We have reached the first high-water mark in the Christie canon, and it is almost unbelievable that this was written by the same person as “The Secret of Chimneys” and “The Big Four” which sit either side of it.
In Hastings’ absence, narrative duties are taken up by Poirot’s neighbour, Dr James Sheppard, whose friend, Roger Ackroyd, is murdered shortly after the latter has received a letter naming the blackmailer of his recently deceased fiancée. Is that the reason for his death? Where has his step-son, Ralph Paton, gone? Who was in the summerhouse? Who is the mysterious stranger? Who notified Dr Sheppard of the murder?
As always Poirot cuts through the lies and misdirection until he identifies the guilty party in a dazzling denouement.
Recurring character development
Has retired and has been living in King’s Abbot for just under a year, where he has tried without much success to grow vegetable marrows.
Before the murder he has been living incognito and happy to be known as Mr Porrott. Dr Sheppard initially believes him to have been a hairdresser.
Caroline Sheppard believes he may have “one of those new vacuum cleaners”. With his propensity for tidiness, this seems likely.
Misses Hastings, who has carried out his plans mentioned at the end of “The Murder on the Links” and is living in the Argentine.
Knew Roger Ackroyd in London.
Practises sleight of hand as shown when he retrieves a ring from the pond.
Solved a murder mystery involving Prince Paul of Mauretania and his ex-dancer wife. Sheppard asks whether he received an emerald tie pin for this service, a reference to Sherlock Holmes who received such a gift from Queen Victoria for recovering the Bruce-Partington Plans.
Predicts that in all probability this will be his last case.
Has previously worked with Superintendent Hayes of Liverpool.
Signs of the Times
The story is set in 1926, the year of publication.
Sadly “The Mystery of the Seventh Death” – the type of book read by Mrs Russell – appears to be fictional.
Flora asks Raymond to send the announcement of her engagement to Ralph to The Morning Post and The Times. The former was a conservative daily newspaper published in London from 1772 to 1937, when it was acquired by, and then merged with, The Daily Telegraph.
Mrs Ackroyd said she was in the study to fetch Punch. Subtitled The London Charivari in homage to a French magazine of the same name, it was a weekly satirical magazine published from 1841 to 1992, with an unsuccessful revival from 1996 to 2002.
Caroline asks Sheppard to take Poirot some medlar jelly. This is made from a now obscure fruit which has to be ripened to excess – a process known as bletting – before it can be used. Apparently the taste is like sweet cider infused with cinnamon and a touch of allspice, so perhaps it should make a comeback.
Colonel Carter claims to have played mahjong at the Shanghai Club. This was founded in 1861 and was the main men’s club for British residents. At one time it had the world’s longest bar. It closed in 1941 following the Japanese occupation and the building was then expropriated in 1949 by the new Communist government.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Fulfils “What – Reference to a man or woman in the title”