The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Study Guide

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Book Summary

The news in King's Abbot is all about the death of Mrs Ferrars, a wealthy widow who is rumoured to have murdered her husband. Roger Ackroyd, a widower who was to marry Mrs Ferrars, is distraught. He invites Dr James Sheppard to his house Fernly Park to dinner. Sheppard dines with Ackroyd; Ackroyd's sister-in-law Mrs Cecil Ackroyd; her young daughter Flora; Major Blunt, a big-game hunter; and Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd's personal secretary. Flora announces her engagement to Captain Ralph Paton, stepson of Ackroyd. After dinner, Sheppard and Ackroyd talk in his study. Ackroyd tells him that Mrs Ferrars had confided to him that she was being blackmailed about killing her husband.

Ackroyd receives a letter, a suicide note, in the post from Mrs Ferrars, which he will finish reading after Sheppard leaves. On the walk home, Sheppard bumps into a man outside the gates, seeking directions to Fernly Park. Once home, Dr Sheppard receives a telephone call after 10 pm. He rushes out, telling his sister Caroline that Parker, Ackroyd's butler, has found Roger Ackroyd dead. Upon Sheppard's arrival, Parker says he never made such a call. Parker, Sheppard, Raymond, and Blunt find Ackroyd, stabbed to death with a weapon from his collection.

Hercule Poirot, who is cultivating vegetable marrows next door to the Sheppards, comes out of retirement at the request of Flora Ackroyd. Ralph Paton is the police suspect and is nowhere to be found. She does not believe he is guilty. Raymond and Blunt both overheard Ackroyd speaking to someone from within his study, and Flora said goodnight to her uncle, placing Ackroyd's death into a narrow time frame for which Parker, Raymond, Blunt, Mrs Ackroyd, and Miss Russell, the housekeeper, all have alibis. Police trace the telephone call to Dr Sheppard to King's Abbot station.

Poirot proceeds to collect more information on suspects not in the house, including the representative of a dictaphone company who had visited Ackroyd some days previously. He asks the exact time at which Dr Sheppard met the stranger at the Fernly Park gates. Poirot finds a goose quill and a scrap of starched cambric in the summer house, and a ring with the inscription "From R" in the backyard pool. Poirot notices that the parlourmaid Ursula Bourne has no alibi for the murder. He carefully observes the study, learning of the repositioning of a chair from Parker's first view of Ackroyd, to his next.

Poirot brings together Sheppard, Flora, Mrs Ackroyd, Raymond, and Blunt, telling them that they have been concealing something from him. Dr Sheppard aids Poirot as he can, conducting research into Ursula Bourne. Raymond and Mrs Ackroyd both reveal that they were in debt, which Ackroyd's death resolved, for both were included in Ackroyd's will. Flora reveals that she did not see her uncle in his study, confessing to stealing money from Ackroyd's bureau in his bedroom. Raymond and Blunt are the last to hear Ackroyd alive. This leaves Flora, Blunt, Raymond, and Mrs Ackroyd without alibis. Blunt's secret is revealed; he is in love with Flora. Poirot calls a second meeting, adding the butler, housekeeper and Captain Paton. The goose quill is a heroin holder belonging to the stranger Sheppard met, Miss Russell's illegitimate son. The ring belongs to Ursula Bourne, who is secretly married to Ralph Paton. Poirot knows the killer's identity, confirmed by a telegram received during the meeting. He does not reveal the name; instead he issues a warning to the killer.

When Poirot and Sheppard are alone, their conversation takes a startling turn. Poirot had fetched Ralph from the asylum where Sheppard had been hiding him since the murder. Sheppard had used Ackroyd's dictaphone to make it appear that Ackroyd was alive after Sheppard killed him. Sheppard stabbed Ackroyd just before leaving the house. Poirot explains the inconsistency in the time it took for Sheppard to reach the gates, deducing that he looped back to Ackroyd's study window and planted Paton's footprints there. Earlier that day, he asked a patient of his to phone him at a specific time, confirmed by the telegram. Sheppard wanted to be on the scene to discover Ackroyd's body, remove the dictaphone and return the chair that concealed it from view to its original place. Sheppard blackmailed Mrs Ferrars, for£20,000, now lost in a bad investment. He murdered Ackroyd to stop him knowing this, thus ending any chance at normal life for Sheppard.

Poirot tells Sheppard that all this information will be reported to the police in the morning. Dr Sheppard continues writing his report on Poirot's investigation. Sheppard admits his guilt. He writes that he wanted to write the account of Poirot's great failure— that is, not solving the murder of Roger Ackroyd. Sheppard writes both his confession and his suicide note.

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