Summary: Chapter 7: I Learn My Neighbor’s Profession

The morning after the murder, September 18, Flora visits Caroline and Dr. Sheppard. She has heard that Inspector Raglan from Cranchester has been called in on the case and that he suspects Ralph. Flora asks Dr. Sheppard to accompany her to request his neighbor’s assistance in clearing Ralph, revealing Mr. Porrott to be Hercule Poirot, the famous detective. Caroline and Dr. Sheppard don’t see why Ralph is under suspicion, which surprises Flora, who knows that Dr. Sheppard went to the Three Boars after leaving Fernly Park the night before. Dr. Sheppard tries to dissuade her from involving Poirot, but Caroline brushes aside his concerns. 

Dr. Sheppard accompanies Flora to Poirot’s, where he relays the events of the previous day. Poirot asks Dr. Sheppard why he stopped at the Three Boars. Dr. Sheppard explains he thought Ralph should know of Roger’s death but says that Ralph wasn’t there. Poirot agrees to come out of retirement to take the case, and he and Dr. Sheppard go to the police station, where they meet up with Inspector Davis, Inspector Raglan, and Chief Constable Colonel Melrose. Only Inspector Davis seems happy to have Poirot’s involvement, but Poirot reassures his colleagues that he doesn’t want any publicity. 

The whole group travels to Fernly Park, where Poirot examines the crime scene. He notes that the footprints at the window match Ralph’s shoes that Inspector Raglan collected earlier from the Three Boars inn. The open window that Dr. Sheppard said he closed and the odd positioning of the grandfather chair that Parker observed intrigue Poirot. He tells Dr. Sheppard that in cases like these, everyone is hiding something. Colonel Melrose reports that the phone call to Dr. Sheppard summoning him to Fernly Park was placed from a public phone at the train station.

Summary: Chapter 8: Inspector Raglan Is Confident

Examination of the crime scene continues. Colonel Melrose doesn’t hold much hope that the caller at the busy train station will be identified. Poirot questions Dr. Sheppard about the mystery man he encountered at 9:00 p.m. the previous evening and speculates on the timing of the man arriving at the window. The quickest route would entail knowing the layout of the estate. Poirot asks Parker and Raymond if anyone had visited in the past week. Parker describes a Dictaphone salesman on Wednesday, but his short stature doesn’t match the six-foot height of the stranger. Poirot identifies to Dr. Sheppard three key clues: the open window, the door locked from the inside, and the out-of-place chair. 

Inspector Raglan concludes his interviews with the staff, residents, and guests on their whereabouts the previous evening and lays out his theory that Ralph committed the murder. Poirot questions why Ralph would have made the phone call, but the inspector doesn’t know. Mary Black on staff at the lodge reported seeing Ralph walking toward the house. At a summerhouse outbuilding, Poirot finds women’s footprints, a piece of white starched fabric, and the hollow barrel part of a goose feather.

Analysis: Chapters 7–8

Flora Ackroyd’s wish to hire detective Hercule Poirot is an early turning point in the investigation and raises an important question, which is also one of the novel’s themes: Is the truth really something everyone wants to know? Dr. Sheppard encourages Flora not to involve Poirot, asking, “Are you quite sure it is the truth we want?” Poirot himself has the same question: Is Flora certain she wants “all the truth”? But Flora is absolutely convinced Ralph is innocent and so insists on hiring Poirot. 

For Caroline, the answer to this question is obvious: finding the truth is itself inherently good. The indefatigable Caroline never stops trying to learn the truth about everything and everyone in King’s Abbot and can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to know. She eagerly offers to accompany Flora to see M. Poirot, saying it is the right thing to do. It seems Poirot has a somewhat different view. After Flora affirms that she wants the whole truth, he says, “Then I accept . . . and I hope you will not regret those words.” Poirot understands that the truth can be dangerous.

Poirot has described his work as “the study of human nature,” which is a somewhat vague job description. But as the story progresses, Poirot shows the reader exactly what he means. It is by understanding the way people behave and their motives for doing what they do that Poirot discovers the truth. This unique skill also allows him to manipulate other players to do what he wants as well as to get them to reveal their true selves. Poirot’s study of human nature is a recurring theme in the novel, as is the way he manipulates others around him to find the truth, and we get our first glimpse of these skills as Poirot surveys the crime scene in Chapters 7 and 8. Poirot reveals part of this process by stating, “To each man his own knowledge,” by which he means that knowing each person’s area of expertise allows him to know which questions to ask and to whom. 

Poirot’s skills are impressive, made all the more so by comparison with Inspector Raglan, who ignores key pieces of evidence in service of his theory that Ralph Paton is the murderer. Because of his keen understanding of human nature, Poirot knows that directly saying Raglan is wrong would be counter-productive. Instead, Poirot asks insightful questions about the pieces of evidence that Raglan downplays, signaling the existence of other possibilities. By manipulating Raglan in this way and staying on good terms with the inspector, Poirot ensures himself access to the crime scene and cooperation from the police.

This is the second appearance of a somewhat dimwitted, expedient-to-a-fault police inspector, following Inspector Davis. This common detective story trope will be familiar to many readers and provides some comic relief, but it also acts as a foil to Hercule Poirot, who knows that being certain is not the same as being right. The incompetence of the police also presents an obstacle to Poirot, who must use his understanding of human nature to manipulate Raglan and other police in order to ensure the truth is discovered.