This is Agatha Christie’s 6th book, published in 1926, one of her best known books and possibly one of the most controversial because of its solution to the mystery. I hadn’t read it before, but I knew a bit about it from reading Agatha Christie’s Autobiography, in which she wrote:
Of course, a lot of people say that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is cheating; but if they read it carefully they will see that they are wrong. Such little lapses of time as there have to be are nicely concealed in an ambiguous sentence … (page 352)
I won’t write any more about the controversy – no spoilers!
Set in the village of King’s Abbot, the story begins with the death of Mrs Ferrars, a wealthy widow and the local doctor, Dr Sheppard suspects it is suicide. The following evening Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy widower who it was rumoured would marry Mrs Ferrars, is found murdered in his study.
Poirot has retired to King’s Abbot, to grow vegetable marrows, not very successfully. He’s missing Captain Hastings who is living in the Argentine, so when he is asked to investigate the murder he enlists Dr Sheppard, who lives next door with his sister Caroline, to help him and it is Dr Sheppard who narrates the story. Caroline is a most interesting character who takes a great interest in other people and likes to know everything that goes on in the village. She is, possibly, a forerunner of Miss Marple as Agatha Christie wrote in her Autobiography:
I think it is possible that Miss Marple arose from the pleasure I had taken in portraying Dr Sheppard’s sister in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. She had been my favourite character in the book – an acidulated spinster, full of curiosity, knowing everything, hearing everything: the complete detective service in the home. (page 448)
This has to be one of my favourite Agatha Christie books. It’s full of believable characters, suspects aplenty including Major Blunt, an old friend staying with Ackroyd, Flora, Ackroyd’s niece and her mother, his sister-in-law and poor relation, Geoffrey Raymond, his secretary, Ursula Bourne, a parlourmaid who may not be all she appears and Ralph Paton, Ackroyd’s adopted son who has large gambling debts.
The setting is that of the quintessential English village where Poirot appears as an mysterious foreigner. Dr Sheppard’s first impression of him is that he must be a retired hairdresser because of his immense moustaches. He also doubts his ability to solve the mystery and described his as
… ridiculously full of his own importance. It crossed my mind to wonder whether he was really any good as a detective. Had his reputation been built up on a series of lucky chances? (page 80)
Of course, it hadn’t and Poirot meticulously works through the timing of events, and disposes of all the suspects to find the culprit. It was only towards the end of the book that I began to realise who it had to be.
- Hardcover: 237 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins; Facsimile edition (2011)
- Language English
- Source: My own copy, part of an issue of The Agatha Christie Book Collection partwork published by Agatha Christie Limited