Poirot continues the story for his audience. He says the big mistake was believing the crime was committed spur of the moment, when in fact it had been premeditated—the murderer even drugged Poirot’s wine with a narcotic so that he wouldn’t interfere.
In a mystery, the villain has to be an equal (or nearly equal) match for the hero, so this means a well-orchestrated crime. Here, Poirot confirms his early suspicion that he was indeed drugged.
Poirot says he first realized his initial premise about a spontaneous crime was incorrect when the pistol was recovered from the Nile. The velvet stole was a big clue—burn marks on the stole show that it did seem to have been used as a silencer. However, if it had been used that way, then there should not have been any burning on Linnet’s skin from the gun placed directly against her head—but there were such burn marks. Since the stole wasn’t used when Jacqueline shot Simon’s leg and it wasn’t used to murder Linnet, Poirot concludes a third shot had been fired at some point, even though he couldn’t immediately find evidence of it.
One of the big parts of the whodunnit formula is a reveal at the end that upends previous assumptions. In this case, Poirot reveals that there were actually three shots fired from the pistol, and that this fact was deliberately covered up. Knowing there was three shots completely changes the logistics of the case.
Poirot then explains the significance of the two bottles of nail polish in Linnet’s cabin. One bottle matched the shade Linnet wore on her nails, but the other bottle labeled Rose (a pale pink) had bright red drops in the bottle. What’s more, Poirot sniffed it and it smelled strangely like vinegar—just like red ink would. Poirot notes: “Red ink washes out quickly but always leaves a pale pink stain”—which matches up with the handkerchief found in the stole with the pistol.
The fact that red nail polish turns pink in water might not be common knowledge, but the book heavily foreshadowed that the stained handkerchief would be important. This makes Poirot’s surprising revelation nevertheless seem like a natural outcome.
Poirot says he might’ve reached this conclusion sooner, but the murder of Louise disrupted everything. Poirot remembers a strange answer she gave to a question: “Naturally, if I had been unable to sleep, if I had mounted the stairs, then perhaps I might have seen this assassin.” Poirot claims this was a hint—not to Poirot or Race but to someone else present. This leaves two possibilities: Dr. Bessner or Simon.
Poirot explains why the earlier interview with Louise was so strange. Agatha Christie purposely arranged that passage so that someone reading it for the second time would catch new details.
Dr. Bessner rises up with indignity, but Poirot chastises him, saying he is only saying what he thought at the time. Poirot continues: he knew of no motive for Bessner to kill Linnet. But Simon was accounted for by witnesses, and then was too wounded to have physically committed the murder. Poirot had no choice but to conclude that Bessner was, in fact, the guilty one, a theory aided by the fact that Louise was murdered by a surgical knife.
Dr. Bessner would be a shocking murderer, given his apparent lack of a motive, though many of the known clues do point to him. Poirot might seem to be accusing him, but really, his is just pointing out the folly of following the evidence without considering psychology.
But then another fact occurred to Poirot: Louise could have spoken to Dr. Bessner privately at any time she liked—she didn’t have to drop a hint while Poirot was there. Simon, however, was always under a doctor’s care, which is why she dropped hints around him. When Simon said, “My good girl, don’t be a fool. Nobody thinks you saw or heard anything,” he was reassuring her that she’d be taken care of.
Poirot begins to leave off of hypotheticals and get into the actual solution to the crime. Since he has mentioned it must be Simon or Bessner and since he seems to have cleared Bessner, it’s pretty clear that he’s going to accuse Simon.
Poirot reconsidered the crime with this new knowledge. He didn’t doubt the professional opinions of Dr. Bessner and Miss Bowers regarding Simon’s injury, but there was a gap of five minutes when Simon was in the saloon alone. Before then, there was only visual evidence of Simon’s wound. Cornelia saw Jacqueline fire her pistol, saw Simon fall, and saw his handkerchief stain red. But soon after, Simon insisted Jacqueline be sent away and that Fanthorp leave to get a doctor.
Poirot again upends old assumptions by looking at things from a different point of view—while it is logical to assume Simon didn’t move because he was injured, in fact, proof of Simon’s injury didn’t come until later in the evening.
After sending everyone away, Simon had five minutes to himself, but Poirot says he only needed two. Simon picked up the discarded pistol, crept along the starboard deck, shot Linnet in the head, left the red ink bottle (so it wouldn’t be discovered on him), ran back to the saloon, grabbed Miss Van Schuyler’s velvet stole (which he procured earlier in preparation), then used the stole to muffle the sound of him shooting himself in the leg. He then threw the pistol (with the handkerchief and stole) out the window into the Nile.
Though Simon has obviously made mistakes (since Poirot eventually caught him), his plan is extremely elaborate—perhaps too elaborate for someone like him to think of on his own.
Race calls this story impossible, but Poirot reminds him of what Tim heard: “a pop—followed by a splash,” then the footsteps of a man running. Race says the plan is too cunning for Simon, but Poirot argues Simon only needed to be physically capable of it, which he is. In fact, the whole crime was cleverly thought out by Jacqueline. The two were a perfect criminal pair: the resourceful planner and the man of action.
Agatha Christie would’ve written this story right around the time that Bonnie and Clyde died. So, it is possible that the sensational criminal couple was in the news when she was thinking of this crime.
Poirot continues his explanation. The important thing to realize is that Jacqueline and Simon aren’t ex-lovers but current lovers who hoped to get their hands on Linnet’s money. Much of what they did was an act, although Simon wasn’t a great actor, overdoing parts of his performance. Earlier, when Poirot thought he heard Simon tell Linnet, “We’ve got to go through with it now,” he was actually hearing Simon say those words to Jacqueline.
Reading previous sections again, it becomes clear how bad Simon was at hiding his intentions—however, when reading the first time, it is easy to brush aside some of the unusual details without seeing the bigger picture.
Poirot explains how the whole scene in the dining saloon was a carefully orchestrated performance to give Jacqueline and Simon alibis from reliable witnesses who weren’t themselves privy to the scheme—Cornelia and Fanthorp. The clever plan fell apart, however, when Louise saw Simon entering Linnet’s cabin. Cornelia says Simon himself couldn’t possibly have stabbed Louise in his current condition, but Poirot says that Simon merely requested a private conversation with Jacqueline, who actually carried out the stabbing (using one of Bessner’s scalpels which was later wiped down and returned before it was missed).
This explains why Jacqueline was so insistent earlier that Cornelia stay in the saloon—it wasn’t just because Jacqueline was drunk, it was because she needed Cornelia to inadvertently play an important role in the plot. It’s also relevant that Jacqueline mentioned to Poirot that she was a great shot—if she had wanted to kill Simon, she could have probably done so.
Despite their efforts, Simon and Jacqueline still had a problem with their plan: Mrs. Otterbourne saw Jacqueline go into Louise’s cabin. Mrs. Otterbourne ran to inform Simon—what Poirot didn’t realize is that when Simon shouted, he was actually shouting out the open door, trying to signal Jacqueline to act. She did, using her strong marksmanship skills to take down Mrs. Otterbourne at the critical moment. Her cabin is only two away from Dr. Bessner’s—it was easy for her to drop the revolver, duck inside, then pretend later that she had just gotten up from her bunk.
This is perhaps the least convincing part of the explanation, since it would’ve required some very deft timing from Jacqueline, but mysteries often work in a heightened version of reality. This is the true version of events, though, so it seems that for a brief moment, Jacqueline got to be like an action hero, making a very precise shot and quickly fleeing. Again, because Poirot is such a brilliant detective, Christie must create equally skilled villains who attempt to thwart him.
Race asks about Jacqueline’s first shot (which appeared to hit Simon in the leg but in fact didn’t). Poirot hypothesizes that it went into a table. There was a newly made hole in it, suggesting that Doyle dug the bullet out and tossed it out the window, replacing it in the gun with a spare cartridge so that it would look like only two shots were fired. Cornelia says that the two murderers thought of everything. Though Poirot remains silent, he is proud, with his eyes seeming to say: “You are wrong. They didn’t allow for Hercule Poirot.” He then tells Dr. Bessner that it’s time to have a word with Simon.
Poirot once again reveals that his greatest flaw is his pride. It’s not a particular troublesome flaw, however, since in this scene he is able to hold back on saying the dramatic closing line that he would clearly enjoy saying aloud.