This was my first time reading Agatha Christie. I picked this up for a book club, and I was surprised at first that we started with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. This is the 4th book in the Hercule Poirot collection. As someone who does not often read mysteries, I didn’t realize that instead of a traditional series of books where chronological or sequentially published books were essential to understanding the story, these are stand alone books. There is a recurring series of characters (or, at least, Poirot is recurring!), but there is little else that you need to know in order to jump into the book. We know Poirot is a detective, but that’s where it ends. And, apparently, this is traditional for many mystery series.
The more you know, right?
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of the most famous of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot books. This is because of the innovativ e plot device Christie implements. This twist makes The Murder of Roger Ackroyd one of the best well known and most controversial novels in the mystery/crime genre. It’s found on many Must Read lists, including being known as the only Christie book listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. In 2013, the British Crime Writers’ Associated voted it the best crime novel ever. And that’s a big deal.
The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.
Agatha Christie’s writing is brilliantly accessible. Originally written in 1926, the writing flowed easily and used a simple vocabulary. Considering Poirot is known as Agatha Christie’s more pretensions detective character (though, I don’t really think that’s an accurate description), I expected the flow of words to feel stilted to me. I didn’t have to look up any words which had fallen out of common use, even though there were a few. The most obvious being “vegetable marrow”, or root vegetable. I did find the pacing was perfect to keep my attention without causing me to rush through text. When I get emotionally engaged in novels, I tend to speed read during really intense moments. I didn’t find that happened this time, which I completely attribute to Christie’s impeccable writing skills. I was still emotionally engaged, and I feel like I didn’t miss any essential details.
That said, I figured out Whodunnit fairly early on. But! That did not limit my enjoyment of the book at all. In fact, there was a collection of about 30 pages where I thought I was wrong and started to question if some of the other characters were our culprit. No fear, I was still right in the end. 😉
I won’t speak to the brilliant plot devices which make this book so unique. I definitely want you to see this unfold on your own.
It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.
I will speak to the characters. Our story takes place in the quiet village of King’s Abbey and begins with one of the wealthiest women in the village being found dead. The death of Mrs. Ferrars is not our mystery, however! There are rumors that Mrs. Ferrars overdosed intentionally to stop her blackmailer– the one who learned that she had poisoned her husband! Enter Roger Ackroyd, new beau of Mrs. Ferrars and most well-to-do man in King’s Abbot. He is completely devastated, as he wanted to marry her. Crushed, a letter arrives for him from the deceased, in which we believe the name of the blackmailer will be revealed! However, before we can find out, Ackroyd is murdered in his own study.
DUM DUM DUMMMMM!!!
Thanks to our setting, the possible list of suspects covers both the traditional “upstairs” and “downstairs” of the 1920’s English manor house. The diversity of our suspects in socioeconomic status, personality, and ambitions really lends itself to a striking cast. The relationships of the characters are all very cordial and proper on the surface, but in a Clue-like fashion, nothing is as it seems. There are all sorts of improper things going on, and everyone has something to hide. Well, almost everyone. It makes for lots of distracting red herrings and beautiful little details. While some might think the unrelated curious incidents are distracting, I felt it was appropriate. Nothing really fit together well, and it felt… messy. To me, messy is quite real.
Fortunately words, ingeniously used, will serve to mask the ugliness of naked facts.
Obviously, Hercule Poirot is the most interesting character. Strangely, in book 4 (out of 33 novels and more than 50 short stories!) Hercule Poirot has retired to King’s Abbey to perfect the growing of vegetable marrows. Obviously. A Belgian described as a gentleman with an “egg-shaped head, partially covered with suspiciously black hair, two immense mustaches, and a pair of watchful eyes”, he seems the all-knowing, self-centered, and ridiculous simultaneously. He believes in sharing facts, but not his conclusions. He employs use of his “little grey cells” and is constantly encouraging everyone else do similarly. He is a peculiar little man with a brilliant intellect, and I should like to get to know him better.
You should employ your little grey cells!
All in all, a lovely mystery. I strongly encourage you to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and let me know: Were you able to figure it out?