Chapters 15 & 16 Summary
Upon returning home, Caroline informs Sheppard that Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd’s secretary, had come by to look for Poirot. When he didn’t find him, he announced that he would stop by Poirot’s house in half an hour. Caroline encourages Dr. Sheppard to go as well.
Next door, Sheppard recounts his visit with Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd to Poirot. They consider who Miss Russell may have gone out to meet the evening of the murder, since they now believe she snuck into the drawing room through the window after meeting with someone. Dr. Sheppard also tells Poirot about Caroline’s discovery that Ralph’s boots were black, which seems to discourage the detective.
Poirot asks Dr. Sheppard about his meeting with Miss Russell when she visited him for her appointment on the morning of the murder. He recounts their conversation about poisons and drugs, and Poirot guesses that she asked him about cocaine. When Sheppard tells him she did, Poirot shows Sheppard a newspaper article from that morning about cocaine usage, which he claims must have put the idea in her head.
Before he can explain further, however, Geoffrey Raymond arrives. He announces that he’s felt guilty ever since Poirot’s accusation from the meeting earlier, and confesses that he had been in debt before Ackroyd’s murder. The 500 pounds he got from Ackroyd’s will allows him to discharge his debt. He had been nervous to admit this to the police officers, but since he was with Major Blunt during the time that the murder was committed, he knows that his alibi will prevent him from being suspected. Poirot thanks him for his honesty, and Raymond leaves.
Poirot and Dr. Sheppard continue to discuss the murder. Poirot points out that almost everyone in the household except Major Blunt stood to benefit from Ackroyd’s death; however, he still believes Blunt is concealing something from him. Dr. Sheppard wonders if they haven’t jumped to conclusions by assuming that the person who blackmailed Mrs. Ferrars is the same person who killed Ackroyd. Poirot congratulates him on this point, but counters that the letter about the blackmail did disappear nonetheless after the murder was committed. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the murderer took it. He wonders if Parker took the letter when Dr. Sheppard wasn’t looking.
Poirot suspects Parker not of the murder, but perhaps of blackmailing Mrs. Ferrars. Sheppard admits that Parker could have taken the letter when he wasn’t looking – so, too, could Blunt or Raymond. Poirot suggests that they try out an experiment on Parker to determine his guilt; Sheppard agrees and they set out for Fernly Park.
When they arrive, they request Flora Ackroyd, and Poirot asks her to help them with the experiment. She agrees, and they summon Parker. Poirot explains that he wants to re-enact his meeting with Flora outside of Ackroyd’s study on the night of the murder. He insists that they position themselves exactly as they were when their conversation took place. Flora puts her hand on the door handle, Parker stands before her holding the tray with Ackroyd’s after dinner drink, and they re-enact the scene. Poirot asks Parker why he has two glasses on his tray, and Parker responds that he always brings two glasses. Poirot, satisfied, dismisses Flora and Parker, and admits to Sheppard that although the question about the glasses was insignificant, the experiment was a success and he now knows something that he wanted to know.
Later that night, Caroline and Dr. Sheppard engage in a game of Mah Jong with their friends, Miss Gannett and Colonel Carter. During the game, Caroline and Miss Gannett gossip about the murder, each speculating on who they think could be guilty. Among other things, Caroline suspects that Ralph Paton is hiding in Cranchester, a big city nearby, based on Poirot’s remarks when he visited her the other day. She also mentions having seen Poirot returning from Cranchester that afternoon.
Caroline goads Dr. Sheppard to contribute juicy details to their gossip. After he wins a particularly impressive hand of Mah Jong, he shares Poirot’s discovery of the wedding ring with the group impulsively. Caroline and Miss Gannett are excited by this latest piece of gossip, and wonder who the ring belongs to.
Chapters 15 & 16 Analysis
Once again in Chapter 15, Dr. Sheppard makes intimations of his own guilt. When Caroline asks him to go to Poirot’s to find out what Raymond wanted to talk to Poirot about, he responds, “Curiosity is not my besetting sin” (p. 168). Of course, this implies that he does have a besetting sin, which the reader will later discover. Moments later, Caroline accuses him of “always hav[ing] to pretend” (p. 168), another accusation that will prove extremely true later on.
Meanwhile, Raymond’s visit to Poirot’s home further proves the success of Poirot’s strategy in accusing the table full of suspects of hiding something from him. Sheppard describes him as having produced “a mixture of fear and guilt” (p. 167) in the suspects which caused them to come forward of their own volition and confess, which Sheppard chalks up to Poirot’s keen understanding of human nature.
Indeed, one of Poirot’s greatest strengths as a detective is how effectively he works with people in investigating crimes. This is further demonstrated in his “experiment” with Flora and Parker – by enlisting Flora to ostensibly help him examine Parker, he actually arrives at his true aim, which is to determine if she was actually observed leaving her uncle’s room the night of his murder, or simply standing outside of it. This is not something she would have been likely to admit to him outright; instead, he arrives at the truth of this moment without ever having to ask her about it at all.
Chapter 16, which sets a fervent, gossipy discussion about the murder amidst the backdrop of a game of Mah Jong, helps demonstrate one of Christie’s major themes (found in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as well as most of her stories and novels): the “Murder of Manners”. Unlike other, more gruesome detective stories, Christie’s novel is firmly set in the polite, “civilized” upper- and middle-class world of Britain in the first half of the 20th century. Christie eschews violent crimes and macabre descriptions of violence: instead, her characters retain their manners and civility throughout.
By setting a gossipy scene between friends to a Mah Jong game, Christie once again establishes the politeness of her characters that their social class demands. Although Caroline and Miss Gannet would prefer nothing more than to gossip openly about the murder, they must instead limit their discussion to appropriate moments while obeying the rules of the “game” – in the same way, the characters in King’s Abbot must abide by the rules of their society.
Dr. Sheppard’s “perfect hand” of Mah Jong that he triumphantly achieves at the end of the chapter is also symbolic. To a certain extent, Dr. Sheppard feels he has committed the “perfect crime” – but just as he blunders after his hand of Mah Jong by admitting a detail about Poirot’s investigation to his companions that he soon regrets, so will he learn that his “perfect crime” is not actually perfect at all.