The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A justly celebrated tour de force of misdirection, in which Christie walks a highly risky and particularly fine tightrope; it is much to her credit that she is able to play perfectly fair. The plot is quite conventional: squire stabbed to death in his study, presumably by the blackmailer who drove a self-confessed murderess to suicide. Poirot, now in retirement and growing vegetable marrows, and helped by his temporary Watson, Dr. Sheppard, unravels a complicated knot of secret marriages, mysterious strangers and blackmail. The clues are chosen with skill, and it would be impossible to improve upon the masterly juggling with times and alibis.

Blurb (UK)

M. Poirot, the hero of The Mysterious Affair at Stiles and other brilliant pieces of detective deduction, comes out of his temporary retirement like a giant refreshed, to undertake the investigation of a peculiarly brutal and mysterious murder. Geniuses like Sherlock Holmes often find a use for faithful mediocrities like Dr. Watson, and by a coincidence it is the local doctor who follows Poirot round, and himself tells the story. Furthermore, as seldom happens in these cases, he is instrumental in giving Poirot one of the most valuable clues to the mystery.

Blurb (US)

Lee Thayer, herself the author of many successful mystery stories, says of this book: “I think it has the best plot of any I have read in years.  The mechanism seems to be perfect.  I wish I could have written it myself.”  This is high praise indeed and confirms the publisher’s opinion that in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie has written a remarkable mystery story, bewildering and perplexing, the convincing solution of which will astound the reader, who will have confidently settled the question of guilt in his own mind.  But he will forgive the jolt, comforting himself with the knowledge that there will be thousands of other self-confident readers confounded by the brilliant Agatha Christie.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (10 June 1926): This is a well-written detective story of which the only criticism might perhaps be that there are too many curious incidents not really connected with the crime which have to be elucidated before the criminal can be discovered.  Roger Ackroyd, a retired business magnate, had been in love with a Mrs. Ferrars.  They are about to be married when she confesses that she had poisoned her very unsatisfactory husband, and has since been blackmailed by someone who knew of her crime.  Ackroyd is horrified, and Mrs. Ferrars commits suicide.  Shortly afterwards Ackroyd is murdered, presumably by the blackmailer.  There are a number of people in the house, and, as hinted above, three or four of them are involved in mysteries of their own.  It is all very puzzling, but the great Hercule Poirot, a retired Belgian detective, solves the mystery.  It may safely be stated that very few readers will do so.

Nation and Ath (3rd July 1926, 200w): She plays fair, as always, concealing from the reader no facts known to the incomparable Poirot; and as always she contrives to keep her secret just so long as she wishes—which is until the very end.  But this time the secret is more than usually original and ingenious, and is a device which no other writer could have employed without mishap.  The plot is disclosed with detached exactitude, but at the same time the characters are entertaining, and the human interest never flags.

NY Times (18th July 1926, 320w): There are doubtless many detective stories more exciting and blood-curdling than The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but this reviewer has recently read very few which provide greater analytical stimulation.  This story, though it is inferior to them at their best, is in the tradition of Poe’s analytical tales and the Sherlock Holmes stories.  The author does not devote her talents to the creation of thrills and shocks, but to the orderly solution of a single murder, conventional at that, instead…

The story is told in the first person by Dr. Sheppard the physician in a small English village called King’s Abbott.  Roger Ackroyd is murdered one night under particularly perplexing circumstances.  Strong suspicions centre on his stepson, Ralph Payton [sic], who had not only the best of motives, but also disappeared immediately following the murder.  The case is taken over by Hercule Poirot.  Matters become more and more complicated, till one surprising fact after another begins to reveal itself.  It would most certainly not be fair in the present case to reveal the outcome of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Sat R of Lit (W.R. Benét, 24th July 1926, 600w): Miss Christie’s dedication of the book is to one ‘who likes an orthodox detective story, murder, inquest, and suspicion falling on every one in turn!’ So she set herself to write such an orthodox story, with the strange result that she has succeeded in producing one of the few notable for originality.

Books (NY Herald Tribune) (H.T. Baker, 25th July 1926, 450w): The truly startling dénouement is uncommonly original and will restore a thrill to the most jaded reader of detective stories.  It is obtained, however, at a slight sacrifice of plausible character portrayal.

Lit R (31st July 1926, 150w): The solution is perfectly rational and simple, which always makes for an interesting story, and this tale is no exception to that rule.  It is well worth reading and holds the interest to the end.