Chapters 17 & 18 Summary
The next day, the whole town of Fernly Park turns out for the joint funeral of Mrs. Ferrars and Roger Ackroyd. Afterwords, Poirot invites Dr. Sheppard back to his home, and asks him to help confront Parker, who he still suspects had some involvement in the blackmail or exploitation of Ackroyd or Mrs. Ferrars.
Parker arrives at Poirot’s home, and the detective accuses him of being the blackmailer. Parker denies it, but Poirot tells him he’s researched Parker and determined that Parker had blackmailed his previous employer. Faced with this truth, Parker admits that he overheard Ackroyd mention blackmail the night of the murder, and attempted to listen at the door, hoping that if Ackroyd was being blackmailed, he might be able to “get in on the action” too. Parker swears he was not aware of Ackroyd being blackmailed before that night, nor did he murder Ackroyd.
Poirot admits that he believes Parker, and agrees not to mention anything to the police. Before Parker leaves, though, he asks to see the butler’s checkbook. He reviews Parker’s finances, then dismisses him.
Poirot next invites Dr. Sheppard to visit Ackroyd’s lawyer, Mr. Hammond, with him. At the lawyer’s office, Poirot confirms that Mr. Hammond was also Mrs. Ferrars' lawyer, then has Dr. Sheppard relate his story to Mr. Hammond about Ackroyd finding out that Mrs. Ferrars was being blackmailed. Mr. Hammond admits that he is not surprised – he long suspected something like that had been going on with Mrs. Ferrars. She had been paying out lots of money for some time, but refused to tell him what for.
Poirot asks how much money she had paid out, and Mr. Hammond tells them it was near twenty thousand pounds in the last year. They leave.
Poirot is now certain that Parker did not blackmail Mrs. Ferrars – his checkbook didn’t have such large sums listed in it, and he also believes Parker probably would have stopped being a butler if he’d acquired twenty thousand pounds through blackmail. Instead, Poirot considers Geoffrey Raymond or Major Blunt. He explains that he made some inquiries and determined that Major Blunt’s recent inheritance was around twenty thousand pounds, as well. Dr. Sheppard is shocked, but then Poirot admits he doesn’t really think Blunt is the blackmailer.
Dr. Sheppard invites Poirot to lunch, and they eat with Caroline. Afterwords, Caroline asks Poirot if he found Ralph Paton in Cranchester, revealing that she saw him driving back from the city the day before. Poirot explains that he was merely returning from a dentists’ visit.
They discuss the murder in more depth. Caroline, like Poirot, believes it was someone in the house who committed the murder, and she suspects Flora Ackroyd. After she lays out this idea, Poirot responds by telling a haunting, hypothetical story about a man with a “strain of weakness” who is moved to murder after a precise confluence of events.
Meanwhile, the phone rings, summoning Dr. Sheppard to Liverpool. The police have found a man named Charles Kent who they believe is the stranger who visited Fernly Park on the night of the murder, and they want Dr. Sheppard to go to Liverpool and identify him.
Poirot, Dr. Sheppard and Inspector Raglan take the train to Liverpool, where they meet up with the local police. They meet the detained Charles Kent, who Dr. Sheppard confirms is the man he saw at Fernly Park based on his voice.
Kent denies that he committed the murder, insisting that if Ackroyd was killed between 9:45 and 10:00 pm, there is no way he could have done it, as he had left Fernly Park by 9:25. He was already at the Dog and Whistle saloon by that time, and insists that his alibi can be verified.
Kent refuses to tell them why he went to Fernly Park, except to say that he was there to meet someone. Poirot asks him where he was born, telling him “I fancy you were born in Kent” (p. 208). Kent appears started by the remark, but does not respond.
Chapters 17 & 18 Analysis
Poirot’s comment in Chapter 17 that he “hopes” it was Parker who blackmailed Mrs. Ferrars also hints at his growing suspicion of Dr. Sheppard’s guilt. Clearly, Poirot is fond of Dr. Sheppard, and he doesn’t want him to turn out to be the guilty party. This is significant, for Poirot often makes reference to the importance of remaining objective and viewing each character with suspicion in order to arrive at the truth. Although he does this, and ultimately does discover the truth, it adds a distinctly human layer to Poirot to realize that he may have hoped the truth would have led him in a different direction, away from his potential new friend.
Caroline’s accusation in Chapter 17 that her brother is “weak” will ultimately be one of the most powerful foreshadowing in the novel. “Weak as water” (p. 199) she claims, before continuing, “With a bad bringing up, Heaven knows what mischief you might have got into by now” (p. 199). Later, in his apologia, Sheppard will reference this accusation as having been more accurate than even his sister knew at the time. It is on this “weakness” that he ultimately blames his actions.
Poirot’s story at the end of Chapter 17, although seemingly a hypothetical one, can ultimately be viewed as his own hypothesis about who committed the murder. His description of a man with a “strain of weakness” will turn out to be a perfect description of the murderer when the truth of the crime comes out.
In Chapter 18, Dr. Sheppard identifies the moment of the Charles Kent interview as the exact moment that Poirot figured out the truth of the case. “I know now that the whole thing lay clearly unraveled before him” (p. 209) he says, although neither he nor Poirot provide the reader with any more details as to this truth.
The reader of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has no doubt that Poirot will solve the case, because the novel’s narrator mentions that Poirot has actually done this at many points throughout the novel. Most detective fiction involves the satisfying restoration of order by a brilliant detective or team of detectives after a cunning and malicious evil-doer has committed some crime. In a Sherlock Holmes novel, for example, the reader has no doubt that Holmes will solve the case even before finishing the first chapter – it is simply the expectation established by the form of this genre. In this case, however, Christie further leans into this inevitability by having her narrator announce, at many points throughout the novel, the detective’s success.
So, there is no doubt that Poirot figures everything out – Dr. Sheppard tells us so at many points. Even more impressive then, that the novel still manages to surprise the reader with its conclusion. Working within the fairly prescribed form of the “detective story”, Christie nonetheless creates a thoroughly innovative and astonishing conclusion, which has led The Murder of Roger Ackroyd to be considered one of the greatest detective stories ever written.