The next morning, Poirot has just finished shaving when Race comes to his room and informs him that Linnet has been killed by a bullet to the head. Poirot recalls a girl’s voice in his head: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Poirot and Race discuss the matter and agree that the murderer probably didn’t come from shore; it must be someone on the boat. They go to the cabin to see what Dr. Bessner can tell them.
The death of Linnet is both a complete shock and something that has been hinted at for the entire first half of the novel. Poirot’s first thought is that the culprit has to be Jacqueline. The confined space of the boat means that Poirot and Race can rule out an outsider being involved.
Dr. Bessner tells Poirot and Race that the pistol shot was point-blank to the head while Linnet was asleep. Poirot finds this shocking because he suspects Jacqueline but feels that such an act does not fit her psychology. Poirot then notices that before she died, Linnet seems to have written the letter J using some blood on her finger. Poirot says that it reminds him of old mystery stories, and that perhaps Linnet did not write the letter and it was instead written by a murderer with a taste for the old-fashioned. Poirot does agree, however, that the J stands for Jacqueline—and Jacqueline recently told him of her desire to kill Linnet.
Poirot is a good judge of human nature and psychology, so when he says that the method of the crime doesn’t match with Jacqueline’s psychology, there is reason to take his claim seriously. The J is a curious clue that plays with the conventions of the mystery genre. Based on past mystery stories, the most likely person to have written the J would be Linnet, trying to show the identity of her killer. But Poirot raises the possibility that perhaps a murderer left the J to intentionally confuse the trail by pointing toward Jacqueline.
Race asks Bessner about the time of Linnet’s death, and Bessner puts it between midnight and two a.m. Race then asks about Simon, and Bessner replies that he’s asleep in Bessner’s cabin. Race didn’t know about Simon’s injury the previous night, but Bessner explains. Race decides they must gather all the facts.
This estimate for the time of death seems to place it after the shooting of Simon’s leg. Again, there’s no reason to assume that Bessner isn’t reliable.
The manager of the Karnak waits by the smoking room, which he gives to Poirot and Race for the investigation before going back to his work. Race asks Bessner for the whole story of the previous night, and then afterward tells a hypothetical version of the murder in which Jacqueline murders Linnet. Dr. Bessner, however, claims this version of events is not possible. To begin with, he argues that Jacqueline wouldn’t have written the J on the wall to incriminate herself. He then notes that, even more importantly, Jacqueline couldn’t have committed the murder because she was sedated on morphine under Miss Bowers’s care the whole night.
Race and Poirot begin laying out the facts of the case, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of the audience. The fact that Jacqueline had to be sedated the previous night is significant because it means that, barring some sort of unforeseen trickery, it was not physically possible for her to have committed the murder.
Poirot asks who discovered the murder, and Race reveals it was Louise Bourget, Linnet’s maid. Race says Simon must be informed, then dismisses Bessner. Alone with Poirot, Race says he’ll follow Poirot’s lead. Poirot proposes first getting the story straight by speaking with Fanthorp and Cornelia, since the disappearing pistol is an important clue. They hypothesize together without getting anywhere until Fanthorp and Cornelia come in.
Poirot and Race are experienced detectives, so they run an orderly operation rather than acting quickly based on emotion. Poirot immediately identifies the pistol as being an important part of the mystery.
Cornelia is in shock as she begins to tell Race and Poirot her story. They establish that she last saw Linnet alive at 11:20 p.m. Pennington left for bed a few minutes after, leaving Jacqueline, Simon, Fanthorp, and Cornelia in the saloon. They retell the story of Jacqueline shooting Simon, establishing that the shot must’ve gone off around 12:20 a.m. They also establish that after Linnet left the saloon, no one else did at any point. Because Jacqueline was never left alone at any point (Simon feared she might commit suicide), she has a perfect alibi.
Again, the confined location is significant because it limits the number of characters who would’ve had an opportunity to commit the murder. The times indicated here help narrow the list of potential suspects even further.
Cornelia goes on to describe how Jacqueline dropped the pistol, then kicked it away under the settee, as if she hated it. Fanthorp recalls going back to look for the gun at 12:30 a.m. Since he was only away from the saloon for five minutes, that means that in the five minutes before 12:30 a.m., someone who knew the location of the gun must have gone to move it. Fanthorp admits that, since he went out the starboard door, someone could’ve been watching from the port door.
Fanthorp is not an entirely disinterested party—he intervened earlier in Linnet’s business with Pennington. Still, his testimony about the missing pistol seems to line up with the other accounts. The fact that someone could’ve been watching from the port door expands the possibilities of who could’ve been involved.
Race notes that no one—as far as he knows—heard the shot that killed Linnet. He and Poirot continue to ask Fanthorp and Cornelia for more information. At one point, when they ask Fanthorp why he’s on the trip, he hesitates before ultimately saying “pleasure.” Race asks him if he heard anything unusual after going back to his cabin and Fanthorp remembers he may have heard a splash around 1 a.m.
Fanthorp gives a suspicious answer when asked why he’s on the boat. His testimony about a splash at 1 a.m. will be compared to similar statements by other passengers later in the book.
Race and Poirot turn their attention to Cornelia. She claims she’s never met Linnet before and that she didn’t hear the splash that Fanthorp did (although she wouldn’t have, based on where her cabin is located). She and Fanthorp leave and send in Miss Bowers.
Cornelia doesn’t have much to add, although since she doesn’t seem to have any connection to Linnet, she is a reliable source.
Miss Bowers enters and gives her information to Race and Poirot. She tells them there’s nothing particularly wrong with Miss Van Schuyler and that she just likes having a nurse around. Miss Bowers is able to confirm that Jacqueline was with her the whole night and didn’t leave her cabin. This seems to be an airtight alibi, so Poirot and Race are left to wonder who could have possibly shot Linnet.
With two of the most likely suspects—Jacqueline and Simon—both having fairly tight alibis, the question becomes whether another character committed the murder, or if some assumption about their alibis is, in fact, incorrect.