Rating: 4.5 out of five
Year of Publication: 1926
Motive for Murder: Identity
Roger Ackroyd is murdered. The wealthy man in King’s Abbot has been stabbed with a dagger at the back of his neck. The suspects: a stepson, niece and sister-in-law, of whom are the beneficiaries of his will.
He was a widower, but everyone knows of his relationship with a widow, Mrs. Ferrars. They also understand of their planning to marry as soon as her mourning period is over. Yet she had committed suicide. Before taking an overdose of sleeping tablets she wrote him a letter in which she was telling him about a person who had blackmailed her for quite some time. She could not face any longer and decided to take her own life.
Hercule Poirot’s retirement in the village has come to an end. The seemingly tranquil surroundings are merely an illusion, for he realises that a cold-blooded murderer who is at large has killed both the widow and Mr. Ackroyd. Nonetheless, what made him being stabbed from the back?
I read the book many years ago. I did not grasp the subtlety the authoress had shown in giving clues inside clues between the lines. I could neither relate the significance of the mongoose family quote in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book nor George Eliot’s biographical novel The Mill On The Floss at that time. As I reread it, I remember some details and that was all there was to it.
“The motto of all the mongoose family is, “Run and find out,” and Rikki-tikki was a true mongoose.”
Rudyard Kipling, Rikki-Tivvi-Taki
The narrator, Dr. James Sheppard, tells his side of the story being Poirot’s aide during the investigation. And therefore most of readers’ understanding heavily relies on the doctor’s subjectivity, as what the first-person account is all about. Bearing in mind that he is not Captain Hastings, he is not Dr. Watson either. In other words, he is a suspect, just like the diarist Sir Eustace Pedler in Christie’s previous novel The Man In The Brown Suit (1924).
To begin with, both aforementioned men are of respectable nature; one is a doctor and the other a nobility. Also, they are middle-aged bachelors. Unlike Sir Eustace, Dr. Sheppard tends to be self-deprecating and simple in taste nonetheless. Besides, he does not seem like someone who likes travelling.
Furthermore, he lives with his spinster sister, Caroline, of whom is the chief gossip in the village. Her tongue is as sharp as her mind and nothing would escape from her watchful eyes. When her brother comes home trying to conceal the death of one of his patients, the ‘mongoose’ sniffs something amiss. With a little effort and a little bullying on her part she gets what news he was trying to hold back.
Roger Ackroyd’s body is found by the doctor himself, an hour and a half after leaving his home at nine pm. He rushes back to the other’s home having received a phone call from Parker the butler whom had urged the doctor’s assistance in a matter.
This is where the plot gets interesting. For Parker does not ring up the doctor whilst Dr. Sheppard repeats the message word by word. ‘Is that Dr. Sheppard? Parker, the butler at Fernly, speaking. Will you please come at once, sir. Mr. Ackroyd has been murdered.’ Who is one to believe?
On the home front, it is the situation the doctor hardly gets away from. Caroline’s curiosity develops due to the night call her brother has to answer to a particular home. Naturally, her instinct tells that it is peculiar that two days beforehand he came for an early call to Mrs. Ferrars’s home. Before he comes back she already knows what happens to the widow.
This brother and sister’s relationship is worth noticing, for it sheds some light about two distinctive personalities in the book. Eight years his senior, she rules the roost and dismisses him as having a lack of imagination of things. ‘….You’ll see. Ten to one she [Mrs. Ferrar]’s left a letter confessing everything,’ she says.
Caroline’s minute interest to the other woman’s suicide and Ackroyd’s murder are described at length. There is an element of love-hate in it, given her aggresiveness and confrontational attitude towards her brother. Although both are close and very fond to one another, the doctor feels like wringing her neck at some point.
Nonetheless, without Caroline nearby James appears to be a man of confidence. His thoughts flow freely as he discusses the case with Poirot as he seems to be at ease with himself.
I wonder whether their relationship is similar to Tom and Maggie Tulliver in Eliot’s aforementioned book. For Maggie’s life resembles Mary Evans, Eliot’s real name and Tom’s is very much similar to Isaac, the estranged brother. They fall out after the revelation of Eliot’s affair with a married man .
Be that as it may, James is a mysterious man. Poirot once remarks of the other being on his guard most of the time. He says: ‘Not so did Hastings write. On every page many, many times was the word ‘I’. What he thought – what he did. But you – you have kept your personality in the background; only once or twice does it obtrude – in scenes of home life, shall we say?’ He responds with silence; neither the words are contradicted nor agreed.
Moreover, he freely admits to have withheld information from the sleuth. The nature of it is for the Belgian to find out as if it is a game. All the same, the doctor is an equal whose carefulness and method deserve a bow.
The ending of the story is unexpected but brilliant. The curtain has fallen on the part of the murderer . In a casual meeting Poirot presents the facts and the circumstances which have led him to the solution. Despite being spoken matter-of-factly, his words made me shiver. ‘…I am willing to give you the chance of another way out. There might be, for instance, an overdose of sleeping draught. You comprehend?…’ He adds: ‘the truth goes to Inspector Raglan the next morning.’ Does he have a right to take matters into his own hands?
In the end, I wonder whether the identity of Mr. Ackroyd’s murderer will be revealed. For the perpetrator will not be brought to justice. It is for the sake of a person whom matters most to the murderer such step is taken. This scenario does not suit me nevertheless.
Hence the ending that matches the fate of Tom and Maggie Tullliver, of Mary Evans (Eliot’s real name) and her brother Isaac.
Will I recommend the book? Certainly. A praise is in order for the category of the ‘best’ narrator with Sir Eustace Pedler for silver in the second place and Hastings in the third.
Above all, this is Christie’s at her best; the book that is coincidentally published in the year that becomes a turning point in her personal life.
-Caroline Sheppard hears Ralph Paton talk to a woman in the wood hours before his stepfather is murdered
-Dr. Sheppard leaves Fernly Park at ten to nine pm and meets a stranger who heads for the house as the clock strikes nine
-Flora Ackroyd does not come into the study at half-past nine but stands in front of it holding the door handle
-Roger Ackroyd buys a dictatone from the salesman a few days before he dies
-Parker the butler tells Poirot that the chair in front of the grandfather clock in the study has been pulled out when he comes back into the room after ringing up the police
-Ralph Paton is secretly married to Ursula Bourne
Cast of Characters:
Mrs. Ackroyd (Roger’s sister-in-law, Flora’s mother)
Caroline Sheppard (Dr.James’s elder sister)
Colonel Carter (Dr. Sheppard’s acquaintance)
Christopher Kent (seen at Fernly Park by James Sheppard on the night of the murder)
Flora Ackroyd (Roger’s niece, lives in Fernly Park)
Gerrard Raymond (Roger’s secretary)
Miss Gannets (Caroline Sheppard’s friend)
Hector Blunt (Roger’s old friend who stays at Fernly Park)
Dr. James Sheppard (the village doctor)
Colonel Melrose (the Chief Inspector at Cranchester)
Inspector Raglan (local police)
Ralph Paton (Roger’s stepson)
Roger Ackroyd (owned Fernly Park, was in relationship with Mrs. Ferrars)
Miss Russel (Fernly Park’s housekeeper)
Ursula Bourne (Fernly Park’s parlourmaid)
The Most Fascinating Character: Caroline Sheppard
With her partner in crime Miss Gannets Miss Sheppard is King’s Abbot’s answer to o St. Mary Mead’s trio ‘old pussies.’ The only difference is that Dr. Sheppard’s sister is the ring leader. Seeing everything from the window of her house, she counts on her maid Annie to relay news from the networks of maids in the village.
She is likened to Kipling’s mongoose, of which has the motto of go and find out. ‘If Caroline ever adopts a crest, I should certainly suggest a mongoose rampant. One might omit the first part of the motto. Caroline can do any amount of finding out by sitting placidly at home. I don’t know how she manages it, but there it is,’ writers her brother James.
It irritates her, however, little information she can obtain regarding a little foreigner who lives next door; a man with an egg-shaped head who grows vegetable marrows. When she knows more about Hercule Poirot, the Belgian interests her a great deal. In return he sees a neighbour with ample ‘sleuthing’ skill who is too eager to help. As a result, she is more than happy to be sent on errands and gather some facts about the people.
Her analysis can be inaccurate on occasions although they are not entirely wrong. Sometimes she might not have realised how valuable her insights had been to her brother and Poirot. Just like her brother, she is curious and she can be very much like Miss Marple (minus the gardening, the knitting and her sweet approach to people).
From whom was the inspiration for this amazing woman? In Christie’s later novels, there is a number of woman whose bear resemblances to Miss Sheppard, namely Imhotep’s mother Esa (Death Comes As The End), Mrs. Allerton (Death On The Nile) and Emily Arrundell (Dumb Witness). Although the most significant character with a touch of Miss Sheppard is the indomitable Jane Marple.
Perhaps the only mistake the murderer has done is not have ‘silenced’ Miss Sheppard. Readers, you know why.
The excerpt of Mrs. Ferrars’s letter to Roger Ackroyd:
‘My dear, my very dear Roger – a life calls for a life. I see that – I saw it in your face this afternoon. So I am taking the only road open to me. I leave to you to the punishment of the person who has made my life a hell upon earth for the last year. I would not tell you the name, this afternoon, but I propose to write it to you now. I have no children or near relations to be spared, so do not fear publicity. If you can Roger, my very dear Roger, forgive me the wrong I meant to do you, since when the time came, I could not do it after all…’
Dr. James Sheppard: [in his narration on different pages]
-When had I last seen her [Mrs. Ferrars]? Not for over a week. Her manner then had been normal enough considering- well- considering everything.
-The letter had been brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was just on ten minutes to nine when I 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. With a shake of the head I passed out and closed the door behind me.
-I was startled by seeing the figure of Parker close at hand. He looked embarrassed, and it occurred to me that he might have been listening at the door.
-As the story unfolded itself, I realized more and more damning what a damning series of facts it was. Alive, Ackroyd could hardly have failed to alter his will- I knew him well enough to realize that to do so would be his first thought. His death came in the nick of time for Ralph and Ursula Paton. Small wonder the girl had held her tongue, and played her part so consistently.
[to Dr. James Sheppard]: ‘But there’s another point. How am I to get hold of that scroundel who drove her to death as surely as if he’d killed her? He knew of the first crime, and he fastened on to it like some obscene vulture. She’s paid the penalty. Is he to go scot free?’