I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1985. I remember reading the final chapters while sprawled across a chair in the entrance of the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, after taking achievement tests in Math and American History and while waiting for my mother to come out of a lecture. With that in mind, the cryptic message (a Boston phone number with "ask for Maria N.B. overnight") must refer to my application to MIT. It's strange that I can remember so much about when and where I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but can only remember the identity of the murderer and how he did it and nothing else about the book. Well, not quite nothing - I did remember Hercule Poirot hurling a vegetable marrow at Dr. Sheppard.
Dr. Sheppard narrates the mystery, and it's typical Christie. A rich man invites his sister-in-law and her daughter, a gruff house guest, and Dr. Sheppard to dinner and confides in the doctor that he's being blackmailed. A few hours later, Dr. Sheppard receives a phone call - Roger Ackroyd is dead. He returns to the house and discovers Ackroyd's dead body behind a locked door. Ralph, Ackroyd's stepson and heir is the logical suspect, but Flora (Ackroyd's niece and Ralph's fiancée), Ackroyd's butler, the housemaid, and a mysterious stranger all have motives or opportunity.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd made Christie's reputation. Her first six books were generally successful, but this one made her part of the mystery cannon. It's good, but for some reason it didn't grab me the way some of her other (often lesser) books do. What interested me most was the possible confirmation of a theory. A year or so after I started reading Jane Austen, I decided that Christie's debutants, fortune hunters, and widows living in genteel poverty could trace their linage back to Meryton and Bath. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd features a semi-hysterical widow obsessed with her daughter's marriage prospects, and an unseen but frequently discussed character named Mrs. Ferrars. Coincidence? I don't think so.