90 years of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

TuppenceTuppence City of London, United Kingdom

This month marks 90 years since The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was first published as a full novel. It was often described as the book that changed Christie's career. What do you think it is about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that makes it still widely read 90 years after its first publication?

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  • edited May 2016
    What makes The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd so widely read and one of Agatha Christie's most known books is the surprise ending that she pulled and it became so controversial that critics considered the book blasphemous in the rule of mystery fiction and that Agatha Christie didn't play fair with the readers. This book has aged well and it is still as fresh and original as it was the day it was published. I think Ackroyd will always controversial, surprising and shocking its readers.



    Were there any other mystery writers before Agatha Christie came onto the scene that made the narrator the murderer? Or was A.C. the first mystery writer to pull this trick

  • tudestudes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    First, it's a masterpiece and not only as a mystery novel.
    I agree with @ChristieFanForLife . The surprising ending, the wll built characters, the ingenious narrative  make The Murder of Roger Ackroyd a classic novel!
  • Read it recently, not knowing the significance of the year but am glad I have. It's been sitting on shelf for a while, a great book and I can see why it deserves its fame!
  • I think the ending is a surprise, but, also, it is amazing to look back again at what you've read and see the way that tiny clues are allowed to show through like pin pricks as the narrative progresses. There is the fact that the narrator says that there is a turning point in his story: after this point, Poirot is more cagey and secretive. There is the fact that Poirot obviously thinks it could be the butler or one other person. We readers are a bit stupid not to see that it is to do with who will first enter the room again after the murder. The clues are well planted and developed: the references to  legacies. We are almost told the solution, SPOILER, when Caroline goes off on one about her brother and his weakness. There is a SPOILER link, I bet nobody gets, when Poirot himself then describes a type of character who has a mild nature but a hidden weakness. Agatha distracts us with someone coming in with a piece of news. I think it is great that for so long we are puzzled by why the chair was moved, and wy the phone call was put through. I love the fact that Poirot sees the significance of these facts, and bases his solution on what he deduces. The best Christie mysteries, for me, are when the characters actually interact a great deal on the pages of the novel, and clues and telling statements are made in general gatherings. In some of the novels, the structure is rather too linear. The plot is expounded through a series of interviews in the main. Policeman/suspect/intervention from M. Poirot. The feel of the novel is more satisfying and natural when the reader eavesdrops on the family and feels included in the scenes of every day life. Of course, the characters are carefully drawn, and plenty of time is spent on developing them and adding touches of both humour and romance. Flora is very good - the fact that she feels honour bound to support Ralph - but doesn't love him. The parallel world of the the Sheppard's and their friends is an interesting one to supplement the murder-household, so just a s a book it is fun to read and imagine the old-fashioned scenes.. There is a real friendship, at the start, SPOILER between Poirot and Sheppard, and this isn't the only sensitive touch. The writing is very good, and the way it creates the voice of each character. The settings are well-described. I feel that Three Act Tragedy could be such a full and satisfyingly involved story had Agatha Christie gone back over it and worked it up and improved it. Three Act.... screens almost better than it reads. In TMoRA t is very odd that Ralph Paton is hardly there throughout the novel. He is the suspect for so long. He is the typical Christie villain - handsome, unscrupulous, slightly Irish, self-indulgent - so I expected AC to want to show him. The rest of the writing is so good that there is no problem with his ommission. I think, lastly, that Poirot is shown at his best, here. I think he is also, in a similar way, well-presented in Peril at End House: we really see his thought processes. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is about Poirot solving his crime, and the climax is a triumph of his deduction. He is terrifying and relentless.
  • tudestudes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    You're right, @Griselda. When I read it for the first time, I looked back and realized that all the clues were there, but I was so envolved by the narrative (and the narrator) that I just wasn't able to pick them and to think about them.
    Everything is perfect. I love Caroline. she's amazing! A true detective!
    And it's one of the best Poirot's case. It's challenging, but he solves it in a brilliant way. Again, you're [email protected], "Poirot is shown at his best".

  • I wonder if she had known such a household, and such people, because they all seem true to life, especially the way in which they speak. I think too, it is very clever to have the tiny clues in what the narrator says....e.g. words to the effect of,  "I did what I wanted to do" about the time following the visit to Roger Ackroyd.

     I agree that Caroline is very good, and her words give an alternative detective outlook: she has the feminine intuition.

    I think my favourite not-seen-at-the-time clue, SPOILER, is when Poirot tells Sheppard that he hadn't seemed surprised to learn that Flora had never gone into the study at all. The way language is used, you can almost feel Poirot having an intense, interrogating-yet-restrained moment as he looks to find out what the response of the doctor will be. I think what is good about the characterisation is that one gets a sense of a person with dreams and ambitions beyond the role which they play in the novel. I'm thinking of Flora and the dream to go sailing and stuff with Ralph, and, also the sense of freedom when she learns she will gain the £20,000. The housekeeper has quite a fascinating back story which one can mull over and think about not in the context of the action of the novel. 

    I think that Christie is certainly very good at creating character from a few brief but well-chosen words - hence with the housekeepers son.

    By the way, Tuppence, regarding the website, I have noticed that when I click post, the formatting often removes my paragraph breaks. I don't bother to use paragraphs every time, anymore, as I know they will be erased. Can this technical issue be fixed?
  • tudestudes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    I think, @Griselda, she had known such household. At that time (in 20's), I think it was  a bit common. I think her best stories are about characters, settings that she was used to.
    By the way, it's very funny  Poirot's first impression on Dr Sheppard. He thought Poirot was a retired hairdresser! "There's no doubt at all about what the man's profession has been. He's a retired hairdresser. Look at that moustache of his",     
  • Yes, I agree with everything you say! Do you know, Tudes, what the truth is about how this unusual and interesting narrative structure came to be written? I thought I remembered that she had a different character in mind for murderer, but that a member of royalty suggested to her that she should make the narrator the villain. But another poster suggested that all along SPOILER Dr Sheppard was intended to be the murderer. He is so likeable, in many ways,  just as is the narrator in Murder at the Vicarage, that I wonder if Agatha Christie wanted the reader to understand that murderers can be ordinary people who are tempted. If it were that this was the case, the story would have similarities with another highly-rated one of her novels,  A Murder is Announced - a story in which, as we know, the murderer is a nice, quite kind person. I suppose none of the other characters would  make interesting murderers, and their motives would be boring. This view would make it likely that Dr Sheppard was, from the start, the murderer whom Agatha Christie had in mind.
  • Griselda said:
    Yes, I agree with everything you say! Do you know, Tudes, what the truth is about how this unusual and interesting narrative structure came to be written? I thought I remembered that she had a different character in mind for murderer, but that a member of royalty suggested to her that she should make the narrator the villain. But another poster suggested that all along SPOILER Dr Sheppard was intended to be the murderer. He is so likeable, in many ways,  just as is the narrator in Murder at the Vicarage, that I wonder if Agatha Christie wanted the reader to understand that murderers can be ordinary people who are tempted. If it were that this was the case, the story would have similarities with another highly-rated one of her novels,  A Murder is Announced - a story in which, as we know, the murderer is a nice, quite kind person. I suppose none of the other characters would  make interesting murderers, and their motives would be boring. This view would make it likely that Dr Sheppard was, from the start, the murderer whom Agatha Christie had in mind.
    You know, many critics thought that Agatha Christie cheated in TMORA but interesting how you pointed out how murderers can be ordinary people who are tempted. And if anyone reads Agatha Christie's books regularly and know how she writes her characters, then they would know that ANYONE can be the murderer --that even the most kind, gentle person on the outside, can have their hearts darkened on the inside and lean towards evil--and no one is immune to that....that was what Agatha Christie's message was concerning human nature in her books. For example in Death on the Nile, Poirot warns Jacqueline De Bellefort who wants to get rid of Linnet Ridgeway for taking her fiance, "do not allow evil into your heart." Anyone is capable of evil in their hearts. But since Agatha Christie only had a few books to her name at that time, fans and critics who said that she cheated probably just didn't have enough Christie books to read that were enough to know how she wrote and what her motive operandi was. So I think regardless of what others say about her cheating, no, she didn't cheat because (1) it's true in any mystery that anyone can be the murderer-- you should suspect everyone! and (2) Agatha Christie's books were always focused on human nature and throughout many of her books it's the least likely unsuspected person that is the murderer. So maybe back when the book was first written you could cry "FOUL" but today, I don't think you can considering what we know about Agatha Christie's books and since we have whole body of her work now. 
  • That is so true, ChristieFanForLife. The more books we read, the more we see the pattern of Christie's thought. If there is a slight foul, to me, it is that Ralph Paton doesn't appear as the mystery is being solved, only before and after all the main detective work, and so the reader can't judge what they make of him as a suspect, and fairly cancel him out, or still suspect him. Really, in view of the fact that Flora and her mother are short of funds, and the voice which telephoned to call the doctor sounded male and deep, the only truly indicated person to have made that call - from the list of suspects - and to be a successful, and therefore well-off for money blackmailer,  is Ralph. Its frustrating not to get a better look at him, as the reader/crime solver.  It could have been the secretary( or maybe not if he were known to be at the house) but, again, he is provably short of money. For a discerning puzzle-solver ( and this wasn't me, I didn't work it out) it is pretty obvious that a doctor SPOILER would have better chance to find out a blackmailing fact than a secretary in a neighbouring house, or another casual acquaintance - or else Ralph who was on more friendly terms with Mrs Ferrers. So again Ralph is indicated.  I'm not surprised that Poirot suspects Sheppard in the end, because if a weird sounding incident is reported, eg a mystery and puzzling phone call, you would look suspiciously at the person who had said it had happened.

  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    I think the character of Ralph Paton is interesting because we don't see him much, we see interpretations of him from the perspectives of eight or so people, much like we saw Amyas and Caroline from five very different viewpoints in Five Little Pigs.
  • I like the fact that Colonel Melchett and Caroline both believe in Ralph because they have known him since he was a boy. It shows that, behind Agatha Christie's writing, there is a vein of common sense. Christie has that ability to recognize the way human beings think, their instinctive reactions, prejudices and assumptions. Everything is very natural about her writing.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    You mean Colonel Melrose
  • Yes, the one who is in TMoRA mystery. Cheers for correction. :)
  • AgathasmykidAgathasmykid British Columbia, Canada
    My first and possibly fondest memory of the first time I read 'Roger Ackroyd' is Poirot and his vegetable marrows lol. I remember thinking that it all sounded so silly and wondered if Agatha was writing a satirical/comedy type novel. I thought it was so silly I actually put the book down and started reading something else.  I picked it up again a few weeks later and am so glad I did.  Definitely one of the best AC novels.
  • Going back to your original question, Tuppence, does the team at Agatha Christie Limited compile data on how many people they think are reading the novels today? It would be difficult to know, exactly, because you couldn't easily track individual loans of the book from a library, but it might be interested to know how many copies of a novel, eg, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd had been sold worldwide, say, last year. 

    I suppose, that strictly speaking, people don't read a novel because it is good, or because the characters are good:they don't know that it will be good before they read it. Although, that said, some people may read a book twice, because they liked it the first time. What will happen, I imagine, is that they see a dramatisation on television, and then they read some blurb on any Agatha Christie book, and it will say that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is regarded as Christie's masterpiece - and thus it happens that they will decide to read it.

    My hunch, is that the plot twist and the perplexing mystery of how the man was killed in his room when many had alibis - that is the mystery. The phone call to Dr Sheppard is a galling mystery too. I think this because actually there is a fair amount of old-fashioned detail in this novel, which might, under different circumstances, put off modern readers if the plot were not so good. Servants, walks in woods, history about how a rich man made his money. It is not easily relatable, and even Flora's romance with Ralph is not a great one to beguile the reader. The plot is what never ages.

    By the way, Tuppence, just to be helpful about what would make this website better, I think this thread has dropped off the radar and gone a bit stale because there has been no moderator input to push along discussion. Now would be a good point to contribute some interesting information such as:

    what famous people have said, over the years, about the novel

    interesting quotes from actors who starred in the television adaptation

    quotes about it - fresh to public view, if possible - from Dame Agatha

    plans to do fresh television adaptations

    a summary of Poirot' dealings with Hastings, for readers who have read Poirot's
    references to Hastings which he makes in the novel

    a summary of the Sherlock Holmes and side-kick theme - maybe ask one of your writers to write an article on the side-kick theme, and how AC toyed with it with Hastings, but then seemed to kill it off by having Dr Sheppard as a side-kick, and then...well SPOILER.. we know what happened to the arrangement in this novel - and why Poirot is better, if he is, without a sidekick (including Ariadne Oliver)


    By the way, for interesting articles one of your writers could write for the website, how about ones about that man in the novels who goes and finds out information to help Poirot. Think his name begins with G, and he is a private detective. He features in The Pale Horse.


  • I think he is Mr. Gobi or Goby. He is the one that never looks at the person he is talking to, but always addresses his remarks to the radiator or the fan or the table, right?
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    His name is Mr Gobi.
  • Yes, that's the one I was thinking of! He'd make an interesting article. I wonder how Agatha Christie did her research on him? 
  • One aspect of Christie's writing which I think would make a great research-based historical article,  would be the role of the lady-parlour maid. As Christie writes, Ursula Bourne had disdained to put herself forward for work as a cut-above-the-ordinary, and had thought, why not just be a parlour maid: the work keeps one busy, and there is plenty of spare time? (as we know, she hit the jackpot in hitting it off with the gentleman heir of the house - though not without its drawbacks!). Some people like the history angle, why not  someone connected to the website research that topic, jobs open to the gentry in distressed circumstances and get someone to write some articles?. We're all familiar with the Jane Fairfax (from Pride and Prejudice) governess role, but this story offers a new insight into how people lived in those days. Of nursery governesses, Christie writes of Ursula Paton: 'Determined to earn her living and not attracted to the idea of being a nursery governess - the one profession open to an untrained girl - Ursula preferred the job of parlourmaid.She scorned to label herself a 'lady parlourmaid'.

    I have thought of something else effective about TMORA, the voice of the narrator is not a million miles away from Lionel, the vicar, in Murder at the Vicarage; his judgements, tone and treatment of human subjects are sort of assimiable with what we get from other narrators: the set the context of the world of Christie stories: sensible, unhysterical, comfortably middle class. This is why it comes as such as shock that the gently humorous friend who has led us by the hand through the story, is SPOILER, the one who did it!

    Another theme I notice, is yet another Irish connection: Ursula Bourne is one of seven of a family of impoverished Irish folk. There was a thing called Anglo-Irish, the old English landowners, ( some of them hated by the indigenous Irish during the potato famine of the 1860s) who described themselves as Irish, but whose families, centuries before had been given Irish land as a thank you present by the English monarch of the time. They may have spoken with an English accent - we don't know. No character in MORA calls the parlourmaid Ursula 'Irish', so perhaps she didn't sound Irish. I feel this is a theme of AC, as I have suggested before, and used I'd surmise to denote a slighly impulsive, high-feeling sort of person. Note the fiancee of the SPOILER murderer in A Pocket Full of Rye is one of these gentrified types who grew up in Ireland, ( and falls for a bad-un because she doesn't think carefully about love) - and then,  the 'heroine?' Henrietta in the mystery The Hollow comes across from Ireland. I guess Bess Sedgwick in At Bertram's Hotel might be one of these too, as she met Michael Gorman in Ireland, didn't she? I think the Irish angle gives Christie leeway to create a certain unpredictability of feeling and high spirit which can explain behaviour which runs outside the usual restraints charateristic of the English middle class and gentry of the day, anad hence she can get her plot to twist and turn somewhat through unexpected eventualities. Then she has the untrustworthy Irish, which I've mentioned before, who do people in, and, as in Taken at the Flood, can't be trusted at all in male or female form.

    Perhaps we should get writing articles ourselves! lol.




  • I should say Jane Fairfax in Emma by Jane Austen.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

    With regard to your comment about The Narrator of TMORA and Lionwl's voices being alike perhaps Paul Eddingon who played Lionel and Oliver Ford Davies who played The Narrator of TMORA went up for the same parts which is why you think that although I agree with you.

  • @Griselda - It's kind of sad that Tuppence is ignoring you.  I think we should all insist that Tuppence be replaced.  I'm wondering if she already got fired?
  • @Madame Doyle. I doubt that any moderator has gone, because I don't get the impression that there is any authority, or managing director type figure, reading any of this website and taking any action about anything.

    What would be good is if the powers that be were to keep us informed of what is going on with the proposals the film crew are making for the new adaption, and what the AC team are going to suggest to the film directors, etc. It wouldn't spoil the fun of the final viewing, and it would create true engagement. After all, singers and actors often tweet snippets about the work they are doing. It keeps the fans interested, and why not?

    I read some old posts from three years ago, and things were very much unmoderated then, too. They better be careful, because I noted that one poster had insulted a fellow contributor calling him a rude name. One of these days somebody is going to post something quite offensive, and it is going to upset readers, and cause unhappiness - not what anybody wants.              
  • On the other hand, Madame Doyle, a revamp of the website is promised, so it is probably better that we  wait and see what results. It is quite likely that all of our collective comments will be reviews and dealt with in a new form. Perhaps some articles will be written to address the most common topics raised. We must also consider, that it might appear to moderators and other website staff that members are managing to address and answer each other's points. I suppose there is no compunction to have moderators intervening. This is a fans forum, and so maybe the management want the discussions to be mediated between the fans.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    If there are Moderators reading these pages all they have to do is say so, if they don't it proves there is no-one and we are on our own like the Inhabitants of ATTWN
  • TuppenceTuppence City of London, United Kingdom

    Just to reassure you, we are still here and listening to your comments. We absolutely want to keep you up to date with the development of Murder on the Orient Express and other adaptations and as soon as we have information that we can share with you, we certainly will.

  • Dear other posters, I see an email address for general enquiries at the foot of Tuppence's post. Has any fellow member tried this route of contact ?
  • TuppenceTuppence City of London, United Kingdom
    Griselda said:
    Dear other posters, I see an email address for general enquiries at the foot of Tuppence's post. Has any fellow member tried this route of contact ?
    Please feel free to contact the general enquiries email address with any questions that you may have.
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