(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd elicited controversy immediately because its format and solution broke what were then two unwritten laws of the mystery genre: The murderer was the detective’s sidekick and therefore apparently above suspicion, and he was the narrator. This last fact was stunning enough in itself, but it also meant that Christie had given readers a narrator who did not reveal all his thoughts and actions to them until the end. Throughout, Christie’s use of Sheppard gives both immediacy and distance to the narration: The doctor is a friend of the Ackroyd family but is not directly implicated in their family tensions. His presence also opens the story line for actions outside the manor, including comic scenes involving Caroline, their village neighbors, and Poirot.

Typical of Christie’s style is the way in which she slides the actual murder past the audience by means of careful omission and verbal cleverness: Sheppard tells how Ackroyd puts aside the letter that will name the blackmailer, despite the doctor’s desire to hear Mrs. Ferrars’ words. After this moment, the narrative continues:The letter had been brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was just on ten minutes to nine when I had left him, the letter still unread. I hesitated with my hand on the door handle, looking back and wondering if there was anything I had left undone. I could think of nothing.

What seems to be a normal setting out of time in...

(The entire section is 467 words.)