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
  • 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. Not to mention the chair, the boots, and Sheppard's wasted "legacy".
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Sheppard's hobby of fixing and inventing mechanics.
  • 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
  • Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Ferrars by the blackmailer.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Dr. Sheppard, upon discovering a murder, gives into the temptation to commit blackmail.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Mrs. Ferrars.
  • Summation Gathering: Subverted. The assembled parties leave without hearing the murderer identified—that is left to the private exchange between Poirot and the doctor that immediately follows.
  • Technology Marches On: The idea of a voice recording being used to fake someone's presence was new and surprising, reflecting the new Dictaphone technology.
  • Tomato Surprise: By necessity.
  • Twist Ending
  • 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