Sunday, 28 March 2021

Poirot Investigates

AuthorAgatha Christie
First Published1924
Pages: 123
Ebook Publisher: HarperCollins
Ebook Date: Oct. 2010

Mention the name "Agatha Christie" to anyone, and even if they are not books fans, there is a good chance they will have heard of her creation, the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot or one of the novels that he takes part in, such as Murder on the Orient Express, or Death on the Nile. Such is power and success of Christies books that she is still regarded as the Queen of Crime or the Mistress of Mystery. Critically speaking she is bullet-proof. As recently as the year 2000 (nearly 25 years after her death) she was crowned "Best Writer of the Century" and the Hercule Poirot books "Best Series of the Century" at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention.

Thirteen years later, a staggering six hundred members of the Crime Writers' Association chose her novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as "the best whodunit ... ever written", and again voted her the "best crime writer"; considering this is coming from an assocaition of professional novelists it is difficult to ignore. And it's no surprise that all of this praise is accompanied by massive commercial success, her books are hot property, not least when it comes to movie and television adaptations. Christie has been lauded as the second most financially successful crime writer of all time in the United Kingdom, sitting firmly behind James Bond author Ian Fleming. Estimated earnings are considered somewhere in the region of £100 million. The Christie estate continues to prosper into the 2020's with projects almost unhindered by the passage of time and tastes. Many of her stories manage to maintain such a grip that they are often produced as period pieces, retaining the settings and historical trappings of their original publication dates.

Hercule Poirot was the star of Agatha Christie's first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. It introduced the world to the short rotund Belgian dandy and his "little grey cells", Inspector Japp and Poirot's companion, Captain Arthur Hastings. Following the success of the book Christie was approached by Bruce Ingram, editor of The Sketch magazine, who suggested that she should write a series of stories starring her new detective. Ingram wanted twelve shorts for his publication. Before  she had completed these stories it dawned on her that she had made a terribly mistake, Poirot was too old in his first starring role. This led to Christie adopting story-telling devices that enabled her to delve into the past and Poirot's history and it's no doubt that this diversity is what allows Poirot stories to occupy an ever-evolving backdrop.

First UK Edition
There is a difference between the British and American versions of Poirot Investigates; the American version contains an extra three stories from The Sketch in the shape of The Chocolate Box, The Veiled Lady and The Lost Mine.

Here are some of my favourite stories from the British collection.

The Kidnapped Prime Minister

Like any Sherlock Holmes or Solar Pons story; I have a soft spot for those that involve a member of a Royal Family or a Head of Government, as long as they are made up personalities. In this case Poirot and Hastings are asked to solve the riddle of the missing English Prime Minister. Following a bungled assassination attempt in England in which he received a facial injury, the Prime Minister is abducted in France on the way to an important conference regarding the future of War in Europe. It's a rattling good yarn involving lots of travel back and forth between England and France in a very short time frame - and Poirot is fantastically mysterious in his deductions throughout.

The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb

Poirot in Egypt? Yep, even before Death on the Nile our Belgian refugee travels (rather instantaneously it has to be said) to the outskirts of Giza to the excavation site that has uncovered the tomb of King Men-her-ra. In the grand tradition of 1920's Egyptian tales, a curse has befallen the team of archaeologists who broke the seal of the centuries old tomb. Two have died at the site, and one has committed suicide back in his apartment in New York. A glorious tale that allows Poirot to entertain the possibility of a real curse, whilst at the same time complaining about the travel and the sand. And maybe even the Belgian himself falls foul of the curse!

The Case of the Missing Will

This story is very short, but I loved it all the more for that. A young women, Miss Violet Marsh, approaches Poirot to assist her with the conundrum that faces following the death of her only relative, an uncle who all but adopted her when her own parents died when she was young. His fortune is wrapped up in his home Crabtree Manor. The will that he left allows Miss Marsh to stay at the Manor for one year only. From then, if she has not made her own way in the world, she must vacate the premises and the proceeds of the sale of the property will be donated to various charity organisations. Captian Hastings accompanies Poirot to Crabtree Manor to try and determine if there are any clues in the household that will lead them to a satisfactory resolution for Miss Marsh. This is fast-paced and simple; the deduction is relatively simple and there is no time to dwell on things before the case is solved in two shakes of a lamb's tail! Loved it.

Reading Poirot Investigates is a pleasure. These short stories are extremely diverse and allowed Christie to expand Poirot's character in small but sweet moments - peppering the tales with little catchphrases, and moments of his obsessiveness or arrogance. 

After watching the ITV Series 'Poirot' you begin to appreciate how good the writing team were at expanding upon the original source material to fill out a 50-minute episode. Some of the stories throw-away sentences or scenes were used to great effect.

In comparison to Holmes I don't think this collection comes up to scratch though. Although Hercule Poirot is as strong a character as Sherlock (and in some cases, a more developed character through his more prevalent appearance in long-form), the short story form on show here is not a patch on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The actual content of the plots, and the methods applied by Poirot are less detailed than Doyle put to paper. There is an overall feeling that this collection is too short, and each tale could have benefitted from a higher word count.

However, I don't want to leave this review on a negative impression. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, and am certainly not discouraged from reading further Poirot. He is very engaging and delightfully upbeat to read about. Captain Hastings gets his moments, but his time comes in some of the longer novels. 

A recommended read, one to savour and not take too seriously.

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