Toward the end of CBR11, someone (Classic, I believe) posted a review of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It had been a while since I had read a good mystery, an even longer while since I had read any Christie, and having just finished The Most Depressing Book Ever, I decided to do myself a treat and see what happened to Roger. I’m not sure why murder mysteries are so gratifying — perhaps the logic of it all, the finding of answers, the sure justice, the fact that often the victims were jerks anyway — but this one did the trick. Hercule Poirot raised my spirits while unraveling the very tangled web of deceit and murder in the village of King’s Abbot.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Dr. James Sheppard, a lifelong resident of King’s Abbot who will act a little like a Watson to Poirot’s Sherlock. As the local doctor, Sheppard seems able to maintain a friendly and professional relationship with the locals while his sister Caroline, an integral part of the village gossip network, is able to get the low down on just about everyone. The story opens in September with the news that Mrs. Ferrars, a local widow who had only lived in King’s Abbot a couple of years, has died of what Sheppard assumes was an accidental overdose. Caroline is certain however that Mrs. Ferrars intentionally killed her self and that the woman killed her own husband just a year earlier. Sheppard is skeptical of all of this and tries not to feed into Caroline’s suspicions. Meanwhile, it has been suspected amongst the gossip network that Mrs. Ferrars and the local wealthy “country squire” Roger Ackroyd had some sort of romantic relationship. Roger and the doctor get on well, and when Ackroyd sees Sheppard later that day, he invites him over for dinner and an urgent, confidential discussion.
The dinner party that evening involves a variety of people connected to Ackroyd by blood, employment or friendship. It is shortly after this dinner and the conversation between Ackroyd and Sheppard, which reveals the stunning information that Mrs. Ferrars was being blackmailed, that Roger Ackroyd’s dead body is found in his study. The local authorities immediately respond to the case, but much to Sheppard’s surprise, so does his new neighbor, the funny little foreigner who has been leasing the house next door. Sheppard had assumed that Hercule Poirot was a hairdresser due to his appearance and his claim that his previous work involved “the study of human nature.”
“There’s no doubt at all about what that man’s profession has been. He’s a retired hairdresser. Look at that moustache of his.”
With Sheppard at his side, Poirot investigates the murder and we discover that just about everyone who was at the dinner party (and some who were not there but lurking about) might have had a reason to murder Roger Ackroyd. Slowly and delightfully, Poirot uses “Method, order, and the little grey cells” to unravel the relationships amongst these suspects and all the secrets that they have endeavored to hide.
I am amazed at the wit and genius of Agatha Christie. Every plot point is planned out with care, details are cleverly inserted into the story so that by the time you discover the murderer, you realize that you should have seen it coming. Her characters, especially Poirot, are charming and frequently quite funny. One of my favorite lines comes near the end of the story:
“Never worry about what you say to a man. They’re so conceited that they never believe you mean it if it’s unflattering.”
If you’re looking for something fun and light to read in these crappy times, and if you are not familiar with Christie or Poirot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a terrific introduction.