Race sighs and says they got more from Pennington than expected: a confession of fraud and of attempted murder. He muses that a real murder confession might be too much to hope for, but Poirot says perhaps it’s possible. He has a plan.
Though Pennington admitted he was guilty of other crimes, Chapter Twenty-Seven begins with Poirot and Race establishing that he is not the murderer they’re looking for.
Rattling off different pieces of evidence in an order that only makes sense to him, Poirot at last says, “Yes, it’s all there. Pennington didn’t do it, Race!” Race is startled. Poirot explains that despite the motive, Pennington isn’t “bold,” only “astute.” Poirot and Race remember that they never heard from Simon about the end of the telegram that Linnet accidentally opened, because the death of Mrs. Otterbourne interrupted them. Poirot asks to see Tim.
As always, Poirot relies on his own sense of psychology to eliminate Pennington from the running. Though Pennington is consistent with a lot of the physical evidence, he doesn’t fit the emotional profile of the murderer(s). With this, Poirot shows that seeking justice may not solely involve the types of evidence that are permissible in court.
When Tim arrives, Poirot tells him that what he really needs is for him to listen. Tim agrees to do it. Poirot says that what interested him about Tim was his mention of Joanna Southwood. One of Poirot’s friends on Scotland Yard has been tracking jewelry robberies for three years and he found his attention drawn to Joanna, since the victims all had some connection to her. Still, it was clear that the actual robberies were not carried out by Joanna. Poirot’s inspector friend suspected Joanna only handled the jewels to have imitations made, while another party carried out the robberies.
Scotland Yard is a nickname for the London police. In detective fiction, they’re perhaps most notable for appearing in several Sherlock Holmes stories, where they are generally portrayed as incompetent, particularly compared to Holmes. Poirot reveals why he was so interested in Joanna earlier when he was talking to the Allertons. Given that Poirot has specifically summoned Tim, it’s likely that Poirot suspects Tim was involved with stealing the real pearls and swapping them for fakes. This hearkens back to Tim and Joanna’s letters toward the beginning of the novel, the full contents of which Tim hid from his mother—it’s possible that Tim and Joanna are coconspirators in jewel thievery.
Poirot notes that Tim himself tends to be around in situations when jewelry theft happens and that Poirot’s presence on the boat seemed to make him anxious. Poirot says he naturally thought of Tim once Linnet’s pearls went missing but couldn’t understand why he didn’t immediately substitute fake pearls for the real article, as Joanna did in her other jewelry robberies.
Once more, Poirot relies on psychological profiles and looks for variations in patterns of behavior. He is slowly making his way toward accusing Tim, but he needs to lay the groundwork first, so that his accusation is convincing.
Then Poirot tells Tim about how he realized that when Linnet’s pearls disappeared, the swap had already occurred—it was the imitation pearls that were stolen from the nightstand. Tim goes pale—he can’t control himself as well as Pennington. He says if all that’s true, then where are the real pearls?
Tim’s inability to control himself suggests that he’s not a professional criminal—it leaves open the possibility that perhaps he just made some bad decisions and got in over his head.
But Poirot already knows exactly where the real pearls are: they are in a rosary in Tim’s cabin, with carved wooden beads that hide the pearls inside. Poirot explains: Tim knew police wouldn’t search the rosary closely, since it was a religious symbol. Poirot then adds that the imitation necklace was likely sent to Tim by Joanna in the cut-out interior of one of the book’s that he sometimes had delivered. After a long pause, Tim admits defeat.
Poirot finally drops the big reveal: he knows exactly where the pearls are. Because he has built up such a convincing case before dropping this information, there’s really no lie Tim could tell to get himself out of it—he has no choice but to confess.
Poirot reveals that Tim was seen during his robbery. He asks if Linnet was alive or dead when he stole the pearls. Tim doesn’t know; he doesn’t remember hearing her breathe, but he also doesn’t remember smelling gun smoke. Poirot says it was Rosalie who saw Tim. Tim asks if she told Poirot, but Poirot says she didn’t need to—Poirot does not need to be told anything. Poirot says perhaps Rosalie didn’t reveal Tim’s identity because in that moment he looked like a murderer.
Poirot drops his other big revelation: he already knows that there’s a witness who spotted Tim going into Linnet’s cabin—even though Rosalie refused to tell him. Poirot probably came to this conclusion in part by watching how well Rosalie got along with the Allertons, then by using the facts he already had to put the whole story together.
Tim asks Race what happens now that he’s confessed to stealing the pearls. He refuses to admit, however, that Joanna was in any way involved. He then discusses with Poirot how seeing the famous detective made him nervous and almost stopped him from pulling off the theft.
Tim gives a full confession, confirming that everything Poirot said is correct, though he refuses to incriminate Joanna.
Poirot says they should get Rosalie to come in. A few minutes later Rosalie arrives, with eyes red from crying. Race says he’s sorry to bother her. Poirot tells her what Tim has admitted to, and she agrees she saw him. Tim assures her he’s only a thief, not a murderer.
Again, Rosalie is freed from the burden of having to keep a secret. The fact that she protected him suggests that she cares about him.
Poirot responds that while there is evidence that Tim visited Linnet’s cabin, there isn’t yet evidence of why he did it. He begins laying out a hypothetical scenario where Linnet threatened to expose Tim over the theft and he quietly slipped in to kill her. In the process (still hypothetically), Louise saw him, and then she blackmailed him. Tim pretended to agree to go along with the blackmail, but then killed Louise and later killed Mrs. Otterbourne to prevent his secret from getting out again. After shooting Mrs. Otterbourne, he pretended to run away, then ran back to avoid suspicion. There were no fingerprints on the gun since he had gloves in his pocket. Tim swears this is all false, and Rosalie says of course it is—Poirot has his own reasons for telling this hypothetical story.
This is one of many times when Poirot presents a hypothetical situation that he doesn’t actually believe in. He is good at teasing out facts to plausible conclusions, even sometimes when they aren’t true. Here, his goal is to scare Tim by showing him how someone could choose to interpret the evidence.
Poirot smiles and admits he was only demonstrating how strong the case against Tim would be. He then hints that because nobody has examined the rosary in Tim’s cabin, it is possible that nothing will be found in it. Perhaps, Poirot suggests, the real pearls were already returned and are just in a box on a table near the door of this very room. He says Tim and Rosalie should go take a look at them right away. Tim gets up immediately and says, “You won’t have to give me another chance.” He picks up a little cardboard box as he leaves with Rosalie.
Poirot may be an expert at catching criminals, but he also leaves open the possibility for redemption. He is essentially saying that he trusts Tim to give up crime if he promises to return the pearls immediately. This contrasts with a traditional justice system, which wouldn’t have the same flexibility to extend forgiveness.
Once Tim and Rosalie are out of the room, Tim takes the fake pearls out of the cardboard box and throws them into the Nile. He says that when he returns this box to Poirot it will have the real pearls in them, and then he exclaims, “what a damned fool I’ve been!” Rosalie quietly asks him how he got started in robbery. Tim says perhaps boredom or laziness, a way of making money that didn’t involve sitting at a desk, or even just the thrill of doing something risky. Rosalie doesn’t really understand the attraction.
It's important that Tim’s motivation wasn’t greed—this makes his character more redeemable. His regret about what he stole seems to be genuine.
Tim calls Rosalie lovely and asks why she didn’t tell Poirot about seeing him the previous night. She says she couldn’t believe Tim would actually kill anyone. Rosalie and Tim hold hands, but she is reluctant and asks about Joanna. Tim says, however, that he doesn’t “care a damn about Joanna.” Tim says he might even tell his mother, Mrs. Allerton, about his criminal life—she might even be relieved that his only association with Joanna is business-related. They go to meet Mrs. Allerton, who as soon as she opens the door says she always knew the two of them liked each other—she just thought Tim was too “tiresome” to actually admit it. She hugs Rosalie. Rosalie says that Mrs. Allerton has always been so kind to her, and she cries happily into Mrs. Allerton’s shoulder.
The relationship between Tim and Rosalie has been quietly progressing as a subplot, and this is a turning point where they finally admit they like each other. Their relationship is a positive counterpoint to the other relationships in the novel, which are marred by violence, jealousy, and greed.