There was uproar when this book was published. Readers and publishers felt that Agatha Christie had played a trick on them and had been unfair. But, as with all of her books, the clues and the pointers are all there. She never hides a fact then whips it out at the end which some contemporary mystery writers do. The clues, the hints, the conversations, the questions - she lays it all out and challenges you to solve the murder and find the culprit. Well, of course we hardly ever do. I find when reading contemporary crime novels I can guess who the murderer is quite easily, but with Ngaio Marsh, Sayers, Christie and others of the Golden Age of Crime, I always am in a puzzle.
When writing about an Agatha I have to be careful. I have read them all but have to remind myself that others have not and new readers are coming along all the time and having been roundly ticked off on Amazon by a reader who read one of my reviews and got cross I gave the end away, I have been much more circumspect. So here we go and let me see if I can give you a taste of the story and leave the detection to you.
The narrator is Doctor Sheppard and when the story opens he has just returned after a patient has died. Her name is Mrs Ferrars who, according to local gossip, had probably poisoned her husband who had died a year or so earlier. It was felt that as he was a bad lot this might have been justified but it was never proved. Now it would appear she had committed suicide.
Dr Sheppard lives with his sister Caroline who I find one of Dame Agatha's most delightful creations. I get cross when people sneer at Christie and say she cannot write and is no good at characterisation as they are totally wrong. Here she is on Caroline:
"The motto of the mongoose family, so Kipling tells us, is 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 as 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. I suspect that the servants and the tradesman constitute her Intelligence Corps. When she goes out it is not to gather information but to spread it. At that too. she is amazingly expert"
The Sheppards have a new next door neighbour who they assume, from his appearance, is a retired hairdresser. Not so. It is Hercule Poirot fulfilling his dream of retiring and growing vegetable marrows. Alas, it is not as fascinating as he had hoped it would be and when the local squire, Roger Ackroyd, is found murdered in his study he is only too happy to join up with the police in solving the mystery.
A letter has arrived for Ackroyd just before he is murdered. It is from the recently deceased Mrs Ferrars who had told him that she was being blackmailed over the death of her husband and that she would tell him the identity of the person involved. When the body is discovered the letter has vanished......
This is one of the author's most famous books and the twists and turns are pure Christie and, on my latest re-reading, I confirmed what I have said above, the clues are all there. There is great enjoyment in re-reading Dame Agatha knowing the solution as you can have fun spotting all the signposts and the pointers that you miss the first time around or, as in my case, the second or third.
I find the Christie books that I enjoy the most are those told in the first person. With Poirot we have Captain Hastings and his slant on everything is pure joy. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hastings is no longer around and Hercule decides to adopt Doctor Sheppard as his new Watson and it makes for an amusing relationship. When Dame A uses the first person I always feel that part of her character seeps through and I find myself wishing I had met her as the warmth and kindness and the slightly cynical view point of life is evident. Another example of this is Sir Eustace in The Man in the Brown Suit. Very funny and delightful. Do check it out.
A final word. You will be reading this book from the viewpoint of the narrator and all events and happenings are filtered through his eyes. He will see things you will miss, he will miss things you will see and remember, NEVER take anybody's word for anything when you read an Agatha or else you will end up the proverbial without a paddle.
I can say no more about this title as I dare not give you, the first reader of the story, the slightest clue. Dame Agatha will do that and good luck on solving this mystery. I freely admit that when I first finished this book I put it down and thought well blimey....or words to that effect.