The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

This is my third post in the Decades Project, and we are into the 1920s. This classic whodunit was published in 1926. The genre was already established. Hercule Poirot had appeared in two previous novels. He solves the mystery of who killed Roger Ackroyd despite protesting that he wanted to retire. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was voted best crime novel ever in 2013 by the Crime Writer’s Association.

We are a decade on from O Pioneers! and oh so far away. This is cosy, unchanging rural England, where people are putting The Great War behind them and where people still know their place.

The story of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

We have many characters with the motivation to kill Roger Ackroyd, and many activities designed to throw the reader off the trail of the killer. There is a little back story: Roger Ackroyd, who is very rich, was about to marry a widow Mrs Ferrars. Mrs Ferrars was being blackmailed because she poisoned her brutish husband. She commits suicide, but has written to Roger Ackroyd to tell him who the blackmailer is.

On the point of revealing the identity of Mrs Ferrars’s blackmailer, Roger Ackroyd is found dead and her letter is missing. There is a nephew who benefits from his death; his sister’s daughter whose smallest bills he was in the habit of scrutinising; a creepy housekeeper with a secret she will hide at all costs; a manservant who creeps about; a housemaid who is not what she seems; a male secretary who may be greedy; a big game hunter, likewise; and a mysterious stranger seen at the house around the time of the murder. Our narrator is the village doctor Dr Sheppard, who has access to all households. What he doesn’t know his sister Caroline is sure to discover and gossip about. These two are able to keep the reader well informed.

Who is to solve the mystery? Poirot has retired to King’s Abbot in Devon, hoping to grow vegetable marrows and stay out of the limelight. His friend, Captain Hastings is in the Argentine so it falls to Dr Sheppard to act as Poirot’s sidekick and to ask the questions we want answered.

No spoilers here. But the ending has the requisite clever twist.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie in 1925

Born in Torquay in 1890, Agatha Christie has probably sold more novels than any other writer – 2bn copies. She lived in interesting times. She met and married her husband in 1914. He went off to the war in the newly formed Royal Flying Corps and she signed up as a VAD nurse. After the war she continued her reading and writing, and in the year that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published she disappeared for six days. Her marriage was in difficulties. Divorced in 1928, she got remarried 2 years later to an archaeologist, Sir Max Mallowan. Already familiar with Cairo she frequently accompanied him on his expeditions. Egypt and the Middle East form the background to many of her novels. During the Second World War she worked in a pharmacy in London. She lived until 1976, aged 85.

She had written 66 detective novels and 14 collections of short stories. They have, of course, been adapted for tv and film.

Greenway House in Devon was Agatha Christie’s holiday home, and it was from here that Allen Lane was travelling when he had the idea for Penguin paperbacks. Greenway House is now a National Trust property.

My reflections

It’s a very long time since I read a detective novel, and it was interesting to notice the plotting. Although I enjoyed reading this classic murder-mystery it has not converted me to an enthusiasm for the genre.

As a historical artefact it was interesting. It is set in the 1920s, when vacuum cleaners were a new fangled idea, but the novel celebrates continuity of the village community in rural England. John Major’s vicar’s wives are cycling past warm beer on the village green in the background. It’s not like that now, and I wonder how much was disappearing even then. The decades have brought changes here in rural Devon just as surely as in New York and Nebraska (the locations of the two previous novels in this series).

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. First published in 1926. I read the Penguin 1948 edition, a gift from my sister. 250pp

The Decade Project

I took my idea for the Decades Project from my library’s Reading Passport scheme. To encourage readers the passport is stamped each time you complete a book from a different decade. I like the idea of selecting a book from every decade from 1900 onwards. I am reading one a month, from 1900s in January, from 1920s in February and so on and review them here.

Reading passport 315

Previous posts in the Project

O Pioneers by Willa Cather, published in 1913.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, published in 1905.

The next decade: 1930s

I plan to read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) for April’s choice. Please make suggestions for subsequent decades.

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Filed under Books, Reading, Reviews, The Decade project

8 Responses to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

  1. Eileen

    Looking forward to Rebecca. It is on my list of top ten novels and top ten films.
    For this current decade Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler.

    • Caroline

      I think it may be hard to read Rebecca without the film in mind.

      I love Anne Tyler, but I am rather suspicious of these rewritten Shakespeare plays in novel form. You obviously recommend it, which means I have to take it seriously. Thinking ….


  2. I loved Rebecca! I first read it in an English class for high school and have read it a couple times since. A great classics, I hope you enjoy it!

    • Caroline

      I too loved the film, and i can’t even remember if I have read the novel. I certainly don’t own a copy, so here’s my excuse to get hold of a lovely Virago special edition. Oh dear!


  3. I think Roger Ackroyd has a very clever twist, one that makes you go back and read earlier pages to find out just how you were fooled – in a similar way, I always think, to the film The Sixth Sense (although entirely different story obviously). Christie doesn’t cheat on the reader, the clue is there in a few words but you’ve been wrong-footed by your own assumptions.

    I love Rebecca and hope you enjoy it. I also love the classic film version with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier but can’t convey everything in the book.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this Cathy. A clever twist, which as you say can be traced in the text, but many readers would not have seen it coming.
      Looking forward to Rebecca, and so many readers have said they love it.


  4. I live The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Great choice for a 1920s read.
    Rebecca is such a good novel but I think quite different to the famous film that was made of it.

    • Caroline

      Hi Ali, I haven’t seen the film of Roger Ackroyd, although I saw some of the locations when i was researching for illustrations for the post.

      Yes Rebecca film, very significant in my memory I wonder what I will make of the novel. I have ordered the special Virago edition as a treat for me!

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