The Murder of Roger Ackroyd doesn’t just show that everybody has something to hide—it also suggests that, with a little intelligent detective work, people’s secrets inevitably will be revealed. Through the character of Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who appears in dozens of other Christie mysteries, Roger Ackroyd shows how an intelligent, rational person can use their “little grey cells” to solve even the most challenging of mysteries. Furthermore, Christie shows how Poirot’s flexible intellect—his combination of rational disinterest and intuitive exploration—is key to solving the case.
The contrast Christie sets up between Poirot’s handling of the case and the official inquiry made by the police makes an argument that investigations are best when they’re based on a philosophical interest in human behavior and human nature, rather than personal or professional incentives, such as the desire to close a case quickly, a quest for money or fame, or friendship with the victims. Even before Poirot begins to investigate Roger Ackroyd’s murder, Christie makes it clear that he’s interested in the case for purely abstract reasons. Indeed, Poirot’s “disinterest” (i.e., the fact that he’s not financially connected to the Ackroyd family, intimately acquainted with any of the suspects, or even legally obligated to turn over his findings to the police) is an important part of his style of detection. Because Poirot is disinterested, he’s not biased toward or against particular suspects. Instead, he’s free to “size up” the suspects slowly and carefully, assessing what kinds of people they are, what their motives and secrets might be, and whether or not they’d be capable, under the circumstances, of committing a crime. As befits a detective who only takes cases out of abstract, philosophical interest, Poirot’s style of detection focuses on the study of human nature. Like a good logician, Poirot proceeds from a set of premises—everybody has secrets; everybody, under the right circumstances, is capable of murder—and uses them to interview the suspects and draw conclusions about the crime. By contrast, Christie portrays the sloppier style favored by the police, who have limited resources and a strong incentive to conclude their investigation as soon as possible.
But Poirot isn’t just an “armchair detective.” In addition to his role as a philosophical “student of human nature,” he’s also willing to get his hands dirty by gathering evidence. Over the course of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot gathers various important pieces of evidence in the act of patrolling the Ackroyd estate, including a wedding ring, a goose quill, and a piece of cambric (a kind of fabric), without which he’d probably be unable to solve the case. Much of the time, Poirot acts like an empiricist, who believes that the best way to solve a problem is to gather evidence—either literal, physical evidence or the testimony of the suspects. But there are other occasions when Poirot seems to use his intuition to guide his investigation. Especially toward the beginning of the case, Poirot tells Dr. Sheppard that he has certain “feelings” about a particular person or piece of evidence—ideas that he’s unable to support with evidence. Although many of Poirot’s “feelings” later become full-fledged theories, supported by the evidence, they often begin as mere, unsubstantiated instinct. Poirot is unique from most other fictional detectives in the sense that he doesn’t have any one hard and fast theory of detection. At times, he concentrates on gathering physical evidence; at other times, he focuses on forming a psychological understanding of the suspects; and sometimes, he allows his instincts to guide him. Christie implies that it is because Poirot is so flexible—he uses so many different methods of detection, employing many different aspects of his mind—that he’s such a brilliant detective.
Detection and Intellect ThemeTracker
Detection and Intellect Quotes in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
"You don't think that Parker himself might be the man we're after?" I suggested.
"It looks very like it. He was obviously listening at the door when you came out. Then Miss Ackroyd came across him later bent on entering the study. Say he tried again when she was safely out of the way. He stabbed Ackroyd, locked the door on the inside, opened the window, and got out that way, and went round to a side door which he had previously left open. How's that?"
"Parker!" said my sister. "Fiddlesticks! That inspector must be a perfect fool. Parker indeed! Don't tell me."
"It is completely unimportant," said Poirot. "That is why it is so interesting," he added softly.
He looked ridiculously full of his own importance. It crossed my mind to wonder whether he was really any good as a detective. Had his big reputation been built up on a series of lucky chances?
"Look inside," commanded Poirot.
I did so. Inside was an inscription in fine writing:
From R., March 13th.
I believe that when we find the explanation of that telephone call we shall find the explanation of the murder.
“Every one of you in this room is concealing something from me.” He raised his hand as a faint murmur of protest arose. “Yes, yes, I know what I am saying. It may be something unimportant—trivial—which is supposed to have no bearing on the case, but there it is. Each one of you has something to hide.”
“It is a theory that,” admitted Poirot. “Decidedly you have cells of a kind. But it leaves a good deal unaccounted for.”
“The telephone call, the pushed-out chair—“
"He wants to know whether Ralph Paton's boots were black or brown," said Caroline with tremendous solemnity.
"'What was the point of that question about the glasses?" I asked curiously.
Poirot shrugged his shoulders. "One must say something," he remarked. "That particular question did as well as any other."
Let us take a man—a very ordinary man. A man with no idea of murder in his heart. There is in him somewhere a strain of weakness—deep down. It has so far never been called into play. Perhaps it never will be—and if so he will go to his grave honored and respected by everyone. But let us suppose that something occurs. He is in difficulties—or perhaps not that even. He may stumble by accident on a secret—a secret involving life or death to someone. And his first impulse will be to speak out—to do his duty as an honest citizen. And then the strain of weakness tells.
Blunt ignored my well-meant offers. He spoke to Poirot. “D’you really think—” he began, and stopped.
He is one of those inarticulate men who find it hard to put things into words.
Poirot knows no such disability. “If you doubt me, ask her yourself, monsieur.”
It occurred to me that there was not much which escaped Hercule Poirot.
“It says that Ralph has been arrested. So everything is useless. I need not pretend any longer.”
“Newspaper paragraphs are not always true, mademoiselle,” murmured Poirot, having the grace to look ashamed of himself, “All the same, I think you will do well to make a clean breast of things. The truth is what we need now.”
I invent a nephew with mental trouble. I consult Mademoiselle Sheppard as to suitable homes. She gives me the names of two near Cranchester to which her brother has sent patients. I make inquiries. Yes, at one of them a patient was brought there by the doctor himself early on Saturday morning.
“A person who was at the Three Boars earlier that day, a person who knew Ackroyd well enough to know that he had purchased a dictaphone, a person who was of a mechanical turn of mind, who had the opportunity to take the dagger from the silver table before Miss Flora arrived, who had with him a receptacle suitable for hiding the dictaphone—such as a black bag—and who had the study to himself for a few minutes after the crime was discovered while Parker was telephoning for the police. In fact—Dr. Sheppard!”
Remember what I said—the truth goes to Inspector Raglan in the morning. But, for the sake of your good sister, I am willing to give you the chance of another way out. There might be, for instance, an overdose of a sleeping draught.