In addition to the usual features of a good “whodunit” – first, a brilliant detective in Hercule Poirot who does not give much away, assisted by narrator Dr. James Sheppard, who therefore functions as a bridge between Poirot and the reader; second, the many red herrings which distract from the murder and its actual perpetrator; and third, a good mix of climaxes and cliffhangers which keeps the reader guessing – in which the plot of a detective story is driven by investigation and deduction before the murderer is revealed at the end, Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” was such an enjoyable read for three other reasons:
– The simplicity of the murder and the crime scene. Oftentimes such mystery novels may be bogged down by too many clues or details during the investigation, so a balance must be struck between these and the red herrings is important. Also important is the fact that all of the clues are made known (some are even emphasised) as the plot progresses;
– The logical and structured deduction approach. Poirot and Dr. Sheppard establish a list of suspects from the beginning, and through a comfortable plot progression they eliminate those who are not guilty, until a reasonable conclusion is reached. There are, furthermore, “checkpoints” when these suspects or their names are brought together, as possibilities are struck off. It brings to mind the Sherlock Holmes refrain that “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”; and, of course
– The very unexpected twist at the end, which made a good detective fiction novel a great one.
It may seem a little contradictory or counterintuitive, because a logical and structured approach should mean that the reader should not be too surprised by what eventually transpires. It is this feeling of “Why did I not think of that?” – even with the clues and information laid out, and that the resolution appears so obvious, in retrospect – which I think characterises the best Christie novels. And this is one of them.