Chapters 7 & 8 Summary
The next morning, Flora Ackroyd comes to visit Dr. Sheppard. She asks him to go next door with her to try and convince Hercule Poirot (who, she explains, is actually a famous detective who has retired to King’s Abbott for anonymity) to help solve her uncle’s murder. Although Caroline offers to join them, Flora insists on Dr. Sheppard, who can provide the details of the murder as he found the body.
She is worried that Ralph Paton, her betrothed, will be implicated in the murder and she hopes that Poirot can clear his name. A new inspector, Inspector Raglan, has been asking questions and it is clear that he suspects Ralph. Dr. Sheppard tries to dissuade her, but she insists.
She reveals that she tried to visit Ralph that morning, but the staff at the inn informed her that he went out the night before around 9 pm and never came back. They also informed her that Dr. Sheppard had attempted to visit Ralph the night before, which she takes as evidence that he cares for Ralph and wants to prove his innocence too.
Dr. Sheppard and Flora go to Poirot’s house, where he greets them warmly. He agrees to help investigate the case, but not before telling them significantly that in agreeing, he commits to finding the complete truth. Dr. Sheppard recounts the events of the previous night, ending by admitting that he did go to the inn on his way home to inform Ralph of his uncle’s murder, but found Ralph gone.
Poirot invites Dr. Sheppard to accompany him to the local police, where they meet with Inspector Davis (who was the first on the scene the night before), Inspector Raglan and Colonel Melrose. Inspector Raglan is frustrated by the idea of having Poirot help investigate, but Poirot flatters him into acquiescence.
Raglan reveals that Ralph Paton is indeed the lead suspect – he is confirmed to have disappeared around 9:30 pm the night before and was known to have been in financial trouble. Additionally, they believe he owns two pairs of shoes that match the footprints found outside Ackroyd’s window.
The group heads to Fernly Park to compare the shoes they found in Ralph’s room at the inn to the footprints outside the window. When they get there, Poirot, Dr. Sheppard, and Colonel Melrose go to investigate Ackroyd’s study while Inspector Raglan compares the footprints.
Poirot studies the room. He asks Parker whether there was a fire in the grate when they found Ackroyd’s body the night before. Parker responds that it had burned down quite low. He also informs Poirot that the grandfather chair, which normally sits in the corner of the room, had been pulled out quite a bit. Poirot becomes fascinated by this detail, claiming no one would sit in a chair so awkwardly pulled out in the middle of the room. None of the suspects can tell him who pushed it back, although Parker affirms that it was moved back by the time he arrived with the police.
The window was closed when Sheppard left Roger Ackroyd, but opened when they found the body. Poirot explains that the fire burning down low means that Ackroyd would not have opened the window because the room got too hot – instead, it proves that he must have opened it to admit someone. This makes him interested to determine who was with Ackroyd at 9:30 the previous night. In the meantime, Colonel Melrose arrives, informing the two that they traced the call to Dr. Sheppard that supposedly came from Parker at Fernly Park – it actually came from a public call office at King’s Abbott Station.
The group is baffled by the news that the call came from King Abbott station. Poirot insists that when they discover the truth of the call, they will have solved the case. He calls in Raymond and Parker to ask if Ackroyd had admitted any strangers the week before (who might be the same stranger that Sheppard met at the gates).
Raymond insists that he did not move the grandfather chair back from its position in the middle of the room the night before. Raymond and Parker remember a stranger visiting Ackroyd the previous week to try and sell Ackroyd a dictaphone, but no one else suspicious. They realize he was too short to have been the tall stranger Sheppard met at the gates.
Poirot examines the silver table from which the murder weapon was taken. He and Sheppard then run into Inspector Raglan. Raglan shows them a list he’s made of everyone in the house and what they were doing between 9:45 and 10:00 pm. Since Flora left her uncle at 9:45 and Dr. Sheppard insisted that Ackroyd had been dead at least a half hour when he found the body at 10:30, Ackroyd must have been killed during the 15-minute window.
Raglan tells them that the woman living at the lodge by the entrance to Fernly Park confirms she saw Ralph Paton running towards Ackroyd’s house at 9:25 pm. Raglan tells them he is convinced that Paton committed the murder – he snuck into his uncle’s study, asked him for money and when refused, left, but returned later to kill Ackroyd before fleeing the town. Poirot is unsatisfied with this explanation, and demands to know why Paton would have called Dr. Sheppard from the train station and pretended to be Parker.
Poirot studies the footprints that Raglan is convinced are Ralph Paton’s, arguing that many people have shoes with studs who could have made the tracks, not just Ralph Paton. He also points out a woman’s footprints. The woman’s footprints appear to lead to a summerhouse, which Poirot investigates. He discovers on the floor a goose quill and a piece of white fabric.
Chapters 7 & 8 Analysis
Chapter 7 affords the reader the first opportunity to see Poirot “in action” investigating Ackroyd’s murder. One of the main conventions of most of Christie’s mystery novels is a central detective – although usually (between Poirot and Miss Marple) an unexpected hero, they are nonetheless brilliant and exceptionally observant.
Poirot’s thoughtfulness and focus in listening to Sheppard’s account of the previous night, as well as in investigating Ackroyd’s study, immediately pique both Sheppard and the reader’s interest. Throughout the novel, Poirot’s brilliance will constantly leave the reader and the rest of the characters one step behind, knowing that the detective is getting closer and closer to solving the murder, but stuck in the dark as to the conclusions he draws. This prolongs the mystery, allowing the reader to attempt to come to his own conclusions about the murderer, and makes it all the more satisfying when, at the end of the novel, Poirot finally reveals everything he knows.
Poirot asks Sheppard about the fire in the grate, but then immediately backtracks, explaining that in order to find out about the fire, he must ask the man who would know to check the fire – the butler, Parker. “One must always proceed with method” he says, “To each man his own knowledge” (p. 83). Poirot, here, gives the first indication of his “method” – his ability to understand just what information he can get from each person involved in the case. Every witness and suspect can provide their own clues to help him solve the murder. However, he must know the right questions to ask, then piece together these clues to form the truth of what happened. No other investigator would have thought to ask Parker about the fire, but this clue enables Poirot to deduce that Ackroyd probably opened the window to let in a visitor.
Several times throughout these chapters, Sheppard makes reference to Poirot’s inaccessible methods. “I felt he were looking at the case from some peculiar angle of his own, and what he saw I could not tell” (p. 88) he says. In this way, Sheppard creates a division between Poirot and himself, and, by extension, the reader. The implication is that Poirot stays several steps ahead of everyone else – that the observations and clues he picks up on have a deeper and different significance to him than to anyone else. So Christie encourages her reader to attempt to match Poirot in deductions, adding to the “game-like” feel of the mystery.
Throughout the novel, Poirot refers to Dr. Sheppard as a sort of replacement for his long-time friend Arthur Hastings. The best friend of Poirot, Hastings appears as a character in eight Poirot novels, in addition to narrating even more than that. He is the companion-chronicler of Poirot. Sheppard, who narrates the novel like Hastings might, and follows Poirot as he investigates, seems initially to fill this role in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
“You must have been sent from the good God to replace my friend Hastings” Poirot says to Sheppard in Chapter 8, “I observe that you do not quit my side” (p. 97-8). Although it appears, indeed, that Dr. Sheppard is "the new Hastings" in the novel, ultimately his decision to remain so close to Poirot has a very different implication. That is, he wants to follow Poirot’s footsteps to stay on top of how much Poirot knows and suspects. Sheppard, then, is actually revealed as a sort of anti-Hastings, the very person Poirot is looking to discover: his enemy, not his ally. In this way, Christie subverts the genre that she herself created. She takes the “brilliant detective/loyal chronicler and friend” trope and undermines it by having the loyal friend actually turn out to be the enemy.