I had intended for this second month of my 12 in 12 Book Challenge to read 12 books set in different countries around the world. Obviously I am still reading other books during the month which are not part of the challenge and when I had to take a train journey lately I looked for a very short and light book to accompany me – I did have my Kindle but I am still using every opportunity to reduce my physical to-be-read pile. The book I chose was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie which is set in England. As I read the book, which was written in 1926, I realised that the England that the author describes is a very different country from that of today – in fact, it is so different that I felt that I could use this as Book 5 in my challenge.
The England of this classic crime story is of a quiet village with an established social hierarchy. The story is narrated by the doctor who has access to all strands of society but is clearly firmly located in the middle class. His rich patient, the eponymous Mr Ackroyd, is the local squire with the expectations that come with that. There is also a butler who may know too much and a raft of other characters each of which have their own part to play in the local society and in the murder investigation. Into this settled environment comes Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective, who challenges the accepted thinking of the doctor and even, eventually, of the reader.
This is one of the great detective stories and not just because of the tricks that the author plays on the reader (no spoilers here but this is a notable book in the evolution of the detective novel). This is a crime where lots of people have motives and secrets which have to be revealed and where the detective has to work out how the murder could have taken place in a locked room. It is a quick read (I finished it during my train journey) and great fun. It reveals to the reader an England that the author obviously knew well (many of her books are set in a similar environment) but which is very alien to those of us who live there today.
This has made me realise that any of the books in this month’s challenge will only reveal to me a snapshot of that country, at one point in time and very often in just one location. In order to get a true sense of the country from fiction I would need to read more books, a variety of authors, and different genres and time periods. You certainly wouldn’t get a full understanding of today’s England, or even the experiences of everyone in the 1920s, by reading Agatha Christie.
I did enjoy this book although it is an old favourite but I shall move further away from home for my next choice.