Summary: Chapter 12: Round the Table

The coroner holds the required inquest on Monday, September 20. Afterward, Inspector Raglan tells Poirot and Dr. Sheppard that Ralph is the subject of a countrywide manhunt. He speculates Ralph might be hiding out in Liverpool, as the phone call to Dr. Sheppard originating from the railway station was placed three minutes before the departure of the express to Liverpool. Poirot states that knowing the reason for the phone call is key to solving the case. Poirot suggests that Inspector Raglan check Roger’s fingerprints to see if they match those on the murder weapon, as the murderer could have closed the victim’s hand around the handle after death. 

Poirot calls an impromptu meeting around the Fernly Park dining table that includes Mrs. Ackroyd, Flora, Blunt, Raymond, and Dr. Sheppard. He demands that anyone with information about Ralph’s whereabouts speak what they know. Mrs. Ackroyd theorizes that Ralph could be the murderer as he suffers from wartime post-traumatic stress and muses what would happen to the estate if he were to be found guilty. Flora reacts in outrage and resolves to show her loyalty by announcing her engagement to Ralph the next morning in the newspaper. Poirot convinces her to postpone the announcement for two days. He then looks each person around the table in the eye, accusing everyone of having something to hide, and no one can meet his challenging gaze.

Summary: Chapter 13: The Goose Quill

Monday evening Dr. Sheppard accepts an invitation to join Poirot for a nightcap at his home. Dr. Sheppard wants to know why Poirot was so interested the previous afternoon in Caroline’s information about his patients. Poirot says that only Miss Russell interests him but refuses to reveal his opinion of her. Dr. Sheppard begs Poirot to give his opinion of the case. Poirot demonstrates how he takes no one’s word for anything and confirms all facts with additional witnesses. He lays out his findings that the mysterious stranger Dr. Sheppard encountered the evening of the murder is an American. Poirot associates evidence he found in the summerhouse with the stranger: It’s common for cocaine addicts in North America to snort cocaine using a goose quill. 

Dr. Sheppard shares his theory: Ralph entered the study through the window and asked Roger for money but didn’t kill him. Then the American stranger entered through the now-open window after Ralph had left and killed Roger using the weapon supplied to him by Parker, who is also the blackmailer. Poirot finds many clues not addressed by Dr. Sheppard’s theories and suspects the weight of the evidence against Ralph too convenient to be true.

Analysis: Chapters 12–13

Poirot is running out of time to solve the murder and his impatience becomes evident in his conversation with Inspector Raglan, who again plays the role of the confident but dimwitted detective. As Raglan details the mounting evidence against Ralph Paton, Poirot remains calm on the surface, but he is feeling frustrated. He pokes holes in the Inspector’s theories and uncharacteristically complains of wasting time. Once Raglan leaves, Poirot admits he has been less politic than he usually is, saying, “I must be more careful of [Raglan’s] amour propre” (self-respect). 

Poirot knows he must act and so he makes his grandest move yet to get at the truth: convening the Fernly household and accusing everyone present of hiding something from him. At the roundtable, Poirot gives a remarkable and ultimately revealing statement: “Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to the seeker after it . . . I tell you, I mean to know. And I shall know—in spite of you all.” This quote hints at why Poirot became a detective in the first place and also serves a warning: time is running out for Ralph Paton (whom Poirot does not believe to be guilty), and if Poirot is not told the truth soon, it might be “too late” for Ralph. Here one of the novel’s central questions—“Is the truth something everyone really wants to know?”—gets something of an answer. All of the people at the roundtable claim to want to know the truth about the events surrounding Roger Ackroyd’s murder but their actions say otherwise.

Poirot’s speech rattles Dr. Sheppard and lands another blow to the complex and changing relationship between the two men. During Dr. Sheppard and Poirot’s conversation later that evening Dr. Sheppard’s less than admirable character traits are again in evidence as he appears to be in a state of some agitation. He behaves crankily and rigidly toward Poirot, whom Sheppard describes as speaking “evasively” in answering the doctor’s questions. Poirot also explains why he does not trust anyone and that all statements must be corroborated before being taken at face value. Poirot makes it a point to explain that Dr. Sheppard is no exception to this, furthering the sense that their Holmes-and-Watson rapport has veered off track. Despite his coyness, Poirot reveals that he suspects Ralph Paton to be innocent, a hint that he is getting closer to the truth.