The next morning Dr. Sheppard goes to work, and returns in the afternoon. Caroline informs him that Flora Ackroyd wants to see him. Flora explains that Sheppard’s neighbor is Hercule Poirot, the famous detective. Flora has heard that Poirot retired, but she wants to persuade him—with Sheppard’s help—to take up Roger Ackroyd’s case. Dr. Sheppard insists that Flora not involve Poirot. However, Flora notes that Sheppard went to the Three Boars to talk to Ralph later at night, after Roger’s body was found. Sheppard admits that he went to the inn, only to find—as Flora has—that Ralph was gone. Since then, an inspector has visited the Three Boars, apparently because he thinks Ralph is guilt of the murder. Flora wants to hire Poirot to prove Ralph innocent.
Poirot has managed to remain incognito for a long time—but now, his services are required. Notice that Sheppard tries to discourage Flora from asking Poirot for his help—he knows, after his conversation with “Mr. Porrott,” that Poirot doesn’t need much prodding to return to detecting. Also notice that Sheppard has concealed something from the readers: that he went to visit Ralph on the night of the murder. Strangely, Caroline seems to be a more reliable, more trustworthy figure than Sheppard. Although everything Sheppard tells readers would appear to be true, he omits plenty.
Dr. Sheppard and Flora go to visit Hercule Poirot. Poirot has heard about the murder, and offers his services to Flora. He insists that he’ll work for free, and that he’ll follow the case through to the end. Flora says that she wants “all the truth,” and insists that Poirot work on the case.
Poirot doesn’t work for money—rather, he takes cases because of his philosophical interest in the people involved, his curiosity about human nature, and an apparent pleasure he derives from solving difficult puzzles. His highest commitment, it would seem, is to the truth itself, no matter how painful it might be.
Poirot then asks Sheppard to explain what he knows about the case. Sheppard explains the events of the previous night and—with Flora’s prompting—his visit to the Three Boars. Sheppard claims that he visited because he wanted to tell Ralph about the murder. Poirot suggests that he visited because he wanted to reassure himself that Ralph had been home all evening, but Sheppard denies this.
Sheppard is once again reluctant to disclose his visit to Ralph on the night of the murder, for reasons that aren’t yet explained. Right away, Poirot proves himself to be an insightful detective by suggesting that Sheppard wanted to make sure Ralph had been home—but it’s still not clear how well Ralph and Sheppard know one another.
Poirot suggests that he and Dr. Sheppard go to the police. There, Sheppard introduces Poirot to Inspector Davis, and meets Colonel Melrose, chief constable in the area. Finally, Sheppard and Poirot meet Inspector Raglan, the main investigator on the case. Colonel Melrose explains that he can’t have Poirot interfering with the investigation. However, Poirot “saves the day” by insisting that his name never be mentioned in conjunction with the case. After this, the investigators become more gracious.
Unlike his counterparts on the police force, Poirot isn’t interested in money or recognition. Poirot’s curiosity about human behavior makes him a superb detective—whereas people like Inspector Raglan, the passage strongly implies, are more concerned about getting credit for their work.
Inspector Raglan informs Poirot and Dr. Sheppard that he’s tested the fingerprints on the knife blade—they don’t belong to Sheppard, Raymond, or Parker. Poirot asks about Ralph’s fingerprints, and Raglan insists that he’ll test them as soon as possible. He adds that Ralph was seen near Ackroyd’s home around 9:30 pm. Furthermore, Colonel Melrose has obtained a pair of Ralph’s shoes from the Three Boars inn. The shoes have rubber studs, similar to the windowsill shoeprints.
Right away, Ralph appears to be a prime suspect in the murder of Roger Ackroyd—but he also might be too obvious of a culprit.
Poirot goes with Melrose and Dr. Sheppard to examine the study, which the police haven’t disturbed. Poirot asks how the room appeared when Sheppard found it—for example, whether the fire in the fireplace was low. Sheppard admits that he can’t recall. Poirot also examines the shoeprints on the windowsill and finds them to be identical to Ralph Paton’s shoes. Poirot then summons Parker, and Parker recalls that the fire had burned low, that the curtains were drawn, and that the electric light was on when he first saw Ackroyd’s body. Parker also remembers that a chair near the door was moved from its current position. Poirot wonders who would have moved the chair. Sheppard points out that this detail can’t be important, to which Poirot replies, “It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.”
Poirot is an experienced, practically minded detective, with a keen eye for details—for example, the state of the fire in the fireplace. Notice that Dr. Sheppard doesn’t always have such an eye for detail, and seems surprised when other people, such as Parker, do. The chair—interesting because it’s so unimportant—is a good example of a Chekhov’s pistol: the very fact that Christie mentions it at all suggests that, contrary to what Sheppard claims, it really is important to the solution of the mystery.
Poirot tells Dr. Sheppard something he’s noticed during his career: in all cases, all the suspects have something to hide—even Dr. Sheppard, Poirot guesses. Sheppard, embarrassed, asks Poirot about his methods. Poirot explains: when the body was discovered, the door was locked and the window was open. Only Roger Ackroyd himself could have opened the window, either because the room was warm (but this is unlikely, since the fire was low) or because he “admitted someone that way.” Further, Ackroyd would only have admitted someone he knew very well—the person who was in the room at 9:30. Just then, Colonel Melrose enters the room: he’s just gotten word that the call Dr. Sheppard received at 10:15 last night came from a phone at King’s Abbot train station—“and at 10:23 the night mail leaves for Liverpool.”
Poirot’s observation about how everyone has something to hide is almost a thesis statement for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, if not the entire mystery genre. Poirot’s job isn’t only to solve the crime—in order to do so, he has to undercover his suspects’ secrets, whether they have anything to do with the murder or not. Poirot doesn’t exempt Dr. Sheppard from the list of people who have secrets—or, more implicitly, from the suspect list. This is strange, since traditionally the narrator of a mystery novel is the only character (other than the detective) who’s not a suspect.