Honestly, I think of this meme WHENEVER I see this scene…
What Poirot blog would be complete without a nod to the other books by Agatha Christie that feature Hercule Poirot as a fictional character? I’ll start with what is probably my favorite non-Poirot Christie: the Tommy and Tuppence collection, Partners in Crime.
Tommy and Tuppence stories are always a treat because, despite certain moments of implausibility when things sometimes get a little international-spy-crazy, the two main characters are simply SO well drawn and interact so wonderfully. The stories tend to be light-hearted and hilariously funny, and anything farfetched just adds to the fun. Partners in Crime has some aspects of unique brilliance: the two main characters are posing as a fake detective agency while solving genuine mysteries, and for inspiration, they choose to solve each case in the style and idiom of different fictional detectives. It’s really a great way for Christie to show off her talent and a treat for mystery-lovers to see her characters tackle the modi operandi of their favorite sleuths!
The major Poirot book reference is that of The Big Four, though Poirot fanatics may also notice nods to Roger Ackroyd and more. The little grey cells are mentioned fairly early in Partners in Crime, but the very last chapter of the book is reserved for a case solved in the style of Hercule Poirot. It’s called “The Man Who Was No. 16,” in reference to “The Man Who Was No. 4.”
‘So it is,’ said Tuppence. She lowered her voice impressively. “This is our last case. When they have laid the superspy by the heels, the great detectives intend to retire and take to beekeeping or vegetable marrow growing. It’s always done.’
‘Well, sir, why not use your little grey cells, and see what you can do.’
‘It’s easier to use your little grey cells in fiction that it is in fact, my boy.’
‘He is the 4 squared– in other words, he is now the No. 16. You comprehend, my friend?’
‘Perfectly,’ said Tuppence. ‘You are the great Hercule Poirot.’
‘Exactly. No moustaches, but lots of grey cells.’
‘I’ve a feeling,’ said Tuppence, ‘that this particular adventure will be called the “Triumph of Hastings.”‘
‘Never,’ said Tommy. ‘It isn’t done. Once the idiot friend, always the idiot friend. There’s an etiquette in these matters. By the way, mon ami, can you not part your hair in the middle instead of one side? The present effect is unsymmetrical and deplorable.’
Speaking of that last quote: if you like the book, you might also need the audio book. Read by Hugh Fraser, it’s almost worth it solely to hear the voice of Hastings himself call his own long-standing character “the idiot friend.” 🙂 There’s another reason to love this particular audio book– it features a bonus interview with Fraser in which he waxes eloquent about the challenges of recording about a million audio books (I forget exactly how many hours he’s recorded, but it’s insanely impressive), the technique of Agatha Christie, working on the show, and other fun stuff.
Now to the prize giveaway…
This one is a little bit girly, I suppose, but I can’t help occasionally making girly things. I dabble in crafting as well as the fine arts. In honor of Christie’s Partners in Crime, I offer you a pair of bracelets, embellished by yours truly… one to keep, and one to share with your favorite partner in crime. If bracelets aren’t your thing personally, the pair of them would make a great gift for any girl. They are 7.5″ and extend to 8.5″, and they feature two halves of a “partners in crime” heart, tiny key charms, and some of my favorite sea-glass-colored iridescent beads.
I’ll ship these anywhere in the world. To win the pair of them, just share this blog post on Twitter or Facebook and send me your name. I’ll pull a name from a hat next Wednesday and announce the winner. 🙂 Bonne chance!
On June 21, Kingston Hospital Radio Online tweeted an interesting little tidbit about the music used in The A. B. C. Murders that Hugh Fraser retweeted, and so it came to my feed…
For my part, I was both delighted and sort of chagrined that I had never noticed this before. Last night I finally re-watched the episode, and the A-B-C motif positively screams to high heaven. Once heard, it cannot be unheard. I also realized that a full-fledged lay analysis was inevitable at that point, and so I watched through the episode sitting at my piano keyboard to see just what happens with the alphabet (musically) throughout the episode. I won’t go through quite the entire thing here– there are about a hundred key changes and transitions– but I’ll share some of the more interesting highlights. 🙂 ***Plot spoilers ahead***
The very first thing we see in the episode, which I love, is the rack of ABC railway guides at the station where Poirot is waiting for Hastings. A familiar cane appears to straighten those that are sticking out a bit. The very blatant A-B-C notes (representing the first three notes of the A minor scale) are the first things heard, and they quickly mingle with the Poirot theme, which has been transposed up a step from G minor to A minor and also contains those first three notes. This may explain why you can watch the episode so many times without realizing you’re hearing A-B-C… it just sounds like the beginning of the Poirot theme transposed (A-B-C-E-A from G-A-Bb-D-G). Clever. 🙂
Throughout the episode– for example, early on when Poirot and Hastings are first discussing the first letter– the A-B-C motif is sometimes paired with Eb-F-Gb to create a series of creepy-sounding diminished fifths. What better way to emphasize the unresolved tension of letters sent from a homicidal maniac? Diminished fifths give that delightful sensation of “something is really sick and wrong here.”
Whenever a new message from A. B. C. appears, the key reverts to A minor, and this also frequently happens when we encounter Cust. (Although he is also an A. B. C. in a manner of speaking, this is a bit deceptive musically because it causes the viewer/hearer to mentally associate that character with the typed letters. Sneaky!) By the time we get to Andover and the sign is zoomed in on, we get a very heavily-hammered A note. I was curious to see whether the same would hold true of the B, C, and D crimes. And sure enough– when the Bexhill poster is shown, we get a blaring B in the key of B minor, even– and later, Churston takes us to C minor! I was very giddy about this… 🙂 🙂 🙂 There are associations with keys for the different crimes in other places, too, such as when Donald Fraser is discussing the Bexhill crime and his dreams with Poirot, and the “ABC” theme plays in B minor again (B-C#-D).
Doncaster presents some interesting musical moments, too. The drone of the D for Doncaster begins when Japp, in Poirot’s sitting room, contemplates the St Leger as a complication of plans. When Cust enters the train to travel to Doncaster with the rest of the crew, we hear a “A-B… C-D”! And when everyone arrives in town together, sure enough, the key is switched to D minor.
I just want to hug the composer at this point. But moving along. 🙂
One of the most intriguing sections, musically, is when the crowds are congregated at the St Leger, and we see our various characters standing at their posts while Poirot parks somewhere to employ the grey cells. The music starts in A minor, and slowly modulates up by half steps through various keys, so that we get the B minor and C minor moments of earlier crimes as Poirot sits and thinks about them. This is also interspersed with Poirot’s own “regular” G minor theme. And just when he starts to get his revelation, what happens but a determined, final resolve to D minor!
We first hear the theme in F minor (I think) when Poirot is sitting and thinking about what will happen at Doncaster. Poirot’s denouement begins in his standard G minor, but when he gets to the part of his story where Cust meets the murderer over dominoes, the F minor key returns for the “ABC” theme. This is interesting– F for Franklin, perhaps? The reveal of the murderer takes us back to the original A minor, while the chase scene progresses through Ab minor, D minor, and F minor before returning to A minor. Franklin Clark is finally taken away by the police on a strong drone of F!!
On this Fourth of July, what a treat to be able to watch a live presentation of the Agatha Christie radio drama, “The Case of the Careless Victim,” right here in southern Manitoba. Flatlands Theatre Co. has been doing a series of events at Bethel Heritage Park in Winkler this summer– and woe betide me if I miss Poirot when he’s within a ten-minute drive!!
The set-up was delightful, with the Flatlands cast in period costume for the benefit of the audience– Poirot was even given a cane. Since it is radio, I’ll forgive his extra facial hair, especially since the accent was so nicely done. 😉 The performances were all really excellent. Angela Klassen gave an especially memorable turn as the plucky Miss Abigail Fletcher, in whose apartment a body is discovered. “Watching” radio drama sound effects live is rather fun, and these were interspersed throughout the performance with generous doses of Christopher Gunning’s Poirot theme music. There was even an adorable vintage-tinged commercial break. 🙂
Now, the world of “Poirot audio” is familiar to me– I’m a frequent listener of Christie’s audiobooks a la Hugh Fraser and David Suchet, and John Moffat is known to me as well– but Christie’s own radio dramas via the American market was a huge, mysterious unknown. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or even if the story was really a Christie original, as I’d never heard of it before. The plot had some typically Poirot-esque elements, but with some glaring departures from Christie’s usual style for her Belgian sleuth. First and most obviously, Poirot himself is in America, which never happens in the books. He even takes an apartment and hires a secretary there! Second, in the radio drama script, there are a few phrases and thoughts expressed that one does not normally associate with Poirot. He says “sacrebleu” twice, a phrase I don’t ever recall Christie putting in Poirot’s mouth (despite a Poirot reference in the Wikipedia article on the term– incomprehensible). He also once mentions finding the circling of airplanes at the location where he is dining as “charming” in that it gives the sensation of flying, although Poirot himself detests air and sea travel, which makes him feel sick. (This also explains why he hadn’t gone tripping across the pond in Christie’s stories– the Channel alone is hard enough for him!)
My ever-helpful husband found some information for me to answer some of these burning questions and puzzlements. It comes down to the fact that the rights to use the character were contracted from Christie to produce these radio dramas in the mid 1940s, which explains the discrepancies from canon and why they are not included with other Christie Poirots. You can go to this link and read all about Hal Huber’s efforts in procuring Poirot for American radio– it’s interesting stuff.
Good job, Flatlands– and thanks for introducing me to Poirot in America!
A little 8″x10″ sketch, with an image from Cards on the Table. This particular painting has a very “book illustration” sort of feel to it. I think it’s a combination of factors: the way the image feathers away at the edges, the occasional appearance of dark outlining, the overall simple looseness…
I love the apple in this picture. A nice summary of the characters in this shot, I think. 🙂
*Spoilers, as always.*
Happy Canada Day! Agatha Christie was rather fond of Canada, speaking warmly of the scenery as she tripped out this way on her many travels. In the Poirot series, two of the more prominent mentions that I can recall of the Great White North are from The Adventure of the Cheap Flat and Elephants Can Remember. Both involve a confusion of the nationalities of American and Canadian.
Miss Elsa Hart, the chief villain, is actually a pseudo-Canuck in the TV adaptation of Cheap Flat. On the run from the Mafia in the States, she assumes a different nationality as well as a different name. The shady manager of the Black Cat nightclub, Bernie Cole, offers some amusing dialog on the prospects of Canada’s future influence…
Poirot: “What I want to know is, is it Elsa Hart, the American?”
Poirot. “Ah. I heard her in New York once, you understand.”
Cole: “Oh yes? She’s Canadian. Like those Dionne quintuplets. It’s gonna be all the rage soon. Canadian this, Canadian that. Bernie Cole can always spot a trend! Known for it!”
(For those interested in a bit of trivia this Canada Day: the Dionne quintuplets, born in 1934 near Callander, Ontario, were famous as the first known surviving quintuplets. I remember driving down from Timmins once with the family, and passing a road sign noting that we were near their hometown. The identical sisters became a sort of gimmicky tourist phenomenon and must have had a pretty bizarre childhood in consequence.)
Although it doesn’t occur in the Christie’s original story, I rather enjoy the use of confused nationality. As an American living in Canada who is frequently confused for being Canadian, it always delights me when people confuse Poirot for a Frenchman, and he corrects them right away. It’s funny– but it’s also exactly how it is! 🙂
The other prominent mention of Canada occurs, of course, in Elephants Can Remember, notable for the most blatantly obvious clues ever inserted into a Poirot script. Anyone watching the episode in North America would think, “No way is she from Boston if she says ‘zed.’ No way would she not know what she was doing on St. Patrick’s Day if she were of the Boston Irish.”
Oh well. What I really want to know is this: in the denouement, Poirot says that her accent gave her away, which we already knew. He gave the example of her use of “zed,” but he also says that he heard the Canadian aspect “immediately.” I wonder if he could actually tell even sooner. When he first speaks with her, it’s in a stream of rapid French, ending with:
Poirot: “Vous ne l’avez vu à l’avance?”
Mary: “Huh? No, I’ve never been down here before.”
Setting aside the fact that “huh” is more of an Americanism (she should have gone for “eh,” eh?) it is perhaps just a little curious that she can process his question at all, and maybe Poirot files that fact away for later. Of course, if she spent more than half her life in Montreal– with French-speaking relatives of Zelie Rouxelle’s, no less– she was bound to be pretty conversant in the language.
By the way, this is the second instance in the series where a young girl is hurried away from her home in England and sent to Montreal after it is feared (incorrectly) that one of the parents killed the other! The other instance is in Five Little Pigs, where the daughter of Caroline Crale comes back for the truth about her mother. We know it’s Montreal from the book, and the daughter had been given the name of Lemarchant in Canada. The daughters in both episodes also, incidentally, come back to wreak revenge… and neither quite manages it. Insert Quebec joke here. 🙂
In Elephants Can Remember, there is, perhaps, one other sense in which Mary’s accent gives her away. She says that she’s just a simple clerk. She pronounces the word “clark,” which is a British pronunciation, used neither in the United States nor in Canada! So, can we say that this “gives away” the fact that she’s a British actress pretending to be from across the pond?
Sorry, couldn’t help myself. 🙂
Happy Canada Day, all!