Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.

 Mention the words "detective fiction" and the vast majority of people will automatically translate that to "Agatha Christie".  The undisputed "queen of crime", Agatha Christie would write 66 detective novels in her career and create two of literature's most famous detectives.  One of these is the fussy Belgian named Hercule Poirot.  Though at first his eccentricity leads people to believe that he is not all there, Poirot always reveals his true intelligence in the end and pulls the murderer from out of the shadows.

The Plot:

The story is is set in the small village of King's Abbot and is narrated by the local physician, Dr. Sheppard.  A local woman named Mrs. Ferrars dies under seemingly normal circumstances.  But when local landowner Roger Ackroyd reveals that she killed her husband and then committed suicide, he is then murdered himself and Hercule Poirot is brought in to solve the crime.

The suspects range from Ackroyd's personal secretary to the butler to the parlormaid.  Most of the suspicion lands on Ackroyd's stepson, Ralph, who stands to inherit from his stepfather's death and has disappeared from the neighborhood.  It is up to Poirot to sort through the various motives, alibis, and clues to discover who the real murderer is.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):
There is no way to really review this book without giving away the ending.  So if you have not read this particular Christie novel, stop reading now and go out and find yourself a copy. 

The strength of Christie's work is found in her solid storytelling.  The crime itself is not as gruesome as a Poe mystery, nor as intricate as a Sherlock Holmes story.  It is a rather plain, almost ordinary crime with little of the fantastic about it.  But Christie's writing still manages to keep us engrossed and guessing.  We, like Poirot, are picking up the clues and trying to piece them together to reveal the identity of the murderer.

And it is the murderer's identity that makes The Murder of Roger Ackroyd pack such a punch.  In fact, this particular ending turns conventional detective fiction on it's head.  We have spent the whole novel trying to analyze the characters and their secrets to suss out who committed the crime.  But sub-consciously we are ruling out two characters: the detective and the narrator.  And when we realize that our trusted narrator has left us in the dark on some important facts (and is indeed the murderer), there is this sense of shock and hurt at being so duped.  It is a twist that must be very difficult to pull off, but Christie does it with a flourish.  After many unimportant clues and red herrings, only Poirot is able to recognize the true murderer and bring resolution to King's Abbot.

This is the first Christie novel that I have actually read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There's is nothing like being left guessing to the very end, and it was definitely an ending that I did not see coming.  Do yourself a favor a pick up this classic Christie novel today.

The Movie:     

The main adaptation is the 2000 version starring David Suchet as Poirot.  I haven't seen this particular episode, but I have heard that there are some significant plot and character changes.        

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