(No spoilers ahead!) I expect most avid readers have this experience at one time or another: the distinctly unsettling inability to recall whether or not one has read a particular book. There’s the feeling that you probably have read it, at some point or another – but before you joined Goodreads or Library Thing, so it’s impossible to verify. You dread it coming up in conversation, because you’ll have to confess your uncertainty: you might have read it, but then again, you might not have. If the confession is made to other bookish folks, odds are they’ll understand. But the general public is less likely to make allowances. They’ll either assume it was a forgettable book, or they’ll think you scatterbrained.
For me, the book was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I went through my early adulthood assuming I’d read it. You see, the library in my small town was correspondingly small when I was growing up. It has since expanded into a huge, beautiful building and added to the collection – happily for my town. But when I was a kid, the library was housed in one or two rooms in the town hall, and the collection was fairly limited. Once I’d tornadoed through the middle grade books and moved on to books for adults, choices were somewhat restricted. Two authors the library had near complete collections of were Pearl S. Buck and Agatha Christie, so I worked my way through both of them.
Since The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of Christie’s earliest books and also one of her most famous, I’m sure the library had a copy of it, and I’ve been equally sure I read it in high school. But somewhere, along the way, I started to have some doubts. Whenever I heard Roger Ackroyd mentioned – in conversation or on podcasts – the speaker would invariably marvel at the surprise ending. The more I heard about Roger Ackroyd, the more I started to think I couldn’t have read it after all. Although I’ve forgotten the ending to every Agatha Christie I’ve ever read (except for Murder on the Orient Express, which is both extremely memorable in its own right and is also a movie starring Lauren Bacall, who I love) I figured if the ending to Roger Ackroyd was that shocking, I’d have remembered it. So I must not have read it after all.
After hearing The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I enjoyed, compared to Roger Ackroyd, I decided it was about time I read this classic crime novel I’d somehow – clearly – missed. I spent the first half of the book enjoying myself immensely and completely convinced I’d not read it before. Then somewhere after the midpoint, I started to harbor doubts about a particular character, and by about the third or fourth chapter from the end, I was distinctly suspicious. Several pages before Hercule Poirot’s big reveal, I confidently declared “Oh! So-and-so did it.”
I was right.
I don’t usually guess the endings to mystery novels, least of all those crafted by the Queen of Crime. One of the things I love about Christie is that she keeps me guessing until the end, and when all is unveiled, she never fails to surprise me – but once I know whodunit, I can easily go back and see the clues laid out for me, plain as day, and marvel at the construction of the mystery. (My mystery novel pet peeve is when authors conceal a clue until the big reveal. It’s only an ingenious puzzle if the pieces are there in broad daylight, to be assembled if you can.)
So why was I able to figure out the solution to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? I can think of three possible reasons:
- I’m smarter than I thought.
- I’m getting better at this mystery novel thing.
- I’ve read it before.
At least now I know for sure that I have read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. In 2019. The proof is on Goodreads. But had I read it before? I don’t think I’m ever going to know the answer.
What books are you not sure you’ve read?