The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Immediately following the events of the last chapter, Dr. Sheppard stands in Roger Ackroyd’s home. The call he received last night was from King’s Abbot station, a train station that connects to major express lines. Thousands of people pass through every day. Why, Colonel Melrose wonders, would anyone call Sheppard? “When we know that,” Poirot says, “we shall know everything.”
Poirot quickly senses the importance of the phone call to Dr. Sheppard. Yet he doesn’t offer any concrete reason why the call is so important; rather, he seems to intuit its importance. Poirot is a rational, empirical detective, but he also allows his instincts to guide him.
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Poirot suggests that Colonel Melrose summon Raymond and Parker. Poirot asks Raymond if he moved the chair, but Raymond says he didn’t. Poirot asks both men if Ackroyd had received any unexpected visitors, like the one Dr. Sheppard saw on his way home last night, in the last week. Parker recalls a salesman who tried to sell Ackroyd a dictaphone (a recording device), but the salesman was shorter than the man Sheppard remembers.
Two potential Chekhov’s pistols or red herrings appear in this passage: the chair that may or may not have been moved, and the dictaphone salesman. Once again, mystery readers have to decide if Christie is including these minor details because they’re not really minor at all, or because she’s trying to confuse her readers.
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Just then, a man named Mr. Hammond, the family solicitor (a kind of lawyer), arrives to speak with Raymond about Roger Ackroyd’s affairs. Raymond nods and leaves, and Poirot notes, “He had the air efficient, that one.” Poirot asks Colonel Melrose some questions about Raymond. He learns that Raymond has been with Ackroyd for two years, and plays tennis. Sheppard asks Poirot what he knows so far. Poirot replies that he has lots of questions—the open window, the moved chair, and the locked door—but no answers. Sheppard begins to wonder if Poirot is really such a brilliant detective after all.
While it’s not explained, Colonel Melrose Poirot presumably knew Roger fairly well—well enough to know when he hired a new secretary. Poirot tries to size up Geoffrey Raymond and, it’s implied, figure out if Raymond could have murdered his boss of two years. But for the time being, Poirot doesn’t have any answers—just a lot of disparate evidence. Sheppard rather foolishly questions whether Poirot’s lack of an immediate solution to the crime proves that he’s a mediocre detective—when, in reality, the process of gathering evidence has to be slow and deliberate (and, furthermore, it wouldn’t be much fun for readers if Poirot solved the crime so quickly.
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Poirot asks one more thing before he leaves—to see the silver table. In the drawing room, Poirot examines the table. Suddenly Inspector Raglan enters, saying that this won’t be much of a case—just “a nice enough young fellow gone wrong.” However, Raglan wants to know how Poirot investigates a case. Poirot responds that he always listens to “the little grey cells of the brain.” The key to a case, Poirot insists, is psychology. Raglan, however, says that he believes in the importance of “method.” Ackroyd was seen alive at 9:45, and at 10:30 his body was discovered to be about half an hour deceased—that leaves fifteen minutes in which the crime must have occurred.
Inspector Raglan has already made up his mind that the killer is Ralph Paton (the “nice young fellow” he alludes to). Raglan stresses the importance of method—i.e., a rigorous schedule of gathering evidence, taking testimony, and reaching a conclusion. Poirot, on the other hand, prefers a looser, more improvisational style of detection. He has the luxury of taking his time with his cases, since detection is his hobby, not his job. Thus, Poirot often reaches a solution after the police have given up.
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Raglan produces a list of everyone’s alibis between 9:45 and 10:00. Major Blunt was in the billiard room with Mr. Raymond; Mrs. Ackroyd was there, too, and went to sleep around 9:55. Flora Ackroyd was seen walking from Ackroyd’s room to her bedroom. Miss Russell was upstairs after 9:45, and Parker went to the pantry, where Miss Russell saw him. Poirot examines Raglan’s list and says, “I am quite sure that Parker did not do the murder.” Raglan also tells Poirot that he’s spoken to the people at the Three Boars, who confirm that Ralph walked toward Ackroyd’s house around 9:25. Raglan concludes that Ralph Paton is the prime suspect—he must have made the call to Dr. Sheppard from the station. Poirot asks why Ralph would call Dr. Sheppard, and Raglan can only reply, “Murderers do funny things.”
From Poirot’s perspective, there are concrete, logical reasons to doubt Ralph’s guilt—for example, the fact that Dr. Sheppard received a phone call before the body was discovered. From Raglan’s perspective, however, Ralph is the most obvious and the most convenient suspect—he’s already made up his mind, and he dismisses any pieces of evidence that conflict with his theory. (Finally, from readers’ perspective, it’s obvious that Ralph can’t be the killer because it’s too easy and too obvious for a mystery novel.)
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Raglan tries to convince Poirot by comparing Ralph’s shoes with the windowsill shoeprints. They’re identical, but Poirot points out that many people have shoes with rubber studs. Raglan then takes Poirot outside the house: there’s a stream near the terrace, which, he says, must have wetted the soles of Ralph’s shoes before he entered the house. As they walk by, Poirot tells Dr. Sheppard that God must have sent Sheppard to replace Poirot’s friend Hastings. Poirot and Sheppard then walk by a summerhouse on the Fernly grounds. Inside, Poirot finds a starched piece of cambric (a kind of fabric), perhaps from a handkerchief, as well as a small quill. To Sheppard’s confusion, Poirot shouts, “a good laundry does not starch a handkerchief!”
As Poirot and Dr. Sheppard proceed with their case, they seem to become firm friends. Poirot appears to trust Sheppard—which is why he compares Sheppard to Captain Hastings, his usual sidekick in other Christie stories. The scrap of cambric is a useful piece of evidence for Poirot, since it probably belonged to a member of the working class, such as a maid (someone who wouldn’t be able to take their clothes to a first-rate laundry).
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