Poirot Investigates

“All that matters is the little gray cells within. Secretly and silently they do their part, until suddenly I call for a map, and I lay my finger on a spot–so–and I say: the Prime Minister is there! And it is so! With method and logic one can accomplish anything!”

I’m a little behind in posting reviews, but Poirot Investigates was my Agatha Christie for September. This 1923 book collects 14 short stories that were all previously published in magazines. Christie pulls off the shorter format relatively well, but these are definitely early stories.

There are two things I like best about her work: her characters, and her sleight of hand. The first are quite present. Forgetting what I’ve seen from David Suchet (though I hear his voice as I read), I’m impressed at how clearly Poirot is drawn from the very beginning. He has the major traits he is always associated with, such as fastidiousness, attention to detail, and well-deserved conceit, but also consistently proves himself to be fond of hot chocolate and not of sea voyages, for example. He also on several occasions makes clear his method for solving crimes, those famous little grey cells. Hastings, too, is already gaining a clearly defined role. I was quite annoyed with him in the first story, but he is less meddlesome after that. He has a high opinion of his own powers of deduction, which unlike Poirot’s is not usually accurate. On the other hand, if I lived with Poirot I think would constantly feel the need to try and prove myself, which made me much more forgiving to him.

Because of the length limitations, however (averaging 15 pages), Christie can’t come at us with her usual bag of tricks. Instead there are usually only one or two small details in each story for Poirot to ponder, and red herrings are slightly easier to spot. With some stories, like “The Million Dollar Bond Robbery,” I was able to guess the solution, while in others such as “The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge” I admitted defeat. But there was also a third group, including “The Veiled Lady,” where it seemed that Christie didn’t quite play fair; Poirot’s deductions turned on minor points that were mentioned marginally. According to Nancy Blue Wynne’s An Agatha Christie Chronology the stories here show the most similarity to Sherlock Holmes, and I have to agree with that observation–not in the way the crimes are solved, but in the way they are presented.

The subjects of the cases present a surprising variety, including government secrets and Egyptian curses, but to me Poirot is best when he is in his natural element. My favorites all had to do with murders, stolen jewels, missing wills–the usual crimes. No two cases are alike.

Finally, and I must read Christie’s autobiography at some point for the answer, I’m sure she must have been fluent in French. Anyone could throw in the French expressions Poirot uses, but just the way she has him phrase speech in general suggests a familiarity with the language. I’m always impressed by how authentic it sounds.

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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