Chapters 19 & 20 Summary
The next day, Inspector Raglan arrives at Dr. Sheppard’s house to let him know that Charles Kent’s alibi checks out – he was at the Dog and Whistle when the murder was committed. The barmaid there also noticed that he had a lot of money with him at the time, which leads Inspector Raglan to believe that it was Kent who took the forty pounds from Ackroyd’s bedroom.
Dr. Sheppard explains that Poirot theorizes that Charles Kent visited Fernly Park because “he was born in Kent”. The Inspector is baffled by this, and responds that he has long believed Poirot was crazy. Indeed, Caroline told Inspector Raglan that Poirot also had a nephew who was mentally unstable.
Raglan and Dr. Sheppard go to Poirot’s house to let him know that Kent’s alibi has checked out. Poirot tells Inspector Raglan not to release Charles Kent just yet, but won’t explain why he’s making this suggestion. Inspector Raglan doesn’t understand: since they know Ackroyd was alive at 9:45, there is no way Kent could have committed the murder.
Poirot counters that they don’t know that Ackroyd was alive at 9:45 pm, they only have Flora Ackroyd’s word for it. He explains that the “experiment for Parker” that he had Flora and Dr. Sheppard help him out with the other day was actually designed to see if Parker witnessed Flora exiting Ackroyd’s office. As the experiment proved, he didn’t – he only saw Flora with her hand on the doorknob. The questions that he posed to Parker about the glasses were irrelevant; the experiment was really to find out about Flora’s location.
Poirot believes that if Flora wasn’t in her Uncle’s office, she was perhaps in his bedroom – and it was she who stole the forty pounds. She had her mother were constantly struggling for money, and perhaps she truly needed the forty pounds at the time. When she heard Parker coming, she pretended to be leaving Ackroyd’s office so that he wouldn’t be suspicious. After she was confronted by the police officers, she felt she had to stick to her story, but was so shocked to learn about Ackroyd’s death that she fainted.
The inspector, Dr. Sheppard and Poirot travel to Fernly Park to confront Flora with this theory. They find her with Major Blunt, who she insists stay for the interview. After they present her with Poirot’s theory, she confesses instantly. She explains that she was “weak” and desperate for money, and this weakness led her to steal. It was also this which connected her to Ralph Paton – they were both “weak” in that way, and thus understood each other. She runs from the room in despair.
Major Blunt immediately tells the Inspector that Flora was lying – it was he who took the money. He leaves the room, but Poirot stops him. He says he knows Blunt is lying, but very honorable. He tells Blunt that he knows Blunt is in love with Flora, and encourages Blunt to pursue her. Poirot insists she does not love Ralph Paton, but merely sticks by him out of loyalty. Blunt, startled by this revelation, acknowledges his love, and runs out to find Flora.
Meanwhile, Inspector Raglan is frustrated by the revelation of Flora’s lie – it means that Ackroyd could have been murdered any time after 9:30 (when Ackroyd was heard talking in his office), and they need to re-examine everyone’s alibi. He decides to keep Charles Kent locked up, since he is once again a suspect in the murder.
Dr. Sheppard returns home to see to his patients, and afterwords retreats to his “workshop” – a small room at the back of the house where he tinkers with small electronics. Later, Poirot arrives, and tells Dr. Sheppard he has requested Miss Russell meet with him (Poirot) in Dr. Sheppard’s office. He did not want their meeting to be public, and so he thought they could do so discreetly at the Doctor’s office. Dr. Sheppard assents.
Meanwhile, Poirot reveals to Dr. Sheppard that he has convinced the police to print a notice in the paper that Ralph Paton has been found in Liverpool, attempting to board a boat to America. Sheppard protests that it’s not true, but Poirot explains that he expects this lie to produce “very interesting results” after it is printed.
Miss Russell arrives for her meeting with Poirot. Poirot informs her that Charles Kent has been found in Liverpool, and Dr. Sheppard suddenly realizes that Miss Russell and Charles Kent’s voices are strikingly similar.
Miss Russell feigns ignorance until Poirot tells her that they have revised the timeline, determined that Ackroyd could have been murdered earlier than 9:45 and the police believe Kent to have been the murderer. Miss Russell then confesses that she met with Charles Kent that night, so he couldn’t have committed the murder.
Charles Kent is her son – she gave birth to him out of wedlock many years before in Kent, and changed his name to "Kent" so he could not be connected with her (hence Poirot’s remark about him having been "born in Kent"). Although she earned money for his education, he turned out “badly”, taking drugs and drinking. She sent him to Canada, but he somehow found out she was his mother, and returned to England, sending word that he wanted to meet her. Terrified of meeting him in the house, she told him to meet her in the summerhouse, where she was returning from when she ran into Dr. Sheppard after coming through the drawing room window.
She had asked Dr. Sheppard about drugs because she wanted to know if Charles Kent could ever be cured of his addiction – she believes her son was a good person before his drug problem began. When she met him in the summerhouse, they talked about his problems, she gave him all the money she had, and he went away.
Miss Russell asks Poirot if she has to confess this to Inspector Raglan, and he tells her that for now she can remain silent. She insists that her son had nothing to do with Ackroyd’s murder, and Poirot assures her that he could not have been the person talking to Roger Ackroyd at 9:30 that night.
Chapters 19 & 20 Analysis
Most of the secrets that the suspects have hidden from Poirot have come out by this point in the novel. As the reader has learned, almost all of them have to do with love or money.
For Major Blunt, his love for Clara is a secret that he desperately hides. She is engaged to Ralph Paton, and thus not an option for him romantically. Society would disapprove of any kind of public declaration of his love – in his upper-class world, public acknowledgement or displays of passionate love is often out of place. Indeed, in many ways it is as foreign and forbidden as violence or murder.
Poirot convinces Blunt to tell Flora of his love by arguing that while it is “good” that he keep his love hidden from all the rest of the world, he should at least not keep it hidden from Flora herself. He convinces Blunt that Flora is not actually in love with Ralph Paton, leading the Major to finally tell Flora of his true feelings. Of course, Christie keeps this meeting private from even the reader, another nod to the formality and stiffness of her characters’ world.
The last chapters of the novel involve the almost continuous revelation of secrets. Chapter 20 features Miss Russell confessing her secret – she had a son who she did not acknowledge publically and who turned to drugs and alcohol. Like Major Blunt, Miss Russell’s secret is born of shame but redeemed by love – in her desire to keep her son hidden from the world, she went to great lengths, and only when his safety is threatened (and he is suspected for Ackroyd’s murder) does she confess to her connection.
For Miss Russell, love is the only force powerful enough to draw her secret out of her. Although shame primarily motivates her to keep her secret, the love she bears for her son and her desire to see him protected is stronger, and makes her confess to their relationship in order to save him.