I was motivated to read an Agatha Christie mystery due to all of the hype surrounding the new big screen adaptation of her classic Murder on the Orient Express. Also, I needed to read and review a twentieth-century work for this year’s Back to the Classics Challenge 2017. I’m so pleased with my reading experience. This was such an engrossing read from start to finish that I can see why Christie is referred to as the Queen of Mystery. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is classic detective fiction at its best!
When I was a child, I dreamed of being a private detective. I would explore our house and backyard questioning suspects (including our dog) determined to solve the case. I probably annoyed my family with all my sleuthing. It was worth it because I always caught the culprit (it was usually the dog). As an adult, I have always loved murder mysteries. I always try so hard to figure it all out before the big reveal. Sadly, my detective skills never lead me down the correct path so I guess it’s good I became a therapist instead. A good mystery novel always is an excellent study into human behavior, yet another reason I enjoy them so much.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the perfect introduction to the stories of Agatha Christie. It contains so many delicious elements such as a small country village, a brutal murder, a cast of interesting suspects, and lots of misdirection. Christie manages to get you engrossed in the book from the opening sentence. Once I was hooked, I couldn’t put it down. The story begins with the death of local widow Mrs. Ferrars who committed suicide by overdose. We soon learn that Mrs. Ferrars harbored a deep dark secret and sent a letter to her dear friend and confidante Roger Ackroyd. Unfortunately, things don’t end so well for poor Ackroyd (hence the title of the book). The local police are baffled. As luck would have it, the world famous detective Hercule Poirot has taken up his retirement in the village. Poirot is soon called out of retirement in order to help solve the murder.
The story is narrated by Dr. Sheppard who mistakes his new neighbor Poirot for a hairdresser. As it turns out, retirement which consists of growing vegetable marrows doesn’t suit the detective who immediately takes on Sheppard as his Dr. Watson of the story (there’s even a nod to this, nice of Christie to acknowledge her predecessor). I love the character of Hercule Poirot. The Belgian detective with his insight as well as his humor really endeared him to me. He can be overly comical but quite serious when the situation calls for it. The chemistry between him and Dr. Sheppard work quite well as the two work together to solve the case.
Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the humor. I love British comedy, and there are some really funny interactions in this book not just with Poirot but also with Sheppard’s meddling sister Caroline. Although she serves as a minor character, she really does get some of the best scenes. The other characters stand out fairly well, each with his or her own motive for wanting to eliminate Ackroyd. Each one is hiding something, and Poirot is determined to uncover each secret (and he does).
This is a challenging novel to review without revealing too many details which would ruin the unveiling of the killer. I’m determined to go spoiler-free though so I will say very little about the shocking revelation. What I will say is that I did not see it coming at all. Agatha Christie manages to construct the novel in such a way that your ideas of who it could be get thrown off in so many other directions when the murderer is standing right there in front of you. As good detective fiction is supposed to go, there are plenty of red herrings to throw you off the scent. I can understand why Ackroyd stands out as one of the greatest mysteries ever written. Most detective stories lose their luster after learning the truth. However, I would actually read this one again now that I know who the killer is just to catch all the clues that Christie manages to place in front of us the entire way through. It’s just brilliant writing.
In fact right after finishing the book, I watched the television episode of the story with David Suchet as Poirot. Although mostly faithful to the novel, there were several changes. I can understand for reasons I won’t explain why the changes had to be made for television, but overall I would just rate is as alright. Suchet, however, is phenomenal in the role of Poirot so I would definitely watch more episodes of the series.
As I looked through my copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I was surprised that while this one made the list, Murder on the Orient Express was absent. Despite this omission, I definitely want to read that one. However, I may actually do the film version first.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an entertaining book, and a work of genius– the method of murder is also cleverly worked out – tightly plotted and well crafted. This will definitely not be my final adventure with Hercule Poirot.