Adair's novel is a sometimes slightly uneasy mix of pastiche, homage, and satire. He stuffs a lot in along the way -- red herrings as well as well-camouflaged hints, as well as references to familiar mystery stories and tropes (and annoyance with them: even Edmund Wilson's famous piece, 'Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd' is alluded to). Several mystery writers are specifically mentioned, while a number of Evadne Mount's own works are summarized, and The Act of Roger Murgatroyd is full of borrowings and echoes.
       Adair -- and his characters -- make fun of some of the traditional mystery-ploys and writerly tricks, including the late-stage revealing of unknown motives from the depths of characters' (previously unrevealed) backgrounds. Naturally, many of these come into play in the denouement .....
       As well as being a talented stylist (in imitation, and original), Adair can always be counted on to be clever, and The Act of Roger Murgatroyd is certainly clever -- though arguably Adair depends too much on cleverness, and doesn't pay quite enough attention to fully fleshing out the scaffolding that holds it all up (the scaffolding is all there, but some of it could use some additional embellishment). Still, there's no question that in its double-turn on some very familiar mystery tropes, Adair has come up with a quite ingenious and satisfactory resolution -- with a conclusion that then faithfully echoes The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
       The Act of Roger Murgatroyd is a good imitation-Golden Age mystery, a fine pastiche, and an enjoyable satire on the genre -- though that is all a bit much for one novel, too. Still, good fun and a good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 December 2018

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The Act of Roger Murgatroyd: Reviews: Gilbert Adair Other books by Gilbert Adair under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Gilbert Adair (1944-2011) wrote several novels, as well as several works of non-fiction. He also translated Georges Perec's A Void, for which he won the Scott Moncrieff Prize.

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