(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Set in the bucolic English village of King’s Abbot, the novel is narrated by Dr. James Sheppard, physician to the area’s leading residents, one of whom is Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy industrialist. Sheppard is a bachelor who lives with his sister Caroline, an elderly spinster with a bent for gossip. Ackroyd, a widower, lives with his widowed sister-in-law, the penurious yet proud Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd. Her daughter Flora is engaged to marry Ralph Paton, Ackroyd’s penniless and irresponsible stepson.

Shattering the usual calm are two deaths, seemingly connected only by proximity of time and place, but in fact directly related. First, Mrs. Ferrars, a wealthy widow, dies, presumably of an accidental overdose of veronal. (Her husband had died a year earlier, seemingly of acute gastritis complicated by alcoholism, though Caroline Sheppard thinks his wife poisoned him.) Roger Ackroyd is murdered the next night, stabbed in his study soon after Dr. Sheppard visited with him. The two men were friends, and during their last visit, Ackroyd told Sheppard that he and Mrs. Ferrars had planned to marry, but the previous day she confessed to having poisoned “her brute of a husband” a year earlier. What is more, someone knew of the crime and was blackmailing her. Ackroyd blamed himself for her suicide because he reacted to her revelation with repulsion and horror, instead of with sympathy, but he was “not the type of a great lover who can forgive all for love’s sake.... All that was sound and wholesome and law abiding in him must have turned from her utterly in that moment....” She asked Ackroyd for twenty-four hours before he reported her crime, and during this period she committed suicide. While he was telling Sheppard the tale, the butler brought in the evening mail, which included a letter from Mrs. Ferrars, presumably identifying her blackmailer. Ackroyd set it aside to read after Sheppard left. When the police search the room after Ackroyd’s death, the letter is gone.

In the aftermath of the murder, a newcomer to the village enters the picture. The Larches, a house next to that of the Sheppards, has been rented by an elderly foreigner, thought to be a retired hairdresser but actually Hercule Poirot, the Belgian private...

(The entire section is 918 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was Christie’s sixth novel and was published in 1926. It was the third novel that featured the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Like many of her other novels, the book is set in a small town and focuses on the interactions between characters who are well known to one another.

When the novel was first published, critical reactions were mixed because of the unusual narrative structure. Christie chose to have the murderer tell the story from his point of view. This device caused some consternation because some believed that Christie was not “playing fair” with her readers. They reasoned that, in crime fiction, if the novel is to be fair, the reader should be able to follow the same path the detective does in order to solve the crime. Some believed that by having the narrator as the murderer, the reader would not be able to follow the path of the clues, since the murderer would, in order to protect his identity, conceal certain key pieces of information.

Christie circumvents this problem in several ways. First, Dr. Sheppard is an extremely believable character. Because of the remorseful tone he assumes at the beginning of the novel, the reader immediately trusts him and his observations. In addition, Poirot appears to trust Sheppard, including him in discussions with the police and, as Poirot admits, using Sheppard as a substitute for Captain Hastings, who had played Dr. Watson to Poirot’s Sherlock...

(The entire section is 499 words.)