Poirot sings

A few random notes about Poirot’s singing. Off the top of my head, I can think of two instances in the books where he sings (diligent readers may possibly think of others). He is said to sing in “a hesitant baritone” as well as affecting “an abominable falsetto voice”!

Hercule Poirot essayed in a hesitant baritone.

‘The proud have laid a snare for me,’ he sang, ‘and spread a net with cords: yea, and set traps in my way…’

-One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

***

‘Yes. To hum a tune is extremely dangerous. It reveals the unconscious mind. The tune you hummed dates, I think from the days of the war. Comme ça,’ Poirot sang in an abominable falsetto voice:

‘Some of the time I love a brunette,
Some of the time I love a blonde
(Who comes from Eden by way of Sweden).’

-The A.B.C. Murders

***

I think it is safe to say that Poirot is not much of a singer. 🙂  In the television series, we distinctly hear Poirot’s singing voice (hesitant remains a pretty good adjective to use) in a few places: The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly, The Theft of the Royal Ruby, and The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Neither adaptions of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe nor The A.B.C. Murders feature Christie’s scenes of Poirot’s singing in church and to tease Hastings, respectively.

In Johnnie Waverly, Poirot and Hastings encounter a disappointing buffet breakfast at the home of their host, and subsequently decide to nip off in the car in pursuit of sustenance at an inn. While riding back, Hastings (perhaps cheered by his recent pint) seems to initiate the singing of the children’s folk song, “One Man Went to Mow.”

The Theft of the Royal Ruby sees Poirot as a guest of a renowned Egyptologist and his family at Christmastime. On Christmas Day, we see Poirot and company in church while our favorite detective is schooled on the proper vocal arrangement of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

And in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot (in a burst of enthusiasm for the British war effort) leads his merry band of fellow Belgian refugees in a sort-of rousing chorus of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it here, but since I have the photo up anyway– remember how Poirot points out that Mrs. Inglethorp has extended hospitality to himself and *seven* of his fellow countrymen who are refugees? Count the number of Belgians trailing along after Poirot. Are my eyes deceiving me, or is that actually eight men?

Here’s another photo. Who’s the mysterious extra man?

Anyway, getting back to the point of singing…

Suchet does not consider himself much of a singer, and as a matter of fact you’ll rarely see him singing in his screen roles. But there is a rare occurrence of such in the film When the Whales Came, and coincidentally, his character is once again singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” In a decidedly inebriated state! (When the Whales Came is also set at the time of the Great War, hence the choice of song, and the music for the film was by Christopher Gunning. Small world, eh?)

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Boundless Books: The Mysterious Affair at Styles in stylish, artsy microprint!

While on vacation this past week, my husband and I stopped at a Chapters bookstore to browse. A funny-looking book with an attached “magnifying glass” caught our attention. The title is Boundless Books: Fifty Literary Classics Transformed into Works of Art. According to the description on the website (where, by the way, you can order it for $53 CAD)…

“In this book, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Within its covers are 50 literary classics, deconstructed and then put back together word by word to create singularly beautiful pieces of art. The silhouettes that emerge from the text illustrate the central characters, landscapes, and themes of each story. This collection ranges across the canon, from 620 BCE to 1937. Bibliophiles will find many of their favorite reads as well as lesser-known gems to discover or rediscover. Each piece of art contains an entire text in legible type, so that, with the help of the magnifying glass on a ribbon marker, readers can enjoy both the striking images and the timeless words themselves.”

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My husband and I love books (especially old books), art, and typography, so this really caught our eye. But there’s something else– one of the books in the collection is The Mysterious Affair at Styles!!!

I can’t reproduce an image, but the graphic for this Christie novel is a two-page spread in which the negative space depicts an overturned poison bottle and a number of images of chemical compounds. I took a peek at it through the magnifier, and sure enough, Mary Cavendish’s stricken face from Poirot’s denouement floated before my eyes.  🙂  Note: if you’re interested in taking a closer look at the text, I’d recommend a somewhat stronger magnifier of your own– the text is really VERY tiny! But how awesome to read Christie’s first novel through a magnifying glass!

This book is on our wish list now.  🙂

Cocoa and lemonade at Styles St. Mary

If the television adaptation of The Mysterious Affair at Styles is to be believed– and why not?– these are just two of the harder-to-get beverages in the midst of wartime rationing. Beer is mentioned as another. But the cocoa and the lemonade stand out because they are particular interests of Poirot and Hastings.

Let’s start with the lemonade. I mean… does this not look like lemonade to you?

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If not, well, what on earth is it supposed to be?

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It’s a little confusing, because in a way, we’re led to believe that it’s not really lemonade. Very shortly after this little tennis episode, Hastings is seen riding about with Mary Cavendish on horses, and the weather is remarked upon as being unusually hot (#plotpoint). What we need, he suggests, is a tall glass of lemonade. At which point Mary Cavendish says that she hasn’t seen a lemon since 1914. Even though she’s playing tennis here with her back to a little table that I could swear up and down must contain lemonade…

And despite the apparent rarity of such a beverage, John Cavendish and Hastings leave their beverage glasses sitting on the grass as they go inside together. Wasting such commodities during wartime? And is it lemonade or isn’t it??  GAH.

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If John is keeping the existing lemonade a great secret from his wife, or if tennis partner Cynthia is secretly downing it all when her back is turned, well, no wonder there’s marital strife at Styles Court and Cynthia thinks Mary hates her. Sheesh, share the lemonade, people!

Anyway, while this most mysterious drama unfolds, Poirot is busy buying illicit cocoa from the local post office.

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Although this doesn’t exactly happen in the book– we know only that Hastings cannons into Poirot on his way into the post office to buy stamps– give due credit to the scriptwriter for some great character development here and providing a very believable reason for Poirot to be in this establishment. Not that Poirot is ordinarily associated with cocoa as a preferred beverage, per se. In the book, when he is searching for clues in the room where Mrs. Inglethorp was murdered, he gingerly tastes one of the beverages in the room “with a grimace” and discovers that it is cocoa with rum. Poirot, throughout the canon, is a passionate drinker of hot chocolate, which is a good deal richer and more expensive. But what will you? Needs must in wartime. If cocoa was difficult to get, chocolate must have been impossible to find. No doubt he doctored that cocoa powder up with an exorbitant amount of illicitly-obtained sugar and cream, and made do.  🙂  The little grey cells need fuel, after all.

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Another thing I like about bringing Poirot’s cocoa into it here is that, to my mind, it suggests a subtle nod to the crucially important chocolate-drinking experiments later in Curtain: first with Hastings, then with the murderer. Parallels of life and visuals in Styles, with the first and last story of Christie’s canon (intentional or not) are always interesting to come across. In terms of beverages, the fact that as significant plot points, chocolate was drunk by major characters on the hottest day of the summer and on the brink of a storm, for example.

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?

The painted miniature books (2)

So I finished painting the last four Hastings novels (fighting Peril at End House tooth and nail along the way, using a sample of my “two shots spliced together” technique for Lord Edgware Dies, trying a bit of tiny landscape painting with Dumb Witness, and rounding them all off with a slightly impressionistic The Murder on the Links). Now what?

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These little books were pretty time-consuming. Each one took a total of at least five to seven hours, including prep time. I had to watch through the episode, collect a bunch of likely screen shots (for some episodes it was as many as two dozen to choose between), choose one and print it out in large and small sizes to work from, paint the cover on, re-read the book, make a list of representative quotes that might fit onto the back, choose one, and paint it on the back. This project had the potential to be wearying.

Unfortunately, it was also really stupidly fun. And tremendously addictive. I wanted to carry on, but if I kept going, where would it end?

I’d been posting the books on Twitter as I went along. So, at the end of my Hastings novels, this conversation happened:

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Well, that was it. It was onward to the bitter end. “Please don’t” stop? I’ve created fan art on WAY less provocation than that.

If Suchet could finish all of Christie’s Poirot novels without whining, so could I. Maybe it wouldn’t even take me 25 years.

Maybe…

(to be continued)

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These novels are actually “short stories.” Get it? Short stories? …*sigh*…

The painted miniature books (1)

My series of miniature Agatha Christie books was such a long and involved project that I figured it would make more sense to break the thing down into a series of posts to explain how it all came together.

The first four: half of the Hastings novels.

The first four: half of the Hastings novels. You will notice a dropped word in the quote of the first book, which was later remedied. This happened from time to time!

I’ve been painting miniatures for years; in my younger years I used to paint things like album covers and portraits onto guitar picks. (Nowadays you can get all kinds of printed picks, so it seems less chic somehow.)  In February of this year, I thought I’d make use of a few wooden miniature books sitting around my art room and paint them up to look like Christie’s Poirot novels. The complete series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot had been a Christmas gift and I’d been through them all, so with all the episodes at my fingertips, I could collect stills and paint them onto corresponding book covers. A representative quote from the book would be painted on the back. “What fun,” I thought. “I’ll just do a few of my favorite books, then.” Ha!

The first book: The A.B.C. Murders.

The first book: The A.B.C. Murders.

The Hastings novels seemed a splendid place to start. I’d already determined to put Poirot on each cover (Christie, incidentally, never wanted Poirot on her covers!) and I liked the idea of having Hastings on the covers of his novels as well. The first four are some of my favorite Christie books. The Big Four and Curtain both posed difficulties at once, however; I could not seem to get a screen shot of Poirot and Hastings together that met my criteria for a book cover. Each cover had to contain an image that could be cropped into a rectangle of the proper proportions, and needed to be satisfactorily representative of the content of the book. In the end, for Curtain I did a little montage, a portrait of each heavy on the chiaroscuro, and for The Big Four I was obliged to add a shadowy, mystery figure into the back of the shot, which could be construed as either Number Four or Hastings.

Curtain. This was the third book, and I began to photograph the books with a ruler for scale.

Curtain. This was the third book, and I began to photograph the books with a ruler for scale.

That might have been the end of it. But it nagged me to only have half the Hastings novels done. Crikey, surely I could finish them. Then there would be a neat little collection of eight books…

(To be continued.)