Death on the Nile quilt top

I’ve made another Poirot-themed quilt top, because what better theme for a cozy lap quilt than a cozy mystery to read or watch while cuddled up on the sofa? 🙂

My Poirot projects all seem to share similar color schemes: black, white, red, neutrals. The “square” motif is, of course, a given when it comes to Poirot-themed quilting. 🙂  Most of the fabrics you see here are custom designs made at Spoonflower, which is a brilliant company for those who like to make highly-specialized theme projects. My own Spoonflower design– the “Poirot words” fabrics in the four corners– is a personal favorite and is ubiquitous in my Poirot sewing projects.

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Poirot and Hastings, acrylic on canvas

So sorry… I’m behind with posting my latest Poirot art! Have a 7″x14″ canvas… image, I think, is from Evil Under the Sun. Pleased with the eyes in this one. I haven’t done many painted images of Hastings yet from this “middle period,” so that was nice to do.

“The Chocolate Box” and Curtain: a compare/contrast

***SPOILERS for both stories!***

In Christie’s Poirot canon, one of the most obvious side-by-side story comparisons one can do is The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain. Christie herself, in Curtain, takes pains to point out the similarities between the first and the last of the Poirot novels. In this way, she brings Poirot “full circle.”

A less-obvious comparison might be “The Chocolate Box” and Curtain. But again, we have a matter of extremes: “The Chocolate Box” is the earliest chronological case that we ever hear about, when Poirot is a policeman in Belgium, while Curtain is the final case of Poirot’s life. You mightn’t think it at first– and I don’t suggest that this was all deliberate on Christie’s part– but there are some really unique points shared in these stories. Let’s do a little compare/contrast! 🙂

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-In each story, there is a “big reveal” murderer who is a sympathetic figure (Madame Déroulard, Poirot). This person has killed the “secondary” murderer (a villain) out of beneficence: to avenge untraceable murder and to protect future victims. We only discover how dirty the secondary murderer played when the big reveal comes.

-Each of these involve the rare cases of Poirot stories in which murderers get away with their crime without the general public ever knowing. And yet, in Christie (as Poirot often states), no murderer ever really gets away with it. The author is scrupulously fair and is careful when working in her contingencies. Both murderers are sick and elderly– they ARE going to die imminently regardless, long before a trial could ever be held for them. This also happens in “Dead Man’s Mirror,” and is a tactic Christie sometimes uses when the reader is especially sympathetic to the killer. The killer pays for their crime in a way and has a reckoning, but without being exposed to public disgrace. As a contrast, the sick, elderly killers in each story have this difference: as per Christie, Poirot allows nature to take its course with his death, not wishing to become the sort of egomanic, brilliant vigilante murderer that his own nature could have succumbed to. (Sorry, TV adaptation, but I don’t buy the idea that refraining from the amyl nitrite was itself “suicide remorse” and an attempt to avoid the hangman; I give my reasoning here.) Madame D. has not (as far as we know!) orchestrated her own impending death.

-Comparing and contrasting motive and struggle: Poirot and Madame D. are both devout Catholics. There is some measure of religious motivation in the murder of “TCB,” but none in Curtain. (Although I think an excellent paper could be written about Norton as satanic archetype, and how Poirot’s unusual line in the TV adaption about wanting to “damn him to hell” works well along those lines. That’s another blog post…) There is, however, faith-centered soul-searching going on with both characters, and given visual cred in the TV episodes. There is both a personal and a communal– even nation-wide– threat that the villains present to those who eventually murder them. The “last straw” for each of the beneficent killers is, you might say, when things get personal with new, would-be threats to loved ones that are both physical and existential. Paul D. not only killed a woman’s body (his wife), but aims to kill another’s soul (Virginie). Likewise, Norton goes after Hastings as a victim by not only attempting to pin murder and its fatal consequences on him, but by what Poirot sees as a real corruption and distortion of Hastings’ own essence, which is not that of a killer. Also, Poirot and Madame D. are each burdened with the contemplation that in refraining from action, they themselves had complicity with the villains’ murders. Only Madame D. had seen and knew of her son’s murder of his wife, but she was powerless to bring him to justice, as no one would believer her. Only Poirot had the deductive powers to perceive Norton’s game, but was likewise powerless to bring him to justice and (more importantly) to protect his many innocent victims.

-You could say, therefore, that both the beginning and the end of Poirot’s detective career as we know it are stories of failures. There is a sense in which Curtain is a “success,” insofar as Poirot’s plan is carefully weighed, flawlessly executed, and intellectually satisfying. But it is certainly not a happy triumph, but more of a sad inevitability, perceived as a lesser-of-two-evils necessity. This is ironic when one considers how the rest of Poirot’s career reads as unbroken success. What the failures in these two stories reveal is the character’s relation to humility. In “TCB,” Poirot has a humorously short-lived brush with modesty, asking Hastings to say “chocolate box” as a cure for any future conceit on his part. In my opinion, the issue of modesty and humility really finds its full circle for Poirot from “TCB” to Curtain. A contrast between the characters is that Madame D. confesses with her head held high, perfectly willing to answer for her murder before the good God. Poirot, faced with limited options for justice and the protection of the innocent in Curtain, gives in to murder, but does so without such certainly of rectitude and justification. His appeal is to God’s mercy.

-The medication used as a poison in “TCB” was trinitrin, a medicinal form of nitroglycerin that relieves angina pain and is used with various heart conditions. In Curtain, Poirot uses amyl nitrite, a similar substance, as treatment for his angina. The application of the heart med is what kills the victim in “TCB”; the withholding of the heart med seems instrumental to the acceleration of the hero’s death in Curtain. Paul D. was thought to have died of heart failure, which Virginie strongly disbelieves on account of his otherwise excellent health. Poirot actually does die of a heart attack, and no one but Hastings seems to suspect foul play, and that only because Poirot was after the killer, X.

-Let’s talk about the role of chocolate! John Wilson’s tiny trinitrin tablets, used by the murderer were made of chocolate, presumably to disguise the awful taste. Drugged chocolate kills the victim in “TCB.” Drugged chocolate saves Hastings from worse than death in Curtain; it also incapacitates Poirot’s victim!

-Virginie M. and Elizabeth Cole have special roles in their respective stories. Each have a personal intuition that something is not quite right with a past death. Virginie asks Poirot to investigate Paul D.’s death, suspecting murder; Elizabeth Cole confides in Hastings that somehow, she always felt that “it wasn’t Margaret,” her sister, who killed their father. In the TV adaptation TCB, Poirot introduces Virginie (unknowingly) to her future husband. In Curtain, Poirot deliberately introduces Elizabeth Cole to Hastings and later encourages a match.

-In the TV adaptation TCB, Virginie gives a very Judith-like spiel to Saint-Alarde (trying to entrap him) about how some murders are morally justifiable if it means saving others.

-Both stories, including their dramatizations, show Poirot sneaking around houses to burgle and whatnot. This is ALWAYS fun. 🙂

-This might sound trivial, but it is still significant in the adaptations: Poirot’s definite lack of extra padding in both stories, due to either youth or old age. And some significant scene contrasts: just watch Poirot booking it down the stairs of his apartment building in TCB, compared to being carried down the staircase by Curtiss in Curtain!

-Both stories in their televised adaptations are notable for their emphases on Poirot’s loneliness. Not only is he forced to act in a lone-wolf capacity as an investigator due to the unique nature of the cases, but his lack in the area of personal relationships is hard to miss as well.

-Finally, both stories share a factor that sets them apart from all other Poirot stories: a substantial, first-person narrative confession to Hastings. The story “The Lost Mine” also contains a long first-person narrative of Poirot’s, but it is not a confession of error or wrongdoing.

Hastings sketch

Ringing in Hastings Monday (okay, this post is coming a couple days late) with a pencil sketch on white paper. My favorite drawing pencil these days is General’s Kimberly 9XXB, which is the darkest and softest they have. Intensity of charcoal, but not as dirty and without the graphite glare!  🙂  It’s been easy to get lazy with my gray paper where all the midtones are provided for you and you add pencil and pastel as the random shadow or highlight. So every now and then I’ve been switching it up with good old traditional white paper again.

By the way, Hugh Fraser is really hard to draw. I have no idea why. I’ve drawn his character many times and this is usually my experience. Hypothetically (by my own technique, anyway) no person should be harder to draw than any other. I’m working off a photo and just copy what I see. But it may be that, compared to Poirot, Hastings’ fairer coloring creates more difficulties, like the greater likelihood of being “washed out” or having less of the contrast that comes more naturally with light skin and dark hair/eyes. Clean-shaven people are also harder to draw. Poirot is a piece of cake, really. If you get the moustache right, everything else just falls into place!

Chief Inspector Japp – acrylic on canvas

Soooo sorry for not posting here throughout February, but we’ve had the plague going through our house. I myself got a trip to the ER (courtesy of a 104+ fever) and an IV of fluids– still coughing like crazy, so it’s not over yet. But just to have something to show for the month, here’s a 7×14″ acrylic painting of Japp. 🙂   The shot is from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, an episode full of great Japp shots.

Poirot gourmet: Crêpes and camembert

Below: Apricot-cherry crêpes, a wedge of camembert, and a lemon-camomile tisane. I used more of the apricot preserves and cherries left over after my experiments with Baba au Rhum. Served up on my best dishes!  🙂

As though in answer to prayer, the flap of the tent was lifted and Hassan appeared, bearing a steaming cup which he offered to Poirot. It proved to be camomile tea, a beverage of which he is inordinately fond.

-“The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb”

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Poirot’s blind spots

Few things are as endearing to a reader as their favorite character’s blind spots. Especially with such a seemingly omniscient character as Poirot, he is brought  down to earth by these simple foibles. From both the books and the TV series (mostly both), here are some of Poirot’s most “humanizing” aspects and traits.

1. His wardrobe. Especially those patent leather shoes; highly impractical, perpetually a cause of pain. But dang it, he wants to look smart. Instead, he ends up covered with sand and dust in “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb,” and immerses (and ruins) a pair of suede shoes while helping Arlena Marshall to launch her float in Evil Under the Sun. He knows, on some level, that his get-ups cause consternation to his British acquaintances:

Rowley Cloade was eyeing Poirot rather doubtfully. The flamboyant moustaches, the sartorial elegance, the white spats and the pointed-patent leather shoes all filled this insular young man with distinct misgivings.

Poirot realized this perfectly well, and was somewhat amused. (Taken at the Flood)

But in other stories– perhaps earlier ones– he seems blissfully unaware of his own incongruity to the surrounding landscape.

‘Dear me,’ I complained. ‘There is something about this place that makes me feel extremely conspicuous. As for you, Poirot, you look positively exotic.’

‘You think it is noticed that I am a foreigner—yes?’

‘The fact cries aloud to heaven,” I assured him.

‘And yet my clothes are made by an English tailor,’ mused Poirot. (Dumb Witness)


2. The English language.
It seems a bit rich to call Poirot’s slips in English a “blind spot,” considering that he speaks (as per Christie) at least four languages himself– English, French, German, and Italian. He has solved various crimes and decoded clues specifically because of his linguistic skills (including clues in English), sometimes highlighting the Englishman’s lack of a grasp of foreign languages (see: “The Stymphalean Birds,” “The Adventure of the Lost Ball”). But let’s face it– when he does get bewildered over various turns of phrase in English, it’s hilarious.

Miss Lemon replied sadly that servants did not seem to know what elbow grease was nowadays. Poirot looked a little puzzled, but decided not to inquire into the inward meaning of the mysterious phrase ‘elbow grease.’ (“The Mystery of the Spanish Chest”)

‘No, no, you do not derange me in the least.’

‘Good gracious– I’m sure I don’t want to drive you out of your mind.’ (Dead Man’s Folly)

‘Perhaps some convivial idiot who has had one over the eight.’

Comment? Nine? Nine what?’

‘Nothing– just an expression. I meant a fellow who was tight. No, damn it, a fellow who had had a spot too much to drink.’

Merci, Hastings– the expression “tight” I am acquainted with.’ (The A.B.C. Murders)

And one of my favorite bits of banter with Japp:

‘You’re a pig-headed old boy, you know.’

‘You insult first my nose and then my head!’

‘Figure of speech, that’s all,’ said Japp soothingly. ‘No offence meant.’

‘The answer to that,’ I said, ‘is “nor taken.”’

Poirot looked from one to the other of us completely puzzled. (Lord Edgware Dies)


3. Offering drinks to guests.
For a man with such a grasp of human nature, it is remarkable that Poirot continually offers his guests exactly the sorts of drinks that they find disgusting. It works well for humor, however: in the TV adaptation of “The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim,” attention is called to this trait by Poirot’s offering “something warming” to Japp, who accepts since he’s off-duty… only to be given a cup of hot chocolate, much to Hastings’ amusement.

A couple of my favorite examples from the books…

Poirot pressed his guest with refreshments. A grenadine? Creme de Menthe? Benedictine? Creme de Cacao?…

At this moment George entered with a tray on which was a whisky bottle and a siphon. ‘Or beer if you prefer it, sir?’ he murmured to the visitor.

Superintendent Spence’s large red face lightened.

‘Beer for me,’ he said.

Poirot was left to wonder once more at the accomplishments of George. He himself had had no idea that there was beer in the flat and it seemed incomprehensible to him that it could be preferred to a sweet liqueur. (Mrs McGinty’s Dead)

So it came about that at three o’clock of that same afternoon, Rhoda Dawes and Anne Meredith sat primly on their chairs in Poirot’s neat room and sipped blackberry sirop (which they disliked very much but were too polite to refuse) from old-fashioned glasses. (Cards on the Table)

The one astonishing exception to this rule is Poirot’s interactions with Ariadne Oliver. In one story, he says to George that “I never know what she likes”– and yet he goes on to provide exactly what she likes. On every social occasion, this is the case. Mrs Oliver also knows exactly what to offer Poirot as a hostess, unlike most of his other acquaintances. (I’m currently writing a short story featuring Mrs Oliver, outlining the story of the literary luncheon in which she and Poirot first meet, and this becomes an important plot point.) Her attentiveness is especially notable in Third Girl, and the scene is translated nicely in the television series in Poirot’s visit.

‘Chocolate? With whipped cream on top? Or a tisane. You love sipping tisanes. Or lemonade. Or orangeade. Or would you like decaffeinated coffee if I can get it– ’

‘Ah ça, non, par example! It is an abomination.’

‘One of those sirops you like so much. I know, I’ve got half a bottle of Ribena in the cupboard.’

‘What is Ribena?’

‘Blackcurrant flavour.’

‘Indeed, one has to hand it to you! You really do try, Madame. I am touched by your solicitude. I will accept with pleasure to drink a cup of chocolate this afternoon.’ (Third Girl)

Hastings is also much better on this point than Poirot is with others. When he places orders for drinks for himself and Poirot, he goes ahead and finds that creme de menthe (the episode Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan) or the cup of chocolate or the tisane that the English scorn.

I ordered two whiskies and sodas and a cup of chocolate. The last order caused consternation, and I much doubted whether it would ever put in an appearance. (“The Cornish Mystery”)

One might conclude from this that only Poirot’s closest friends have that proper mutual understanding about drink preferences. Otherwise, Poirot’s completely out to sea.

4. The Countess Rossakoff. It isn’t only that he knows perfectly well that she’s a crook, and yet eternally fascinating to him. He is also aware on some level that she has probably lied about her romantic past. The story “The Capture of Cerberus” is jarring to Poirot readers on this point– the great detective chooses to remain willfully blind about this object of his affection. It is a very rare move for Poirot.

Poirot objected, ‘Her life can surely not have been safe and dull as a member of the ancien regime in Russia during the revolution?’

A look of faint amusement showed in Miss Cunningham’s pale blue eyes.

‘Ah,’ she said. ‘A member of the ancien regime? She has told you that?’

‘She is undeniably an aristocrat,’ said Poirot staunchly, fighting back certain uneasy memories of the wildly varying accounts of her early life told him by the Countess herself.

‘One believes what one wishes to believe,’ remarked Miss Cunningham, casting a professional eye on him.

Poirot felt alarmed. In a moment, he felt, he would be told what was his complex. He decided to carry the war into the enemy’s camp. He enjoyed the Countess Rossakoff’s society partly because of her aristocratic provenance, and he was not going to have his enjoyment spoiled by a spectacled little girl with boiled gooseberry eyes and a degree in psychology!

5. Employee misunderstandings. As my memory has it, Poirot is not really depicted by Christie as someone who particularly misunderstands his employees. A couple of times, Miss Lemon or George surprise him with an astuteness that takes him unawares. In Hickory Dickory Dock, he is dumbfounded to learn that Miss Lemon has a sister. But this cute narrative from the episode The Dream, while not part of the books, does perhaps draw on some of Christie’s notes about Poirot’s hospitality-related blind spots.

Poirot: “But you have never complained before.”
Miss Lemon: “I’ve done nothing but complain for the last six months!”
Poirot: “No!”
Hastings: “It has been mentioned, Poirot.”
Poirot: “Kindly do not band together against Poirot!”


6. The Chocolate Box.
This famous early case, cited by Poirot as his one utter failure of deduction, is one of those few “blind spots” to which Poirot himself has openly admitted. I hesitate to mention it, since it doesn’t really represent a consistent, recurring misunderstanding on his part, as to be a personality quirk. But there is another “blind spot” of Poirot’s at the very end of the story which does recur, serving to amuse Hastings and the reader.

‘Or no– remember it, and if you think at any time that I am growing conceited– it is not likely, but it might arise.’

I concealed a smile.

Eh bien, my friend, you shall say to me, “Chocolate box.” Is it agreed?’

‘It’s a bargain!’

‘After all,’ said Poirot reflectively. ‘It was an experience! I, who have undoubtedly the finest brain in Europe at present, can afford to be magnanimous!’

‘Chocolate box,’ I murmured gently.

‘Pardon, mon ami?’

I looked at Poirot’s innocent face, as he bent forward inquiringly, and my heart smote me. I have suffered often at his hands, but I, too, though not possessing the finest brain in Europe, could afford to be magnanimous!

‘Nothing,’ I lied, and lit another pipe, smiling to myself.

Fashion Week, Day 7: Poirot attire

Day #7: Poirot attire

There haven’t been nearly enough masculine style options in this week’s fashion blitz– namely, because I’ve been working mostly out of my own closet. 🙂  So I’m rounding off Seven Storeys High’s self-styled “Fashion Week” with some fun links and articles on menswear, wardrobe, and props.

Here’s an article by Sven Raphael Schneider for the Gentleman’s Gazette called “The Clothes of Hercule Poirot.” (They have a companion article on Hastings, too!)

A store called Fashionable Canes makes something that resembles Poirot’s swan cane. I wouldn’t be surprised if other people have tried their hand at it, too.

You can also find various attempts online to recreate Poirot’s iconic vase brooch. Here’s one of the more impressive ones I’ve seen…

Finally, here’s a fairly recent Fashionista article by Fawnia Soo Hoo about the wardrobe in the recent Murder on the Orient Express film adaptation. It includes a good deal of detail from designer Alexandra Byrne about choices made for several of the characters–  pretty interesting!