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.”
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...
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