Thursday, 14 November 2013

Poirot's Curtain Call

The genre of police detectives and murder mysteries is one of the most popular in books, television shows, plays, films, and even games. Perhaps of all time. It is likely that I will dive into this area a few times, as I'm mildly obsessed with the crime genre. (Who doesn't like a good murder mystery?) Today, however, I want to talk about Agatha Christie's famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

Christie once said this about Poirot, "Why, why, why did I ever invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature?" After about a decade of writing Poirot stories, she tired of him, and much like Conan Doyle and his Sherlock, wanted to kill him off ages before the clamouring public would ever allow. During the Second World War, she wrote Curtain, Poirot's final case and popped it into a bank vault to be published when she could no longer write. (It was published in 1975).

We first meet Poirot in Christie's 1920 novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. From thenceforth, he appeared in 33 (!) novels and over 50 short stories. Agatha Christie was known as "The Queen of Crime." Many of her stories follow a similar motifs of posh people at dinners or weekend shooting parties (of which, Poirot is usually one), where someone dies of poisoning; then the Will is read out and reveals that the snobby son has been cut out...dun, dun, dun... But it works, you see! She is clever and interesting in her story telling. I have correctly guessed but a hand full of murderers in her stories (I've read nearly all of them), so she must be doing something right.

Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan
 I love the places she takes Poirot and her readers: not just Devon, London, or the English countryside, but the Middle East, France, and other parts of Europe. Again, I've had the great fortune to visit some of the places she writes about, which for me enhances both occasions - the reading of her story, and the visit to that place.

For example, earlier this year I was able to visit Egypt and had lunch in the very hotel Agatha Christie stayed in - The Cataract Hotel in Aswan (and where Poirot stays in the novel, Death on the Nile). My travel companion was good enough to indulge me, and we listened to David Suchet (the actor who plays Poirot) read this novel on audio book as we travelled up and down Egypt. Christie was mentioning places in the novel that we had just been to! As I say, it really made the story all the more exciting.

It was similar when on this same trip, we went to Petra in Jordan. Although, I have given The Orient Express a miss as it is far beyond any normal person's price range. I've been to where Christie spent much of her life in Torquay, Devon. There is a small museum there, and it was wonderful to see some of the first manuscripts. She was an incredible woman, a great traveller, and a prolific writer.

And now, to David Suchet, the brilliant actor who has portrayed the character of Poirot for over 24 years. He has performed every story that Poirot has ever appeared in, even the stage play, Black Coffee. Quite an impressive feat. He plays the character to perfection, having closely read the details Christie provides in her stories. 'The Radio Times' magazine has an article here, that may be of some interest. The precision Suchet brings to the character of Poirot is truly remarkable.

I was lucky enough to be in "Row A" at the Apollo in London and saw Suchet up close and personal in a wonderful performance. It is incredible that a man with such presence and deep timbre can transform himself into, "That funny, little Belgian," as many other characters in the Poirot stories describe the detective.

These are stories I read over and over again - partly to see where I went wrong in guessing "who-dunit" the first go round, but also because I love them. My favourites are Death on the Nile, Dead Man's Folly, and some of the early short stories with Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. The most surprising of the collection that I've ever read is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. One of those that leave you in frustrated disbelief long after...

Tonight is the very last television episode, ever, ever, of Poirot, and I'm very sad to see an end of an era. It has been a great achievement by Suchet and the writers of the television episodes. For me, my memories of reading Poirot mysteries (which I much prefer over Miss Marple, Christie's other long running character), are summer days reading one after the other in quick succession; of watching the television series, I remember curling up on cold nights and enjoying a "jolly good murder," and spotting actors before they were properly famous. I've been putting off watching the final episode this evening - I always hate goodbyes. Tissues at the ready, methinks, and a raised glass to "the little grey cells." Farewell, Monsieur Poirot...