The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A little before 7:30 pm, Dr. Sheppard arrives at Roger Ackroyd’s estate, known as Fernly. The butler, Parker, lets Sheppard inside, where Sheppard finds Ackroyd’s secretary, Geoffrey Raymond. Raymond greets Sheppard and, noticing Sheppard’s black bag, asks him if he’s here on medical business. Sheppard explains that he expects to be called out at any minute. Raymond leaves Sheppard by himself in the room. Sheppard is about to walk into the drawing rom when he hears the sound of a window being shut.
The chapter begins with two seemingly minor details that, mystery fans will recognize, probably aren’t minor at all: Sheppard’s black bag, and the window being shut. But it’s not clear if these details are examples of a red herring or of Chekhov’s gun.
Themes
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Inside the drawing room, Sheppard finds Miss Russell, who’s breathing hard. Russell says she didn’t expect Sheppard for dinner, and Sheppard senses that his presence there is somehow displeasing to her. Russell walks away, leaving Sheppard in the drawing room. He notices that all the windows are “long french ones,” meaning that the sound he just heard couldn’t have been a window shutting. He realizes that the sound came from the lid of a silver table (a table for holding silverware and other valuables).
Christie emphasizes two details in this passage: Miss Russell’s heavy breathing (perhaps suggesting that she’s just run from somewhere) and the fact that the silver table was just shut.
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A moment later, Flora Ackroyd enters. She’s a beautiful young woman, though many people dislike her. Flora proudly shows Dr. Sheppard her engagement ring, which Ralph gave her a month previously. Flora and Ralph announced their engagement yesterday, and Roger has promised to set them up in one of his houses. Just then, Mrs. Ackroyd enters. Dr. Sheppard dislikes Mrs. Ackroyd greatly: she’s cold and “most unpleasant.” Mrs. Ackroyd professes herself overjoyed with her daughter’s engagement, but tries to convince Sheppard to give Roger advice for making “settlements” for Flora. Before Sheppard can answer, Major Hector Blunt enters. Blunt is a well-known big-game hunter, and—despite being very different from Roger—he and Roger have been friends for years. Sheppard notices that Blunt begins speaking to Flora right away.
Flora is, indeed, engaged, just as Caroline predicted. Flora’s comments emphasize her financial ties to Roger Ackroyd, her uncle (and, potentially, her motive for killing Roger). The passage also emphasizes Mrs. Ackroyd’s financial ties to Roger: she depends on him for money, and she seems to be thinking about money near-constantly (hence her comment about “settlements”). Finally, the passage introduces Major Blunt. While Blunt doesn’t seem to have any strong financial motives, he begins talking to Flora immediately, perhaps hinting at a romantic attraction.
Themes
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At dinner, Dr. Sheppard sits next to Mrs. Ackroyd and Flora Ackroyd. Dinner is tense, and Roger Ackroyd seems depressed. After dinner, Roger leads Dr. Sheppard to his study. Roger asks Sheppard for a tablet (pill), and Sheppard—guessing that Roger is trying to make their conversation seem medical—plays along, asking Parker to bring his black bag from the hall. Roger asks Sheppard to make sure the window is closed, so Sheppard goes over to the window and tells Roger it’s closed.
Christie brings up the black bag not once but twice in this chapter, suggesting that it’s somehow important to the story. Roger clearly has something important to tell Sheppard, since he asks about the window and makes Sheppard confirm that the window is, indeed, shut. (Why he doesn’t check the window himself is anyone’s guess.)
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When Parker has brought Dr. Sheppard’s bag and left, Roger begins to speak openly. He says he’s “in hell” and that he only asked about the tablets so that Parker wouldn’t be suspicious. Roger asks Sheppard—who “attended Ashley Ferrars in his last illness”—if he considered that Ferrars was poisoned. Roger then explains that Ashley was poisoned, by Mrs. Ferrars; she told him so just before her death.
Roger confirms another one of Caroline’s “wild theories,” suggesting that, if anyone in the novel is trustworthy, it’s her. Also notice that Dr. Sheppard has a lot of access to the Ferrars family’s affairs—he’s examined both the husband and the wife after their deaths.
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Roger goes on to explain to Dr. Sheppard that he asked Mrs. Ferrars to marry him three months ago, but she refused. Yesterday, Ferrars explained her reason for refusing—she’s guilty of killing her husband, a crime she committed partly because she loved Roger and partly because she despised her husband. Roger tells Dr. Sheppard that someone was blackmailing Mrs. Ferrars, but she wouldn’t tell him the person’s name. However, Roger wants to track down the blackmailer and “make him pay.” He’s certain that Mrs. Ferrars left him a message before her death, which must have been a suicide.
The detail that Mrs. Ferrars was being blackmailed adds another motive for killing Roger (preventing him from exposing the blackmailer’s name). For some reason, though, Mrs. Ferrars seems not to have left a suicide note of any kind—one might imagine that she’d leave such a note, containing the blackmailer’s name, for Roger to find.
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Just then, Parker enters with the mail and leaves. Roger finds an envelope from Mrs. Ferrars. He asks Dr. Sheppard again if he shut the window, and Sheppard insists that he has. Roger explains that he’s had a feeling of being watched all evening. Then Sheppard and Ackroyd hear a door being pushed very slightly. Sheppard checks outside—there’s nobody there. Roger opens the letter and begins to read. Mrs. Ferrars explains that she is going to kill herself and leave to Roger “the punishment of the person who has made my life a hell.” Roger pauses and then tells Sheppard that he’ll read the letter later, when he’s alone. Sheppard asks Roger to read the letter now—just not aloud. Roger refuses. Sheppard presses the point, but Roger again refuses.
The butler comes in to deliver Mrs. Ferrars’s suicide note at the exact instant Roger mentions that Mrs. Ferrars probably left left him a note of some kind. Then, perhaps even more implausibly, Roger says that he’s going to read the suicide note sometime later, when he’s alone. (If Roger had really been so tense and anxious all day long, wouldn’t he want to read the note as soon as possible?) Sheppard, somewhat impertinently, presses Roger to read the letter now, which arguably makes Roger, a stubborn and hardheaded man, less likely to read it.
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Around 8:50 pm, some ten minutes after the letter arrived, Dr. Sheppard leaves the study, “the letter still unread.” Sheppard tries to think if there’s anything he’s “left undone.” Outside, he sees Parker, whom he tells, “Mr. Ackroyd particularly does not want to be disturbed.” Sheppard puts on his coat and leaves. Outside, he passes by a “stranger” with “a hoarse voice.” The stranger asks Dr. Sheppard which way Ackroyd’s house is, and Sheppard answers him, thinking that the man’s voice is familiar.
Sheppard doesn’t say what happens in the ten minutes between the letter’s arrival and 8:50, but because of the casual tone of the passage, readers might not pay too much attention to the precise timing. The mysterious stranger Sheppard sees outside seems like another suspect, and, given that his voice is familiar, readers might think that one of the characters has disguised him- or herself.
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Around ten o’clock, when Dr. Sheppard is in bed, the phone rings. He shouts to Caroline that it’s Parker: Roger Ackroyd has just been found murdered.
The phone call seems to alert Dr. Sheppard to the event readers already knew would happen—Roger’s murder.
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