An audiobook listen-through of the Poirot canon

For the past several weeks, I’ve been doing a thorough “listen-through” of ALL the Poirot stories. I finished Curtain, again, a few days ago. And wow, what a great time it’s been.  🙂

The audiobooks have been sourced from cassettes, CDs, and Audible (with a heavy preference for CDs, mostly obtained from Book Depository at very good prices). I had listened to the majority of these audiobooks before, sometimes many times, but this time the task was undertaken in a concentrated way and in chronological order. My preference for audiobooks are the ones narrated by David Suchet and Hugh Fraser– not only for the television associations, but because they really are the best, IMHO. They are pleasantly conversational, less stiff than Moffatt, with wonderfully-done voices and a certain “committed insight” into various characters. For the book purist, such audiobooks are ideal for those stories where you encounter disappointment that a TV adaptation failed to include some of your favorite scenes or lines. In this way lies the best of both worlds– the drama, the familiarity of the character voice, and the textual accuracy!  🙂

One can, I believe, do such an audiobook listen-through via Suchet and Fraser for all the Poirot stories with the exception of Murder in Mesopotamia (a novel with a female narrator), Black Coffee (John Moffatt and others), and “Murder in the Mews” (Nigel Hawthorne). HIGHLY recommended, my dear blog readers, is this ridiculously-affordable set of the complete short stories. Because I’m a lunatic, I’ve tracked down short story obscurities (some dating back to 1988!) in order to find both Suchet and Fraser tellings of the same stories– including, for example, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” “The Third-Floor Flat,” “The Chocolate Box,” “The Incredible Theft,” “The Lost Mine,” and “The Underdog.”

You can, with some searching, find both Suchet and Fraser narrations of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Because the overwhelming number of Poirot audiobooks were undertaken by Fraser, who has done astonishingly with the entire Agatha Christie canon, I included the Suchet renditions in my listen-through where possible.

So, where do I begin? I don’t really want to try to “review” everything at once; it would be better to tackle various audiobooks individually in separate posts. But I can give an impression of the whole project and note some highlights…

The scope of a project like this involves tracing book characters over the course of nearly 60 years! To read, or listen through, the series is to begin with Poirot in World War I and to end in the Swinging ’70s. The cultural shifts that take place over the series of Poirot books are enormous. What stood out to me in this is the very consistency of the character of Poirot. He’s a character that remains so uniquely himself amidst the chances and changes of the world, including his approach to detecting crime and his understanding of human nature. By the time you get to Hallowe’en Party and Elephants Can Remember, the characters in the books are both lamenting the changes around them while observing that human nature itself has remained consistent. The consistency of the universe Christie created is lovely, too. Different books make reference to past cases; people in one book are friends or relations of those in another. Recurring characters who work with Poirot, such as Mr Goby or Superintendent Spence, were delightful to trace in this listen-through.

My favorite audiobook? It’s so hard to choose… For Suchet audiobooks, I think I will have to go with Death on the Nile. I *think* that this audiobook, like Murder on the Orient Express and others, was recorded and initially released fairly close to the time the television series was first beginning. (How on EARTH was there time???) Death on the Nile, like other Suchet readings, is notable for its seriously impressive range of character voices. Christie introduces very many characters, but has the gift of making them distinct in a few brief descriptions and in unique manners of speech. How so many voices can be kept track of for a read-through absolutely boggles the mind. This reading of Death on the Nile is also notable for bringing out a good deal of laugh-out-loud humor alongside the more serious, angsty notes. Joanna Southwood, Mrs Otterbourne, Mrs Van Schuyler, and Mr Ferguson are memorably hilarious.

My favorite Hugh Fraser audiobook is even harder to choose, as there are so many more. I will say that I found this reading of Curtain to be particularly memorable– especially the penultimate chapter. The entire novel is incredibly sad, and even more obviously so when listened to, and again more so when listened to at the end of the entire book series! The audiobook appears to have been recorded at least a full decade before the final episode of the series was filmed and released. It gives one a greater appreciation for the knowledge and experience that went into the culmination of that final production. But to the point of the audiobook– such was the sobering nature of the tale and its telling, that I found myself encountering several moments when I forgot completely that the narrator was telling a story, and really believed I was hearing a first-hand account of a personal experience. What higher praise can I give?

I tend towards the “completist,” so it’s easy for me to recommend read-throughs– or listen-throughs. Currently I’m doing a 2018 read-through of the complete Shakespeare. These sorts of projects give such a good sense of scope and perspective. Audiobooks makes projects of this kind easier than ever, as you can bike, commute, etc as you listen.

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Dead Man’s Folly vs. Greenshore Folly, and the mystery they solve together

As many Poirot fans know, Christie’s novel Dead Man’s Folly began its life in a different format: a novella called Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly. This 1954 story was intended as a fundraiser for Christie’s church, but it was never originally published as such, and the similarly-titled Miss Marple story “Greenshaw’s Folly” was used for the fundraiser instead. Christie fleshed out her Poirot novella and it became Dead Man’s Folly, published in 1956.

Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly was finally published in 2014, in a cute little hardcover edition with lovely artwork from Tom Adams. I was eager to read it and see how it compared with Dead Man’s Folly. (Spoilers to follow!)

The overall plot and much of the content were identical. The first chapter of GF reads almost verbatim as Chapter I, Part I of DMF. After that, the “missing content” became much more evident, and those familiar with the novel DMF will notice that most of the interesting, character-probing dialog between Poirot and the various suspects is nowhere to be found. The sub-plot with the Legges’ personal and political difficulties is gone, as is the majority of the police investigation, including their run-ins with Hattie’s visiting cousin. The murder of Marlene doesn’t actually take place until about two-thirds of the way through the novella.

There are also several name and character changes. “Nasse House, Nassecombe” was originally “Greenshore House, Lapton.” Etienne de Sousa was “Paul Lopez,” red-headed Sally Legge had been a blonde “Peggy Legge” (an incredibly fortunate change, one feels), Captain Warburton was “Warborough,” and Merdell was “Merdle.” The rest of the Tucker family, including Marlene’s sister, disappear entirely. Mrs Legge takes the name of Esmerelda instead of Zuleika for her fortune-telling persona, after all. 🙂

There are a few more interesting alterations. In the short novella, the girl hiker persona adopted by the false Hattie had not only the chestnut curls and the peasant scarf, but also spectacles. (Nerdy side-note: Poirot speaks both French and Italian, so if he had wanted to share a few words with the Italian signorina who was hitching a ride in his car, he could have done so. DMF makes it sound like there’s an insuperable language barrier there. But anyway…)

In the novella and unlike the final novel, Poirot actually recommends Mrs Oliver to the police as a suspect, in order to be properly thorough! 😀

There is a bit of shifted dialog between GF and DMF when Poirot and Hattie are discussing Devonshire. In the original novella, Hattie asks Poirot if he likes Devonshire; he replies that it is nice in the daytime, but that there aren’t any nightclubs! This dialog is swapped for the characters in the final novel, which seems rather more in keeping with the characteristics of Poirot and Hattie.

But of all the differences, there was one really fascinating detail that stood out to me, and helped me to make sense of a bit of Dead Man’s Folly that I’d never really understood. In the novel, there is a part of Poirot’s denouement where, speaking with Mrs Folliat, he says: “…When you talked of ‘Hattie,’ you were talking of *two different people*– one a woman you disliked who would be ‘better dead,’ and against whom you warned me ‘not to believe a word she said’– the other a girl of whom you spoke in the past tense, and whom you defended with a warm affection.” I had never understood where Poirot was getting the “better dead” comment, because Mrs Folliat never tells him anything like that in DMF. BUT! In Greenshore Folly, Mrs Folliat says the following: “Oh! How I hope that she will never come back” and “It would be better if she were dead– so much better.”

Mystery solved! Mrs Folliat’s words somehow didn’t make the edit into Dead Man’s Folly (not my edition, anyway), so we only have vestiges of that original bit of GF hinted at in the novel. (Interestingly, in Greenshore Folly, Poirot never does point out to Mrs Folliat that she herself gave him the clue to Hattie by seeming to describe her as two different people.)

Greenshore Folly is an interesting read for the Poirot completist– but Dead Man’s Folly certainly comes across as the properly-edited and expanded form of the story, especially when it comes to points of crucial character development. The artwork and the added notes appended to the novella are as much worth the price of admission as the rest of it. 🙂

Cinema Sins does Murder on the Orient Express

Cinema Sins is a YouTube channel that runs a “counter” and commentary on various plot holes, goofs, weirdness, or just bad moves in various films. They title their projects “Everything Wrong With [film title] in [number] Minutes or Less” (with a spoiler warning). They are frequently spot-on in analysis, sometimes a little more ornery than is called for, and always hilarious. Bad language is bleeped out, but if they’re really annoyed, there will be much bleeping. As a channel, probably not advised for younger viewers.

Anyway, their Murder on the Orient Express (a la Branagh) commentary can be seen here. Some of the queries that they dock points for do have legitimate explanations, such as why the handkerchief and pipe cleaner were dropped or why the train was chosen as the setting for the murder, but it may be that these things weren’t explained well, or at all, in the film. Anyway, there is much to agree with here. I almost choked on my drink at “Deus Ex-Bouchina.”  😀 😀 😀