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Author of the Month

Name: Gilbert Adair

First Novel: Alice Through the Needle's Eye

Most Recent Book: The Act of Roger Murgatroyd

'Adair has indeed achieved a wonderful evocation of the “golden age” of crime.'

Synopsis:
It is Boxing Day, circa 1935. The scene is set in a rambling mansion on the edge of Dartmoor, snow falling from the skies, cutting off all within from the outside world. A man has just been found murdered – shot through the heart - and this is not the only mystery. The door was locked from the inside and there is no other way in or out of the attic room where the body was discovered.

The murdered man was not particularly well liked and had made a nuisance of himself during the Christmas festivities. Having managed to upset all the people gathered under the mansion’s roof, it came as no great surprise that this man had met a particularly sticky end. Some of the party seek the services of their next-door neighbour, one retired Chief-Inspector Trubshawe. However, neither Trubshawe nor the murderer could have counted on the criminal intellect of the celebrated crime novelist, Evadne Mount. It is she who is determined to unmask the killer, but can she do it before someone else loses his or her life?

Review:
In recent years we have seen a resurgence of writers wishing to recapture those heady bygone “golden” days of excess and naivety. Adair has taken on, some would say, an even greater challenge by attempting to reproduce the type of novel that Agatha Christie could very well have written herself. Adair has indeed achieved a wonderful evocation of the “golden age” of crime.

With an intriguing cast of characters, this marvellously nostalgic mystery quickly unfolds. All the classic Christie ingredients are here. The doctor and his wife make an appearance together with the local down-at-heel priest and his downtrodden wife. Also present are the aging actress and the all round American boy who ultimately gets the girl. This confection is all topped off with the brilliantly drawn major and his wife and their guest sleuth, the unashamedly gregarious Evadne Mount - who quickly steals the show! Even the snow seems to take on a personality within this novel. Obviously Adair has brought this story kicking and screaming into the 21st century so that some things that were taboo then, are aired - albeit still with some stigma attached to the subject.

There have been many reproductions of the Agatha Christie theme, but this is a very well constructed and well thought out novel. All the Christie trademarks are here – right down to the big closing speech in the library, which affects the unmasking of the killer. Certainly, this isn’t Christie – but it’s as close as you’re likely to get.

This book would make a perfect Christmas gift – to any “golden age” fan, or to yourself! I strongly suggest that if you know of any Christie fans, either in print or onscreen, this book is going to thrill them. Adair has even indicated that he may write a follow up. If that is the case, I, for one, will be first in the queue!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) How would you describe the sort of books you write?
Each one is very different from both the one preceding it and the one following it. The only thing they all have in common (apart, I trust, from my style) is my concern with plot, one of the great, simple and currently endangered pleasures of fiction.
2) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Agatha Christie's THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, of which, as its title consciously intimates, THE ACT OF ROGER MURGATROYD is a mirror image.
3) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes, I obviously am a fan, especially of writers of classic English whodunits, though not quite as rigidly so as W.H. Auden, who once confessed that the only kind of crime novels he could read were those set in an English home counties village in the 1930s.
4) You have written a novel in the vein of Agatha Christie and other writers from the Golden Era of crime writing. What made you wish to reinvent this type of novel where a murder occurs in a huge country mansion amongst the upper classes of that time?
Put simply, I've read every single one of Christie's sixty-six novel-length whodunits (even the very feeble late ones) and, since there were no more for me to read, I decided to write one.
5) Would you say The Act of Roger Murgatroyd is a pastiche of this type of novel or a mark of respect to the writers from this time period?
I meant THE ACT OF ROGER MURGATROYD to be, at one and the same time, a celebration, a parody and a critique not only of Agatha Christie but of the whole Golden Age of English whodunits. More importantly, however, I wanted it to work as a whodunit in its own right, so that those readers who were completely uninterested in literary games of the so-called postmodern type could nevertheless settle down comfortably with a good, gripping and intentionally old-fashioned thriller.
6) The main character is a novelist called Evadne Mount. Is she derived in any way from the fictional Christie character, Ariadne Oliver?
She is, if I can put it this way, the illegitimate offspring of Ariadne Oliver and Agatha Christie herself.
7) In The Act of Roger Murgatroyd, you have given some characters a point of view, which in these days is considered ‘Politically Incorrect’. Was this a conscious decision to include what was in those days considered natural views and comments?
Yes, but I was still slightly squeamish about it, so much so that all the various racist, snobbish and anti-Semitic remarks made by my characters are direct pilferings from Christie, Chesterton, Sayers, etc.
8) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
Not a book, but a short story, Jacques Futrelle's endlessly anthologised 'THE PROBLEM OF CELL 13', which is arguably the most stupendous of all locked-room mysteries. It's just one long Moebius strip of a plot twist.
9) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
VERTIGO, from a novel, D'ENTRE LES MORTS, by Boileau and Narcejac, which was purposely written (I recall reading) to be adapted by Alfred Hitchcock. The novel itself, alas, is nothing to write home about.
10) As you have written this kind of novel so successfully, do you think you are likely to continue in this vein and produce another novel from the ‘Golden Age’ of crime writing?
Funny you should ask me that. When, prompted by his enthusiasm for THE ACT OF ROGER MURGATROYD, my editor at Faber proposed that I write a sequel, I immediately rejected the idea, pleading that I've always made it a point of honour never to repeat myself. Later, however, it occurred to me that I had never written a sequel before (to one of my own books, at least) and hence, applying what I acknowledge is somewhat warped logic, to write one now would represent yet another new departure for me. Hitchcock once said of film that it wasn't a slice of life but a slice of cake. If, to adapt his metaphor, fiction can also be a slice of cake, I hope my readers have left room for seconds.