Today’s Guest Blogger is Jill Allison, a first year college student at JCTC where she enjoys the challenges presented by entering college at a more mature age. Jill can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book #307 on the 1001 must read list is a classic mystery with all the right elements. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is perhaps Agatha Christie’s best Hercule Poiret novel. It begins in a small village in England called Kings Abbott. The narrator of the book is Dr. James Sheppard who becomes Poirot’s confidante.
The novel starts with an opening of Dr. Sheppard returning home after the death of Mrs. Ferrars. His sister, Caroline, is waiting for the details. As Dr. Sheppard states “she is an amazing expert at gathering information.” In common terms, she is a gossip. Caroline alludes to the fact that the death of Mr. Ferrars was suspicious and that she suspects that the late widow murdered her husband. Before Dr. Sheppard can continue the main character, Roger Ackroyd is murdered.
The books cast includes:
· Hercule Poirot — The famous retired detective
· Roger Ackroyd — Title character, concerned over death of Mrs. Ferrars
· Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd — The widowed sister-in-law of Mr. Ackroyd
· Flora Ackroyd — Mr. Ackroyd’s niece and Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd’s daughter
· Ralph Paton — Mr. Ackroyd’s stepson
· Ursula Bourne — Mr. Ackroyd’s maid (quit recently)
· Major Hector Blunt — big game hunter and guest.
· Geoffrey Raymond — Mr. Ackroyd’s secretary
· John Parker — Mr. Ackroyd’s butler
· Elizabeth Russell — Mr. Ackroyd’s housekeeper
· Charles Kent — Elizabeth Russell’s son and drug addict
· Dr. James Sheppard — The narrator
· Caroline Sheppard — Dr. Sheppard’s sister
· Mrs. Ferrars — who poisons herself at the very beginning of the book
· Ashley Ferrars – Mrs. Ferrars’s husband, possibly murdered by spouse.
Christie begins slowly weaving her story by introducing each person and insinuates how they may be guilty or what they may be hiding. One tantalizing fact is that Mrs. Ferrars has been blackmailed over her husband’s death. She takes a dose of veronal to end her misery. She left a note, but it has vanished, leaving the blackmailer’s identity a secret.
The great Hercule Poirot is retired and living under the name Porrot whose only ambition was to grow vegetable marrows. Only Mr. Ackroyd was informed of who his real neighbor is. After Mrs. Ferrars death, Mr. Ackroyd has a private conversation with Dr. Sheppard regarding her death and how she confessed to her husband’s murder and being blackmailed. Mr. Ackroyd had proposed to the young widow and was shocked to find this out. Within minutes of their visit, a knock at the door occurs. It is the evening post. A letter from the deceased Mrs. Ferrars has arrived. Mr. Ackroyd begins to read her final words. He asks Dr. Sheppard to leave so he could read it in private. Dr. Sheppard returns home only to receive news that he must return as Mr. Ackroyd has been murdered in a locked room. As the evidence begins to mount against Ralph, his beloved stepson, Flora begs the esteemed Hercule Poirot to intervene and exonerate her beloved. Monsier Poirot begins his investigation with the inspector’s blessing. He also begins a friendship with Dr. Sheppard similar to his previous friend Capt. Hastings.
As the investigation begins, it is discovered that young Roger is to inherit all of his stepfathers’ money minus a few bequests. While M. Poirot and Dr. Sheppard examine the evidence, Caroline Sheppard manages to make several points of her own. Along with blackmail, there seems to be the issue of Flora’s habit of stealing money from her uncle. Flora is bitter and angry at having to beg for items. She and Ralph are both weak she says. Weak and only together can they stand up. It is not love for Ralph, but the finer things that make her willing to marry. The truth is she and Major Blunt are in love. As the tale deepens we discover that the housekeeper, Mrs. Russell is the mother of Charles Kent, a noted drug addict. Charles was seen going down the lane to the Ackroyds the night of the murder by Dr. Sheppard. As Mrs. Russell is assured that her son is not likely the murderer it comes to light that the parlour maid, Ursula Bourne is actually poor gentlefolk forced to work for a living. She and young Roger fell in love and married secretly. It was only a brief bit of madness for him to propose to Flora to soothe his stepfather. Ursula, tired of the deceit, met with Mr. Ackroyd and confessed. Roger Ackroyd was furious and accused Ursula of trapping Roger. Within hours, the issue was put to rest as the murder was well timed for the young couple. Monsieur Poirot laments the loss of his dear friend Captain Hastings and his ability to “stumble” over the truth. Dr. Sheppard reveals that he has read several of Captain Hastings narratives and presents it to Poirot who remarks on its accuracy.
Later that evening, with the suspects gathered, Poirot begins his dialogue of the murder. What the reader does not expect is the final twist that only Christie can deliver. The novel is an example of early twentieth century mystery writing: multiple red herrings, confusing side plots, and at the end a murderer caught by a man who only wanted to grow vegetable marrow.