The first-person narrator of the story, Dr. James Sheppard, lives with his older unmarried sister Caroline in the country village of King’s Abbot on the outskirts of London. As the local physician with an active practice, Dr. Sheppard becomes emmeshed in a mysterious suicide and murder and the ensuing investigations into them over a nine-day period.

Dr. Sheppard begins his account on the morning of September 17 with the overdose death of his patient Mrs. Ferrars, a wealthy widow whose husband had died the previous year. Dr. Sheppard had attended Mr. Ferrars’s death as well, ruling he died of acute gastritis resulting from alcoholism. Now he must determine Mrs. Ferrars’s cause of death. Caroline has an inexhaustible curiosity about everyone and a keen imagination. She tells Dr. Sheppard that she believes Mrs. Ferrars’s overdose was not accidental but suicide from the remorse for having poisoned Mr. Ferrars.

At the time of her death, Mrs. Ferrars had been seeing another of Dr. Sheppard’s patients, the wealthy widower Roger Ackroyd, and the townspeople expected them to announce plans to marry. Roger had also lost his spouse to alcoholism twenty-one years prior, leaving him to raise her son from a previous marriage, Ralph Paton, whom Roger adopted. Also living with Roger at his Fernly Park estate are his late brother’s widow, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, and her daughter, Flora. His main staff includes secretary Geoffrey Raymond, housekeeper Miss Russell, butler Parker, parlormaid Ursula Bourne, and housemaid Elsie Dale.

On the evening of September 17, Roger Ackroyd invites Dr. Sheppard to dinner to consult with him about a matter causing him much distress. After dinner, they retire to Roger’s study to confer privately. Roger tells Dr. Sheppard that he had been engaged to Mrs. Ferrars for three months. The day before her death, she confessed to him that she had poisoned her husband Ashley Ferrars, was being blackmailed, and would reveal the name of the blackmailer in twenty-four hours’ time. At that point, Parker delivers a blue envelope with Mrs. Ferrars’s handwriting, and Roger reads aloud to Dr. Sheppard her suicide note. But Roger abruptly stops reading aloud before Mrs. Ferrars reveals the name of the blackmailer. Dr. Sheppard records in his manuscript, which he started after the murder, that Roger asked to be left alone to absorb the contents of the letter. Dr. Sheppard returns home by 9:15. At 10:15, he receives a phone call and rushes back to Fernly Park, telling Caroline that Parker has informed him that Roger has been murdered.

When Dr. Sheppard arrives at Fernly Park, Parker denies having made the phone call and is unaware of any murder. They break down the door to Roger’s study, which has been locked from inside, to find Roger dead with a dagger in his neck. Mrs. Ferrars’s letter is missing. The police are called to the scene and find footprints leading into and out of the study through an open window. They interview everyone in the house, but no one saw anything unusual. The police can’t find Ralph, last seen earlier in the day at the Three Boars inn where he was staying. They collect a pair of Ralph’s boots to compare with the muddy footprints and find that they match.

The next day, Flora visits Caroline and Dr. Sheppard to ask for their help. Flora explains that their new neighbor is the famous detective Hercule Poirot, and she asks Dr. Sheppard to accompany her to request his involvement in the case to clear Ralph, to whom she is engaged. Although Poirot has retired from active police work, he listens to Flora’s plea. Poirot warns Flora that if he were to take the case, he would not stop until he has the whole truth, and she agrees to his terms.

Poirot immediately asks Dr. Sheppard to visit the scene of the crime with him. Dr. Sheppard presents the background information, and Poirot makes observations. Poirot identifies to Dr. Sheppard key clues: the phone call, the open window, the door locked from the inside, and an out-of-place chair. Throughout Poirot’s investigation, he uncovers truths. He points out those who stood to gain by Roger’s death. The unknown blackmailer was about to be unmasked. Ralph and Ursula were secretly married, which would be grounds for Ralph’s disinheritance. Poirot states unequivocally that everyone involved is hiding something.

Dr. Sheppard records the unfolding investigation in a personal manuscript with mounting mistrust of Poirot’s techniques. Poirot confides in Dr. Sheppard less and less. As Poirot fits together the puzzle pieces using evidence and knowledge of human behavior, a composite of the killer emerges. 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.

Poirot concludes his investigation and assembles the family and staff, where he challenges everyone in the room that they have until the next day to come forward, at which time he will reveal the murderer to the police. Poirot’s warning, however, is only aimed at Dr. Sheppard. Poirot then privately tells Dr. Sheppard that he has identified him as Mrs. Ferrars’s blackmailer and Roger’s killer. Dr. Sheppard scoffs, and Poirot lays out the entire scenario of motive, means, and opportunity, offering Dr. Sheppard one alternative to arrest and conviction. Dr. Sheppard finishes his manuscript with the details of his crime and his confession. He then overdoses using the same poison that killed Mrs. Ferrars.