Summary: Chapter 23: Poirot’s Little Reunion

During the afternoon of September 25, Dr. Sheppard reveals to Poirot that he has kept a journal of the investigation into Roger’s murder. Poirot excitedly requests to read it. Afterward, Poirot compliments the narrative’s accuracy but also comments on how Dr. Sheppard kept himself out of the narrative. 

Poirot, Dr. Sheppard, and Ursula leave for the meeting in Poirot’s home. Mrs. Ackroyd, Flora, Blunt, and Raymond soon arrive. Poirot introduces Ursula as Mrs. Ralph Payton as of the previous March. Flora graciously congratulates Ursula, who apologizes for Ralph’s deception. Flora expresses her empathy for Ralph’s actions. Parker and Miss Russell join the group. Poirot begins by saying everyone in the room had the opportunity to kill Roger, but the strongest motive would have been for Ralph and Ursula. He then reveals the existence of the Dictaphone to show that the conversation Blunt had overheard from the terrace on the night of the murder might have been one-sided—that no one, in fact, had been with Roger. Ralph arrives at the meeting.

Summary: Chapter 24: Ralph Paton’s Story

Ralph’s sudden arrival disorients Dr. Sheppard. Poirot confronts Dr. Sheppard with his subterfuge of hiding Ralph at a mental health nursing facility in Cranchester. Poirot had speculated that Dr. Sheppard met up with Ralph on his way home from checking for him at the Three Boars. Dr. Sheppard confesses that he and Ralph had talked earlier in the day and Ralph had told him all about his secret marriage and the dilemma it put him in with regard to his inheritance. Poirot postulated that Dr. Sheppard consented to help Ralph by hiding him from the police until the murder was solved. Poirot reveals that he ascertained from Caroline the names of facilities where Dr. Sheppard refers patients with mental issues on the pretext of looking for care for a disturbed nephew. Poirot visited them and found out that Dr. Sheppard had admitted a patient on Saturday morning, the day after the murder. Poirot reveals that the facility discharged Ralph to Poirot’s care on September 24 and that his arrival was glimpsed by Caroline. 

Ralph tells his story of his movements after meeting with Ursula in the summerhouse: that he left after she did and walked around town, trying to decide on a course of action. Poirot announces that the only way to clear Ralph of suspicion is for the murderer to confess. He challenges everyone in the room that they have until the next day to come forward; at that time, he will reveal the murderer to Inspector Raglan. Poirot’s housekeeper delivers a telegram to him from a ship en route to the United States, which Poirot tells the group is the final damning clue that he needed to seal the murderer’s fate.

Analysis: Chapters 23–24

Poirot’s intense interest and excitement over learning that Dr. Sheppard has been keeping a diary of the events surrounding the murder also serves to change the reader’s frame of mind. The reader is being reminded explicitly that the account they have been reading is just that: an account by one man from his particular point of view. Poirot has a shrewd and pointed take on Sheppard’s writing, noting that Sheppard has kept himself in the background and has been discreet as to his own involvement in the events. It seems ironic then that Poirot nevertheless states that the account has greatly helped him.

Before guests arrive at Poirot’s house, the detective frantically rearranges things such as chairs and lamps, symbolizing his skill in manipulating those around him. Poirot’s reunion will be his final bit of manipulation to uncover the truth, and when everyone is gathered Dr. Sheppard describes the feeling in the room as that of a closed trap. In fact, it is Dr. Sheppard himself who is trapped, as we learn from Poirot’s revelations that the doctor has been hiding vital information. Poirot’s revelation about the dictaphone and the fact that Roger Ackroyd was alone in the study at 9:30 prompts Raymond to imply that the most likely suspect is still Ralph Paton. The main reason for this suspicion is Ralph’s absence and his lack of an alibi that night. Poirot, however, goes on to provide an explanation for both, producing Ralph Paton himself, which in turn compels Dr. Sheppard to reveal what he had been hiding: Dr. Sheppard met Ralph the night of the murder and it was he who had advised Ralph Paton to hide from the police. Ralph trusted Dr. Sheppard, as well he might trust “his best friend in King’s Abbot,” but Ralph now admits that hiding was the worst thing he could have done.

Ralph maintains his innocence, which Poirot cheerfully accepts before turning quickly dark and making a mysterious demand in urging the killer to confess. Poirot plans to tell the truth to Raglan in the morning, but it is not clear why he gives this warning directly to the murderer. Perhaps he knows the best way to prove Ralph Paton’s innocence is for the real murderer to confess, or perhaps there is a deeper meaning.