Book Review: the Murder of Roger Akroyd by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Akroyd was a very different style of mystery than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. While The Hound of the Baskervilles has a lot of build-up in order to get the story moving forward, The Murder of Roger Akroyd begins with a murder and someone who has a vested interest in being a participant in the investigation of that very same murder. The Hound of the Baskervilles continues to move at a more brisk pace the farther into the story you get, but The Murder of Roger Akroyd is rather drawn out about the ending with a distinct lack of action and violence towards the end.

Both stories also use the same method of explaining at the end how the murder was accomplished and the key factors for each series of events. The end of The Hound of the Baskervilles, however, is very short and explained between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, but the end of The Murder of Roger Akroyd seems to go on for about half of the book. And then when I actually did get to the end of the book, it seemed like the final reveal was very abrupt and took up just about one page.

One of the other commonalities between The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Murder of Roger Akroyd involved the use of partners in these detective stories. Obviously, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the two main characters are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. In chapter 8, around page 131 of The Murder of Roger Akroyd, the dialogue between Dr. James Sheppard and Hercule Poirot goes like this: ‘“You must indeed have been sent from the good God to replace my friend Hastings,” he said with a twinkle. “I observe that you do not quit my side. How say you, Doctor Sheppard, shall we investigate that summer-house? It interests me.”’ The idea of partnership for the investigation in The Murder of Roger Akroyd comes up again in chapter 10 around page 150: ‘“Perhaps I’m intruding,” I said. “Not at all,” cried Poirot heartily. “You and I, M. le docteur, we investigate this affair side by side. Without you I should be lost.”’

In this way, both of the detective-style novels in the course so far have revolved around partnerships, and both of those partnerships have involved a “greater” mind and a “lesser” mind, where the “lesser” mind, in the form of Dr. James Sheppard and Dr. John Watson, are designed to function as the “average” person so that the mystery can be explained by someone who does not put all the tiny clues together automatically.

It seems as though Poirot and other detectives string along the potential perpetrators of the crime being investigated, which is like setting traps for the other characters, and some of that borders on unfair treatment and it definitely is catering to making them look smarter at the end when everything is revealed. It frustrated me, as well, because some of the lies the characters revealed were extremely personal and may not have had anything to do with the murder itself, but Poirot still insisted on revealing all the lies to everyone.

The mystery in The Murder of Roger Akroyd was also done differently, as it was fairly obvious in The Hound of the Baskervilles as to who the only real suspect was, but in The Murder of Roger Akroyd, most of the obvious suspects were ruled out.

I have to admit, though, that I suspected Dr. James Sheppard as soon as he arrived at the house where the murder took place and he was left alone with the dead body. During his narration, he never said how he passed the time while he waited for everyone else to come back and help with the investigation and based on the narration style, it seemed like he would talk about something boring if he was doing something boring.

I do agree with the Golden Age of Detective Fiction website, with the quote from Ronald A. Knox: “A detective story must have as its main interest the unravelling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end.” This story appealed more to my curiosity than The Hound of the Baskervilles did because of the unreliable narrator. Even though I suspected that the only person who could have committed the crime was the narrator himself, I wasn’t certain how common it is in the mystery genre for the narrator to actually be the perpetrator of the crime which is being investigated. It seems almost as though it would be something of a conflict of interest for the author to go through so much trouble to establish a mystery of this scale and then have the actual perpetrator be someone completely unthinkable, such as the narrator.

Dr. John Sheppard took so much time with his narration of the activities of the other characters that he avoided narrating his own feelings or thoughts about the investigation. Now that I look back and think about it, he specifically omitted any and all information that he personally had about the case and only relayed what other people said and thought about the investigation. That was a very clever way of utilizing the unreliable narrator. But he was actually a very reliable narrator in the sense that he told the reader when anything was discovered about the case, but didn’t really give the reader many reasons to question how much this particular narrator actually knew about the crime being investigated. There is nothing written anywhere that says the narrator has to tell the reader the whole truth from beginning to end. None of the other characters told the truth right from the beginning and everyone lies. The narrator of this story is the one person who actually didn’t lie; he just didn’t tell the reader everything he knew. Is that the same thing as lying? I honestly don’t know. But he is definitely a misleading narrator.

I think Agatha Christie wouldn’t be able to use the unreliable narrator who is the actual murderer in many of her other stories. This is also the first novel or story of hers that I have read, so I don’t know if this is a normal trope for her stories or if this was an isolated instance. The unreliable narrator portion reminded me of several of the murder mystery dinner games that were becoming popular while I was an undergrad. Everyone is given an invitation with a character description and we would all dress up as our characters and go to the requested destination where the game would progress and you would find out clues to the events in the game. After a bit, you might even find out that you are the murderer everyone is searching for and you have to figure out ways to cover your tracks and convince the other players that you are not actually the murderer. There were a lot of portions of the Murder of Roger Ackroyd where it felt to me as though maybe the murderer didn’t want to admit to being the murderer, just like what happened with the murder mystery dinner games.

This story reminded me a lot like the movie Clue. I kept expecting there to be a conservatory with a secret passage to the library. The number of clues and the complexity of those clues also reminded me of the movie Clue. There was certainly a lot going on in this story, but in my mind, that made the whole thing seem that much more realistic. Would I have the patience to go back and reread the Murder of Roger Akroyd to attempt to figure out if Poirot knew that Dr. Sheppard was the murderer, and if he knew, what were his clues? Every time I finish watching the movie Clue (because it’s honestly one of my favorite movies), I keep thinking about how I’m going to rewatch the movie and see which of the endings is the most accurate/possible. But I then get too engrossed in the characters and in the movie and I stop taking notes on the details. I guess one of my questions if I decided to go back and reread this novel would be to see if Caroline already knows or suspects that it’s her very own brother who is the murderer. She certainly seems to know him and his habits well enough. Sometimes, people aren’t especially keen on believing that the people who are closest to them are capable of things like murder.

Overall, though, I thought it was nicely done, and I also thought that this story did a really good job of showing how the world is often more complicated than some stories would have you believe in that there are usually events that happen which are completely unrelated to the crimes committed.

Work Cited: Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: A Hercule Poirot Mystery. New York: William Morrow: Harper Collins, 2011. Print. Original Publication 1926.

the Golden age of Detective Fiction by R. D. Collins: http://www.classiccrimefiction.com/goldenage.htm (Links to an external site.)

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About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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