A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Barry N. Malzberg


AGATHA CHRISTIE – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Hercule Poirot novel #3. Collins, UK, 1926. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover. 1926. Reprinted many times. Film: Twickenham, UK, 1931, as Alibi  (with Austin Trevor as Poirot). TV Movie: BBC 2000 (with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot).

   This novel, Hercule Poirot’s most signatory case, is the work on which not only Agatha Christie’s reputation but that of the mystery of murder and manners, that which might be called the British “high tea school,” may be said to rest. Narrated by James Sheppard, trusted family physician and self-appointed confidant to Poirot during his investigation, the novel tracks the events leading up and then subsequent to the murder of Roger Ackroyd, a gentleman of some means and too much knowledge, “an immensely successful manufacturer of (I think) wagon wheels … a man of nearly fifty years of age, rubicund of face and genial of manner … He is, in fact, the life and soul of our peaceful village of King’s Abbot.”

   King’s Abbot is deeply shaken, as well it might be, by the murder of Ackroyd, and the distinguished Belgian detective M. Poirot, now in residence incognito and in retirement in the village, comes in to investigate. As in all fair-play puzzles of detective fiction’s Golden Age, Poirot deduces Ackroyd’s murderer through the gathering of carefully planted clues, accuses that person, and resolves the tragic case. The murderer’s identity is a stunning revelation, however, owing to a narrative device so simultaneously audacious and obvious that it may be said to have altered not only the deductive mystery but the novel form itself. (It is impossible to believe that Vladimir Nabokov did not study this work before composing Pale Fire.)

   Arguably the finest cerebral detective novel ever published, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is inarguably Christie’s finest work. If she had done nothing else, her place in the literature of crime would be secure; if Poirot had done nothing else, his “little grey cells” would have been forever noted. In fact, it is possible that if Christie had written only this novel (and perhaps The ABC Murders and And Then There Were None), her reputation would be much higher than it is (if not the accounting of her estate). But every writer is entitled to be judged by his or her strongest work, and this novel stands alone.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.