Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily
I will put my cards on the table right at the start. I have loved Agatha Christie’s work since I was a teenager, when I owned pretty much her entire works in secondhand hardbacks. That made it a no-brainer for me to re-read this classic of detective fiction.
The novel was first published in 1926, having previously been serialised in the London Evening News. It is a fabulous piece of fiction featuring her now famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, who in this novel has recently retired to the small village of King’s Abbot.
The story itself is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, the local GP, and opens with news of the death of a prominent local woman, Mrs Ferrars. She is one of two owners of the ‘big’ houses in the village, the other being Roger Ackroyd.
A scant twenty-four hours passes between the death of Mrs Ferrars and that of Roger Ackroyd. We are drawn in to the village gossip through the doctor’s sister, Caroline, who appears to be the central hub to whom rumours are brought and then dispatched outward in to the community. Poisoning, romances, and scheming are all grist for the gossip mill.
The key characters cover both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ in the Fernly Park home of Roger Ackroyd. A widowed sister-in-law and her daughter Flora, a wayward step-son Ralph Paton, a big game hunting friend Major Blunt, a private secretary and a number of his household staff all become embroiled with secrets aplenty to hide between them.
In to all of this enters the retired detective, Hercule Poirot. Taken away from his quest to grow the perfect marrow by Flora Ackroyd, the niece who is quietly engaged to Roger’s step-son, Poirot is tasked to find the truth of the murder. Ralph Paton is the prime suspect, being always in a scrape and wayward with his money. His footprints are found, he is spotted not long before the murder is committed and then he disappears as though in hiding for the crime.
Poirot and his ‘little grey cells’ are not fooled by the many red herring trails available, and tracks down each in turn. Step-by-step he exposes each person’s secret until we finally arrive at the murderer.
Ahh, if it was just so simple. The writing and plot are beautifully executed. There is no delving in to the deep psychology of the criminal, only the actions and behaviours are exposed. There are plenty of opportunities to spot the outcome, but will you as a first time reader? Probably not.
The answer to the crime is available, but through subtle use of language much is disguised and only becomes clear once the story concludes.
One thing this novel is noted for is the use of a twist ending, and perhaps that is why first time readers don’t always see the outcome before the last few pages.
If you go away and read this for the first time, do come back and let me know if you saw it coming? Just remember to leave out the answer for those who haven’t read it yet.
As a long-time fan I have no reservation in recommending you read this novel, and all of her others. The ease with which they are read is a testament to her skill as a writer. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing”, and Ms Christie has definitely done the ‘hard yards’ to clear the way for us to enjoy the clever plot.