Tribute to Agatha Christie whose The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd has been voted best crime novel ever

During the 60th Anniversary meeting of the noted body of crime writers, Crime Writers Association (CWA), Agatha Christie’s novel of 1926, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd was unanimously voted best crime novel ever written. Interestingly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary Sherlock Holmes was voted the best crime series of all times. Agatha Christie, ‘The Queen of Crime’ who died in 1976 was voted over more contemporary writers, including Thomas Harris (the writer of The Silence Of The Lambs), and the master of crime fiction, Raymond Chandler.

Alison Joseph, chairperson of the Crime Writers Association, remarked, that ‘the elegant precision and her perfect sense of place’ made her the most popular writer in her field. Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she remains best known for her crime fiction. Her books have sold over four billion copies until now and rank next only to the Holy Bible and the popular works of William Shakespeare.

No other writer on either side of the Atlantic or Pacific has equalled such popularity. Her works have been translated into more than 100 languages, which is again a record for fiction.

Briefly narrated, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd takes place in King’s Abbot, a typical storybook country village in the U.K. There, Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective and one of the most famous fictional ones, settles down to enjoy a quiet holiday. This village has a rich family consisting of uncles, nieces, nephews, aunts, boyfriends, all-knowing butlers, parlour maids and others. One of them is Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy man who is found, stabbed with a knife in his back! His shocking and sudden demise benefits many people, mentioned in his Will. He was in love with a widow whom he hoped to marry, but she commits suicide for being responsible the murder of her husband. She tells it all in a letter addressed to Ackroyd. The story is narrated by Sheppard, one of the members of the family, who works with Poirot in the investigation of finding out the murder. Hastings usually narrates Hercule Poirot’s detective novels, but in this novel, he is away in Argentina on a holiday, and Dr. Sheppard takes his place as the narrator.

Twists and turns

The story has many twists and turns and suspects. As usual, Poirot does a thorough investigation, assembles all the characters in a drawing room, and begins to unravel the mystery. The shocking ending proved to be popular among the readers, but at the same time, there was considerable criticism too for the same.

How did she come to write this unusual story? Agatha Christie revealed in her autobiography that the basic idea was first given to her by her brother-in-law James Watts. In March 1924, of interest to folks in the Indian subcontinent, Christie received a letter from Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, who was impressed by her previous works, with an idea and notes for a story. Mountbatten’s basic premise was the same as Watt’s. Christie acknowledged the letter and began writing the book with her own plot and storyline making changes.

In 1944-1946, noted American literary critic Edmund Wilson attacked the entire mystery genre in a set of three columns in The New Yorker. The second article in the series was titled Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? The book was adapted as a play Alibi in which famed star and fine actor Charles Laughton played Poirot. The genius Orson Welles adapted the novel as a one-hour radio play with Welles playing both Sheppard and Hercule Poirot! (Nobody knew one man was playing both roles! Such was his voice control) It was made as a movie in 1931, her first work to be made for the big screen. Later it was made in Russian as Poirot’s Failure.

It was filmed for television in the U.K. in 2000 as a long running series, which was a big hit. David Suchet played Poirot. He became a legend playing Hercule Poirot in several television features, and the most famous of them all, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. After a long and successful career, he recently bade goodbye to acting with a farewell performance as Hercule Poirot in Styles Court. It was an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s first detective novel The Mysterious Affair At Styles, and he played the role sitting in a wheelchair.

Agatha Christie has contributed immensely to detective fiction and wrote a novel every Christmas, which was advertised as ‘Christie for Christmas!’ She visited India with her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan. About him her famous wisecrack was, “An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.”