The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

by Agatha Christie

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Plot summary

The book is set in the fictional village of King's Abbott in England. It is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, who becomes Poirot's assistant (a role filled by Captain Hastings in several other Poirot novels). The story begins with the death of Mrs. Ferrars, a wealthy widow who is rumoured to have murdered her husband. Her death is initially believed to be an accident until Roger Ackroyd, a widower who had been expected to marry Mrs. Ferrars, reveals that she admitted to killing her husband and then committed suicide. Shortly after this he is found murdered. The suspects include Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, Roger's neurotic, hypochondriac sister-in-law who has accumulated personal debts through extravagant spending; her daughter Flora; Major Blunt, a big-game hunter; Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd's personal secretary; Ralph Paton, Ackroyd's stepson and another person with heavy debts; Parker, a snooping butler; and Ursula Bourne, a parlourmaid with an uncertain history who resigned her post the afternoon of the murder. Dr Sheppard's spinster sister Caroline is a favourite character among readers, and some say she is worthy to have appeared in another book.

The initial suspect is Ralph, who is engaged to Flora and stands to inherit his stepfather's fortune. Several critical pieces of evidence seem to point to Ralph. Poirot, who has just moved to the town, begins to investigate at Flora's behest.

The ending and the identity of the murderer

The book ends with an unprecedented plot twist. Poirot exonerates all of the original suspects. He then lays out a completely reasoned case that the murderer is in fact Dr. Sheppard, who has not only been Poirot's assistant, but also the story's narrator. Sheppard was Mrs Ferrars' blackmailer, and he murdered Ackroyd to stop him learning the truth from Mrs Ferrars. Poirot gives him two choices: either he surrenders to the police; or, for the sake of his reputation and of his proud sister, he commits suicide. In the final chapter (a sort of epilogue), Dr. Sheppard admits his guilt, noting certain literary techniques he used to conceal himself without revealing his role in the crime or doing anything to suggest that he knew the truth. He reveals that he had hoped to be the one to write the account of Poirot's great failure: i.e., not solving the murder of Roger Ackroyd. Thus, the last chapter acts as both Sheppard's confession and his suicide note. The final revelation uses meta-fictional tropes. The ending also opens up the question as to whether anyone can be trusted. Christie uses an unreliable narrator in 1967 novel Endless Night. Her earlier novel, The Man in the Brown Suit, is narrated by two people, one of whom is unreliable. Reader response to the ending varies from admiration of the unexpected end to a feeling of being cheated.

Juxtaposition of two knowledge systems

In the novel, Christie has laid side by side two modes of gathering information and building an hypothesis. One is Poirot's use of ratiocination; the other is the gossiping practised by almost all of the inhabitants of King's Abbott, Caroline in particular. Although even Caroline is able to interpret certain situations correctly, Christie privileges the scientific mode of investigation by unveiling the murderer through Poirot.

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