The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by William Collins & Sons in June 1926 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company on the 19th of the same month. It features Hercule Poirot as the lead detective. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
It is one of Christie's best known and most controversial novels, its innovative twist ending having a significant impact on the genre. The short biography of Christie which is included in the present UK printings of all of her books states that this novel is her masterpiece. Howard Haycraft, in his seminal 1941 work, Murder for Pleasure, included the novel in his "cornerstones" list of the most influential crime novels ever written. The character of Caroline Sheppard was later acknowledged by Christie as a possible precursor to her famous detective Miss Marple.
The book is set in the fictional village of King's Abbott in England. It is narrated by Dr. James Sheppard, who becomes Poirot's assistant (a role filled by Captain Hastings in several other Poirot novels). The story begins with the death of Mrs. Ferrars, a wealthy widow who is rumoured to have murdered her husband. Her death is initially believed to be an accident until Roger Ackroyd, a widower who had been expected to marry Mrs. Ferrars, reveals that she admitted to killing her husband and then committed suicide. Shortly after this he is found murdered. The suspects include Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, Roger's neurotic hypochondriac sister-in-law who has accumulated personal debts through extravagant spending; her daughter Flora; Major Blunt, a big-game hunter; Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd's personal secretary; Ralph Paton, Ackroyd's stepson and another person with heavy debts; Parker, a snooping butler; and Ursula Bourne, a parlourmaid with an uncertain history who resigned her post the afternoon of the murder. Dr Sheppard's spinster sister Caroline is a favourite character among many and some say she could have been in another book.
The initial suspect is Ralph, who is engaged to Flora and stands to inherit his stepfather's fortune. Several critical pieces of evidence seem to point to Ralph. Poirot, who has just moved to the town, begins to investigate at Flora's behest.
SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK!
The ending and the identity of the murdererEdit
The book ends with a then-unprecedented plot twist. Poirot exonerates all of the original suspects. He then lays out a completely reasoned case that the murderer is in fact Dr. Sheppard, who has not only been Poirot's assistant, but the story's narrator. Dr. Sheppard was Mrs. Ferrars' blackmailer, and he murdered Ackroyd to stop him learning the truth from Mrs. Ferrars. Poirot gives the doctor two choices: either he surrenders to the police or, for the sake of his clean reputation and his proud sister, he commits suicide.
In the final chapter of Sheppard's narrative (a sort of epilogue), Sheppard admits his guilt, noting certain literary techniques he used to write the narrative truthfully without revealing his role in the crime or doing anything to suggest that he knew the truth, and reveals that he had hoped to be the one to write the account of Poirot's great failure: not solving the murder of Roger Ackroyd. Thus, the last chapter acts as both Sheppard's confession and suicide note.
The final revelation uses meta-fictional tropes. The ending also opens up the question whether narrators can be trusted or not. Christie uses unreliable narrator again in 1967 novel Endless Night. Reader response to the ending varies from admiration of the unexpected end to a feeling of being cheated.
Juxtaposition of two knowledge systemsEdit
In the novel, Christie has laid side by side two modes of gathering of information and building of hypothesis. One is Poirot's use of ratiocination, the other is the channel of gossiping, practised by almost all inhabitants of King's Abbott, in particular, Caroline. While even Caroline is able to interpret certain situations correctly, Christie privileges scientific mode of investigation by unveiling the murderer through Poirot.
- Hercule Poirot – retired detective who literally jumps at the chance to investigates the central murder
- Roger Ackroyd – a monied country gentleman whose troubles include a ner-do-well stepson and the suicide of the woman he loves.
- Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd – Mr. Ackroyd's gushing and hypocritical sister-in-law
- Flora Ackroyd – Her daughter, Ackroyd's niece and the secret fiancee of his troublesome stepson though she flirts constantly with houseguest Hector Blunt.
- Ralph Paton – said stepson, often referred to as Ackroyd's "adopted" son. Weak rather than wicked he is hiding a secret that could ruin his prospects if his stepfather finds out.
- Ursula Bourne – Mr. Ackroyd's ladylike and highly suspicious parlourmaid who gives notice on the day of the murder.
- Major Hector Blunt – big game hunter, Roger Ackroyd's friend and houseguest. Desperately in love with Flora but unable to spit it out - or see she returns his interest.
- Geoffrey Raymond – Mr. Ackroyd's secretary
- John Parker – Mr. Ackroyd's butler with a sideline in blackmail.
- Elizabeth Russell – Mr. Ackroyd's housekeeper who is desperate to hide the existence of her illegitimate son.
- Charles Kent – Elizabeth Russell's son and a drug addict who duns his mother for money at the worst possible time.
- Dr. James Sheppard – the doctor who replaces Captain Hastings as Poirot's assistant (and the story's narrator)
- Caroline Sheppard – Dr. Sheppard's spinster sister who knows absolutely everything that happens in King's Abbot.
- Mrs. Ferrars – the beloved of Roger Ackroyd who is driven to suicide by a blackmailer at the beginning of the book.
- Ashley Ferrars – late husband of Mrs. Ferrars, who was poisoned by his wife
- Inspector Raglan the irritating and uncooperative officer in charge of the investigation.
Literary significance and receptionEdit
The Times Literary Supplement's review of June 10, 1926, 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 Reviewof July 18, 1926, 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 of May 30, 1926, 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 of July 22, 1926, 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.
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 January 20, 1945 issue, was titled "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?"
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. He argues in favour of a different murderer – Sheppard's sister, Caroline – and says Christie subconsciously knew who the real culprit is.
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 May 15, 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 February 8, 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. However, "she was sufficiently irritated by the changes to the original to want to write a play of her own."
The play was turned into the first sound film to be based on a Christie work. Running 75 minutes, it was released on April 28, 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.
Adapter: H. Fowler Mear
Director: Leslie Hiscott
Austin Trevor as Hercule Poirot
Franklin Dyall as Sir Roger Ackroyd
Elizabeth Allan as Ursula Browne
J.H. Roberts as Dr. Sheppard
John Deverell as Lord Halliford
Ronald Ward as Ralph Ackroyd
Mary Jerrold as Mrs. Ackroyd
Mercia Swinburne as Caryll Sheppard
Harvey Braban as Inspector Davis
With Clare Greet, Diana Beaumont and Earl Grey
"Campbell Playhouse" radio adaptationEdit
Orson Welles adapted the novel as a one-hour radio play for the November 12, 1939, episode of the Campbell Playhouse. Welles himself played both Dr. Sheppard and Hercule Poirot.
Adapter: Howard Koch and Wyllis Cooper
Producer: John Houseman
Director: Orson 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
BBC Radio 4 adaptationEdit
The novel was adapted as a 1½-hour radio play for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast on December 24, 1987. John Moffatt made the first of his many performances as Poirot. The adaptation was broadcast at 7.45pm and was recorded on November 2 of the same year.
Adaptor: Michael Bakewell
Producer: 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
Agatha Christie's PoirotEdit
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was adapted as a 103-minute drama transmitted in the U.K. on ITV Sunday January 2, 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 strayed 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 who owns a factory, disliked by many. 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 entitled Неудача Пуаро ("Neudacha Puaro" = "Pearrot's Misfortune"). This film version was overall quite faithful to the original story.
Konstantin Rajkin as Hercule Poirot
Sergei Makovetsky as Dr. Sheppard
Lika Nifontova as Caroline Sheppard
Olga Krasko as Flora
Graphic novel adaptationEdit
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on August 20, 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.
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".
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. Christie acknowledged the letter and after some thought and planning began to write the book but kept firmly to a plotline 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.
- 1926, William Collins and Sons (London), June 1926, Hardback, 312 pp
- 1926, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), June 19, 1926, Hardback, 306 pp
- 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, September 4, 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, July 16, to Wednesday, September 16, 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 U.S., the novel was serialised in four parts in Flynn's Detective Weekly from June 19 (Volume 16, Number 2) to July 10, 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." To this day, HarperCollins, the modern successor firm to W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., remains the UK publishers of Christie's oeuvre.
As stated in The Times of January 27, 1936, Ackroyd became one of the very first talking books for the blind. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was listed as one of eight books available through the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
Christie's dedication in the book reads:
"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 wouldn't be able to. In 1916, eight years later, Christie remembered this conversation and was inspired to write her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
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 September 11 to October 18 of 1924, two years before the book publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
The dustjacket blurbread as follows:
M. Poirot, the hero of The Mysterious Affair at Stiles 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 cultureEdit
- In the novel The Reptile Room, book 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, the character of Sunny Baudelaire uses, as part of her baby babble, the interjection "Ackroid!" 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.
- Czech: Vražda Rogera Ackroyda (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
- Dutch: De Moord op Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
- French: Le Meurtre de Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
- German: Alibi (Alibi) (since 1937), first edition in 1928: Roger Ackroyd und sein Mörder (Roger Ackroyd and his Murderer)
- Greek: Ποιος Σκότωσε τον Άκροϋντ (Who Killed Ackroyd)
- Hungarian: Az Ackroyd-gyilkosság (The Ackroyd Murder)
- Italian: L'assassinio di Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), Dalle nove alle dieci (From Nine Until Ten)
- Japanese: アクロイド殺し (The Death of Ackroyd)
- Persian: Ghatle Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
- Portuguese: O Assassinato de Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
- Romanian: Cine l-a ucis pe Roger Ackroyd? (Who killed Roger Akroyd?)
- Russian: Убийство Роджера Экройда (i.e. Ubiystvo Rojera Ekroyda, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
- Spanish: El Asesinato de Rogelio Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, with Roger translated as "Rogelio")
- Swedish: Dolken från Tunis (The Dagger from Tunis)
- Turkish: Robert Ackroyd'un ölümü (The Death of Roger Ackroyd)
- Norwegian: Doktoren mister en pasient (The Doctor Loses a Patient)