Review: The Art of Roger Murgatroyd

26 07 2007

I finished Gilbert Adair’s The Art of Roger Murgatroyd yesterday and I must say I found it quite delightful.  I don’t usually use the word “delightful” to describe  things.  It’s quite a quaint kind of word, but it fits this book, which feels very much to belong to a different era.

Mysteries are one of my guilty pleasures, particularly the soft-boiled variety and a good Agatha Christie is right at the top of my list.  If I could plop myself into any book at all I’d probably pick one of her country house mysteries.  I think that’s why I found this book so appealing.  It’s classic Christie, very much in her style and without giving too much away (though the title alone begs the comparison) very much modeled on one of her novels (one of my favourites as it happens).

The novel begins with a group of house guests stranded, on Boxing day, at a country house with a dead body in the attic.  And not just a body, but the perplexing puzzle of a locked room murder – the type that one of the guests, the famous mystery writer Evadne Mount, never includes in her novels because they aren’t rationale.  Enter an ex-police officer who lives not too far down the road and suspects with such shady pasts that any one of them could be a potential murderer and you have all the elements of a classic cozy or soft-boiled style detective story.

What I also enjoyed about the book was feeling so on the in.  A book like this depends – for a great deal of its enjoyment – on one being aware of the genre and of certain key characteristics of it.  Adair’s device of having one of the guests be a mystery writer and turn amateur sleuth allows even more allusions to devices that mystery authors use.  I think the story itself and the language and the characters’ deep, dark pasts would be interesting, but it’s that being in-the-know about and the feeling of superiority that gives one that is the most striking and enjoyable thing about The Art of Roger Murgatroyd.  Yes, it’s a bit of foolish froth, but it’s quite delightful all the same.

I’m excited to see that there will be a trilogy of these, with another one being published in November – A Mysterious Affair of Style.  That will definitely have to go on the wish list.

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