Here I shall opine on a list of the best endings of Christie’s Poirot stories, both novels and short stories. (For the purposes of this exercise, I will count The Labours of Hercules and The Big Four as collections of short stories, which they essentially are.) By best endings, I don’t necessarily mean best ultimate plot twists or best solutions. I mean that, after all is said and done, the actual last few words of text themselves strike amazement into the heart and leave me, the reader, in just the right place. For the purposes of this post, the funniest endings are not included– that’s another category altogether. If you haven’t read some of these, you should be warned of SPOILERS, because I will spoil BLATANTLY, and quote, and explain. My comments will be in italics. Here goes, in no particular order!
1. Dead Man’s Folly
Then Mrs. Folliat of Nasse House, daughter of a long line of brave men, drew herself erect. She looked straight at Poirot and her voice was formal and remote.
‘Thank you, M. Poirot,’ she said, ‘for coming to tell me yourself of this. Will you leave me now? There are some things that one has to face quite alone…’
Certainly one of the most enigmatic and fascinating of Christie’s endings, we are left not knowing what action Mrs. Folliat is going to take when Poirot reveals to her that he knows the truth about her son. The reader may assume that she has something like suicide, or a double suicide, in mind. This is the interpretation used by the writers of the 2013 television episode. Christie frequently enjoys using elipses or a dash to leave the very last words hanging.
2. “The Lemesurier Inheritance”
‘You have disposed very successfully of the curse of the Lemesuriers.’
‘I wonder,’ said Poirot very thoughtfully. ‘I wonder very much indeed.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Mon ami, I will answer you with one significant word– red!’
‘Blood?’ I queried, dropping my voice to an awe-stricken whisper.
‘Always you have the imagination melodramatic, Hastings! I refer to something much more prosaic– the colour of little Ronald Lemesurier’s hair.’
What Poirot is getting at– though it is not explicitly spelled out for Hastings or the reader– is that although Ronald, the elder of the two boys, has inherited the estate and therefore the “curse of the firstborn” appears to be broken, it may be that the curse continues after all. Ronald’s auburn hair suggests that he might actually be the son of the secretary, and not of Hugo Lemesurier at all! So Gerald is actually the true firstborn; as the firstborn, he did not inherit, in keeping with the curse; and Hugo had been trying to kill the wrong son! Despite Poirot’s words about his observation being “prosaic,” his ending sends a chill to my heart every time I read it. It puts an entirely different complexion on the events that have passed.
3. “Problem at Sea”
‘It was a trick– a cruel trick,’ cried out Ellie.
‘I do not approve of murder,’ said Hercule Poirot.
The ending of this short story is so shocking that it was altered for the sake of the television series, although this text remains essentially the same. In the book, Poirot knows the murderer has a weak heart, and deliberately seeks to shock him to death by means of a particularly stunning denouement. In other words, Poirot basically murders the guy. He does so thinking that it is the best and most merciful way for all involved, but he still deliberately causes his death. This makes that last sentence, an oft-repeated phrase of Poirot’s, so chillingly ironic. Listen to the story via this audiobook to hear the full, ruthless shock of the moment come through.
4. The Murder on the Links
‘It’s the Prince’s turn to interrupt,’ I interpolated. ‘Do you know what he said?’
‘”Hell!” said the Prince– and kissed her!’
And I suited the action to the word.
Hastings puts in a brilliant comment (it has to happen sometimes, right?) and ties up the romantic ending to this fabulous tale with a neat reference to Chapter 1 and his first meeting with Cinderella. What a pleasure this story is to read…
5. “The Mouse Walks In” (Chapter 13 of The Big Four)
I turned my head aside. Poirot put his hand on my shoulder. There was something in his voice that I had never heard there before.
‘You like not that I should embrace you or display the emotion, I know well. I will be very British. I will say nothing– but nothing at all. Only this– that in this last adventure of ours, the honours are all with you, and happy is the man who has such a friend as I have!’
Speaking of Hastings doing something amazing, he has here just put his own life and (so he thinks) the life of his wife in deadly peril to save his friend. What follows, at the end of the chapter, is one of the most moving exchanges between Poirot and Hastings to be found anywhere.
6. Cards on the Table
Despard said cheerfully:
‘Let’s stab him, Rhoda, and see if his ghost can come back and find out who did it.’
For the sheer impudence and audacity of the comment. Cent tonnerres!
7. Three Act Tragedy
‘My goodness,’ he cried, ‘I’ve only just realized it. That rascal, with his poisoned cocktail! Anyone might have drunk it. It might have been me.’
‘There is an even more terrible possibility that you have not considered,’ said Poirot.
‘It might have been ME,’ said Hercule Poirot.
This is a particularly brilliant ending because it comes across as comic OR poignant. The first instinct, perhaps, is to laugh at Poirot’s incorrigible vanity– that his death would be so much more tragic than that of an ordinary person. But then immediately one is reminded that, strictly speaking, he’s right, insofar as it’s true that if he’d been killed, the murders would not have been solved and the evil bigamist would have succeeded in his plan. The serious reality of that fact is compounded by Poirot’s own realization that his friend Cartwright was willing to let him die in such a pointless way just for the sake of testing out a future murder. All of the complexity and poignancy this entails is captured in full by Suchet’s great performance of that moment. Martin Shaw does a superb job as Cartwright, as well– everyone has tears in their eyes by the end. Go watch it!
8. Five Little Pigs
In the hall she passed two young people whose life together was just beginning.
The chauffeur held open the door of the car. Lady Dittisham got in and the chauffeur wrapped the fur rug round her knees.
When the murderer is revealed, she gives a little monologue that is a wonder of crime fiction character psychology. It underscores an observation that Poirot makes near the very end of Curtain: the worst part of murder is the effect it has on the murderer. The ending is subtle and stark, and seems to reinforce the futility of a life of luxury when obtained at the expense of a murderer’s own sanity and happiness. Zowie. I admit I prefer it to the melodramatic conclusion that the television adaptation attempts.
9. The Mystery of the Blue Train
‘Yes– yes, it is true. You are young, younger than you yourself know. Trust the train, Mademoiselle, for it is le bon Dieu who drives it.’
The whistle of the engine came again.
‘Trust the train, Mademoiselle,’ murmured Poirot again. ‘And trust Hercule Poirot– He knows.’
Just a lovely, elegant conclusion. Eminently quotable; as Christie might have said, a “typical exit line.”
10. “The Wasp’s Nest”
‘Listen, mon ami, you are a dying man; you have lost the girl you loved, but there is one thing that you are not; you are not a murderer. Tell me now: are you glad or sorry that I came?’
There was a moment’s pause and Harrison drew himself up. There was a new dignity in his face– the look of a man who has conquered his own baser self. He stretched out his hand across the table.
‘Thank goodness you came,’ he cried. ‘Oh, thank goodness you came.’
Poirot has just saved his dying friend from becoming a murderer. A wonderfully satisfying conclusion to one of Christie’s cleverest little tales.
11. “The Apples of the Hesperides”
Hercule Poirot said gently:
‘He needs your prayers.’
‘Is he then an unhappy man?’
‘So unhappy that he has forgotten what happiness means. So unhappy that he does not know he is unhappy.’
The nun said softly:
‘Ah, a rich man…’
Hercule Poirot said nothing– for he knew that there was nothing to say…
From the stories comprising The Labours of Hercules comes this deep conversation with a nun about Poirot’s most recent client. More splendid character psychology from Christie.
12. Murder on the Orient Express
‘Then,’ said Poirot, ‘having placed my solution before you, I have the honour to retire from the case…’
After a slick and streamlined investigation, the book builds to a crescendo with Poirot’s two solutions to the mystery, followed by Linda Arden’s impassioned plea, and draws to a close with Poirot’s calm and matter-of-fact pronouncement. The only hint we have of a kind of lack of closure is in those trailing elipses. Are the passengers surprised by Poirot’s reaction? What is passing through Poirot’s mind? I admit candidly that I have never seen an adaptation that completely satisfies me as far as the script’s relation to the text is concerned. The book comes across as an extremely difficult story to adapt in general, but I would really love, somehow, to see a performance in which the last few pages of the book are read pretty much exactly as written.