The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie

>> Wednesday, July 17, 2013

TITLE: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 304
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: 1920s England
TYPE: Mystery

Considered to be one of Agatha Christie's most controversial mysteries, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd breaks all the rules of traditional mystery writing.

The peaceful English village of King’s Abbot is stunned. First, the attractive widows Ferrars dies from an overdose of veronal. Not twenty-four house later, Roger Ackroyd—the man she had planned to marry—is murdered. It is a baffling, complex case involving blackmail, suicide, and violent death, a cast that taxes Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” before he reaches one of the most startling conclusions of his fabled career.
For my July book club, someone suggested reading an Agatha Christie. Turns out almost none of the mostly British other members had read her before, so it felt to me, the foreigner amongst them, to suggest the title. It was a hard choice. Definitely a Miss Marple or a Poirot, but which? Poirot, I thought, slightly edges out Miss Marple as being the quintessential Agatha Christie detective (although some of you may not agree!). I also wanted one that showed her plotting at its best, so maybe one of her really surprising ones, the ones that leave you reeling at the end and wanting to go straight back to the beginning to see how she did it? The 3 that came to mind were And Then There Were None, Murder On The Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The former I discarded for being more a thriller than a mystery, and not having Poirot (or any of her other detectives, for that matter) in it. Of the other two, Roger Ackroyd edged it, just because its English village setting and its plot are more typical Christie.

Although this is only Christie's 4th full-length Poirot novel, we find him here in his retirement and incognito. Our narrator is the local doctor in the village of King's Abbott, Dr. Sheppherd, who, along with the rest of the village, is intrigued by the eccentric Frenchman who's bought the house next door and spends his time growing vegetable marrows. Clearly a retired hairdresser, they all think; no other possible explanation for that luxuriant moustache!

And then the richest man in the village, Roger Ackroyd, is murdered. All evidence seems to point towards Ackroyd's feckless stepson and the police seem convinced, so the young man's fiancée (Ackroyd's niece) asks Poirot for help. He has no end of suspects and motives to consider. There's all of Ackroyd's lovely money, for starters, but there was also a blackmailer in operation in the village. We know from the start that Mrs. Ferrars, whom Ackroyd was intending to marry, killed herself recently because she was being blackmailed, and wrote to Ackroyd revealing who was behind it. Did the culprit kill Ackroyd to silence him?

There's loads of characters behaving suspiciously for what turn out to be perfectly good reasons, giving Poirot plenty of leads to follow and unravel. The characters are also well-drawn and distinct, and I found them fascinating. I particularly liked Christie's portrayal of Dr. Sheppherd's sister, Caroline, the town gossip. Christie makes it clear that this is a woman with a brilliant organisational mind, and the fact that the strictures of her age and class determined that she became the town gossip, rather than, say, the country's head of itelligence, was tragic.

The twists and turns are really good, and Poirot's investigation is classic. Not a minute's rest for his little grey cells, and his deductions are startling, if perfectly well-based. But all this would result merely in a good, solid read, if it weren't for the solution, which was a famous shocker at the time, and left many readers crying foul. I hadn't reread the book for years, but I remembered how things turned out very well, and it was great to read it with that in mind. Christie peppers the book with little nods and clues, and she does it so cleverly that I honestly think there's no way you could call her twist unfair.

It's all a bit overcomplicated, yes, but that's the case with many mysteries of the time, especially hers. It's always hard to believe that what's often a first-time murderer would come up with a fiendishly complex plot, where all sorts of things could go wrong. It's the genre convention, though, so I accept it, even if it does slightly lower my grade from an A.

On the whole, this was a great one, and I can't wait to see what people thought.

MY GRADE: A very solid B+:

AUDIOBOOK NOTES: This one was read by Robin Bailey, who was great. Probably my favourite Poirot so far. He doesn't ham it up too much, but still makes Poirot his flamboyant self. Still, maybe the fact that I liked this so much is down to the book not containing any other foreigners or working class characters, as it's the voices done for these which too often annoy me.


Darlynne,  17 July 2013 at 15:45  

This was such a satisfying read and I don't think anyone can ever forget that ending. It was both perfect and convoluted in its own way, as Orient Express was. For me, believability isn't an issue when I read Agatha Christie. I simply enjoy so much how she ties up all the numerous and confusing threads so cleverly.

Rosario 20 July 2013 at 08:42  

I confess I struggle a bit with the psychological believability, but you're right, it's not really the point. It's all about the puzzle, and it is really cleverly and perfectly constructed.

CD,  23 July 2013 at 16:53  

Oh, is this the one with THAT shock ending? If so, I remember reading it years ago at school and thinking that it wasn't fair and that Christie broke the rules. Haven't read it since but you're really tempting me here...

What was the reaction of your book club?

Rosario 23 July 2013 at 20:07  

CD: Yep, that's the one. Read it again, knowing the ending, and you'll see how scrupulously she avoids any lies.

The reaction at the book club was mixed. A few people really loved it, some thought it was nothing special. All of those found it really compelling and absorbing, though, but some others couldn't get into at all. That´s weird, I thought Christie´s writing was easy to get into practically by definition!

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