Attempts on Poirot’s life: book, play, and film

Agatha Christie writes comparatively few forward-thinking criminals who connive to permanently remove the threat of Poirot. In fact, I deal with the issue in my own Poirot novel, attempting to answer the “Why?” Some of it is evident: Christie frequently makes Poirot more “famous in his own mind” but not taken seriously by criminals– until it’s too late. He uses his perceived ridiculousness at times as camouflage. At some points in the series, Poirot actually is virtually unknown in London (“Kidnapped Prime Minister”). But at other points (e.g. “The Veiled Lady,” “Hunter’s Lodge,” “Western Star,” etc) it is very evident that he is well-known as a blazing success by society and criminals alike. My story, The London Syndicate, takes the question on as a challenge: why don’t enterprising criminals make a little more effort to get him out of the way? For my own solution, consult the text!  😉

But for interest, Christie does throw in some examples of these people who, through cunning, panic, or even sheer ignorance, try to do in our favorite Belgian detective. Here’s a little compare/contrast on how it’s tackled in book, TV, and stage.

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1) The Big Four. I’m just going to count this as “one.” The book is full of anecdotes of Poirot and Hastings battling it out with this international menace, with not a few dramatic brushes with death. Most notable is the explosion which Poirot uses to fake his own death (because like Sherlock Holmes he’s a bit of a jerk to his friend in that respect). 🙂 Many Christie readers dislike The Big Four for a variety of reasons– Christie did as well– but I find it hard not to enjoy the more energetic and risk-filled anecdotes of this very bizarre, Bond-esque Poirot account. It’s great fun because it’s so unique and different.

2) Mrs McGinty’s Dead. In this story, Poirot’s investigations into the McGinty case results in Dr Rendall getting the wind up and trying to push him under a train. The irony is that although Poirot delightedly assumes that McGinty’s murderer attempted to murder him and that this proves that he is on the right track, it’s actually a completely different crime that Dr Rendall is attempting to cover up. (In the adaptation, it is Mrs Rendall who does this, and she actually succeeds in shoving him onto the line.)

3) “The Case of the Egyptian Tomb.” The serial murder decides to try to add a meddling Poirot to his list of victims who are popularly supposed to be cursed by proximity to the opened tomb of an ancient pharaoh. Somehow Poirot manages to anticipate the spiking of his evening tisane with cyanide. His murder attempt failing, the murderer commits suicide instead (in the book).

4) “The Erymantian Boar.” This wild and crazy incident from The Labours of Hercules formed a large part of the conglomerate television adaptation, in which the killer Marrascaud is lurking in the Swiss establishment of Rochers Neiges. In the book, members of Marrascaud’s gang attack Poirot in his room at night, threatening to cut him with razor blades. They are thwarted by American tourist Schwartz and his fortuitous revolver, earning profound gratitude (not inexplicable annoyance– really, TV script?) from Poirot.

5) Black Coffee. In this one and only Poirot play by Christie, the murderer attempts to poison Poirot in a whisky and soda. Luckily, Poirot is as usual a step ahead of the game, and has arranged a substitution with Hastings ahead of time as part of his dramatic denouement.

6) Three Act Tragedy. This is not a deliberate targeting of Poirot, but he is fully cognizant (as the final lines of the novel reveal) that he could have easily been the recipient of the first poisoned cocktail. Almost everyone in the room was a potential murder victim. This last scene is really beautifully dramatized and delivered by Suchet, who manages to simultaneously bring out both the humor of Poirot’s vanity and the pathos of being betrayed by his friend.

7) Evil Under the Sun. This is an example of pure rage from the murderer when his crime is revealed by Poirot. Usually Poirot is deft enough to simply skip out of the way, but this time the killer manages to get his hands on the other’s throat before he is held at bay. Accurately portrayed in the television adaptation as well.

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Honorable mentions (including television additions):

Death in the Clouds: The jury at the inquest nearly convicts Poirot of the murder on the plane! The verdict gets thrown out by the coroner.

He said, ‘I wonder what was on that paper that the coroner wouldn’t have at any price?’

‘I can tell you, I think,’ said a voice behind him.

The couple turned, to look into the twinkling eyes of M. Hercule Poirot.

‘It was a verdict,’ said the little man, ‘of wilful murder against me.

‘Oh, surely– ’ cried Jane.

Poirot nodded happily.

Mais oui. As I came out I heard one man say to the other, “That little foreigner– mark my words, he done it!” The jury thought the same.’

The A.B.C. Murders: At the beginning of the book, Poirot recounts to Hastings that not long ago he’d had a narrow escape, having been “nearly exterminated.” Hastings is impressed: “An enterprising murderer!” Poirot suggests that the better word would be “careless,” not enterprising. Some think that this incident is a direct reference to the jury in Death in the Clouds (above), but in my opinion, it seems much more likely to refer to Three Act Tragedy. Poirot does not claim that he was deliberately targeted for death, but does accept Hastings’ use of the word “murderer,” and “careless” is a good word to describe that particular murderer. But there is always the speculative possibility that Poirot could be describing an unknown incident that Hastings never learns about and records for us.

Sad Cypress: In the television adaptation, the murderer attempts to poison Poirot in the same manner that Mary Gerrard was poisoned. But Poirot has always hated tea! 😀 Interestingly, this delightful addition to the original story appears to have been lifted directly from the pages of Black Coffee! In both scenarios, Poirot is given a poisoned drink which he substitutes, and he also fakes symptoms of impending death. Then the murderer, off their guard, launches freely into a smug confession of nefarious deeds, only to be overheard by the nearby police. I’m very pleased that this device from Black Coffee made it into the TV canon. The only downside to the TV addition is: how can the murderer possibly think that she’ll get away with this?

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: In the adaptation, the murderer takes some gratuitous pot shots at Poirot and Japp after his cover is blown.

Curtain: The TV telling of Curtain includes Norton engaging in a dangerous cat-and-mouse power play with Poirot, seeming to threaten to withhold the latter’s medication.

‘It would be most unwise on your part to attempt to silence me as you silenced M. Ackroyd. That kind of business does not succeed against Hercule Poirot, you understand.’

-The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

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Partners in Crime… and a new prize giveaway!

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.

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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.”

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‘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.’

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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.

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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!

Recommendations for first-time Poirot readers

***Note: plot spoilers below. Intended for those introducing Poirot to others!***  🙂

I have my own methods for introducing a friend to Poirot for the first time.  🙂

If I can give them only one book, I will choose a short story collection like Poirot Investigates.

Ideally, I’d give them three books: Poirot Investigates (for short stories), The A.B.C. Murders (for a Hastings novel), and Death on the Nile (for a non-Hastings novel).

I will not give them Murder on the Orient Express or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd to tackle first, and here’s why.

They are both, I need hardly say, exceptional books and I love them. But I’d prefer to start someone with more typical Poirot, and those two books are anything but typical. The first Agatha Christie book I ever read, some years ago, was And Then There Were None. Although it was a great book and I enjoyed it, it also terrified me. I assumed that Christie was an author of thrillers, and that her books normally featured a large number of dead bodies destroyed by varied, gruesome murders. Not really my genre, I thought. It was years before I picked up a second Christie book.

I once read a Christie fan comment about how Roger Ackroyd was the first Poirot novel she’d read. In every subsequent novel with first-person narration, she immediately suspected that the narrator had dunnit! It became very annoying for her.

If Murder on the Orient Express is the first Poirot novel you read, you would get certain characteristic qualities of a Poirot tale– it is, in some ways, even a quintessential Poirot problem. The set-up is elegant and streamlined, almost clinical; the problem cannot be solved by running about or obtaining information elsewhere, but by pure deduction based on the interviews conducted of the suspects. On the other hand, you might be forgiven if you assumed from this book that Christie’s style leans toward unusually disgusting murder, including horrific (multiple) child murders, as a norm; or that her detective is somewhat on the cold-and-distant side in general. Or, if after putting the book down, you read the next few Christies assuming that everyone is in on the murder plot. In short, the book has many very atypical qualities.

My own recommendations also feature clever and unique problems, but (I think) somewhat more characteristic ones. If interest is piqued from those three books, I’d send the person back to The Mysterious Affair at Styles and recommend that they go through the canon chronologically.

That would be my own recommendation and the reasoning for it. Do you have your own “first recommendations” you prefer?

Reused paintings in the Poirot series

There’s nothing particularly newsworthy about reused props in a television series, or in more than one series made by the same people. But it’s fun to point them out all the same.  In Poirot, you’ve got a good 25-year span to notice them in. I recount a sampling of these occurrences…

Possibly the single most obviously reused painting is this guy, because the picture is specifically focused on in the episodes The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, where the painting features prominently at the men’s club, and Dumb Witness, in which the painting at the Arundell house dramatically falls from the wall.

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Dumb Witness

Another fairly easy-to-spot painting of a mother and her sick child appears in at least three episodes: Dead Man’s Mirror, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Third Girl. The painting functions as a major plot point in the first of the three, and this makes it easier for fans to spot the same painting appearing in Ackroyd’s home and in David Baker’s studio.

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Some recognizable paintings are not merely reused props so much as entire locations. The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly and Third Girl share a location, Wrotham Park, as shots like these indicate.

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But for me, the most interesting of all is this painting here. It is a fairly unremarkable little scene that took up residence behind the sitting room fruit bowl, so that we see it in several episodes.

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But when The Mysterious Affair at Styles is filmed, we might be astonished to discover that this very same painting hung in Poirot’s own room at Leastways Cottage, where he was living by the charity of Mrs. Inglethorp!

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More remarkable still: when Poirot retires (temporarily) to his little house in King’s Abbot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, that painting is again in his residence! (Far left)

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I guess it may be that the art department was running out of paintings of a certain sort to shuffle around. I myself like to imagine that there’s an untold story here. Did Poirot take the painting away from Leastways Cottage when he left to remind him of his humble beginnings at Styles, his generous sponsor there, and the first major case he investigated in his new country? Did the picture have sufficient sentimental value from the past that he could have even had it sent over from Belgium when he first emigrated, and subsequently installed it in each new dwelling where he lived? Ah, the unsolved mysteries…

The painted miniature books (6)

My (probable) favorite portrait of this series has to be what is also one of Christie’s greatest: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I don’t doubt that it turned out better largely because the area I had to work with for the portrait was bigger and therefore could hold more detail. But there is also the fact that there were So. Many. Great. Shots. to choose from. There’s a great deal of light/dark contrast and some wonderfully dramatic-looking sets. I chose the iconic moment when Poirot obtains the soaked journal in the steaming factory. The atmosphere of the scene is just fantastic.

My photos are always dreadful, so I must apologize for problems there. The quote on the back of the book was, I think, one of the longest I painted.

But just to prove to you my dilemmas with this project, I present a series of images that I considered for the book cover before ultimately rejecting them and going with the above. Any one of them would probably have worked. I’d still really love to paint the one in the bottom right-hand corner. What lighting!!!
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