The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

by Agatha Christie

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The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 552

Typically for a traditional English whodunit, the book has a gallery of stereotypical characters commonplace to the genre. Roger Ackroyd is a standard victim: someone the reader scarcely gets to know before the murder, a man to whom the reader has formed little attachment. What little Christie tells about him is largely unfavorable: He is wealthy but stingy, and though he respects the law, he lacks compassion, even when it comes to the woman he plans to marry. Then there are the servants—Bourne, Parker, Russell—who have pasts they are trying to hide. In addition, there are family members who dislike the victim and would benefit from his death. For example, Ralph Paton, Ackroyd’s twenty-five-year-old stepson, is a dissolute gambler who is alienated from his father but dependent upon him for support. Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd and Flora also are dependent upon the largesse of a man they dislike and thus crave release from what they regard as a lamentable situation. Still another standard character-type present here is a mysterious stranger, Charles Kent, who is revealed to be connected to at least one person in the household.

The major characters in the novel are Poirot and Sheppard, and even they are stereotypical. The former is in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes: a self-centered, eccentric, but brilliant detective who utilizes his powers of ratiocination in order to solve crimes. A small but dignified man of advanced age, he speaks with a cultivated Belgian accent. Though he dresses impeccably, his head is his most noticeable feature. Here is Dr. Sheppard’s description when he first sees Poirot: “An egg-shaped head, partially covered with suspiciously black hair, two immense mustaches, and a pair of watchful eyes.” Dr. James Sheppard is to Poirot in this case what Dr. John Watson is to Holmes on many occasions: companion, confidant, and recorder. His personality makes him eminently suitable for his role, for he is discreet and reticent, a patient man of apparent probity; his profession of country doctor has made him the trusted friend of many in his community. As relaxation from his medical practice, Dr. Sheppard had only one noteworthy pastime: tinkering with mechanical objects. He puts this hobby to use in committing what he thought would be the perfect crime. Just before ending his life (like Mrs. Ferrars, with veronal), he writes: “A strange end to my manuscript. I meant it to be published some day as the history of one of Poirot’s failures! Odd, how things pan out.”

A peripheral character in the mystery is deserving of comment here: Caroline, Dr. Sheppard’s spinster sister. An affectionately portrayed comic figure whose inquisitiveness and rumormongering are unparalleled, she is a fountainhead of vital information, and even her baseless speculations sometimes prove to be useful. Miss Sheppard also may have served a more significant purpose for her creator, as the origin of Jane Marple, who makes her detecting debut in a 1930 novel, The Murder at the Vicarage. In her 1977 autobiography, Christie wrote: “I think it is possible that Miss Marple arose from the pleasure I had taken in portraying Dr. Sheppard’s sister in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. She had been my favorite character in the book—an acidulated spinster, full of curiosity, knowing everything, hearing everything: the complete detective service in the home.”

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 803

Hercule Poirot

Hercule Poirot (pwah-ROH), a famous Belgian detective. A member of the Belgian police before World War I, he entered private practice in Great Britain during the war. Poirot has temporarily retired to King’s Abbot and is busily engaged in growing marrows (squash) when he is caught up in the investigation of the murder. He is short and lean, with many mannerisms, dyed black hair, an enormous mustache, and a great love of hot chocolate and sweet liqueurs. Many people think lightly of the Belgian when they first meet him. Poirot ignores the slights, however, and puts his complete faith in the “little grey cells” of his brain.

James Sheppard

James Sheppard, the local doctor and the narrator of the action. He is the most important witness to the events that precede the murder and acts as Poirot’s aide. The quiet, middle-aged physician is the friend of many of the people directly and indirectly involved in the mystery surrounding his friend Ackroyd’s death and so is able to supply Poirot with information about their personalities, and even about some of their medical problems.

Caroline Sheppard

Caroline Sheppard, the doctor’s elder sister, who lives with him. She is one of the best sources of village gossip, and her brother is always trying to circumvent her curiosity about his medical practice, usually with little success. Caroline is sure of her own opinion about everything, including that everyone in the village, even her beloved brother, has to be watched for his or her own good.

Roger Ackroyd

Roger Ackroyd, the murdered man, a middle-aged and very wealthy industrialist. According to Dr. Sheppard, he looked like a beefy local squire from a Victorian melodrama. His fiancée, Mrs. Ferrars, committed suicide the night before his murder. The day of her suicide, she confessed that she had murdered her husband the previous year and had been blackmailed since that time. Wanting to get hold of the blackmailer but afraid of causing publicity, Ackroyd is murdered before he can decide what to do. The letter he had received from the late Mrs. Ferrars is missing from the murder scene.

Captain Ralph Paton

Captain Ralph Paton, Ackroyd’s stepson from his first marriage, a handsome and irresponsible young man who is deeply in debt. He was in town at the time of both the suicide and the murder but had not told his stepfather. Caroline heard someone in the woods with a young woman the day before the murder but was not able to find out that it was Paton. All the circumstantial evidence points to Paton’s guilt, and he had also disappeared the night of the murder.

Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd

Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, Roger Ackroyd’s impoverished sister-in-law, who subsists on handouts from him. Mrs. Ackroyd disliked her parsimonious brother-in-law and was counting on his money to set her up in an independent lifestyle. She is not above petty theft, sometimes selling small and valuable items from Ackroyd’s house to keep herself in the manner she believes she deserves. Although basically incompetent in all areas, Mrs. Ackroyd assumes she knows best how everyone in the household should run his or her life.

Flora Ackroyd

Flora Ackroyd, Mrs. Ackroyd’s beautiful daughter. To please her uncle and her mother, she had agreed to marry Paton, even though she is in love with Ackroyd’s best friend, Major Blunt, one of the houseguests at the time of the murder. Flora convinces Poirot to come out of retirement and solve the murder, thus clearing Paton. She also claims to have talked to Ackroyd after the time he was probably murdered.

Elizabeth Russell

Elizabeth Russell, the latest of Ackroyd’s attractive housekeepers, usually in their late thirties or early forties. Caroline and the other scandalmongers were always waiting for one of these housekeepers to marry Ackroyd, and they all presumed Russell to be angry about Ackroyd’s relationship with Mrs. Ferrars. Dr. Sheppard is more interested in why the normally very reserved housekeeper had been asking him about poisons the morning before the murder.

Ursula Bourne

Ursula Bourne, Ackroyd’s attractive young maid. She is in love with Paton, which caused the angry Ackroyd to fire her the day he was murdered.

Parker

Parker, Ackroyd’s nervous butler, who had made a fair amount of money blackmailing his previous employer until his death. He is always near the room where Ackroyd met his death but claims to know little of value.

Geoffrey Raymond

Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd’s handsome and very efficient young secretary. Although in debt because of heavy betting at the racetrack, and with an incomplete alibi, Raymond is the one member of the Ackroyd household to keep his sense of humor and sense of perspective: He treats the entire experience as a unique adventure.

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