Summary: Chapter 20: Miss Russell

As Dr. Sheppard drives Poirot and Inspector Raglan back to the village, Inspector Raglan bemoans the collapse of the murder timeline given Flora’s revelation that she lied about being with Roger after dinner. His new speculations include Kent entering through the window, demanding money from Roger, and killing him, followed soon after by Ralph discovering the body and calling Dr. Sheppard. 

Later, Dr. Sheppard sees patients and then retires to his workshop, where he enjoys tinkering with devices. Poirot finds him there and shows him the fictitious news release Poirot is sending to the newspaper for publication the next day that describes the discovery of Ralph in Liverpool. Dr. Sheppard proudly shows off some of the inventions he has made. Poirot has arranged to have Miss Russell come to Dr. Sheppard’s office to interview her. Poirot explains to Miss Russell that the Liverpool police have arrested Kent, and with Flora’s admission that she lied about seeing Roger after dinner, Kent’s appearance at Fernly Park makes a plausible case for him being the murderer. Poirot adds that only Miss Russell can clear him. She confirms Poirot’s theory that Kent is her illegitimate son who’s a cocaine addict and that he came to ask for money. When she asks if she should go to the police to clear him and risk her position at Fernly Park, Poirot tells her to wait and see what happens with the case.

Summary: Chapter 21: The Paragraph in the Paper

The morning of September 25, Poirot’s news item appears in the local paper. Caroline wishes Ralph could be cleared of the murder and suggests to Dr. Sheppard that, as his doctor, he could certify Ralph as insane. Dr. Sheppard asks about Poirot’s mentally disturbed nephew, and Caroline expands on Poirot’s story that the nephew’s family is considering institutionalizing him. Caroline sees the arrival of a stranger by car early in the morning at Poirot’s home, and she imagines the man is from the Home Office, Britain’s department of immigration and drug policy. Poirot evades Caroline’s questions but asks Dr. Sheppard to deliver a summons to a meeting at Poirot’s that evening for Mrs. Ackroyd, Flora, Blunt, and Raymond. Mrs. Ackroyd tells Dr. Sheppard that Flora and Blunt are engaged. When Ursula visits the Sheppards looking for Poirot, Poirot greets her as Ursula Paton, Ralph’s wife.

Summary: Chapter 22: Ursula’s Story

Poirot’s planted news item about Ralph’s arrest has brought Ursula to Poirot. She tells of her once-prosperous family brought to destitution. With her father’s death, the need to make her own living landed her as a parlormaid at Fernly Park, where she and Ralph fell in love and secretly married. Ralph anticipated his stepfather Roger would disapprove of his marrying a woman from a penniless family and convinced her to keep their marriage a secret until he achieved financial independence. Ralph had hoped Roger would pay down his debts, but instead, Ralph’s financial irresponsibility enraged Roger, who refused to help him at all. Roger requested Ralph marry Flora, his niece. Flora approached the proposal as a business deal, desirous of the financial security it promised. Flora and Ralph decided to keep their engagement a secret. Ralph especially wanted Ursula to remain in the dark, thinking he could break off the engagement at some point. Roger took it upon himself to announce their engagement, and Ursula found out. Caroline had overheard Ralph and Ursula talking in the woods. Ursula was unwilling to live a double life and later informed Roger of their marriage in a stormy interview. 

That night, Ursula and Ralph met in the summerhouse, where she informed him that Roger now knew of their marriage. They argued, Ralph blaming her for ruining his prospects with her revelation. Ursula and Ralph both had motive to kill Roger before he would inevitably disinherit Ralph. Ursula asks Dr. Sheppard where Ralph is, and when Dr. Sheppard denies knowing his whereabouts, Poirot confirms the truth of that statement.

Analysis: Chapters 20–22

Events continue to move quickly as Poirot relies repeatedly on his study of human nature and steps up his maneuvering. In Chapter 20, Poirot sets up a multi-layered manipulation in order to get the truth out of Miss Russell. He first relies on the relationship he has cultivated with the Sheppards, using Dr. Sheppard’s practice as a front for inviting Miss Russell to be interviewed. He then takes advantage of Raglan’s “state of mental chaos”—consistent with the dimwitted detective trope—to ask him to produce the false police report about Ralph being arrested in Liverpool. Meanwhile, Dr. Sheppard’s irritation at being left in the dark grows. Dr. Sheppard is annoyed that he doesn’t understand Poirot’s thinking, complaining to Poirot that Poirot doesn’t explain or elaborate on his knowledge. However, the master manipulator Poirot mollifies the doctor by complimenting his intelligence. 

In his interview with Miss Russell, Poirot deftly uses the knowledge he has learned in order to rattle the unwaveringly stoic woman, compelling her to disclose her secret. Again it is a confession that ironically serves to rule out a suspect, this time Charles Kent. Poirot’s roundtable accusation is bearing fruit, as in the span of a day Poirot has ruled out several suspects, including Charles Kent, Flora Ackroyd, Parker, Raymond, and Horace Blunt. For all of these individuals the truth proved to be exonerating, but it also means Poirot is narrowing in on a suspect.
At Fernly, Mrs. Ackroyd’s inability to face the embarrassing truth causes her need to reframe Flora’s theft as Flora merely wanting “to borrow a few pounds.” Mrs. Ackroyd performs even more mental acrobatics when she denounces Ralph based on the false newspaper report, painting her daughter’s new engagement to Blunt in a positive light. Ralph’s character appears to take another hard blow when Poirot’s newspaper publication ruse prompts Ursula to come forward as Ralph’s secret wife. But Poirot reassures Ursula, hinting again that he does not suspect Ralph.