The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ursula tells Poirot that she should go back to Fernly now, but Caroline insists that she stay in the Sheppards’ home. Poirot agrees, adding that he wants Ursula to attend his “little reunion.”
The “little reunion” is a staple of Christie novels: all the suspects (now including Ursula) gather together to hear Poirot announce the killer’s identity.
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When Ursula and Caroline are out of the room, Dr. Sheppard tells Poirot that the case against Ralph Paton is looking strong. Poirot agrees, and mentions offhandedly that he wishes his friend Hastings were around—especially since Hastings liked to write about Poirot’s cases. Sheepishly, Dr. Sheppard tells Poirot that he’s read some of Hastings’ work, and has been trying his own hand at writing about the murder. Poirot asks to see the manuscript, and Sheppard shows him twenty chapters of the book he’s been writing all week. Poirot sits down to read it.
As the novel comes to an end, Ralph Paton seems like the obvious killer—as has been the case throughout the book. The passage also suggests that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd itself is a manuscript that Dr. Sheppard has penned, giving the novel a self-referential, meta-fictional tone (a tone that was already implied in the character of Caroline, who often seems to be commenting on the conventions of mystery novels).
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A while later, Poirot finishes the manuscript and compliments Dr. Sheppard on his modesty. He says that while Hastings made himself a main character in his books, Dr. Sheppard has purposefully kept himself “in the background.” Poirot then invites Sheppard over to his house for his meeting with the suspects. He apologizes for being unable to invite Caroline, but insists that it needs to remain confidential. However, Poirot still wants to bring Ursula with him to the meeting. He insists that, that very evening, he’ll expose Roger Ackroyd’s killer.
Like many narrators of mystery novels, Dr. Sheppard is a fairly ordinary character, who usually remains in the “background” of the book. However, Poirot seems to think that there’s a difference between Hastings’ style of narrating and Sheppard’s, perhaps suggesting that Sheppard is hiding some secret that Poirot has yet to discover. The passage is another example of the growing divide between Sheppard and Poirot, who, at one point, seemed to be good friends.
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In Poirot’s home, Dr. Sheppard sees that he’s arranged the guests’ chairs so that they’re bathed in bright light, leaving one chair—where, presumably, Poirot himself will sit—in darkness. The guests arrive. Poirot introduces them to Ursula, explaining that she’s Ralph Paton’s wife. Mrs. Ackroyd is surprised. Flora tells Ursula not to worry, adding that she wishes Ralph had told her his secret. Raymond asks Poirot about Ralph’s arrest, and Poirot explains that Ralph has not, in fact, been detained. He will not, however, say if he knows where Ralph can be found.
Poirot makes sure the suspects sit in the light, symbolizing the way his investigation will bring many surprising revelations “to light.” As the suspects come into Poirot’s home, he informs them that Ralph hasn’t actually been captured, rather than letting his lie stand.
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Poirot clears his throat, signaling for everyone to sit down. Everyone is here: John Parker, Mrs. Ackroyd, Flora Ackroyd, Raymond, Ursula Bourne, Hector Blunt, and Elizabeth Russell. Poirot points out that every single person had a motive to kill Roger Ackroyd. Mrs. Ackroyd becomes distressed at this and tries to leave, but Poirot insists that nobody will leave until they’ve heard what he has to say.
The implication of the scene is that the murderer of Roger Ackroyd is sitting in the room. One might imagine that the murderer would try to leave in the course of Poirot’s announcement, but Poirot’s confidence and authority seem to bind everyone to their chair.
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Poirot began his investigation with the shoeprints on the windowsill of Roger Ackroyd’s study, with Dr. Sheppard as his aid. He says he searched the summerhouse at Fernly, where he found starched cambric and a quill. The cambric made Poirot think of a maid’s apron. Poirot also learned that Ursula Bourne had no alibi—she claimed she was in bed. It seemed to follow that Ursula went to meet someone, and this person later went to Roger’s study. This person could have been an American, because 1) using a quill to sniff drugs is common in America and 2) Sheppard saw an American-accented stranger.
Poirot walks the suspects through his process, filling in many of the gaps in the novel thus far—another convention of the detective novel, as many mysteries are solved for the reader.
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There was one problem, Poirot continues: the times didn’t work out. Ursula couldn’t have been in the summerhouse before 9:30, whereas the stranger must have showed up around 9. Perhaps there were two separate meetings. Poirot then learned about Miss Russell’s interest in drugs, discovered a ring in the pond, and, finally, learned of a conversation between Ralph Paton and a mysterious woman. Assembling the evidence, Poirot guessed that Ralph and Ursula met in the woods and promised to meet in the summerhouse. Poirot concluded that Ralph could not have been in the study with Roger Ackroyd at 9:30.
After considering the concrete pieces of evidence, Poirot contemplates the timing of the murder. Notice that he made use of Caroline’s mentions of Ralph walking through the woods with a mysterious woman—it was this piece of evidence that helped Poirot formulate his theory that Ralph and Ursula were married.
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Who, Poirot wondered, was in the study with Roger Ackroyd at 9:30? Poirot then began to wonder if anyone was there. Raymond says that he and Major Blunt heard Roger talking to someone. Poirot reminds Raymond of the words he claimed to have overheard: “the calls on my purse …” This phrase, Poirot argues, sounds like something Roger would write. Raymond guesses that Roger was reading a letter aloud, but Poirot reminds Raymond of the dictaphone salesman who appeared on Wednesday. Poirot called the company and learned that Roger had purchased a dictaphone. (Raymond guesses that Roger was intending to surprise him with the dictaphone.) Poirot brings up how Blunt thought he heard Raymond—perhaps, subconsciously, he was reacting to Roger’s businesslike tone as he dictated a letter. Blunt had also noticed a figure that night—Ursula Bourne in her apron.
Thinking laterally, Poirot questions the assumption Inspector Raglan had from the beginning of the investigation: that Roger was speaking to someone at 9:30 in the study. Here, some of the “Chekhov’s guns’” from earlier in the book come full-circle: for example, the dictaphone salesman who Raymond mentioned in passing turns out to be very important. To explain the fact that Roger didn’t tell anyone about his dictaphone, Christie is forced to add the detail that Roger liked surprises, which hadn’t been mentioned beforehand.
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Raymond compliments Poirot, but points out that Ralph still seems to be a prime suspect. Poirot smiles and tells the guests that he’s learned about everything—the shoeprints, the mysterious phone call, and especially the disappearance of Ralph Paton. He points to the doorway—where Ralph is now standing.
It would appear that Poirot has known about Ralph’s location all along, suggesting that he knows something else important about the case that he’s about to share with his guests.
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