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.