Psychoanalyst Bayard takes a moment away from teaching French literature to reopen one of the most celebrated murder cases in fiction, with surprising results.
To those readers (probably Bayard’s entire audience) who object that the culprit has been obvious ever since Agatha Christie published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1926, Bayard has a whole battery of answers. The evidence against the self-acknowledged killer, who nowhere explicitly confesses to the crime, is flimsy at best; Christie’s work is “a model of polysemy” that generates more meanings than any single ending can control; Hercule Poirot, the detective who solves the crime, may well be delusional. (On this last point, Bayard’s psychoanalytic training makes his argument as dense as it is unconvincing.) More generally and provocatively, Bayard insists that “all mystery fiction in effect implies the narrator’s bad faith” and is therefore subject to endless reinterpretation, despite Poirot’s conceited faith in his little gray cells. Bayard’s investigation is hampered by several schoolboy errors and an often unidiomatic translation. One of the major suspects in the novel is omitted from his cast of characters; Christie’s novel Five Little Pigs is confused with Ten Little Indians; and so many of her other titles are mistranslated that it becomes an intriguing minor mystery to figure out which novels are identified as The Valley, The Poisoned Pen, The Prothero Affair, and The Indiscretions of Hercule Poirot. Eventually, however, Bayard escapes these byways to propound a new solution that answers his objections about the one Christie gives. Even readers impatient with the subtleties of his entertainingly perverse argument are likely to find this solution satisfying.
On the other hand, all but the most devoted theorists will catch a whiff, sooner or later, of a conference paper run amok.