Book Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (a Hercule Poirot Novel)

It has been such a long time since I’ve felt so strongly about a book. I will do my utter best not to spoil the ending for you, but I can’t guarantee that I won’t let something slip on accident.

Cover:

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Genre: Mystery

Synopsis:

Considered to be one of Agatha Christie’s most controversial mysteries, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd breaks all the rules of traditional mystery writing.

“The peaceful English village of King’s Abbot is stunned. First, the attractive widows Ferrars dies from an overdose of veronal. Not twenty-four hours later, Roger Ackroyd—the man she had planned to marry—is murdered. It is a baffling, complex case involving blackmail, suicide, and violent death, a cast that taxes Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” before he reaches one of the most startling conclusions of his fabled career.”

On to the story:

I have a confession to make first. Well, two actually. Number one: I’ve never read a mystery novel before my detective fiction class this semester, and beyond A Study in Scarlet (the first book we read in the class), this story is my second.

Number two: I am an avid reader, and yet the first time I ever heard of Agatha Christie, it was on the Doctor Who episode with Donna and the 10th doctor and the big bee. I loved the episode, so I wanted to really love Christie’s writing. She was supposed to be one of the best detective fiction authors of all time.

I had such high hopes for this book.

And honestly, up until the second to last chapter, it was a fairly well-done book. I was still able to look at it as a logic puzzle. If you’ve read A Study in Scarlet (or any other Arthur Conan Doyle books, I’d guess), you’ll get the sense that, although you could possibly figure out the solution before Sherlock, you probably won’t. After all, the only one who knows all the facts is Sherlock himself.

What I loved about Christie’s book was that we, the reader, were not lacking in information. We had a set number of murder suspects, and Detective Poirot (which is French, so it’s pronounced Poy-row) was careful to ensure that the narrator, and thus the readers, knew all the facts that he’d accumulated. I assumed the novel would play out logically, then, where we’d take all the evidence into consideration and slowly cull out each of the suspects until only one remained.

This did not happen.

All the characters, up until the last two chapters, all acted the way you’d expect them to react, once you knew all the facts. The guilt matched with their own particular brand of crime, and thus once we knew what they felt guilty about, it felt safe to cross them off the list of suspects. You see, what we had was a plethora of information.

This was why I felt so terribly betrayed when I read the last two chapters, where the murderer was revealed and the motive and murder explained.

Because naturally Christie gave us all the information we could ever hope for, except the information that we apparently needed to solve the case. It felt as if Christie was deliberately feeding us a plethora of nonessential information so we didn’t realize that the facts we did need to solve the case weren’t actually apparent.

In the end, logically the explanation made sense. The collected facts were brought together and the hows and whys of the murder itself was explained.

Except it also didn’t. In terms of a puzzle, all the pieces fit together but the final piece looked more like a jumbled mass of images than it did an actual single photo. We knew how and why, from the criminal sense, but as for actual, physical character motivation?

People will argue that detective fiction is just a puzzle, and as long as the reader is surprised by the end but can still understand how the crime worked, and as long as the rest of it is logical, detective fiction doesn’t need plot or round characters or any of that. I wholeheartedly disagree. Motive for a crime is not just another piece in the puzzle. It’s desperation. It’s fear or anger. It’s human emotion, and it’s messy.

Poirot says that anyone has in them the ability to murder, under the right circumstances. Although I wholeheartedly agree, for this particular book, the circumstances don’t fit the crime. Simply put, character development cannot fall to the wayside in detective fiction. Even if this is just a genre of intellectual games in the form of story-telling, in order to properly understand the conclusion, the readers have to see that the murderer actually had a reason to commit the deed.

Instead, Christie took the easy way out. Her murderer looked completely innocent until the truth was revealed, and when it was, s/he became a COMPLETELY different person. So did Poirot, if we’re being honest about it. And how the murderer was dealt with felt like even more of a cop-out.

I had a dozen different theories formulated as I read this book, and half of them would’ve made twice as good an ending as Christie’s.

I know that some people loved how The Murder of Roger Ackroyd ended, and I’ll let you have your own opinion. But for me? Personally? I feel very generous when I give this book a three star, and I’m only giving it that many because the issues with this book reside in only the last two chapters of a 20-odd chapter long book.

If you’ve also had to read this novel before, feel free to express your thoughts in the comments below, but try to keep it spoiler-free for those who haven’t read it and who are considering doing so.

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