Chapters 25, 26 & 27 Summary
Poirot requests that Dr. Sheppard stay behind after everyone leaves. He asks the doctor what he thinks, and Sheppard admits he doesn’t know what to think. Sheppard doesn’t understand why Poirot didn’t just go to Inspector Raglan, if he knows the truth. Poirot tells him to try and figure it out, explaining that there’s “always a reason” behind his actions.
Poirot once again walks Sheppard through his investigation. He explains that it was the telephone call that caused him pause – it truly made no sense if Ralph Paton was indeed the murderer. Poirot knew that the phone call could not have been sent by anyone in the house, but he was also convinced that the murderer was someone who was in the house that night. Therefore he initially concluded that the phone call had been placed by an accomplice. He considered the motive for the call. Because of the phone call, the murder was discovered that night of instead of, in all probability, the following morning. He couldn’t quite determine what advantage the murderer had for making sure the crime was discovered at night. His only idea was that the murderer, knowing what time the crime was to be discovered, could make sure he was there at the moment of discovery.
Then, Poirot considered the grandfather chair that had been pulled out from the wall. Although Inspector Raglan assumed that was an unimportant detail, Poirot always assumed it was highly important. He realized that by pulling the chair out from the wall, it would stand in a direct line between the door and the window. At first, he assumed that it had been pulled out to hide something connected to the window, but then he realized that the chair was not actually high enough to truly obscure the window. Instead, he realized that having the chair in that position actually blocked a small table that had been in front of the window from view when a person first entered the room.
Poirot assumed that something had been on that table that the murderer didn’t want anyone to see. He realized that meant it was something the murderer couldn’t take away with him at the time he committed the crime. But it was still important that it be removed as soon as possible after the crime was discovered. That made the telephone call make total sense: it allowed the murderer to be on the scene when the crime was discovered so he could remove whatever was on that table.
Four people were present on the scene before the police arrived: Dr. Sheppard, Parker, Major Blunt and Raymond. Since Parker told him about the chair, Poirot assumed Parker couldn’t be the guilty party. Raymond and Blunt, however, he continued to suspect.
Poirot began to suspect that the item that had been on the table was the Dictaphone. Although he realized that there had been a Dictaphone in the room at 9:30 pm, playing Ackroyd’s voice, they did not find one at the crime scene later. Thus, he assumed that the Dictaphone was what was removed from the table. As a rather bulky object, it would have presented a challenge for the murderer to remove initially.
Poirot then turned to the footprints on the window ledge. It seemed likely to him that they were made by someone trying to throw suspicion on Ralph Paton. The police determined that Paton owned two pairs of shoes with studs like the shoes that made those prints. Inspector Raglan had confiscated a clean pair from Ralph’s room at the inn that couldn’t have been used that night. That meant that for Poirot’s theory to be true, the murderer had to have had Ralph’s shoes that night, meaning Ralph had to have been wearing a different, third pair of shoes.
He asked Caroline to find out the color of Ralph’s boots not because he cared about the color, but simply to determine if Ralph owned boots (which would be that different, third pair). When he picked up Ralph from the mental institution, he asked him what shoes he had been wearing that night, and Ralph immediately showed him the boots he’d been wearing that night, and since. This proved that the murderer had taken Ralph’s second pair of shoes with studs at some point so he or she could make the footprints.
Poirot than sums it up. The murderer was someone who was at the inn where Ralph was staying earlier in the day, knew Ackroyd well enough to know he had purchased a Dictaphone, had the mechanical skills to program a Dictaphone, owned a bag big enough to take away the Dictaphone, and had the study to himself a few moments after the murder was discovered: Dr. Sheppard.
Faced with this accusation, Sheppard denies it, but Poirot explains that he knew Sheppard was suspect from the beginning. Sheppard had explained he left the house at ten to nine the night of the murder, and was at the gates of Fernly Park by 9:00 pm, when they had already established it only took five minutes to walk from the house to the gate. If Sheppard killed Ackroyd before he left, he would have had enough time to run around the outside of the house, put on Ralph’s shoes, make footprints in the mud, climb through the window and lock the study door from the inside before changing his shoes and heading back to the gate. Poirot timed the whole thing himself when he had Sheppard invite the Fernly Park residents to his home the day before, and determined the timing worked out.
Poirot further explains that Sheppard killed Ackroyd because he was Mrs. Ferrars’ blackmailer. Since he was the doctor attending Mrs. Ferrars’ husband, he figured out that she had poisoned him, and he used that knowledge to extract cash from her. Poirot could discover no trace of the “legacy” that Sheppard mentioned to him when they first met, and so assumed it was the money he got – and lost – from blackmailing Mrs. Ferrars.
At first, Poirot assumed that the phone call had just been invented by Dr. Sheppard. However, when he discovered it actually came from King’s Abbott station he was forced to reconsider. However, when Caroline explained to him that among his patients on the morning of the murder was the steward on an American liner, Poirot suspected that Sheppard had the steward call him from the station. Afterward, he would be on the ocean, well out of the way, and Sheppard could pretend it was Parker announcing the murder. The telegram that Poirot received moments before came from the steward on the liner, who confirmed that Sheppard had asked him to leave a message for a patient and then call with the response.
Poirot then reminds Dr. Sheppard that he is bringing the truth to Inspector Raglan in the morning, unless Sheppard wants to take another way out. He insists that no matter what, Ralph Paton be exonerated, and suggests that Sheppard go home and finish his manuscript.
The final chapter of the novel begins with Dr. Sheppard explaining that he has, indeed, completed his manuscript. It is now 5 am, and he has been writing since he left Poirot the night before. He had always had a “premonition of disaster” (p. 283), ever since he saw Ralph Paton talking to Mrs. Ferrars. He was worried she was telling him that Dr. Sheppard was her blackmailer.
Sheppard explains some final details of the crime – Ackroyd had given him the Dictaphone to fix, which is how he was able to program it. He then hid it in his bag after he and Parker discovered the body and he sent Parker away to call the police.
He explains that as soon as he finishes his manuscript he will address it to Poirot, who he trusts will keep the truth from Caroline, and then he will kill himself. Deciding there is a sort of poetic justice to using Veronal (the drug Mrs. Ferrars committed suicide with), he elects to overdose. He explains that he has no pity for Mrs. Ferrars, but nor does he have any pity for himself. His only regret is that Poirot decided to retire from work and grow vegetable marrows in King’s Abbott.
Chapters 25, 26 & 27 Analysis
The final chapters of the novel move swiftly to its stunning conclusion. To those who remember The Murder of Roger Ackroyd among the great works of detective fiction, it is the novel’s conclusion that contributes to this greatness. Christie’s twist that the narrator, Dr. Sheppard, is actually the murderer was revolutionary at the time, and challenged the boundaries of conventional detective fiction.
This twist illustrates the idea of the “unreliable narrator”. An unreliable narrator is one whose honesty the reader has taken for granted up until this point, but who ultimately reveals himself to be guilty of manipulated the text. Many of Dr. Sheppard’s lies came by omission – he left out certain scenes that would have implicated him (most obviously, Ackroyd’s murder and his actions to cover up the crime).
Any outright lies that Sheppard tells come as quotes – lies he tells to others, not lies written into his narration. (For example, he always makes claims, like not knowing where Ralph Paton is, when speaking to another character rather than in his narration.)
Dr. Sheppard’s final chapter, where he owns his crime for the first and only time in the novel, is brief. In passing he mentions that he feels no pity for himself; his only regret seems to be that Poirot got involved to begin with. Otherwise, one must imagine that the crime would have remained unsolved. The title of this last chapter, “Apologia”, supports this lack of remorse. An “apologia” is a written defense of one’s conduct – and although Sheppard is brief in this chapter, he clearly is defending his actions more than he is apologizing for them.
“Poor old Ackroyd” (p. 283) he says, and later, “I suppose I must have meant to murder him all along” (p. 284). Throughout the novel, other characters have made reference to their weaknesses. Here, Sheppard acknowledges his own with this defeatist attitude. “All along I have had a premonition of disaster” (p. 283) he writes, as though he never expected to get away with the murder. Indeed, there is a lack of fear or sadness in his decision to kill himself that speaks to this defeatism.
Moreso than any other chapter, in Chapter 27 Dr. Sheppard’s true personality begins to shine. As Poirot himself remarked, Sheppard has “kept [his] personality in the background” (p. 255) for most of the manuscript – and indeed, he is a neutral enough narrator that the reader assumes a kind of geniality and goodness to him simply based on the face he describes himself presenting to others. In the final chapter, however, the man’s true self peeks through – defeatist, certainly, but also somewhat smug about his accomplishments as well as his writing skills (“I am rather pleased with myself as a writer” (p. 284)), and entirely remorseless for his crime. Indeed, he expresses only the vaguest concern over what his suicide will do to his sister (“I should not like Caroline to know. She is fond of me, and then, too, she is proud… My death will be a grief to her, but grief passes” (p. 285)). He soon passes from any feelings towards Caroline to rueful frustrations over Poirot’s involvement. He seems curiously detached from the entire event, as though manifesting his defeatism as objectivity. Mostly, he uses the final chapter to fill in the last details that the reader (and Poirot) need to understand the entire crime – a satisfying conclusion for those looking to fully comprehend the entire mechanics of the crime, but less satisfying for those readers hoping for an emotional apology from the murderer.