This was a new challenge for me: a mirror ambigram with a horizontal axis, rather than a vertical! (Turn it ninety degrees if you want to get a better sense of the symmetry.) I think it turned out rather well. 🙂
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!!
***Spoilers, but if you’ve been here before, you know that! Watch Curtain already! 😛 ***
You know the scene where Elizabeth Cole is playing Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude right after Hastings has had his final chat with Poirot? Hastings walks in on her; she stops playing when she sees him; Hastings has a few moments of pause, then dashes back upstairs to find his friend dead in bed.
What exactly is it that triggers the dash upstairs? Instinct? The simple fact that the music has stopped dead is what immediately leaps to the eye (or ear), and that is an important part of it. But there’s another component that is more pointed.
The fact is that this scene exactly parallels the scene where Hastings first meets Poirot again there at Styles, all those years later, at the beginning of the episode. Elizabeth Cole is sitting at the piano, playing the very same piece. Hastings opens the drawing room door, and there is his friend. Poirot turns to face him, and as he opens his mouth in greeting…
The music stops. And Poirot speaks: “Hastings?”
The reason, I humbly and speculatively propose, that Hastings stands there awkwardly at the drawing room door when he opens it on the day of Poirot’s death, is that he feels déjà vu, as though he’s waiting for something to happen. And something does happen. Once again, the music stops. Once again, he hears his name: “Captain Hastings?” But it is not Poirot who greets him. That’s when it occurs to him that there is only one difference in the two scenes: Poirot is gone.
Poirot is gone. And when he realizes this, it is then that he rushes upstairs again to see if it is true… and it is.
Hastings returns to the drawing room to ruminate in grief with his daughter, Judith, afterwards.
Hastings isn’t the snarkiest of characters in the Poirot canon, particularly in the series. In the books, it is true, we can hear every last annoyed thought that passes through his head, but in general, we regard him as an unusually good-natured character. In fact, surely a large part of our admiration for him is the incomprehensible fact that he doesn’t smack Poirot in the face on a daily basis.
Clive Exton (and others) gave Hugh Fraser some wonderful zingers from time to time, however, all the more delightful for their comparative rarity and memorable delivery. Here’s a collection of some of my favorites. Sorry if I missed yours; no time to re-watch all the episodes. 😉
Poirot: “Hastings, a favour… Whatever I should say, you will nod in agreement.”
Hastings: “Did I ever do otherwise, Poirot?”
Maid: “I beg your pardon, sir?”
Hastings: “What colour were they, if you can remember?”
Maid: “Mr. Loewen’s trousers, sir?”
Hastings: “Well, I know it’s a rather odd question, but a rather odd person would like to know.”
-The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
(Extensive damage to Hastings’ car, caused by murderer, is surveyed)
Hastings: “Hanging’s too good for some people.”
-The Third Floor Flat
Poirot (lining up a golf shot): “Am I allowed to hit the flag?”
Hastings: “Yes, yes, that’ll be fine.”
–Murder in the Mews
Hastings: “I’m not surprised she had gastritis.”
Hastings: “Well, if she’s going to run around after chaps half her age…”
-The Cornish Mystery
Lazy guy at the dock: “I just told all I know to that police inspector; I ain’t got time to tell that all again.”
Hastings: “No, quite, I can see you’re a very busy man, Mr. Merritt.”
Hastings: “What’s up?”
Poirot: “You do not know who is Marie Marvelle?”
Hastings: “Can’t say I do, no. These look good, Poirot…”
Poirot (repressively): “Dah!! …Marie Marvelle is the greatest film star Belgium has ever produced.”
Hastings: “I should think she’s the only film star Belgium’s ever produced.”
Poirot: “You do not remember ‘La Tendresse Religieuse’?
Hastings: “The what?”
Poirot: “And ‘Drôle de Coeur’?”
Hastings: “I didn’t even know they made films in Belgium.”
Poirot (disgusted): “Why is it the fate of Hercule Poirot to live among such Philistines?”
-The Adventure of the “Western Star”
Hastings: “Well hang it all, Japp, what are we going to do next?”
Hastings: “Well, we can’t let Poirot die in vain. We’ve got to stop them.”
Japp: “Now hang on, Captain Hastings–”
Hastings: “We can’t be faint-hearted now, man. Are you with me or not? For Poirot’s sake, together, we have to stop the Big Four!”
Japp: “Listen, these people mean business. They’ll stop at nothing. If even Poirot couldn’t stop them–”
Hastings: “Good Lord, man. I never thought I’d hear such conchy talk from you. Well, if you won’t do anything to stop these brutes, then I certainly will. And I’ll leave no stone unturned. Good day.”
-The Big Four
Hastings: “Well, he’s always been middle-aged. Have you seen that photograph of him at his christening?”
Miss Lemon (smirking): “I know!”
Hastings: “He looks as though he’s about to address a board meeting.”
(Hastings is ditched on the dance floor by the aristocracy-stalking Mrs. Mallerby, who has spotted Lord Cranshaw)
Ackerly: “Been stood up, Arthur?”
Hastings: “No title, I’m afraid!”
-The Affair at the Victory Ball
Hastings: “Well, the pub’s so crowded, I’m having to share a room, and you’ll never guess who with.”
Poirot: “No Hastings, I will not.”
Poirot: “With the Chief Inspector Japp?”
Hastings: “And the room has only got one bed.”
Poirot: “I wonder why the Chief Inspector Japp is here.”
Hastings: “You’re not very sympathetic!”
Hastings: “Poirot, my dear fellow, I promise you, you’ve never heard anything like it. You know those boots he wears? Bang. And the other one– crash. When he finally gets into bed, it’s worse!”
Hastings: “He talks in his sleep. ‘Now I’ve got you, young fellow, me lad. Japp of the Yard strikes again!’ I thought I’d go mad. Every time I managed to drop off, he’d start shouting. ‘Stand back, lads, he’s got a blancmange!’ Some of the things he was saying were enough to make a cat laugh. I can’t take much more of it, Poirot. I’ve been through three days of a jerry barrage.”
-The Incredible Theft
This little painting was made on an 8″x10″ canvas board. Curtain has so many beautiful images. Also, it’s Monday. Apparently some folks on Tumblr (which I don’t do) have “Hastings Monday” and share graphics and humor pertaining to our favorite sidekick. That sounded rather up my alley, so here we are. As for the painting, I didn’t bother with the wallpaper pattern or a couple other background details. I thought the simplicity of this was sufficient for a painted sketch.
I got good and messy while painting it. And for some mysterious reason, I was listening to my Partners in Crime audiobook at the time. Right actor, right author, wrong series. 😉
Let it be known that (for whatever reason) not only is Hugh Fraser really rather difficult to draw, but his name is dashed difficult to ambigram! I tried many variations of this ambigram with somewhat mixed results. The names that need to ambigram into each other should ideally be very close in length to make it work. This is the best I could come up with, after a long struggle and even some technical reference help.
The eight Hastings novels were finished, but I wasn’t quite finished with putting Hugh Fraser on the book covers. After all, there were five short story collections yet to go, two of which feature the character prominently, as well as Black Coffee. “But Black Coffee is a novelized play, and wasn’t filmed,” you say, sagaciously. Shut up, I’m going to have a complete set, dangit!!
I cheated on Black Coffee by collecting a large number of stills throughout the series of Poirot and Hastings with tea or coffee cups… there are a lot of them… and finally choosing this shot from “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb” for the cover. There’s a cup on the table, and a Highly Ambiguous Hastings with a Highly Ambiguous Poirot, neither of which have clear faces. This seemed appropriate in light of my shameful trickery.
Poirot’s Early Cases, on the other hand, features an honest shot and matching quote from a story in the actual collection: “The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly.” It’s one of my favorite Poirot/Hastings visuals for the sheer loveliness of the surroundings, with Poirot characteristically holding forth. The book color was a sort of “twilight gray,” as it would be the penultimate in book listing, next to the inky-dark Curtain. The image of the two strolling away from the viewer also seemed appropriate in that wistful light.
And finally, I finished off with Hastings in Poirot Investigates (I’ve given away three copies of that book this year, ma foi). I returned to my deceitful ways by painting a scene from “Murder in the Mews,” which is not in this collection. But I was very keen to paint this shot. The scene is a fun one (although Poirot is not actually investigating as such in this moment). And it’s difficult to find shots of the sort I could use where Hastings and Poirot are so close in size, rather than a less-distinct Hastings hovering behind Poirot’s shoulder; fine for film but harder for miniature painting.
It might be that I used the shot here instead of the Murder in the Mews collection because I’d already decided on a shot from that particular episode that featured Japp, and I wanted to make sure he got on a cover or two as well. There are even fewer Japp novels than Hastings novels. “Then why,” you ask with superior tones, “didn’t you just choose a different Japp shot for Poirot Investigates, since he features in the collection, and use this picture for the Murder in the Mews collection?” …Shut up.
No, actually it was because Hastings doesn’t feature in the stories from the Murder in the Mews collection, though he’s in the episode, and I didn’t want Hastings on book covers in which he wasn’t an appearing character, like Murder in Mesopotamia or Evil Under the Sun.