People who know me might or might not know something rather strange about me–I am a rabid Hercule Poirot fan. I say it’s strange because my tastes run more towards the contemporary and what some would call noir or ‘gritty’. Poirot is none of those things, though later in the TV series, they tried their damnedest to make it so. I want to make it clear that I read the stories voraciously when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I’ve read each at least three or five times, and some up to dozens of times. My two favorites are The Big Four and Curtain, and I’m trying my own hand at writing a Poirot story. It’s dashed hard, though, to write in someone else’s voice and not make it sound like parody. There is someone who has written two new ‘Poirot’ novels with the blessing of the Christie estate (money already running dry?), and I tried to read the first one. It wasn’t Poirot at all, and I didn’t make it past the first few pages. I didn’t even try to read the second one. Anyway, writing a Poirot story has been a good exercise, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it.
Back to the books. I loved Poirot’s finickiness, his preciseness, his ego, and his little grey cells. I didn’t care how ludicrous his denouements were. In fact, the more ludicrous, the better. I love modern murder mysteries, but I do have to say the insistence on verisimilitude can get tedious. I love the internet, but it makes it far too easy to check up on the details. “There’s no such place as Shop and Cop in Boston!” Who cares, really? It’s funny, but it even happened in the days before the internet. Agatha Christie had a character in her later novels named Ariadne Oliver whose famous detective is a vegetarian Finn named Sven Hjerson. Ariadne is clearly a stand-in for Agatha Christie, and she’s always lamenting about how she shouldn’t have made him a Finn and that people in Finland have too much time to read. It’s hilarious, and I’m quite sure it was Dame Christie’s way of venting her frustration because it’s said she came to hate Poirot by the end of her career.
I started watching the Ustinov movies, but he never really was Poirot to me. Funny note: David Suchet played Chief Inspector Japp in one of the Ustinov movies, and, um, let’s just say it wasn’t the right role for him. He IS Hercule Poirot, and there shall be no other. Yes, I will watch the (ugh) Kenneth Branagh version of Murder on the Orient Express, but I won’t like it. The trailer is atrocious, Kenneth Branagh couldn’t be more wrong for the part, and everything about is wrong. Then again, all three of the prior versions of the movie are terrible, too (including, sadly, the David Suchet version which got all Catholique at the end), and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better as a novel. Interestingly enough, even though it’s one of the more famous novels, it’s not one of my favorite. It’s too convoluted, even for a Poirot novel, and there’s no way to cram it in an hour and a half to two hours. Anyway, I don’t think there should be any more Poirot portrayals unless it’s done by an actual Belgian. It’s time to let it go and let David Suchet remain the gold standard.
I know as I watch that there are problems with the series. One, the way they portray the working class, often making them appear thick, slow, and conniving. Another is using English actors for other nationalities. Speaking of which, Dame Christie had some pretty provincial ideas about other nationalities, which is one of my least favorite part of the books. In watching the series again, I’ve been wincing at some of the portrayals (both as how they are written and the English actors portraying them). The biggest strength is also the biggest problem, and I hate having to talk about it, but talk I must. It’s David Suchet as Poirot. Now, my admiration for Suchet as Poirot knows no bounds. I am currently watching the first episode, and how he grew into the part until he embodied the character is amazing. He is Poirot to me that any time I hear him speak in his regular voice, I am jarred. It is a performance of the lifetime, and I adore every aspect of it.