The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Ellen Edwards|
|Publisher||William Collins, Sons|
|Media type||Print (hardback, paperback)|
|Pages||312 (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Secret of Chimneys|
|Followed by||The Big Four|
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in June 1926 in the United Kingdom by William Collins, Sons and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company on 19 June 1926. It is the third novel to feature Hercule Poirot as the lead detective.
Poirot retires to a village near the home of a friend he met in London, Roger Ackroyd, who agrees to keep him anonymous, as he pursues his retirement project of perfecting vegetable marrows. He is not long at this pursuit when his friend is murdered. Ackroyd's niece calls Poirot in to ensure that the guilt does not fall on Ackroyd's son; Poirot promises to find the truth, which she accepts.
The novel was initially well-received, remarked for the startling ending, and in 2013, 87 years after its release the British Crime Writers' Association voted it the best crime novel ever. It is one of Christie's best known and most controversial novels, its innovative twist ending having a significant impact on the genre. Howard Haycraft included this novel in his list of the most influential crime novels ever written. The short biography of Christie which is included in 21st century UK printings of her books calls it her masterpiece, although writer and critic Robert Barnard has written that he considers it a conventional Christie novel.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Characters
- 3 Narrative voice and structure
- 4 Literary significance and reception
- 5 Development
- 6 Publication history
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 Adaptations
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
The news in King's Abbot is all about the death of Mrs Ferrars, a wealthy widow who is rumoured to have murdered her husband. Roger Ackroyd, a widower who was to marry Mrs Ferrars, is distraught. He invites Dr James Sheppard to his house Fernly Park for dinner. Sheppard dines with Ackroyd; Ackroyd's sister-in-law Mrs Cecil Ackroyd; her young daughter Flora; Major Blunt, a big-game hunter; and Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd's personal secretary. Flora announces her engagement to Captain Ralph Paton, stepson of Ackroyd. After dinner, Sheppard and Ackroyd talk in his study. Ackroyd tells him that Mrs Ferrars had confided to him that she was being blackmailed about killing her husband. Ackroyd receives a letter, a suicide note, in the post from Mrs Ferrars, which he plans to finish reading after Sheppard leaves. On the walk home, Sheppard bumps into a man outside the gates, seeking directions to Fernly Park. Once home, Dr Sheppard receives a telephone call. He rushes out, telling his sister Caroline that Parker, Ackroyd's butler, has found Roger Ackroyd dead. Upon Sheppard's arrival, Parker says he never made such a call. Parker, Sheppard, Raymond, and Blunt find Ackroyd in his study, stabbed to death with a weapon from his collection.
Hercule Poirot, who is cultivating vegetable marrows next door to the Sheppards, comes out of retirement at the request of Flora Ackroyd. Ralph Paton is the police suspect and is nowhere to be found. She does not believe he is guilty. Raymond and Blunt both overheard Ackroyd speaking to someone from within his study, and Flora said goodnight to her uncle, placing Ackroyd's death into a narrow time frame for which Parker, Raymond, Blunt, Mrs Ackroyd, and Miss Russell, the housekeeper, all have alibis. Police trace the telephone call to Dr Sheppard to King's Abbot station. Poirot proceeds to collect more information on suspects not in the house, including the representative of a dictaphone company who had visited Ackroyd some days previously. He asks the exact time at which Dr Sheppard met the stranger at the Fernly Park gates. Poirot finds a goose quill and a scrap of starched cambric in the summer house, and a ring with the inscription "From R" in the backyard pool. Poirot notices that the parlourmaid Ursula Bourne has no alibi for the murder. He carefully observes the study, learning of the repositioning of a chair from Parker's first view of Ackroyd, to his next.
Poirot tells Sheppard, Flora, Mrs Ackroyd, Raymond, and Blunt that they have all been concealing something from him. Dr Sheppard aids Poirot by conducting research into Ursula Bourne. Raymond and Mrs Ackroyd both reveal that they were in debt, which Ackroyd's death resolved, for both were included in Ackroyd's will. Flora reveals that she did not see her uncle in his study, confessing to stealing money from Ackroyd's bureau in his bedroom. Raymond and Blunt are the last to hear Ackroyd alive. This leaves Flora, Blunt, Raymond, and Mrs Ackroyd without alibis. Blunt's secret is revealed; he is in love with Flora. Poirot calls a second meeting, adding the butler, housekeeper and Captain Paton. The goose quill is a heroin holder belonging to the stranger Sheppard met, Miss Russell's illegitimate son. The ring belongs to Ursula Bourne, who is secretly married to Ralph Paton. Poirot knows the killer's identity, confirmed by a telegram received during the meeting. He does not reveal the name; instead he issues a warning to the killer.
When Poirot and Sheppard are alone, their conversation takes a startling turn. Poirot reveals that Ackroyd's killer was Dr Sheppard, who had stabbed Ackroyd in the study and used Ackroyd's dictaphone to make it appear that Ackroyd was still alive and talking after Sheppard's departure. Poirot explains the inconsistency in the time it took for Sheppard to reach the gates, deducing that he looped back to Ackroyd's study window and planted Paton's footprints there. Earlier that day, he asked a patient of his to phone him at a specific time, as confirmed by the telegram. Sheppard wanted to be on the scene to discover Ackroyd's body, remove the dictaphone and return the chair that concealed it from view to its original place. Sheppard was Mrs Ferrars' blackmailer, as the doctor had attended on her late husband and suspected Mrs Ferrars' guilt; he had murdered Ackroyd to stop him knowing this. Poirot tells Sheppard that all this information will be reported to the police in the morning. Dr Sheppard continues writing his report on Poirot's investigation (the novel itself), admitting his guilt and that he wanted to write the account of Poirot's great failure—that is, not solving the murder of Roger Ackroyd. The epilogue serves as his suicide note.
- Hercule Poirot – retired detective who investigates the central murder.
- Roger Ackroyd – wealthy businessman and widower who is distressed by the recent death of the woman he wants to marry, Mrs Ferrars.
- Mrs Cecil Ackroyd – Mr Ackroyd's widowed sister-in-law. She lives with her brother-in-law the last two years, having no other means and is woman of fast-changing opinions.
- Flora Ackroyd – Mr Ackroyd's niece and Mrs Cecil Ackroyd's daughter. She is engaged first to Ralph at her uncle's request, then to Major Blunt, on her own preference.
- Captain Ralph Paton – Mr Ackroyd's stepson by his late wife, also referred to as his "adopted" son. Handsome and charming, he lacks discipline. He thinks Sheppard is his friend, but Sheppard chose him to be the most likely suspect to the police.
- Ursula Bourne – Mr Ackroyd's parlourmaid, who is secretly married to Ralph Paton. She is poor but a lady, and this position as maid is her first one, to support herself. She informs Mr Ackroyd of her marriage to Ralph earlier in the day of his murder, and gave her notice when he reacted angrily.
- Major Hector Blunt – big game hunter, Roger Ackroyd's friend and house guest, five years younger than Ackroyd.
- Geoffrey Raymond – Mr Ackroyd's young and energetic secretary.
- John Parker – Mr Ackroyd's butler.
- Elizabeth Russell – Mr Ackroyd's housekeeper, still attractive in her forties.
- Charles Kent – Elizabeth Russell's illegitimate son, about 22 years old and a drug addict recently arrived from Canada.
- Dr James Sheppard – the local doctor, a middle aged man, Poirot's assistant, as well as the story's unreliable narrator.
- Caroline Sheppard – Dr Sheppard's older, single sister, who has a gift for staying informed on all activities in the village.
- Mrs Ferrars – who poisons herself at the very beginning of the book after admitting her crime to Ackroyd and seeing his reaction; she resided in King's Paddock, the other notable home in the village.
- Ashley Ferrars – late husband of Mrs Ferrars, who was poisoned by his wife a year earlier; he was a mean drunk man.
- Mrs Folliott – Reference for parlourmaid Ursula Bourne, who it is revealed later is Ursula's older, married sister.
- Colonel Melrose – Chief constable for the area.
- Inspector Raglan – Inspector from the nearby larger town of Cranchester.
- Inspector Davis – Local inspector.
- Mr Hammond – Roger Ackroyd's lawyer.
- Ship steward – out of town patient to Dr Sheppard who agrees to call him from the local train station at a specific time, and confirms this to Poirot by a telegram from aboard his ship.
Narrative voice and structure
The book is set in the fictional village of King's Abbot in England. It is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, who becomes Poirot's assistant, in place of Captain Hastings who has married and settled in the Argentine. The novel includes an unexpected plot twist at the end of the novel. In the last chapter, Sheppard describes how he was an unreliable narrator, using certain literary techniques he used to conceal his guilt without having written anything untrue (e.g., "I did what little had to be done" at the point where he hid the dictaphone and moved the chair).
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement's review began with "This is a well-written detective story of which the only criticism might perhaps be that there are too many curious incidents not really connected with the crime which have to be elucidated before the true criminal can be discovered". The review then gave a brief synopsis before concluding with "It is all very puzzling, but the great Hercule Poirot, a retired Belgian detective, solves the mystery. It may safely be asserted that very few readers will do so."
A long review in The New York Times Book Review, read in part:
There are doubtless many detective stories more exciting and blood-curdling than The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but this reviewer has recently read very few which provide greater analytical stimulation. This story, though it is inferior to them at their best, is in the tradition of Poe's analytical tales and the Sherlock Holmes stories. The author does not devote her talents to the creation of thrills and shocks, but to the orderly solution of a single murder, conventional at that, instead.
Miss Christie is not only an expert technician and a remarkably good story-teller, but she knows, as well, just the right number of hints to offer as to the real murderer. In the present case his identity is made all the more baffling through the author's technical cleverness in selecting the part he is to play in the story; and yet her non-committal characterization of him makes it a perfectly fair procedure. The experienced reader will probably spot him, but it is safe to say that he will often have his doubts as the story unfolds itself.
The Observer said,
No one is more adroit than Miss Christie in the manipulation of false clues and irrelevances and red herrings; and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd makes breathless reading from first to the unexpected last. It is unfortunate that in two important points – the nature of the solution and the use of the telephone – Miss Christie has been anticipated by another recent novel: the truth is that this particular field is getting so well ploughed that it is hard to find a virgin patch anywhere. But Miss Christie's story is distinguished from most of its class by its coherence, its reasonableness, and the fact that the characters live and move and have their being: the gossip-loving Caroline would be an acquisition to any novel.
The Scotsman said,
When in the last dozen pages of Miss Christie's detective novel, the answer comes to the question, "Who killed Roger Ackroyd?" the reader will feel that he has been fairly, or unfairly, sold up. Up till then he has been kept balancing in his mind from chapter to chapter the probabilities for or against the eight or nine persons at whom suspicion points. ... Everybody in the story appears to have a secret of his or her own hidden up the sleeve, the production of which is imperative in fitting into place the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle; and in the end it turns out that the Doctor himself is responsible for the largest bit of reticence. The tale may be recommended as one of the cleverest and most original of its kind.
Robert Barnard, in A Talent to Deceive: An appreciation of Agatha Christie, writes:
Apart — and it is an enormous "apart" — from the sensational solution, this is a fairly conventional Christie. ... A classic, but there are some better Christies.
Laura Thompson, Christie's biographer, wrote:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the supreme, the ultimate detective novel. It rests upon the most elegant of all twists, the narrator who is revealed to be the murderer. This twist is not merely a function of plot: it puts the whole concept of detective fiction on an armature and sculpts it into a dazzling new shape. It was not an entirely new idea ... nor was it entirely her own idea ... but here, she realised, was an idea worth having. And only she could have pulled it off so completely. Only she had the requisite control, the willingness to absent herself from the authorial scene and let her plot shine clear.:155–156
In 1944–1946, the noted American literary critic Edmund Wilson attacked the entire mystery genre in a set of three columns in The New Yorker. The second, in the 20 January 1945 issue, was titled "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?", though he does no analysis of the novel. He dislikes mystery stories altogether, and chose the famous novel as the title of his piece.
Pierre Bayard, literature professor and author, in Qui a tué Roger Ackroyd? (Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?), re-investigates Agatha Christie's Ackroyd, proposing an alternative solution in another crime novel. He argues in favour of a different murderer – Sheppard's sister, Caroline – and says Christie subconsciously knew who the real culprit is.
In 1990, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd came in at fifth place in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time, a ranking by the members (all crime writers) of the Crime Writers' Association in Britain. A similar ranking was made in 1995 by the Mystery Writers of America, putting this novel in twelfth place. In 2013, the Crime Writers' Association voted this novel as CWA Best Ever Novel. The 600 members of CWA said it was "the finest example of the genre ever penned." It is a cornerstone of crime fiction, which "contains one of the most celebrated plot twists in crime writing history." The poll taken on the 60th anniversary of CWA also honored Agatha Christie as the best crime novel author ever.
In the "Binge!" article of Entertainment Weekly Issue #1343-44 (26 December 2014–3 January 2015), the writers picked The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as an "EW and Christie favorite" on the list of the "Nine Great Christie Novels".
The short biography of Christie which is included in 21st century UK printings of all of her books states that this novel is her masterpiece.
Christie revealed in her 1977 autobiography that the basic idea of the novel was first given to her by her brother-in-law, James Watts of Abney Hall, who in a conversation one day suggested a novel in which the criminal would be a Dr. Watson character: i.e., the narrator of the story. Christie considered it to be a "remarkably original thought".:342
In March 1924, Christie also received an unsolicited letter from Lord Mountbatten. He had been impressed with her previous works and had written to her, courtesy of The Sketch magazine (publishers of many of her short stories at that time) with an idea and notes for a story whose basic premise mirrored the Watts suggestion.:500 Christie acknowledged the letter and after some thought and planning began to write the book but kept firmly to a plot line of her invention.
In December 1969, Mountbatten wrote to Christie for a second time after having seen a performance of The Mousetrap. He mentioned his letter of the 1920s, and Christie replied, acknowledging the part he played in the conception of the book.:120–121
- 1926, William Collins and Sons (London), June 1926, Hardback, 312 pp (Seven shillings and sixpence)
- 1926, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 19 June 1926, Hardback, 306 pp ($2.00)
- 1927, William Collins and Sons (Popular Edition), March 1927, Hardback (Three shillings and sixpence)
- 1928, William Collins and Sons (Cheap Edition), February 1928 (One shilling)
- 1932, William Collins and Sons, February 1932 (in the Agatha Christie Omnibus of Crime along with The Mystery of the Blue Train, The Seven Dials Mystery, and The Sittaford Mystery), Hardback (Seven shillings and sixpence)
- 1939, Canterbury Classics (William Collins and Sons), Illustrated hardback, 336 pp
- 1939, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback (Pocket number 5), 212 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback (Penguin 684), 250 pp
- 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 254 pp
- 1964, Modern Author series (William Collins and Sons), Hardback, 254 pp
- 1967, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins and Sons/Dodd Mead), Hardback, 288 pp
- 1972, Ulvercroft Large-print Edition, Hardback, 414pp ISBN 0-85456-144-7
- 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1926 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 4 September 2006, Hardback ISBN 0-00-723437-6
The novel received its first true publication as a fifty-four part serialisation in the London Evening News from Thursday, 16 July, to Wednesday, 16 September 1925, under the title, Who Killed Ackroyd? Like that paper's serialisation of The Man in the Brown Suit, there were minor amendments to the text, mostly to make sense of the openings of an instalment (e.g., changing "He then..." to "Poirot then..."). The main change was in the chapter division: the published book has twenty-seven chapters whereas the serialisation has only twenty-four. Chapter Seven of the serialisation is named The Secrets of the Study whereas in the book it is Chapter Eight and named Inspector Raglan is Confident.
In the US, the novel was serialised in four parts in Flynn's Detective Weekly from 19 June (Volume 16, Number 2) to 10 July 1926 (Volume 16, Number 5). The text was heavily abridged and each instalment carried an uncredited illustration.
The Collins first edition of 1926 was Christie's first work placed with that publisher. "The first book that Agatha wrote for Collins was the one that changed her reputation forever; no doubt she knew, as through 1925 she turned the idea over in her mind, that here she had a winner.":155 HarperCollins, the modern successor firm to W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., remains the UK publishers of Christie's oeuvre.
By 1928, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was available in braille through the Royal National Institute for the Blind and was amongst the first works to be chosen for transfer to Gramophone record for their Books for the Blind library in the autumn of 1935. By 1936 it was listed as one of only eight books available in this form.
Christie's dedication in the book reads:
To Punkie, who likes an orthodox detective story, murder, inquest, and suspicion falling on every one in turn!
"Punkie" was the family nickname of Christie's sister and eldest sibling, Margaret ("Madge") Frary Watts (1879–1950). There was an eleven-year age gap between the two sisters but they remained close throughout their lives. Christie's mother first suggested to her that she should alleviate the boredom of an illness by writing a story. But soon after, when the sisters had been discussing the recently published classic detective story by Gaston Leroux, The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908), Christie said she would like to try writing such a story. Margaret challenged her, saying that she would not be able to do it.:102 In 1916, eight years later, Christie remembered this conversation and was inspired to write her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.:77
Margaret Watts herself attempted a career as a writer. She wrote a play, The Claimant, based on the Tichborne Case. The Claimant enjoyed a short run in the West End at the Queen's Theatre from 11 September to 18 October 1924, two years before the book publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.:113–115
The dustjacket blurb read as follows:
M. Poirot, the hero of The Mysterious Affair at Stiles [sic] and other brilliant pieces of detective deduction, comes out of his temporary retirement like a giant refreshed, to undertake the investigation of a peculiarly brutal and mysterious murder. Geniuses like Sherlock Holmes often find a use for faithful mediocrities like Dr. Watson, and by a coincidence it is the local doctor who follows Poirot round, and himself tells the story. Furthermore, as seldom happens in these cases, he is instrumental in giving Poirot one of the most valuable clues to the mystery.
The dustjacket blurb is repeated inside the book on the page immediately preceding and facing, the title page.
In popular culture
- In the novel The Reptile Room, book 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, the character Sunny Baudelaire uses, as part of her baby babble, the interjection "Ackroid!" [sic] as a substitute for the more common "Roger!" to mean "message received and understood."
- Gilbert Adair's 2006 locked-room mystery The Act of Roger Murgatroyd was written as "a celebration-cum-critique-cum-parody" of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
The book formed the basis of the earliest adaptation of any work of Christie's when the play, Alibi, adapted by Michael Morton, opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London on 15 May 1928. It ran for 250 performances with Charles Laughton in the role of Poirot. Laughton also starred in the Broadway run of the play which was retitled The Fatal Alibi and opened at the Booth Theatre on 8 February 1932. The American production was not as successful as the British had been and closed after just 24 performances.
Alibi is especially notable as it inspired Christie to write her first stage play, Black Coffee. Christie, along with her dog Peter, attended the rehearsals of Alibi and found its "novelty" enjoyable.:277 However, "she was sufficiently irritated by the changes to the original to want to write a play of her own.":277
The play was turned into the first sound film to be based on a Christie work. Running 75 minutes, it was released on 28 April 1931, by Twickenham Film Studios and produced by Julius S. Hagan. Austin Trevor played Poirot, a role he reprised later that year in the film adaptation of Christie's 1930 play, Black Coffee.
Orson Welles adapted the novel as a one-hour radio play for the 12 November 1939 episode of The Campbell Playhouse. Welles himself played both Dr Sheppard and Hercule Poirot. The play was adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz,:355 produced by Welles and John Houseman and directed by Welles.
Orson Welles as Hercule Poirot and Dr Sheppard
Edna May Oliver as Caroline Sheppard
Alan Napier as Roger Ackroyd
Brenda Forbes as Mrs Ackroyd
Mary Taylor as Flora
George Coulouris as Inspector Hamstead
Ray Collins as Mr Raymond
Everett Sloane as Parker
The novel was also adapted as a 1½-hour radio play for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast on 24 December 1987. John Moffatt made the first of his many performances as Poirot. The adaptation was broadcast at 7.45pm and was recorded on 2 November of the same year; it was adapted by Michael Bakewell and produced by Enyd Williams.
John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot
John Woodvine as Doctor Sheppard
Laurence Payne as Roger Ackroyd
Diana Olsson as Caroline Sheppard
Eva Stuart as Miss Russell
Peter Gilmore as Raymond
Zelah Clarke as Flora
Simon Cuff as Inspector Davis
Deryck Guyler as Parker
With Richard Tate, Alan Dudley, Joan Matheson, David Goodland, Peter Craze, Karen Archer and Paul Sirr
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was adapted as a 103-minute drama transmitted in the UK on ITV Sunday 2 January 2000, as a special episode in their series, Agatha Christie's Poirot. In this adaptation Japp – not Sheppard – is Poirot's assistant, leaving Sheppard as just another suspect. However, the device of Dr Sheppard's journal is retained as the supposed source of Poirot's voice-over narration and forms an integral part of the dénouement. The plot strays considerably from the book, including having Sheppard run over Parker numerous times with his car and commit suicide with his gun after a chase through a factory. Ackroyd was changed to a more elderly, stingy man, disliked by many, who owns a chemical factory. Mrs Ackroyd is also not as zany as in the book version.
Adaptor: Clive Exton
Director: Andrew Grieve
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp
Oliver Ford Davies as Dr. Sheppard
Selina Cadell as Caroline Sheppard
Roger Frost as Parker
Malcolm Terris as Roger Ackroyd
Nigel Cooke as Geoffrey Raymond
Daisy Beaumont as Ursula Bourne
Flora Montgomery as Flora Ackroyd
Vivien Heilbron as Mrs Ackroyd
Gregor Truter as Inspector Davis
Jamie Bamber as Ralph Paton
Charles Early as Constable Jones
Rosalind Bailey as Mrs Ferrars
Charles Simon as Hammond
Graham Chinn as Landlord
Clive Brunt as Naval petty officer
Alice Hart as Mary
Philip Wrigley as Postman
Phil Atkinson as Ted
Elizabeth Kettle as Mrs Folliott
In 2002, the story was made into a Russian film titled Неудача Пуаро ("Neudacha Puaro" = "Poirot's Failure"). This film version was overall quite faithful to the original story.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 20 August 2007, adapted and illustrated by Bruno Lachard (ISBN 0-00-725061-4). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2004 under the title, Le Meurtre de Roger Ackroyd.
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