The Best Mystery Novel: Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published in 1926, is one of Agatha Christie’s most controversial novels due to a stunner of a twist at the end. It’s also a bonafide page-turner. Christie considered it her masterpiece. In 2013, the British Crime Writers’ Association voted it the best crime novel ever written.
Can Hercule Poirot find the killer? Can you?
And is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd the best mystery novel ever written?
Reflect: Check out the conversation starters.
Weigh In: Share your thoughts here!
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Podcast Transcript: The Best Mystery Novel: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:49
I’m very excited about our episode today, Carolyn.
Carolyn Daughters 0:54
I am as well.
Sarah Harrison 0:57
We are talking about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which is arguably the best mystery novel ever written. We have our very first remote guest, Simon Eli Milliman. But before we get into that, I’m going to read a word from our sponsor, the fabulous Carolyn Daughters. Carolyn runs game-changing corporate brand therapy workshops, teaches Online Marketing Bootcamp courses and leads daylong Persuasive Writing Engine workshops. Carolyn empowers startups, small businesses, enterprise organizations, and government agencies to win hearts minds, deals and dollars. You can learn more at carolyndaughters.com. And you should.
Carolyn Daughters 2:10
I would love that. Sarah, we also have a listener award this month.
Sarah Harrison 2:16
Yes. I really want to know who it is. Who is it?
Carolyn Daughters 2:18
I’ve been keeping it a secret. Our listener this month is Sandy Durham from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Sarah Harrison 2:36
I think that’s our first Oklahoma listener.
Carolyn Daughters 2:39
We’re going to cover all the states and hopefully many of the countries.
Sarah Harrison 2:43
All of them.
Carolyn Daughters 2:44
Thank you, Sandy! To show our appreciation, we’ll be sending you a very cool Tea, Tonic & Toxin sticker.
Sarah Harrison 3:00
Hey, grab a sticker because we have video today. Wave it around. It’s weird looking at you on the video, guest. We’re not used to having video.
Eli Milliman 3:20
I love the sticker.
Sarah Harrison 3:20
Haven’t I given you a sticker yet?
Eli Milliman 3:23
No, I haven’t received a sticker yet.
Sarah Harrison 3:25
Well, congratulations! You’re next month’s listener.
Carolyn Daughters 3:31
The sticker is mailed in these amazing envelopes that have an octopus seal.
Sarah Harrison 3:36
A fancy seal. The octopus, the mysterious animal of the sea. I kept trying to not get the octopus, but it kept calling me back. Finally I just thought, well, that’s what it should be.
Carolyn Daughters 3:57
If you’d like to get your own on air shout out and get a sticker in this amazing octopus envelope, weigh in on the books we’re reading on the comment forms on our website. The forms are on the page for the individual book. They’re also on our contact page. Or you can post a comment on our Facebook or Instagram pages. Tell us your vote for best mystery novel ever. Our handle on Facebook is @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 4:25
Awesome. Thank you, Sandy. I am also very thankful to our guest Simon Eli Milliman. To some he’s known as the mythical white panther who cries.
Eli Milliman 4:45
I had completely forgotten about this. This is great. Please keep going.
Sarah Harrison 4:50
To others, he’s the host of the podcast Everything I Hate About Me to other still, he’s Urban Jack of the synth pop band Urban Jack and the Savage Sophisticates or the long-gone frontman of Subterranean Howl. Music producer, photographer, and director of theatrical productions. Eli, who are you? What do you do?
Eli Milliman 5:24
I actually had to take a hiatus from the podcast just recently because something had to give. I feel like most of us are in that boat. There’s just too much going on. I’m also a father of five.
Sarah Harrison 5:42
I didn’t include that in your bio. Sorry.
Eli Milliman 5:44
Sarah Harrison 5:46
The bio got filled up too fast with the white panther bit.
Carolyn Daughters 5:51
We didn’t have room for your children, Eli.
Eli Milliman 5:54
You know what, sometimes neither do I. Some stuff has to give, so I make sure to make room for them. But yeah, the latest stuff is I’m directing a play called Night Mother. I’m actually co-directing it. I actually brought on somebody to be my assistant director. Seeing how capable they were at their job. I was like, you know what, let’s just be co-directors because you’re doing way too much stuff for me to justify you’re being my assistant. It’d be like Dr. Watson calling Sherlock his assistant.
Sarah Harrison 6:37
He probably would and does treat him that way. He’s so pompous.
Carolyn Daughters 6:42
Watson’s not pompous.
Sarah Harrison 6:44
Oh, right. I guess I reversed that. Sherlock is so pompous.
Eli Milliman 6:48
Or in the case of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, it would be like Dr. Sheppard calling Poirot his assistant.
Carolyn Daughters 6:56
Right, because up until the last three pages or so, Dr. Sheppard thought Poirot was pretty dense.
Eli Milliman 7:09
I’m really excited for Night Mother. That’s gonna go on at the end of September. The theme of the play is suicide. We’re putting it on during suicide awareness month. I’m also working on about three different albums of music right now as well. And I write the podcast, which is totally scripted. I don’t interview people. I’m way too egotistical to want to know what anybody else thinks. I only want to people to know what I think.
Carolyn Daughters 7:57
Is that one of the things you hate about yourself?
Eli Milliman 8:00
It is, actually.
Sarah Harrison 8:07
Before we jump in too much, we haven’t read our summary yet. We’re getting carried away. We have to find out is this book is the best mystery novel ever written.
Carolyn Daughters 8:12
Wait, we’re covering a book today?
Sarah Harrison 8:14
Eli Milliman 8:16
We’re actually going to talk about a book?
Sarah Harrison 8:21
We’ll get to the book, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stay with the book.
Eli Milliman 8:29
That’s what art is for. It’s to inspire you to think about all the other stuff.
Sarah Harrison 8:35
That’s why I thought it might be a nice crossover with your podcast since I think your very first line is about literature being a springboard to introspection.
Eli Milliman 8:55
That’s what it should be, right? Even the stuff I hate makes me think about why I hate it so much. Like, why am I having such a visceral reaction toward this?
Carolyn Daughters 9:18
You’re bringing your whole self to that story. You hate it. You love it. Sarah and I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why we’re responding the way we are to the mysteries and detective stories we’re reading. And I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible to identify one book as the best mystery novel.
Sarah Harrison 9:33
Carolyn Daughters 9:43
And now for the summary. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a classic detective novel written by Agatha Christie and published in 1926. It may be the best mystery novel ever written. Set in the English countryside, the story revolves around the mysterious murder of Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy businessman. The plot unfolds through the perspective of Dr. James Sheppard, the village doctor who narrates the chilling events that transpire. Following Roger Ackroyd’s death, the renowned detective Hercule Poirot investigates the murder. Poirot quickly realizes that everyone in the household, including family members and household staff, had motives and opportunities to commit the crime. As he delves deeper into the case, he unearths secrets, hidden relationships, and unexpected connections Poirot methodically interviews the suspects, gathering clues and piecing together the puzzle. Everyone has something to hide. In the end, in a stunning twist, Poirot exposes the truth behind Roger Ackroyd’s death, revealing the shocking identity of the real murderer.
Sarah Harrison 10:47
There’s going to be spoilers. But not in the intro.
Carolyn Daughters 10:55
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a groundbreaking novel with an inventive narrative structure and an unexpected revelation that challenges the conventions of detective fiction. Christie’s masterful storytelling keeps readers on the edge of their seats. It’s pretty awesome, and it may be the best mystery novel ever.
Sarah Harrison 11:34
And possibly the best mystery novel ever written, as you said. You should read it for sure. I don’t know, Eli, if you’re familiar with the premise of the podcast, but it’s basically the history of the mystery genre from Edgar Allan Poe through time. Now we’re at Agatha Christie. Each different author is bringing something new to develop the genre. So tell me, do you read mysteries? Do you have a nominee for best mystery novel ever?
Eli Milliman 12:06
What’s funny is I normally don’t read mysteries. But I do love Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve read Poe, and I’ve read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. This was, believe it or not, my first Agatha Christie. It was really fun for me. I love the mystery genre, but I usually watch the shows and movies. I’ve seen all the David Suchet as Poirot.
Carolyn Daughters 12:41
David Suchet is amazing as Poirot.
Eli Milliman 12:43
I actually went back and watched the episode for this book.
Sarah Harrison 12:48
There’s an episode for this book? Did you already know how it ended?
Eli Milliman 12:53
Well, the thing was, I had seen it a way long time ago. I remembered certain plot points. But they took liberties and changed many things from the book. Certain things you have to do, like they excluded certain characters because of time restraints. But other things really just dumbed down the book to an extreme level. One of the things in the television episode is that they make King’s Abbot and its inhabitants have this dark underbelly. In the book, it’s quite the opposite. You realize people have secrets, but you don’t think they’re all bad people. Most people who are keeping secrets are doing so for sometimes noble reasons or just human reasons. But in the episode, they’re over the top about making even Ackroyd someone who’s not respected in the community. They talked about his ill gotten gains. A lot of people have a lot of reason to not like him. It’s the opposite in the book.
Carolyn Daughters 14:28
Maybe it’s the best mystery novel ever written but not the best mystery series ever filmed. Roger Ackroyd is the heart and soul of King’s Abbot in the book.
Eli Milliman 14:33
I didn’t see any reason for the changes they made. You’re right — this may be the best mystery novel, but it wasn’t the best mystery TV script.
Carolyn Daughters 14:55
We read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was Agatha Christie’s first book and also the first book starring Poirot. Most of the characters were not very likable. I didn’t feel that way with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. They felt very selfish in Styles. I didn’t really identify with them. The character I liked best was Poirot, which is cool. You should like the detective, I guess. But you also think maybe there’s another character or two you’re gonna be behind. In Ackroyd, I found myself liking a lot of the characters, like Caroline, Flora, Ralph Paton. They seemed like decent people. In fact, this book may have my vote for best mystery novel ever. I think.
Eli Milliman 15:45
As I was reading this book, I imagined Caroline becoming Poirot’s new partner. I was like, she’d be the perfect partner for Poirot. She would be the perfect Watson. She has a very quick mind. She’s not right about everything, but she’s always thinking about all the undertones and people’s underlying motivations the way Poirot does.
Sarah Harrison 16:15
That’s funny. With one of my vintage book buys, I got an Agatha Christie companion thrown in free. That book said that Caroline was Agatha Christie’s favorite character and inspired her to create her other famous detective, Miss Marple. I haven’t actually read any Miss Marple books.
Eli Milliman 16:45
I’ve never read any, but I’ve watched all the old TV series. Now I want to go back to all my favorite stories. Most of them are the obvious ones, you know, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile. Now I want to go back and read the books. The books are so much better than the film versions.
Sarah Harrison 17:23
Mystery wasn’t a genre I read a lot of before we started this podcast. I mean, I like it, but it’s just nothing I’d sought out before. It’s all been pretty surprising and cool for me. But because the genre is new for me, it would be hard for me to say what’s the best mystery novel ever written.
Carolyn Daughters 17:38
I read the Poirot books and Miss Marple’s. I started reading them in my teenage years and went through them one after the other. The Miss Marple books are really interesting, because she’s an armchair detective. People bring the information to her. Caroline is like Miss Marple in some ways. She’s the Rikki-Tikki-Tavi mongoose.
Sarah Harrison 18:19
That was one of the things I had just actually finished. I got “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” for my son and it’s a beautiful adaptation by one of my favorite illustrators. And then I got the full Jungle Book, in which “Rikki Tikki Tavi” is one of the stories. That was amazing, too. Have you read The Jungle Book?
Eli Milliman 18:42
I’ve read excerpts.
Sarah Harrison 18:47
It’s so good. I was actually crying when I was reading the part where Mowgli is leaving the wolves and the mother wolf is saying goodbye to him. My son was like, Mom, why are you crying? I was so sad. She loves him more than her wolf children. That was one of the parts, “go and find out.” Caroline is a little bit of the opposite. She stays placidly at home and all of the information comes to her.
Carolyn Daughters 19:28
Caroline goes out and about also.
Sarah Harrison 19:30
That’s how Christie characterized her in the book. She would just be at home looking out the window and she’d get all her information from the milkman or whomever.
Carolyn Daughters 19:45
The thing I like about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is he’s super resourceful and brave. He does go and find out.
Sarah Harrison 20:08
Because curiosity overrides his caution.
Carolyn Daughters 20:10
Right. He’s more curious than afraid. But he’s also rational. When there are chances for him to overeat, for example, he won’t because he knows he can’t be so slow.
Sarah Harrison 20:24
That’s right. He didn’t eat a lot of food until he killed the snake.
Carolyn Daughters 20:29
He’s not rash, but his curiosity is stronger than his fear, which I like. I never thought about calling someone a mongoose before, but I feel like now I want to because I think it’s praiseworthy.
Sarah Harrison 21:00
I like your question here, Carolyn, about everyone having something to hide. This seems like a cornerstone concept for any book that might be called the best mystery novel ever written. And that kind of struck me in both these Agatha Christie books is that she sets it up so that anyone has the potential to be a killer. Everyone in The Mysterious Affair at Styles had some kind of motive to potentially be the killer.
Carolyn Daughters 21:23
Everybody keeps something from everyone else. Sometimes they’re trying to protect someone. Sometimes their motives are sketchy. But nobody says the full truth. They keep something secret. For me, that feels human and real. Eli, does that resonate with you?
Eli Milliman 22:03
Poirot wants to know what the other characters are leaving out. And why. He knows they’re telling him a story they think he wants to hear. He asks why they want him to hear that, and what does that say about them?
Sarah Harrison 22:58
He’s careful with the kind of the logical deductions that he makes. He keeps a door open. He’s like, well, Parker could have been the blackmailer, but he’s not the murderer. He’s sifting through all the logical deductions and assumptions. Even beyond murdering and detecting, I think probably we are all hiding. I mean, how do you have a conversation without deciding what you’re going to say and not say? And what’s the rationale behind it?
Carolyn Daughters 23:31
We’re always making decisions about what we keep in and what we keep out. And in some cases, our decisions are helpful, and in other cases we’re getting in the way. We’re causing trouble by not sharing.
Eli Milliman 23:55
At one point Poirot really puts on a show. I enjoy how he describes what he’s going to do as his little performance, “I have to get ready for my little performance.” He slams the table, and he’s yelling at everybody, saying, “You are hiding the truth, and each of you is hiding something from me.” And then of course in his own Poirot way, he says, “You can’t hide anything from Poirot. Hercule Poirot knows all.”
Sarah Harrison 24:27
I like when he calls himself Papa Poirot.
Eli Milliman 24:31
Especially when he’s talking to a younger person
Carolyn Daughters 24:33
When he’s in this village at the beginning, nobody knows who he is. They’re all calling him Porrott.
Eli Milliman 24:46
That’s another way that the film version completely differs. They set it up like he’s established in the town already. He’s best buddies with Ackroyd. They show them together. In the book, there’s no interaction between Poirot and Ackroyd.
Sarah Harrison 25:14
It’s just an implied relationship where Poirot asked Ackroyd to not reveal his identity.
Eli Milliman 25:23
In the TV show, he has been there long enough that everybody knows him. Dr. Sheppard is already good friends with him, and he knows all the neighbors. In the book, it’s so much nicer to have this fresh introduction to Poirot. And from the perspective of Dr. Sheppard instead of the perspective of Poirot.
Carolyn Daughters 25:54
So let’s say Sheppard knows who Poirot is, like in the TV series. How dense or arrogant would Sheppard have to be to commit a murder living next to the world’s foremost detective? I was wondering if he had known who he was living next to, would that have changed what he did and why?
Eli Milliman 26:43
In the film version, Poirot narrates the story instead of Dr. Sheppard.
Sarah Harrison 26:53
Eli Milliman 26:55
Poirot narrates it from Dr. Sheppard’s journal. He’s reading it. It’s kind of tricky, because he’s reading it, but he has also described Dr. Sheppard without revealing that it’s Dr. Sheppard who he’s describing. But he describes this person as this egotistical, maniacal person who looks down on everyone else. Dr. Sheppard has all these terrible things to say about other people. It’s very overt. Whereas in the book, he’s kind of sideways saying these things. And it’s only later that Poirot pours over Dr. Sheppard’s manuscript and realizes what a great job that the doctor has done in telling the truth. But Dr. Sheppard has left out enough detail to not incriminate himself. He has never strayed from the truth; he has just omitted a lot of these things. And instead of doing that in the TV show, his journal is just straight out telling everybody exactly how he feels about everything. He’s just basically confessing to murder.
Carolyn Daughters 28:23
The one direct line in the book that Dr. Sheppard says is, I don’t know where Ralph Paton is. Now, the funny thing is, at that point, Poirot had already hidden Ralph Paton away. But Sheppard doesn’t know that. So that’s an overt lie of Sheppard’s. But for the most part, Sheppard sticks to the truth. The word “careful” is used a bunch of times in this book, and he’s really careful about what he says and how he says it.
Eli Milliman 28:53
What’s funny is that he thinks he’s telling a lie, but he’s actually telling the truth. He actually doesn’t know where Ralph Paton is.
Sarah Harrison 29:02
That’s true. I want to get back to the question about the best mystery novel, but first, Eli, I was thinking about your podcast in relationship to this question. So you’re picking out topics for everything you hate about yourself. Is it hard? Do you feel like any of these things are things that perhaps you had an impulse to hide? And does that trigger your wanting to talk about it?
Eli Milliman 29:30
I’ll give you the short version of how my podcast came to be. About 10 years ago, I told my wife I really wanted to rid myself of hypocrisy. I knew that would be a long journey. The podcast directly came about from being a guest on someone else’s podcast. We were talking about recent movies about multiverse versions of ourselves. The topic came up, what would you do if you met a multiverse version of yourself? And I said, Oh, I would just punch him in the face. And the other person asked why I would do that. I said, because I know. After I punch him, he’d know, too. It wouldn’t be a fight. He’d just be like, yeah, I deserve that. We had a good laugh about that. There are actually a lot of things that I really should punch myself in the face about. Things that I’ve thought, things that I’ve said, things that I’ve done. And while my podcast is not exactly a confessional, it is tracking who I have been and what I’m trying to be and how literature, film, philosophy, and other people have influenced that. One of the episodes is actually an apology to my younger brother, who is gay. When I was younger, growing up in a very conservative Christian household, I had certain ideas about homosexuality that I completely disagree with today. And he knows that, and I’m sure he doesn’t need or want an apology for anything. And it wasn’t like I was trying to pick on him or be terrible to him. But I just had these ideas, and I know that I held opinions that I just hate myself for now. Because of how it probably made him feel ostracized and made him feel like he had to hide himself from us. And so that would be an example of one of the episodes where I’m just directly confronting something that, man oh, man, if I could go back in time and just grab myself by the shoulders and just give myself a good shake, boy, would I.
Sarah Harrison 32:29
We often have a tendency to hide stuff we don’t like about ourselves. So I thought it was really interesting that you base your whole podcast on it.
Eli Milliman 32:45
On airing my dirty laundry. You guys are doing the history of mystery. I’m doing the history of my thought patterns.
Sarah Harrison 33:11
Yours doesn’t rhyme like ours.
Eli Milliman 33:14
It doesn’t have the same ring to it. So I’m going through a bunch of episodes, for example, dedicated to ridding myself of binary thought. Showing how even from my childhood being a big fan of adventure stories like Treasure Island, I was already conditioned to rid myself of binary thought, and yet I was still trapped in it. And I’m still trapped in it today, for the most part, thinking this or that, good or bad. Ridding myself of that slowly over time has been such a project. But it has been so healthy and mind expanding for me to at least try to not think in those terms. It’s not a confessional of specific sins. It’s more about how I hate the way that I used to and still do think sometimes.
Sarah Harrison 34:27
Before we get to the best mystery novel ever, let’s talk about vegetable marrows. Have you had a vegetable marrow? Did you know what it was before reading?
Eli Milliman 34:42
I didn’t. I looked it up.
Sarah Harrison 34:45
I looked it up, too.
Eli Milliman 34:47
I assumed it was some kind of squash.
Sarah Harrison 34:51
I thought it was something like squash and bone marrow combined. I was like, what kind of crazy marrows of squashes could this be? For the British there are two kinds of zucchinis. Small zucchinis, which are courgettes, and the ones you leave on the vine too long, which are marrows. That’s not a differentiation that we make. Or am I wrong about that?
Eli Milliman 35:30
I don’t think we call them marrows over here. We’ll just say it’s a prize-winning zucchini at the local fair.
Sarah Harrison 35:38
Have you had overgrown zucchini?
Eli Milliman 35:50
I don’t think so. When I go shopping for vegetables, root vegetables especially, I’m always looking for smaller ones because they’re always less starchy and more tender. I want to eat babies. That’s what I tell people. I don’t want to eat old people.
Sarah Harrison 36:09
Poirot is dedicating his retirement to overgrown zucchinis. And he’s full of emotions and throwing them over the fence. Is there one vegetable that you would dedicate your retirement to?
Carolyn Daughters 36:36
Sarah Harrison 36:37
If you could only grow one vegetable, what would it be?
Eli Milliman 36:46
Well, technically, it’s a fruit but I would grow cherry tomatos. Picking those right off the vine in the garden is my favorite.
Sarah Harrison 36:56
That’s a good one.
Carolyn Daughters 37:12
Maybe a butternut squash.
Sarah Harrison 37:16
I looked up the BBC’s top five marrow recipes. They had slow-cooked marrow with fennel and tomato. Maple-roasted marrow on cavolo nero salad. Marrow and pecan cake with maple icing. Marrow and ginger jam. Stuffed marrow bake.
Carolyn Daughters 37:46
I don’t normally get my recipes from Britain.
Eli Milliman 37:52
As a general rule, that’s wise.
Sarah Harrison 37:56
If you listen to some of our other podcasts, I go on at length about the food mentioned in some of the books.
Carolyn Daughters 38:05
What vegetable would you grow?
Sarah Harrison 38:07
I don’t know. Squash is pretty versatile. You can make a cake with it. You can make a salad.
Eli Milliman 38:16
One of my favorites is zucchini bread.
Sarah Harrison 38:21
You can get your little spiralizer and make zucchini spaghetti.
Carolyn Daughters 38:28
The butternut squash soup that I make is so good. It’s just some bouillon, some seasonings, some garlic, leeks. I brown the squash in the oven for about an hour. Blend the whole thing together. It’s filling. It feels savory. And it’s healthy.
Sarah Harrison 38:55
Once I found out what a marrow was, I was like, really? Poirot retired to grow marrows in an unknown place.
Carolyn Daughters 39:08
He went to a random town and decided to grow marrows. It’s a strange premise for what might be the best mystery novel ever written.
Eli Milliman 39:18
I think it makes it easy for him to jump back into action out of retirement because you can see how his talents are wasted.
Sarah Harrison 39:35
Zucchini I think is one of the easiest things to grow, too, but maybe marrows are harder.
Eli Milliman 39:40
If you don’t have a green thumb, grow zucchini.
Sarah Harrison 39:44
Leave it on the vine too long, and you have a marrow. Why don’t we have more categories for the same vegetable? That’s what I want to know. The old one and the young one. I want to be more precise.
Eli Milliman 39:58
An ageist attitude.
Sarah Harrison 40:00
You’ve got to differentiate in your recipe, because I think with the marrow you’re supposed to take the skin off, and the zucchini is baby enough that you can eat it.
Carolyn Daughters 40:11
One thing I thought was really interesting is how two of the characters in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd come into money, Major Blunt and Dr. Sheppard. Sheppard openly mentions it, which I thought was weird. Sheppard says he wanted to travel. I hear people say, “well, if I had the means, I would do this thing.” Whatever the thing is. Like I would travel the world, or I would write a book, or I would move to some weird town in England and start growing vegetables. The two guys who had the money end up speculating their cash and losing it all. It makes Sheppard come across as sort of foolish. I hear a lot of people talking about what they would do on this magical day when they win the lottery or whatever, and I always wonder, would they?
Eli Milliman 42:03
I think most people want security more than anything. So if they win the lottery, they’re going to buy the house. Instead of traveling the world, they’re going to make sure that they have security into their old age. What’s interesting about Blunt and Sheppard is they do make these investments that go south. They decide, Oh, I’ve got money. Now let’s turn that money into more money.
Sarah Harrison 42:33
I think that’s a lot of people, though. You just want the money. And when you get it, you want more money. It doesn’t change your desire. Your desire was the money to begin with.
Carolyn Daughters 43:07
I’m going to speculate in Australian mines or whatever Sheppard does and hope it takes off. For goodness sake, he’s still living with his sister. He’s 50.
Sarah Harrison 43:23
That seems to be a common spinster setup, I will say, though. I mean, in these British books, a lot of sisters live together.
Carolyn Daughters 43:29
If you didn’t know that they were brother/sister, you might think that they were married. They’re like, Oh, we’re having company over on Friday. We’re gonna play Mahjong. They’re like an old married couple. Was Sheppard ever really going to do the things that he said he wanted to do?
Sarah Harrison 43:52
I would say he was not. There’s a proverb that I really like: he who loves silver will never be satisfied with silver. At the end, we know that he got the money from blackmail, not because he just happened to get a legacy.
Eli Milliman 44:10
It’s somebody else’s legacy.
Sarah Harrison 44:12
He got the money because he wanted the money. He’s a wanter of money. And so then you’ll just keep wanting it. I think you have to want something else.
Carolyn Daughters 44:23
Sheppard invested the money poorly and then lost it. Had Mrs. Ferrars given him more money, or did she commit suicide before she could give him more money?
Sarah Harrison 44:36
My take was she committed suicide before giving him more money.
Carolyn Daughters 44:44
I looked up 20,000 pounds in 1926. I think it’s worth more than a million dollars now. Is it possible he actually had more than a million dollars in 1925 and didn’t do anything in the whole wide world he wanted to do? I don’t understand it.
Sarah Harrison 45:04
Because he’s a blackmailer who loves money. Flora got 20,000 pounds, which was her inheritance. And she was over the moon. She was like, I’m totally independent now. I can marry Major Blunt, my love.
Eli Milliman 45:17
You know, it’s funny, in 2023 a million dollars really doesn’t sound like that much anymore. If I inherited a million dollars right now, I couldn’t retire. I’d still have to work. I mean, that’d be a good nest egg for later, but it doesn’t set me up for life. I’m just thinking about expenses for all of my kids. They’re just graduating high school or entering university. My youngest is going into eighth grade next year. All I think about now is how much money my kids are going to need to get started in life. A million dollars isn’t going to cut it.
Carolyn Daughters 46:28
No, not with five children. I think that really changes the equation for sure. But yeah, I think as a modern reader coming to this book and seeing 20,000 pounds, unless we understand what that is, it’s like, oh, well, she threw him some cash, and he blew it, and now he’s asking for more cash. Like she actually set him up back in 1926.
Eli Milliman 46:52
She did, yeah.
Carolyn Daughters 46:53
That was the real deal. And instead of traveling the world, he speculated most or all of it in this weird scheme and lost it. To me, it made him seem foolish in a way that probably Poirot recognized but maybe other people didn’t.
Eli Milliman 47:17
That’s a good observation. I actually didn’t think of that when I was reading the book. That Poirot probably read into him losing that money as part of his character.
Sarah Harrison 47:31
It’s a weird tidbit that he brought up multiple times. And that one’s really easy to check in on. Like, hey, Caroline, did your brother get a legacy? She would know, right?
Carolyn Daughters 47:43
Sheppard keeps mentioning it. Like, shut up, you idiot. Quit talking about your legacy.
Eli Milliman 48:14
I think if Dr. Sheppard had not been the narrator of the story, then the average reader would catch on a lot quicker. But since he’s our doctor Watson, we’re thinking, oh, he had an unfortunate investment. I wasn’t putting a lot of weight in that at all because I was trusting my narrator.
Sarah Harrison 48:45
Did you know the twist was coming at the end, or did it catch you by surprise?
Eli Milliman 48:50
It actually did catch me by surprise. I honestly didn’t see Dr. Sheppard as the murderer. Right up until the last chapter or so when everything’s being revealed. And I was like, Oh, okay. And it was funny because my gut reaction to that was feeling cheated.
Sarah Harrison 49:27
Eli Milliman 49:29
Yeah. Because I felt like I had trusted my narrator the whole time. And then you come to find out your narrator has been lying to you the whole time. And I saw at once the genius of that twist and also felt like, hey, that wasn’t fair. We’re not on equal ground anymore. And that’s something that oftentimes frustrates me when I’m reading or watching a mystery. As an audience member, I want to be on equal ground with the characters in in the mystery so that I can be trying to solve it at the same time. And then I feel like the ground has shifted, and they’ve been hiding things from me so that I couldn’t possibly have guessed it. And I’m like, wait a minute, you cheated.
Sarah Harrison 50:20
This was my second reading of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. And the first reading just blew me away. What, Sheppard? I think I mentioned before that the movie that ultimately has the twist is The Sixth Sense. It’s a candidate for best mystery novel — or script. Like, he was a ghost the whole time.
Carolyn Daughters 50:39
Eli Milliman 50:40
That’s actually a perfect example. When the kid first says, “I see dead people,” I was like, “oh, Bruce Willis is dead.”
Sarah Harrison 50:46
Oh, well, you’re good. They got me.
Eli Milliman 50:49
It was the first thought that popped into my mind. And then when it got to the end, I was like, what’s this big twist everybody’s talking about?
Sarah Harrison 50:56
It totally got me. I didn’t see it coming. And that was the same way with Ackroyd. I always wondered if I would go back, would I see all those clues there that Christie was planting that I didn’t see the first time. Clues that make this possibly the best mystery novel ever written.
Carolyn Daughters 51:09
In the second reading you caught them.
Sarah Harrison 51:11
Carolyn Daughters 51:19
I saw it, too, on the second reading.
Sarah Harrison 51:20
It was glaring. It was just like he was screaming guilty on every page.
Carolyn Daughters 51:27
I have like 50 markings throughout the book.
Sarah Harrison 51:31
Which was so fascinating, because I thought maybe it was a trick. It was just the fact that he was the narrator. Otherwise, it was the most obvious conclusion. He sounded so guilty and weird and left so much stuff unsaid. And I was like, wow, I was really blinded by this narrator thing.
Eli Milliman 51:53
It’s interesting how this shift happens, right? When you know that he’s the murderer, and now you go back and you hear the sinister voice throughout. Whereas before you didn’t hear the sinister voice, you heard the country doctor voice. Maybe that’s the hallmark of the best mystery novel.
Sarah Harrison 52:09
It was a total shock. I had been taken in with everyone else. This might well be the best mystery novel. That was your experience, too, Carolyn?
Carolyn Daughters 52:16
It was. I saw it everywhere. First person narrators are super common today. The story is channeled through someone’s point of view. And the unreliable narrator is an established convention now. The first time I read an unreliable narrator was when I read Charlotte Bronte’s Villette.
Carolyn Daughters 53:08
In Villette, Lucy Snowe meets up with this guy in the second half of the book and goes eons without telling the reader it’s the same character that she grew up with that we already met way earlier in the first pages of the book. There’s this idea that the first person narrator is supposed to be completely honest and true. And comprehensive in detail, whether they’re big details or small. Whatever the reader needs to know that first-person narrator is supposed to share. Agatha Christie really turns this idea on its head. On page one, Sheppard says, “To tell the truth, I was considerably upset and worried. I am not going to pretend that at that moment I saw that …” He keeps using this language over and over again. So if you weren’t 100% sure that he’s completely in the clear, his language reinforces how he’s this really honest, upright guy.
Sarah Harrison 54:24
I think that’s why this book made the list — for the unreliable narrator.
Carolyn Daughters 54:28
In 2013, the British Crime Writers Association voted it best crime novel ever written. Of course the best mystery novel had to be on our list.
Sarah Harrison 54:58
Eli Milliman 55:01
Something I didn’t know but learned when I was looking at commentaries about the book was that I think it was her brother’s suggestion. Agatha Christie’s brother asked, what if Watson was the murderer? And she really loved that. She was like, okay, let’s see.
Sarah Harrison 55:27
That’s cool. Well, Eli, this has been a fabulous conversation. And I hope you’ll stay on.
Carolyn Daughters 55:35
We have more to share. We have 432 more pages of notes.
Sarah Harrison 55:42
More marrow recipes to discuss.
Carolyn Daughters 55:46
And other good stuff as well. Because this book’s amazing. And quite possibly the best mystery novel ever written.
Sarah Harrison 55:58
Come back, listeners, listen to episode two. Until then, stay mysterious.
September 11, 2023
Sarah, Carolyn, and Mike Nugent keep the Maltese Falcon conversation flowing with LOADS more thoughts about Sam Spade, Effie Perine, Casper Gutman, Joel Cairo, and, of course, the ever-elusive Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Folks, we have a lot of ground to cover. Join us, won’t you?Listen →
August 4, 2023
Author Mike Nugent joins Sarah and Carolyn to talk about noir, crime fiction, and all things Sam Spade (who’s described as resembling a blond satan). The Maltese Falcon changed the way crime fiction was written. You’ll want to read it in one sitting and then give our podcast a listen.Listen →
July 30, 2023
Hey, Continental Op, what’s your deal? Are you a hero? Anti-hero? Something else altogether? Hear our thoughts about the Op, Dinah Brand, Whisper, and all the gang – and let us know your tally of how many people wind up dead in the book. It’s hard to keep track.Listen →