Literature: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

1926 mystery novel by Agatha Christie. This was the book that propelled Christie to fame, widely regarded as one of her finest, and certainly among her most notable. Even today the Twist Ending remains controversial.

Mrs. Ferrars, a wealthy widow in a quiet English village, has apparently taken her own life. Local industrialist Roger Ackroyd, who was romantically involved with Mrs. Ferrars, confesses in private that his lover had admitted to him that she murdered her bullying, abusive, drunken husband with poison...and that someone had found this out, ruthlessly blackmailing her and driving her to suicide. Now, a letter in the post from Mrs. Ferrars is about to reveal all—but before Ackroyd can learn and expose the identity of the culprit, he is found dead in his study, stabbed viciously in the neck with his own ornamental dagger. An apparently open-and-shut case uncovers a likely suspect, but the village has by chance a new resident; Monsieur Hercule Poirot, the noted detective, who has retired to the countryside to grow vegetables. His legendary "little grey cells" intrigued by the case, Poirot soon discovers that all is not as it seems...

This detective mystery provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: The David Suchet adaptation does this to Dr Sheppard, by taking away many of his sympathetic qualities, making his journal entries entirely callous, and downplaying his loving relationship with his sister.
  • Affably Evil: The killer has a genuinely friendly and polite personality.
  • The All-Concealing I: The writing style by necessity conceals a very, very big secret.
  • Badass Boast: Hercule Poirot makes a point of warning the killer that the trick he pulled on Roger Ackroyd will be a lot more difficult to pull off on him.
  • Blackmail: What triggered the whole series of events—Dr. Sheppard figured out that Mrs. Ferrars poisoned her husband, and has been blackmailing her. Also, Poirot eventually finds out that Parker engaged in a bit of blackmail with his previous employer.
  • Book Ends: The story opens with the town reacting to Mrs. Ferrars' death from an overdose of Veronal. The ending reveals that Sheppard will kill himself by Veronal overdose.
  • Call to Agriculture: Poirot has retired from detective work at the beginning of the novel to grow marrows (a kind of squash).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The Dictaphone Company salesman's visit. Ackroyd did buy a dictaphone, and Sheppard used it to set up his alibi.
    • Sheppard's wasted "legacy", mentioned early in the novel. In fact he received no legacy; he was blackmailing Mrs. Ferrars.
    • A seemingly random reference early on about Sheppard seeing an American sailor patient. This is the person who placed the crucial phone call.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Sheppard's hobby of fixing and inventing mechanics. This is how he rigged up the Dictaphone to play on a time delay.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Sheppard, on pretty short notice, manages to steal Ralph Paton's shoes and arrange for a patient of his to place a crucial telephone call at a certain time—all that without being completely sure what Roger Ackroyd wanted to talk about, much less knowing when Ackroyd was going to talk to him.
  • Crushing Handshake: Major Blunt delivers a handshake that makes Poirot wince in pain after Poirot gives a little assistance with Blunt's love affair with Flora.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr. Sheppard, at least as far as his sister is concerned.
  • Death by Irony: Sheppard. And what makes it unusual - it was deliberately planned so on part of the killed one ('There would be a kind of poetic justice', as he puts it.)
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Helpful, modest Dr. Sheppard, who is never suggested to have had any problem with Ackroyd, is revealed as the murderer. He killed Ackroyd to prevent Ackroyd from exposing him as a blackmailer.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Ferrars by the blackmailer.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Sheppard is revealed as the murderer at the end, causing the reader to reassess everything they have read.
  • English Rose: Flora is described as being blonde and blue-eyed with a pale complexion, as beautiful, and as a typical English girl.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Everyone.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's about Roger Ackroyd. Who gets murdered.
  • Face-Heel Turn: It is implied that Dr. Sheppard was originally a good-ish but weak character who gave into temptation and became evil as a result.
  • Fair Play Whodunnit: The way Poirot ultimately solves the crime is by reading what Dr. Sheppard wrote down which is exactly what the reader is reading. Which means that an acute reader could actually pick up most of the important clues before Poirot does.
    • It does violate two of Knox's Commandments ( the First and the Ninth; the Watson of the novel is also the murderer, and he does not write down every thought he had in the journal). This does not keep it from being fair, serving as reminder that rigid adherence to Knox's rules is not what makes a good Fairplay Whodunnit.
  • Funny Foreigner: Indulged in with Poirot as usual in Christie stories. In this one, he says "All my excuses for having deranged you" when he means "disturbed you."
  • Greedy Jew: Is it Christie indulging in anti-Semitism, or Christie engaging in some subtle negative characterization of Dr. Sheppard? Hard to say, but in any case, when Mrs. Ackroyd complains about being hounded by creditors, Sheppard says "I suspect a Semitic strain in their ancestry."
  • Half Truth: Everything Sheppard puts in his journal is absolutely true. He doesn't put everything in his journal, though...
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason Roger Ackroyd had to die.
  • It's Personal: Not in the novel so much, but the TV adaptation with David Suchet introduces a long-standing friendship between Poirot and Roger Ackroyd, thus introducing a personal element for Poirot in taking the case and identifying the murderer. In the novel, Poirot and Ackroyd knew each other from when Poirot lived in London but didn't seem to be close friends, and Poirot didn't seem particularly interested in the murder until Flora Ackroyd asked him to investigate.
  • The Killer in Me: The "Secretive Killer" variety, as Dr. Sheppard, who is narrating his and Poirot's investigation of the murder, is revealed at the end to be the murderer.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Poirot gives the murderer the opportunity to settle accounts himself rather than wait for arrest the next day, in order to spare those close to him grief. It's not literally a pistol in the book, though.
  • May-December Romance: Major Blunt and Flora Ackroyd.
  • Names to Trust Immediately: Dr. Sheppard is a subversion.
  • No Name Given: Mrs. Ackroyd, widow of Roger's brother Cecil, is only referred to as "Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd."
  • Nosy Neighbor: Caroline Sheppard, who is addicted to gossip and must know everything about everyone, like when Poirot moves in next door and she hounds her brother to find out about the new neighbor.
  • Oddball in the Series: While most novels and stories in the Hercule Poirot series are narrated by Poirot's friendly Watson, Captain Hastings, this one has a different narrator, helpful Dr. Sheppard. There's a reason for that.
  • Phoney Call: Part of Sheppard's alibi consists of arranging for a patient of his to call Sheppard on his way out of town. Sheppard pretends that this is notification of the murder, and then goes to Ackroyd's house to finish setting up his alibi.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: A plot point. Ackroyd was heard to be speaking in his study at 9:30, leading everyone to believe the murder must have happened after that. But what he was heard to say ("...the demands on my purse of late have been so great that I cannot accede to your request...") strikes Poirot as something that nobody would have actually spoken in conversation with another person. This leads Poirot to deduce that Ackroyd was already dead by 9:30 and the words he was heard to speak were a Dictaphone recording.
  • Secret Other Family: It turns out that the cause of Ralph's argument with Roger is that Ralph has married in secret, which puts a crimp in Roger's plans for an Arranged Marriage with Flora.
  • Sequencing Deception: As Sheppard admits in the final chapter, while everything he writes in the story is true, he left stuff out. For example, he writes that Roger received the letter at 8:40 and Sheppard left at 8:50, but doesn't mention that he killed Ackroyd in the interim.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Dr. Sheppard, upon discovering a murder, gives into the temptation to commit blackmail.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Mrs. Ferrars's suicide from a Veronal overdose.
  • Summation Gathering: Subverted. The assembled parties leave without hearing the murderer identified—that is left to the private exchange between Poirot and the murderer that immediately follows.
  • Tomato Surprise: By necessity, as Sheppard the narrator doesn't reveal that he is the murder until Poirot confronts him.
  • Twist Ending: Dr. Sheppard, the polite Watson of this story and also the narrator, is revealed to be the murderer.
  • Unreliable Narrator: A doozy of an example. Dr. Sheppard, who has been narrating the story in classic Watson-style, is the murderer. Sheppard NEVER tells a single lie (to us readers, that is; he only lies to Poirot), nor does he even resort to truthful but misleading statements. He simply leaves something out. It should also be noted the number of times the narrator writes about being puzzled and confused about aspects of the case; he's being completely honest each time. Every suspect has something to hide, from the embarrassing to the outright criminal, and has lied to cover it up. A great example is Ackroyd's niece, who claims she spoke to Ackroyd around a quarter to 10 on the night of the murder, something Sheppard knows is impossible. It turns out she had stolen some cash from Ackroyd's upstairs bedroom, saw the butler approaching as she was heading down the stairs, and rushed down the stairs, pretending she'd come from her uncle's study (where his body was), and claimed to have just talked to him.
  • The Watson: Dr. Sheppard, filling in for Captain Hastings. The role of Sheppard as Watson is lampshaded.
  • Wham Line: In fact—Dr. Sheppard!
  • You Meddling Kids: The last line of the book.
    "But I wish Hercule Poirot had never retired from work and come here to grow vegetable marrows."

Alternative Title(s):

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd