The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
by Agatha Christie
“It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial.”
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a novel by the incomparable Dame Agatha Christie, is one of the greatest mystery novels ever written. In 2013 a group of 600 professional writers in the Crime Writers’ Association voted it the best crime novel in history, though this is but one of the countless accolades attributed to the unparalleled Queen of Mystery. This novel is worthy of its acclaim and is perhaps her greatest work. It was a perfectly planned and expertly executed story that shows just how well the writer knew her genre, lulling the audience into comfortable confidence with characters and ideas that feel all too familiar only to shatter all possible expectation in the closing moments. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a prime example of what a great mystery novel should be: cunning and clever above all things.
Below is both my full written and video review of the book.
Plot & Themes: 8 / 10
“Fortunately words, ingeniously used, will serve to mask the ugliness of naked facts.”
Sadly, any deep exploration of the plot of this novel would deprive readers of the pure genius of it, so much of this analysis must be kept intentionally vague. The basic plot can easily be garnered from the title, a man named Roger Ackroyd is killed in the early chapters and the story attempts to sift through various clues to determine who committed the murder. This novel then does a masterful job of creating equally possible yet improbable culprits from a wealth of seemingly archetypal characters that will leave readers guessing, second guessing, and still uncertain of who could have done it until the very end. Interestingly, what is so creative about the plot is just how standard it appears on the surface when it is anything but. This is the type of novel that readers will immediately want to re-read to catch the multitude of minute details that inevitably elude the majority on their first pass.
Characters: 7 / 10
“Women observe subconsciously a thousand little details, without knowing that they are doing so. Their subconscious mind adds these little things together—and they call the result intuition.”
As was stated above, the characters in this novel are very prototypical. From the butler, to the hunter, to the lawyer, and the heiress, each seems drawn from the pool of standard mystery novel character types. However, this was done with great forethought and intention. Further, far from detracting from the story, this provides the perfect setup of an immediately recognizable world with a murdered hidden deep within a pool of equally unremarkable characters. Therefore, first time readers may feel that the twist of the story is to deprave the reader of understanding the deeper psychology that would reveal both the mystery and the murderer, but this far from the truth. Beyond the main players is Christie’s eccentric Poirot, there is also a very Holmesian doctor/narrator, and, perhaps the most colorful character, the doctor’s know-it-all sister. Ultimately the characters play their parts perfectly in this novel, though it will take reaching the end to appreciate just how perfectly.
Pacing: 8 / 10
“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”
The pacing in this novel is very quick. The chapters are generally quite short, and the style tends to favor dialogue, so most readers will breeze through this book in a truly short time. The novel also does a marvelous job of spacing out its information and providing just enough to keep the reader interested and engaged with the plot, while also not over saturating the reader with complex information. The dialogue also has a nice balance of witty, tongue-in-cheek banter mixed with serious presentation of facts and supposition. This makes for an enjoyable read that passes too quickly in many respects.
Narrative Style: 7 / 10
“always bear in mind that the person who speaks may be lying”
Agatha Christie’s novels tend to favor dialogue/monologue over narrative, which can serve a great many purposes in a mystery. When a character speaks about their experiences one must always wonder how much of what they say is truth and how much is misdirection. This device is necessary for maintaining a perspective that does not intrude into every character’s inner thoughts, but it also requires enough writing prowess to give each character a distinct voice. Few are better at that than Agatha Christie, and some of the most enjoyable instances are the interactions between the doctor and his sister. However, each character in this novel contributes their own subtle but distinct ticks that help give flavor to the story and engage the reader in it.
Conclusion: 10 / 10
“Every new development that arises is like the shake you give to a kaleidoscope—the thing changes entirely in aspect.”
The conclusion of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is perhaps the single factor that has earned it its reputation as the greatest mystery novel ever written. What sets it apart from so many others is how well the entirety of the novel builds up to it without the reader being aware of where its going. The reveal is incredible, but it could not have been so without the meticulous crafting of every moment that leads up to it. Even if one begins to suspect, or if this is ones second turn through the novel, they may find themselves only enjoying the pure craftmanship of the story to support such a surprise ending that much more. The ending is thoroughly satisfying while also leaving room for plenty of theorizing and contemplation. The greatest endings stay with readers beyond the final words, sparking questions and ideas that bring them together with other fans of the work to debate the possibilities, the meanings, and their own impressions, and this novel provides readers with such and ending.
Final Verdict: 8 / 10
“It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.”
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is fully deserving of being considered the best crime novel in history. The plot is intelligently crafted, and the ending delivers in a way that will have many going immediately back to read it again. This is a fast-paced novel with wonderful dialogue, and while the characters may appear shallow at the outset, one will soon see how their uniform tendency to blend into the background was fully intentional. When the whole world is grey, how do you spot the grey man? While this novel may not be as well known as some of Christie’s other works, it is by far her greatest crime novel if only for the sheer brilliance of both the concept and execution. This novel is a must read for crime novel enthusiasts, and for readers of intelligent story crafting in general.