Summary: Chapter 17: Parker

After Mrs. Ferrars’s and Roger’s joint funeral on Wednesday morning, Poirot asks Dr. Sheppard to help him interrogate Parker at noon. Poirot confronts Parker with his findings that Parker blackmailed his previous employer, Major Ellerby, about his implication in a man’s death. Parker admits that when he overheard the word “blackmail” while Roger and Dr. Sheppard were talking, he felt tempted to learn more to see if he too could blackmail Roger. He assumed Roger was the one being blackmailed and knew nothing of Mrs. Ferrars. Poirot asks to see Parker’s bankbook, which shows no suspicious deposits. 

Poirot and Dr. Sheppard visit Mr. Hammond, the lawyer who represented Mrs. Ferrars’s estate. At Poirot’s request, Dr. Sheppard recounts his conversation with Roger on Friday night. Mr. Hammond tells them that Mrs. Ferrars cashed in some investments and used the money to make payments totaling 20,000 pounds, which she explained was support for her husband’s poor relations. Dr. Sheppard expresses shock. Poirot mentions Blunt had a windfall also amounting to 20,000 pounds. Later, as Caroline, Dr. Sheppard, and Poirot have after-dinner conversation, Poirot paints a psychological portrait of the blackmailer—a once-decent but now-weak man who can’t resist the temptation to extort a rich widow and who pushes her too far. Poirot postulates that as this man faced exposure for his crime, the man became desperate and killed the person who stood to ruin him: Roger. Dr. Sheppard receives a summons from the Liverpool police to identify Charles Kent as the stranger he encountered.

Summary: Chapter 18: Charles Kent

The morning of September 23 finds Poirot, Dr. Sheppard, and Inspector Raglan on the train to Liverpool. Inspector Raglan confirms Poirot’s speculation that Roger’s own fingerprints were found on the dagger’s handle. Superintendent Hayes takes Dr. Sheppard and Poirot to meet Charles Kent, and Dr. Sheppard identifies that Kent’s height and voice match the stranger he met the night of the murder. Poirot shows Kent the goose quill, proving that he knows he was at Fernly Park on the night of the murder. Kent asks the time of death and produces his alibi: He was making trouble at the Dog and Whistle bar on the road to Cranchester at 9:45 p.m. Inspector Raglan takes down the information to check his alibi. Poirot makes much of his surname “Kent” as having significance, a comment only Kent himself understands.

Summary: Chapter 19: Flora Ackroyd

The morning of September 24, Inspector Raglan confirms Kent’s alibi to Dr. Sheppard. Kent refuses to give a reason for his visit to Fernly Park. Inspector Raglan says Caroline told him Poirot has a nephew with mental health issues. Dr. Sheppard and Inspector Raglan go to tell Poirot about Kent’s alibi. Inspector Raglan and Poirot argue when Poirot advises against releasing Kent, stating the time of death hasn’t been proven. Poirot also offers an alternate scenario to Flora’s account of coming out of Roger’s study, and Inspector Raglan insists they interrogate her. 

At Fernly, Raglan, Poirot, and Dr. Sheppard find Flora and Blunt in the billiard room. Flora confirms Poirot’s alternate scenario, admitting that she took the 40 pounds from Roger’s bedroom. When she heard Parker coming along the hallway, she pretended to be coming out of Roger’s study, but in reality, she never saw Roger after dinner. Blunt gallantly lies to take the blame for the theft, but Poirot tells him his scenario is not believable. Poirot challenges Blunt to own up to the truth about his feelings for Flora and to tell her that he loves her, assuring Blunt that Flora and Ralph’s relationship is strictly platonic.

Analysis: Chapters 17–19

As Poirot sets to work trying to discover Mrs. Ferrars’ blackmailer, and thereby Roger Ackroyd’s murderer, he again displays his considerable gifts in understanding and manipulating human nature. Dr. Sheppard, on the other hand, is increasingly uncomfortable. Dr. Sheppard is frequently surprised by Poirot’s theories of the case, seeming not to understand. For example, Poirot thinks Blunt could be the blackmailer because he is recently out a large sum of money and is “a man with big ideas,” but Dr. Sheppard thinks it’s impossible that it would be someone as well-known as Hector Blunt. Here again, Dr. Sheppard’s snobbery is on display. The mounting evidence of Dr. Sheppard’s character flaws contributes to the reader’s evolving understanding of his characters and puts his reliability as a narrator into question. 

After dinner that night at the Sheppards’ home, Poirot reveals more than he ever has about his thinking by outlining his theory of the motivations of the as-yet-unknown blackmailer-murderer. It is a brilliant thought experiment in which Poirot theorizes weakness as a probable latent trait of the blackmailer-murderer. Poirot’s “merciless analysis” is beautifully detailed and carries the ring of truth, showing just how advanced his ideas are compared to those of the Sheppards. The fact that Poirot could have the same information and yet know so much more than they do both amazes and frightens Caroline and Dr. Sheppard. 

Now that Poirot has posited “weakness” as a likely trait of the murderer, Dr. Sheppard’s identification of Charles Kent as the stranger at Fernly on the night of the murder takes on major significance. Here is a person who is weak because of his drug addiction and suspicious as a presumed foreigner. Poirot, however, thinks Kent was born in England, hinting that he thinks investigating Kent may be another dead end. But he withholds his ideas from Dr. Sheppard, again leaving Dr. Sheppard disturbed. Later, Poirot is able to uncover Flora Ackroyd’s “weakness” when she admits to stealing the missing forty pounds. The confession rules out Flora as a suspect for Poirot and later Poirot shows his work really is about understanding human nature when he encourages Blunt to confess his feelings to Flora. It seems Poirot knows more about these people than they do themselves.