I have just read this book for the second time. Why? Because it is a “Must read twice book”. But don’t take my word for it. Agatha herself makes that clear in the book itself, as I will explain later in this review.
The book is narrated by Dr Sheppard, who has recently had a new neighbour arrive in the house next door. Mr Poirot seems keen to spend his time growing vegetable marrows. Dr Sheppard assumes his new neighbour is a retired hairdresser and not the internationally famous detective we all know him to be.
No sooner has Poirot moved into the King’s Abbot district, than one of the parishioners, Mrs Ferrars commits suicide. This is particularly disturbing to Roger Ackroyd, one of the richest men in the district, who confides his distress to Sheppard. On Ackroyd’s request, Sheppard visits Ackroyd at his home Fernly to discuss her suicide; at the meeting Ackroyd reveals a letter he has received from her, which indicates she took her own life because she was being blackmailed.
On arriving home Sheppard is quizzed by his sister Caroline who he freely admits is nothing more than a gossip. She is able to get all the local information without leaving home. As they are planning to settle down for the evening the phone rings. Sheppard answers it. Caroline hears the concern in his voice. She demands to know what has happened. Sheppard informs her that the call was from Roger Ackroyd’s butler Parker, he wants the Doctor to come to Fernly immediately as Ackroyd has been found dead.
On arrival Parker denies all knowledge of the call, nevertheless after finding the door to Ackroyd’s study locked, Sheppard and Parker break down the door and find Ackroyd dead, stabbed in the chest with his own dagger, apparently murdered.
In true Christie style, the house is full of potential suspects as well as a number of mysterious strangers in the district. Besides Parker, there is Ackroyd's secretary Geoffrey Raymond, who seems to take his employer's death in his stride. Ackroyd’s old friend Major Blunt is also at Fernly, he seems particularly fond of Ackroyd’s niece Flora Ackroyd, but to his dismay she is engaged to Ackroyd’s stepson Ralph Payton. Flora’s mother was married to Roger Ackroyd’s brother but following his death she is now entirely dependent on Ackroyd financially, and it is a well known fact that despite his great wealth, he is somewhat careful with his money.
Also in the house are Ursula Bourne who seems to have ideas above her station and the housekeeper Mrs Russell, who seems to have fallen out of favour with Ackroyd. She seems preoccupied and somewhat secretive. There is also the strange appearance of Charles Kent, who seems to have no connection with Fernly and its occupants.
The case is soon in the hands of Inspector Raglan, who wastes no time in trying to get to grips with the case. The evidence points strongly towards Ralph Payton being the culprit, this point seems to be enforced when he appears to go into hiding and despite all attempts not a trace of him can be found.
At this point Flora Ackroyd, seeks out Dr Sheppard and requests he accompany her to the home of Mr Poirot, to see if he will take up the case.
At first Inspector Raglan resents Poirot’s introduction, but as soon as Poirot makes it clear that he does not want his name to appear in association with the case, Raglan is much more amicable.
The case is packed with clues and red herrings, who was the mysterious visitor with Ackroyd at 9:30 pm? Who was the stranger Sheppard met when he was leaving Fernly at 9:00 pm. What are Payton’s footprints doing leading to and from Ackroyd’s study ? What was going on in the summer house ? And who owned the discarded wedding ring ?
As Poirot starts to work his way through the mystery, Sheppard also starts to keep a journal of the investigation. It gives Sheppard a thrill to “play Watson to Poirot’s Holmes”.
At the mid point of the investigation Poirot calls all the suspects together and informs them that each of them is keeping something from him. He declares his intention to get to the truth in spite of them all. He urges them all to give up their secrets, but will they ?
As you may be aware the solution to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is perhaps Agatha’s most ingenious, breathtaking and certainly controversial of all of her books. Reading the book for the first time, I remember a little cry of surprise as the identity of the killer is revealed. At the time the book was written it caused a great deal of consternation especially within the Crime Writers' guild, who accused her of not playing fair,
These criticisms are not justified as all the clues are there, you just have to be clever enough to spot them. Agatha merely demonstrated that she was a true master of her craft. She even gives the reader a big clue about the book itself and its importance towards the deduction of the crime. Towards the end of the book Poirot takes advantage of Sheppard’s invitation to cast his eye over his draft version of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Poirot’s assessment of Sheppard’s account is “A very meticulous and accurate account. You have recorded all the facts faithfully and exactly”. When asked if the book has helped him, Poirot answers “Yes, I may say that it has helped me considerably”. What more of a clue could we have from Agatha, that the solution of the crime lies in the careful reading of the book.
Of course Poirot comes good and the murderer is unveiled. It is not possible to read the solution to this mystery without wanting to go back over the book to understand just how you did miss all those clues. This is why it is undoubtedly a must read twice book.