Hi everyone! For this month’s book club we decided to read Agatha Christie’s classic ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. We have a good mix of Christie veterans and newbies amongst the Book Buds so we had quite the discussion! So settle in, make yourself a cuppa and maybe grab a finger sandwich or two or a nice scone, and let’s get stuck in, shall we?
WARNING, THERE BE MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Unavoidable with a murder mystery unfortunately. Read the novel then read on!
Q: Hey pals, let’s get the ball rolling. First question: Did you guess who dunn’it?! If yes, HOW?? If no, was it a satisfying and surprising ending?
Rosie: Nope. And I never do. I’ve said before that I’m a huge Christie fan, I’m more than familiar with her writing style and plots, but I never guess right. Now that may be on my own ignorance, but I like to think it’s the work of a genius and deceiving writer. I still get shivers every time I reach the conclusion – it’s so unexpected, and it makes you feel naive for being so unquestioningly trusting.
Michelle: I didn’t see the ending coming AT ALL, and I had everybody on my potential murderer list. I think literally every other character mentioned, even briefly in passing, was on my ‘radar’, – it was Poirot’s nephew! It was Caroline Shepherd’s gossipy friend who we never even meet! But no, the truth was right in front of us the whole time, just veiled in deceit and misdirection. Incredible. I thought that Christie’s build up to the reveal of the murderer was expertly executed, and was so shocked I think I audibly gasped on the train. A wonderfully satisfying ending to a brilliantly crafted murder mystery!
Hayley: This was my first Christie book so I had no idea what to expect. I can safely say that I was thoroughly impressed. My guesses and assumptions were totally wrong! I had no idea who was going to be the killer and I loved the ending. As a reader we are programmed and trained to trust the narrator and having him be the killer made me love the book all the more. I liken it a little to Wuthering Heights in the sense that the narrator isn’t extremely trustworthy, which is why I love it so much. Meaning that I enjoyed the build up and the reveal of the killer of Roger Ackroyd. When I got to the page that revealed the murder I actually sat up in bed and went “No!” This was a thrilling and enjoyable read. 100% would read more Christie books.
Kate: This was a re-read for me so I did read it knowing who the killer was – a really interesting experience because the first time I read it, I, like everyone else, had no clue and gasped out loud when the murderer was revealed, whereas this time I was on the lookout for the clues. It was absolutely a satisfying ending though as once you think about it so much of what we knew of the crime came from the seemingly trustworthy doctor. With another narrator he would have seemed so much more suspicious, but because we were hearing his account we trusted him absolutely.
Elen: Unfortunately this is a reread for me and when I read it for the first time I was also watching lots of the ITV adaptations and looking into the best Christie’s to read so not sure if I actually knew before I started it (I’m the worst I know). I do think it’s expertly crafted though especially how Christie has Poirot compare Sheppard to Hastings repeatedly thus making the reader associate him as a trustworthy presence.
Q: Let’s talk about the legend herself, Agatha Christie. Was this your first of five hundredth time reading a Christie novel? Were your expectations met? And if you’ve read countless of her other mysteries, any recommendations for your fellow Book Buds?!
Rosie: I recommend Murder on the Orient Express to everyone I meet, whether they read or not, because it’s such a powerful and emotional story without being hard to read, but my favourite is And Then There Were None. It is a little more complicated just because it had ten main characters with individual and important backstories but, to me, it has had the most surprising twist of any Christie story I’ve read. And I’ve read a lot.
Michelle: This was my first ever Christie, and despite the very high expectations (courtesy of my lovely buds who adore her work) my expectations were absolutely met. It’s strange as I love a good murder mystery, I find them so immersive as you yourself become a detective, trying to solve the crime before anyone else does – but I very rarely read them. This changes now! I will be taking on all of the recommendations and borrowing all of the Christie books from my pals. I’ve got a long backlist to get through, so I’d better put my detective cap on and get solving! *pulls out magnifying glass and walks with purpose down the street*
Hayley: This was my first Christie novel and I loved it. My expectations were a little sceptical, I thought perhaps she was a little overrated and that Poirot wouldn’t be a very relatable character. However I was thrilled and captivated by Christie’s writing. Her style is simple, clear and precise. I regret that I had not accessed her writing earlier on due to the clarity of the book. I am genuinely in awe of her ability to intrigue and beguile with such ease. I WANT TO READ MORE.
Kate: I’ve read quite a few Christie’s before, but I’ve still got plenty to read. Seconding Rosie’s recommendation of And Then There Were None, I also really enjoy the Miss Marple stories. Most of my exposure to Christie comes from family viewing of the ITV adaptations of her work from a young age. While these had a habit of occasionally ‘spicing up’ the original texts by throwing in incest and lesbianism wherever they could, they are still hugely enjoyable (slightly sillier) mysteries. Definitely check out David Suchet’s definitive portrayal of Poirot (sorry not sorry, Kenneth Branagh) and Geraldine McEwan’s delightfully batty Miss Marple.
Elen: Seconding the recommendation of Geraldine McEwan as the best Marple! She has the character so spot on to how I imagine her, however I’m going to kick of my recs with a Julia McKenzie(?) episode Ordeal By Innocence. I haven’t actually read this one yet (I’m trying to wait until I forget the murderer okay) but its a great. Also got some love for Death in the Clouds, Cards on the Table, Dead Man’s Folly and Death on the Nile (they’re all fab okay) but my absolute fave of the ones I’ve read is Crooked House which is kind of my own personal Roger Ackroyd (I did not see the end of it coming AT ALL). But Orient Express and And Then There Were None are both great and classics for a reason. Also in terms of adaptations again I have to recommend the ITV versions of By the Pricking of My Thumbs and After the Funeral both of which terrified me as a child. (Also side note I just finished reading After the Funeral and it makes me appreciate the adaptation all the more because there is one important plot element that is easy to pull off in writing but not so much in a visual medium).
Q: A French writer called Pierre Bayard published a paper in which he said he believed the murderer was a different person than Christie said, but that she was aware of the real culprit and just weaving another web of deception. In a novel where you cannot trust your narrator, do you trust your author?
Rosie: There is certainly a huge amount of misdirection in Roger Ackroyd, and because the story is essentially told by Sheppard I think there is potential for another untold resolution – Sheppard could still be avoiding the truth. However I think if there was another layer to the story Christie would have revealed it a bit more. It’s not really her style to have another resolution without any clues or hints.
Michelle: Ooh interesting idea, that Christie may be deceiving her audience on a whole other level by hiding the true culprit – as who knows if anything Sheppard says can be trusted, even his confession. It does, however, seem unlikely for Christie to resolve the story in such a way as a joke or hidden layer just for herself. And it also beg the question: why would Sheppard admit to the murder in his work if he didn’t commit the crime? Unless he was protecting someone he loved, like Caroline… OK, I’m overthinking this now, NOBODY CAN BE TRUSTED – and that is both mind-boggling and very cool!
Hayley: Somehow I doubt that. If the ‘Death of the author’ was ever more relevant I think it’s here. Christie, from what others have said and what I know of her, comes across as someone that builds literature rather than someone who would put an element of themselves in the story. Therefore, I don’t trust or distrust my author here, I just don’t think she’s relevant within the story in that way, the case is opened and the case is closed.
Kate: Ehh, as Rosie said I don’t think it’s really Christie’s style to go in for a double twist that isn’t revealed. Also Poirot, like many of the great detectives, is not the kind of character I can see being portrayed as fallible and fooled by Sheppard without it being drawn attention to.
Elen: tbh I think this Bayard guy is probs just pissed she pulled the wool over his eyes. I don’t think it fits with Sheppard’s character to cover up for someone else.
Q: How do you feel about unreliable narrators as a trope? Clever or unsatisfying? Surprising or overdone?
Rosie: I love a good unreliable narrator. I can remember the first book I read where it happened – the Fear Street book Killer’s Kiss (great book). I was blown away. I think I literally put down the book and gasped. An unreliable narrator adds dimension to a novel, especially when the narrator is “writing” the story, as in Roger Ackroyd.
Michelle: I do love an unreliable narrator, especially when the truth is revealed and you see just how well you’ve been deceived by their words. It takes you out of the little book bubble you’ve been living in while immersed in the story and makes you think outside the world they have created inside their heads. After all, one person’s truth isn’t necessarily a reflection of reality .
Hayley: I adore an unreliable narrator. I don’t often read narratives where I am not convinced of my author’s sincerity. I find it refreshing to discover that my narrator isn’t automatically on my side. It keeps things interesting. I don’t think it will ever be a trope that is overdone, partly because I never think to distrust my narrator until I am proved wrong. I’m always falling into the trap! I think it added flavour and excitement and made the grand reveal more brilliant. Looking back it’s clear. Hastings as a narrator is often clueless and a little behind, but Sheppard is clever, so clever that he thought of those little things to try and cover his tracks. He should have been able to understand the outcome. My downfall was that I just assumed that Poirot was smarter, therefore, I trusted my narrator. I was shook guys. Shook.
Kate: I really like the unreliable narrator as a trope, especially in cases like this where the text also exists as a written record within the narrative. I think in this case it worked brilliantly as while you expect many people to be lying in a murder mystery the narrator is not one of them. By allowing us inside Sheppard’s head and into his day to day life, Christie encourages us to relate and sympathize with him and to see the world through his eyes. It becomes even more shocking when the killer is revealed because it’s someone whose perspective we have felt close to throughout the narrative.
Elen: Hey no Hastings bashing! He’s an adorable idiot okay. I do like the unreliable narrator trope but I feel like it has to be done well. This book is a perfect example because as Sheppard says he left all the clues there are for the reader to pick up on if they were astute enough. If the narrator is unreliable through outright lies then it irritates me as a reader especially in the murder mystery setting as it means there’s no possible way for the reader to figure it out.
Q: I’d like to know what everyone’s thoughts were on Caroline Sheppard and her deductions throughout the story. Caroline is cited as one of the inspirations for Christie’s other famous detective Miss Marple and her style of detecting is certainly very different from both Doctor Sheppard and Poirot.
Kate: I really liked how Caroline was very often right throughout the story, even though we were supposed to see her as a silly gossip. Part of the reason I love Miss Marple is because she is so frequently dismissed by those around her and she uses that persona as a way to gain people’s trust and information. I don’t think Caroline is quite so cunning a character, but I do think she has similar methods of using her knowledge of people and the way they act as well of seemingly useless gossip to deduce things.
Michelle: I like that Caroline’s character works on a few levels, as on the surface she is almost the comic relief character; the neighbourhood gossip whom our narrator deems dramatic and nosy, and who he frequently disregards and attempts to hide information from. But, as Kate mentions, Caroline is almost always right in her deductions, proving that while she does gain a lot of her information from gossip around the town, she has the ability to deduce what is a legitimate claim and what isn’t. She’s a smart, if not always subtle, detective in her own right. If Caroline is one of the inspirations for Miss Marple then I’ll definitely be adding some Marple to my list as well – who doesn’t love an underestimated nosy female detective!
Hayley: I like how Caroline is a people person throughout the story. Other than that though I really didn’t pay her much mind. She reminds me of Nelly in Wuthering Heights, a busy body gossip who jumps to her own conclusions, has all the information but also doesn’t know what to do with it so passes it on elsewhere. I’m glad in future adaptations (Miss Marple) that she has more depth.
Q: Seeing as this is most some of your first Christie how did you feel about her style of crime writing compared to more modern (or even older) styles.
Elen: I think modern readers can look down on Christie as being relatively bloodless and often focusing on the upper classes (the butler may have done it but in Christie’s work the servants are almost always dismissed straightaway). However as with modern works about serial killers she often focuses on the character of a murderer and what it is that drives certain personalities to kill.
Kate: I like that Christie has a very simple and easy to read style. I think it captures the very no-nonsense, English manner of a lot of her characters and allows for the mystery itself to take centre stage. It also allows odd characters like Poirot to stand out even more as larger than life.
Michelle: I have to say that Christie’s ability to weave webs of suspicion and misdirection while also maintaining a simple and easy to read and follow plot line is quite remarkable. I never had to go back to remind myself who certain characters were, or why they might be motivated in certain ways. She paints the portraits of her characters effectively and efficiently, in a no-nonsense way as Kate said, which I really enjoyed.
Hayley: I did an American Crime Fiction module at University and I really struggled at times with the American Style. It was very arrogant and self important. What I liked to much about Christie was it tried to involve the reader as much as possible in the use of the narrator writing for the purpose of the story being read. I found her very easy to read.
Q: I’m interested to hear that Hayley was worried she wouldn’t be able to relate to Poirot as a character. I often find that detectives from early crime stories are frequently portrayed as very aloof and superior, Poirot is great example, with his foreignness being a big barrier between him and (English) reader, as are Sherlock Holmes and Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, and they are paired with a more relatable sidekick, ‘The Watson’ who is just as amazed as the reader at their powers of deduction. What do you think of these untouchable detectives compared to more relatable detectives like Christie’s own amateur detectives Tommy and Tuppence or Miss Marple?
Elen: Personally I don’t read Poirot as ‘aloof’ in the same way as a detective like Sherlock Holmes. Like Marple, Poirot often uses his status as a foreigner to allow people to underestimate him and open up to him (for example in After the Funeral a character tells Poirot about their eavesdropping because he’s foreign so it’s not as bad). Also while Marple always seems in on the joke on of being a meddling old biddy the reader is invited to laugh at ‘ridiculous’ Poirot along with other characters. While his intellect makes him a formidable detective and commands the readers’ respect, his personality and habits also allow them to view him as a comic figure and therefore more relatable.
Kate: See, while I agree that Poirot uses his ‘funny foreigner’ status in a similar way as Miss Marple uses people’s assumptions of her as a ineffectual old dear, I don’t think the comic elements of his character make him more relatable. It’s not quite the same as the aloofness of Sherlock Holmes, but to me Poirot is always positioned as a foreign ‘other’ even in his comic aspects – he takes too much care of his appearance in a way that codes him as absurd, foreign and effeminate. Moreover while Marple is often portrayed in third person narration where she is the sole protagonist, Poirot in the early stories is also seen through the eyes of staunchly ‘normal’ characters like Hastings and even Sheppard. I think the relatable detective, especially in modern tales, is almost solving the crime alongside the reader who is allowed insight into their thoughts, whereas in untouchable detective stories the solution is withheld up until the final reveal, often unfolding in a scene where the detective reveals every hidden secret of the suspects.
Hayley: As I don’t know much about Christie’s other detectives I’m not sure how much I can answer this question. You’re right that I worried I was going to be able to relate to Poirot and I think I was right, I didn’t. I can’t help but imagine is Poirot had been the narrator, the story would have had so many tangents and turns that I don’t think I would have been able to keep up. Not just because he speaks a different language, but he thinks in a different way. So, if the narrators are more along the lines of Sheppard or Hastings then I’m sure I’d enjoy it.
Michelle: 5/5 stars. Perfect score from me!
Elen: 5/5 stars. It’s a classic for a reason
Kate: 5/5 stars. The perfect murder mystery.
Hayley: 5/5 stars.
Rosie: 5/5 stars.