Chapters 11 & 12 Summary
Dr. Sheppard visits Mrs. Folliot the next day as per Poirot’s request. He asks her about her former parlormaid Ursula Bourne, and she immediately becomes uncomfortable, refusing to give specific answers to his questions. He realizes that he’s not going to get any clear answers from her, so he leaves.
At home, Caroline tells Sheppard that Poirot came and visited her that afternoon. After talking a bit, Caroline shared with Poirot the conversation that she overheard in the woods where Ralph talked to an unknown woman about his potential inheritance from his uncle. She also explains that Poirot asked her about Dr. Sheppard’s patients on the morning of the murder, and she lists them, ending with Miss Russell, who she believes Poirot was especially interested in.
Sheppard wonders at Miss Russell’s visit again, especially her interest in drugs, poisons and poisoning. But since Ackroyd was not poisoned, he dismisses it as irrelevant.
On Monday, the police hold an official inquest into Ackroyd’s death. Afterwords, Inspector Raglan confesses to Poirot that although he doesn’t want Ralph to be guilty, the case points more and more towards Ralph as the murderer. He reveals that Ralph’s description has been wired around the country and the police all over are on the lookout for him.
Inspector Raglan remains fixated on the fingerprints they found on the murder weapon. He confirms that they don’t match anyone in the household on the night of the murder, but Poirot suggests that he check if they match Ackroyd himself – Poirot noticed that they seemed to be at an odd angle, meaning perhaps the murderer put Ackroyd’s hand on the weapon after killing him. Inspector Raglan seems unconvinced, but promises to check on this.
Poirot gathers Dr. Sheppard, Flora, Mrs. Ackroyd and Major Blunt at Fernly Park for a meeting. First, he begs Flora to come forward if she has any idea where Ralph is hiding. He tells her that by hiding Ralph, she just makes him look more guilty. Flora swears she does not know where Ralph hides.
Poirot then asks the rest of the table to come forth if they know where Ralph hides, but no one speaks up. Instead, Mrs. Ackroyd expresses gratitude that Ralph and Flora’s engagement was never formally announced, which has spared Flora any public humiliation given the suspicion around Ralph. Incensed at her mother’s insensitivity, Flora declares that she will officially announce the engagement in the paper tomorrow.
Poirot, however, asks that she abstain from making the announcement for a few more days, insisting that it is in her and Ralph’s best interest to do so. Then, he turns to the table and makes the pronouncement that everyone sitting there is hiding something from him, whether small or not, related to the case. He insists that he will know the truth of the case, and asks that they come forward with what they are hiding. However, no one speaks.
Chapters 11 & 12 Analysis
For seemingly the first time in the novel, Dr. Sheppard and Poirot are separated for the day in Chapter 11. As he makes his way to Mrs. Folliot’s home, Sheppard wonders why Poirot sent him. Later, he learns that Poirot used the opportunity to visit Caroline alone and ask questions about, among other things, Sheppard’s patients on the morning of the murder.
Although on the surface level it is not clear that Poirot’s actions are anything but innocent, it is possible to see, for the first time, Poirot’s investigative techniques employed against Dr. Sheppard just as much as any other character. In visiting Caroline, Poirot learns about the conversation between Ralph and the mystery woman in the woods, which Sheppard had deliberately withheld from him. Additionally, he finds out about Sheppard’s patients the morning of the murder, which he will later use to help determine the mysterious phone call made to Sheppard from the train station the night of Ackroyd’s death.
Part of Poirot’s genius is his ability to subtly and expertly investigate without putting even the guiltiest suspect on their guard, as demonstrated here. In Chapter 12, Poirot gathers all of the suspects at the table and makes his extraordinary pronouncement that every one there is hiding something from him. He further vows that no matter what, he will find out the truth of the case. By seating Dr. Sheppard among the rest of the suspects as one of the people who Poirot pronounces this to, Christie for the first time “casts” Sheppard as a potential suspect.
Dr. Sheppard further reinforces this with the line “His glance, challenging and accusing, swept round the table. And every pair of eyes dropped before his. Yes, mine as well” (p. 146). With this line, Sheppard admits to the reader that he bears some degree of guilt for something - it is one of the reader’s clearest hints as to the identity of the real murderer.