The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Literary Elements


Detective Fiction

Setting and Context

King’s Abbott, a fictional town in England, 1920s (the novel was published in 1926)

Narrator and Point of View

Dr. James Sheppard narrates the novel from his point of view. However, as the reader eventually learns, Sheppard is an unreliable narrator, and deliberately recounts the story with a limited point of view in order to keep his guilt a secret.

Tone and Mood

Despite the subject of the novel, it maintains the light, stimulating tone common in detective fiction. The murder is presented as a puzzle for the characters (and the reader) to solve, rather than a violent tragedy.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Poirot and Dr. Sheppard are the protagonist and antagonist of the novel.

Major Conflict

The major conflict of the novel is the mystery of Roger Ackroyd’s death. Poirot needs to solve the mystery and find the killer, especially before the police potentially incorrectly prosecute an innocent person for the crime.


The novel’s climax occurs at the end of Chapter 25, when Poirot accuses Dr. Sheppard of being the murderer.


There is a great deal of foreshadowing in the novel, particularly with regards to Dr. Sheppard’s guilt. For example, Dr. Sheppard’s simple statement that he was “considerably upset and worried” (p.1) suggests his profound involvement in the plot– he is not just upset by Mrs. Ferrars’ death, but by the implications that it will have on him.

Later on, he suggests that “as a professional man, I naturally aim at discretion” (p. 2), which on the surface seems an innocuous comment, but gains deeper significance given Dr. Sheppard’s actual involvement in the murder. Finally, Caroline’s accusation to her brother that he is a “precious old humbug” (p. 6) is a truer statement than even she knows. His utter duplicity throughout the novel will ultimately prove this insignificant comment to elucidate the novel’s greatest secret.

Additionally, Poirot’s story about the hypothetical man committing a crime foreshadows Dr. Sheppard's guilt, as does Caroline’s accusations that Dr. Sheppard is “as weak as water” (p. 199).


One character who makes great use of understatement is Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd. Although loathe to confess that she snooped around Ackroyd’s office to look for his will, when she finally does tell Dr. Sheppard, she presents it as a much more casual moment than the deliberate search the reader may believe she actually undertook. Similarly, her description of how Flora stole the forty pounds from her Uncle (she claims Flora was merely “borrowing it”) is another case of Mrs. Ackroyd using understatement to downplay her and her daughter’s guilt.


Throughout the novel, Poirot alludes to his theories and suspicions in the vaguest way, but does not explain them fully until the novel’s end. One such example is in Chapter 18 when Poirot suggests Charles Kent was born in Kent. This is an allusion to his discovery that Kent was given his name when his mother disowned him after she gave birth to him in Kent out of wedlock.

Similarly, Dr. Sheppard makes some allusions to his own guilt throughout the novel. One example is in Chapter 12 when he discusses Poirot’s accusation that everyone at the table was hiding something. “His glance, challenging and accusing, swept round the table. And every pair of eyes dropped before his. Yes, mine as well” (p 146).


The novel uses robust imagery to describe certain important characters or moments. For example Chapter 6 contains a vivid description of the sharpness of the dagger used as the murder weapon. Inspector Davis describes a child as being able to use the dagger to kill a man as easily as drawing a knife through butter. This helps establish the danger of the weapon, as well as the ease any character would have in using it to kill Ackroyd.


Many of Poirot’s theories seem paradoxical at first. One such example is his discussion with Dr. Sheppard at the end of Chapter 13. They discuss the many potential motives Ralph Paton had for committing the murder, and Poirot says, “Three motives – it is almost too much. I am inclined to believe, after all, that Ralph Paton is innocent" (p. 154). That three motives make Poirot believe in a suspect’s innocence more than his guilt is a paradox – it should make him suspect Paton even more. And yet, Poirot is proven correct when Ralph does not turn out to be the murderer.


In gathering all the major suspects at Fernly Park and declaring that all of them are hiding something from him, Poirot draws a parallel between them all. They are all presented, at that moment, as suspects, which allows the reader to consider each as the potential murderer.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

One example of synecdoche is on p. 103. Flora asks Major Blunt, “You shot that head in the hall, didn’t you?” Of course, she does not mean a “head”, but refers to the stuffed head of an animal that had been hung in the hall. Immediately after, Blunt asks her if she’d care for some “decent skins” (p. 103) at any time – here he refers to “animal skins” but uses a synecdoche.