Summary: Chapter 4: Dinner at Fernly

At 7:30 p.m. the evening of September 17, Dr. Sheppard arrives at Fernly Park to dine with Roger. Parker, the butler, lets him in, and Geoffrey Raymond, Roger’s secretary, invites him to go into the drawing room. As Dr. Sheppard turns the handle on the closed door, he hears a sound from within the room. He encounters a breathless, flushed Miss Russell, who seems irritated that she didn’t know of Dr. Sheppard’s visit. As Dr. Sheppard waits for Roger, he determines that the lid of a curio case being closed caused the sound he heard before he entered the room. Roger’s niece Flora joins Dr. Sheppard and shows off the engagement ring Ralph gave her a month prior, and they look at the mementos in the curio case. Flora’s mother, Mrs. Ackroyd, joins them and asks Dr. Sheppard to question Roger about what he plans to bequest Flora. With the arrival of Roger’s friend Major Hector Blunt, a big-game hunter, the company sits down to dinner. 

After dinner, Roger takes Dr. Sheppard to his study for a private conversation, even asking him to lock the window. Roger confides that he had been engaged to Mrs. Ferrars for three months. The day before her death, she confessed to him that she poisoned her husband Ashley, was being blackmailed, and would reveal the name of the blackmailer in twenty-four hours’ time. Suddenly, Parker delivers a blue envelope with Mrs. Ferrars’s handwriting. Roger reads aloud to Dr. Sheppard her suicide note, but stops before the part that reveals the name of the blackmailer. At 8:50 p.m., Dr. Sheppard runs into Parker outside the study door as he leaves to go home. As the village clock chimes 9:00 p.m., Dr. Sheppard nearly collides with a cloaked stranger who asks the way to Fernly Park, his voice having a familiar ring. At 10:15 p.m., Dr. Sheppard receives a call from someone identifying himself as Parker and saying that Roger has been murdered.

Summary: Chapter 5: Murder

Dr. Sheppard grabs his medical bag and drives to Fernly Park. Parker denies having called him. Dr. Sheppard insists they check on Roger. They find his study door locked from the inside. When they break in, they find Roger dead with a dagger in his neck. Dr. Sheppard sends Parker out of the room to call the police and alert Raymond and Blunt, who are playing billiards. When Raymond looks at the mail on the study floor, Dr. Sheppard observes that the blue envelope is gone. 

Inspector Davis arrives and examines the scene. Parker states that no one was admitted to the house after dinner. The window that Dr. Sheppard says he locked earlier is now wide open with footprints leading into and away from it. Raymond had heard Roger talking with a man at 9:30 p.m. about a demand for money. Parker relays how he encountered Flora outside the study at 9:45 p.m. as he was bringing up Roger’s usual nightcap of whiskey and soda. Inspector Davis sends Constable Jones to investigate the shoe prints while he questions Flora in the billiard room. She confirms the timeline, adding that Roger was alone when she spoke with him to say goodnight and that he asked her to tell Parker not to disturb him. Afterward, Blunt breaks the news of Roger’s death to Mrs. Ackroyd and Flora. Inspector Davis locks the hallway door to Roger’s private wing.

Summary: Chapter 6: The Tunisian Dagger

Inspector Davis interviews the guests and staff. Dr. Sheppard describes the mysterious stranger who asked for directions, and they both conclude that he might have disguised his voice. Parker mentions blackmail. Dr. Sheppard tells Inspector Davis the story of Mrs. Ferrars’s murder confession to Roger and her suicide note containing the name of the blackmailer, noting that the blue envelope that contained the note is missing. Inspector Davis pulls the dagger from the body by the blade without touching the handle to preserve fingerprints, and he notes that even a child could have thrust the dagger into Roger given its razor-sharp edge. Dr. Sheppard examines the body and states that the weapon was wielded by a right-handed man from behind. Death would have been instantaneous. Blunt identifies the dagger as a gift from Tunis he gave Roger, and Raymond tells the group that the dagger was kept in the curio case in the drawing room. Dr. Sheppard relates his earlier experience of hearing the sound of the case lid closing just before he met Miss Russell. Miss Russell says she was merely closing the lid, which she had found open. No one can say for certain that the dagger had been in the case earlier. 

Back at home, Dr. Sheppard relates the details to Caroline, who dismisses Inspector Davis’s theory of Parker as the murderer as foolish.

Analysis: Chapter 4–6

As Dr. Sheppard relates the events of the night of Roger Ackroyd’s murder, he reveals a great deal about his pronounced character traits, including his own biases. While the narrator is careful enough to note details such as the exact time, he is also not shy about giving his opinion. His unsubtle preference for “fair,” “good-looking” people is evident in how he describes Flora Ackroyd (“her skin is cream and roses”) and the way he dwells repeatedly on Ralph Paton’s good looks. It is thus no coincidence that Dr. Sheppard finds it hard to believe Ralph would ever blackmail anybody, despite knowing of Ralph’s troubled past. Sheppard is also fond of the fair Flora (“the genuine article”) despite many people not liking her. By contrast, Sheppard despises Mrs. Ackroyd and fails to explain why, except to describe her as unattractive. 

Dr. Sheppard’s arrogance and snobbery is notable and evident in his narration throughout the novel but he us nevertheless uniquely positioned to provide a detailed account of the night of the murder because he is so close to the events in question. For one, other than the murderer him/herself, Dr. Sheppard is likely the last person to see Mr. Ackroyd alive. In addition, Dr. Sheppard knows something no one else alive knows: a blue letter containing the name of Mrs. Ferrars’ blackmailer has disappeared from Mr. Ackroyd’s study. 

At this point in the story, the facts of the murder case are just a collection of seemingly disparate clues, and they must be pieced together and interpreted in order for the truth to emerge. Inspector Davis attempts this, but Dr. Sheppard makes clear that Davis is not the man for the job. Davis is eager to push the case toward a rapid conclusion, alleging Parker’s certain guilt, but he bases his conclusions on flimsy evidence and poor logic. With her blunt appraisal of Inspector Davis as “a perfect fool,” Caroline sets the stage for a more dexterous thinker to try and unravel the mystery.