The ghost that took over his life: Poirot’s handwriting in Curtain

“I am writing a letter to Hastings to explain all that has happened, and what makes it extraordinary is that the art department have discovered a way to create my handwriting so that I do not have to write every word myself time after time. It is as though a ghost has taken over my life.”

-David Suchet, Poirot and Me

This little detail about the final scenes of Curtain, mentioned in passing in Suchet’s book, intrigued me when I first read it. Art departments and handwriting are always of special interest! But it was only when I took a close look at what is shown on screen in this episode that his meaning became clear. (In advance: please understand that in this post, I’m not attempting any sort of “gotcha!” to said fine art department– I may have never noticed, had it not been obliquely pointed out by Suchet himself. I merely note this as something that interests me.)

It began simply by noticing that the letter that Poirot was writing to Hastings looked an awful lot, but not quite, like Suchet’s own handwriting. Curious, because the letters all looked like he wrote them, but something seemed a bit off about it. Then I remembered the quote from his book. Do you notice?

Font-lovers may notice what is so curious about the FIRST sentence of Poirot’s writing here: what we’re looking at is essentially a “David Suchet’s Poirot” font. Zoom in (click on the picture) and look at any single letter– try the lower-case “h,” “y,” “m,” for easy examples. Every one of those letters looks exactly the same as every other in that sentence! That’s what looks unusual– the first part of the page is uncommonly smooth and regularized. Now starting at “But really, my friend,” look at the rest of the words. Those are hand-written by Suchet himself, and contain variations on the letters rather than uniformity, appearing much looser that the words that came before. The camera had to show him actually writing with his own hand for these shots, but a font was made of his handwriting for the first part of a paragraph so he wouldn’t have to write it all out each time. Presumably print-outs were made to which he added. This is what his quote at the top of the post meant. If you look carefully, you may even notice that the color of the ink appears slightly different between the “font” and the true handwriting.

Once you see this pattern, you can’t un-see it in the other paragraphs of writing shown. I’ve highlighted the real handwriting in blue brackets; the rest is a printed font.

There are at least two possible reasons I can think of as to why the art department would go to the bother of creating this font in the first place. Either it really was merely to convenience their actor; or it might be that doing too much handwriting in those arthritis-heavy prosthetics does not-nice things to them. There may have been other reasons.

The font works perfectly well for the few moments it appears on screen. If, however, you really wish to forge someone’s writing successfully (or even to create a slightly more believable handwriting font for closer scrutiny, though it is far more expensive to do so), always remember to use multiple variants of letters.  Poirot himself knows enough about forgery to let you in on that.  😉

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Triangle at Rhodes: episode overview

***Spoilers as always***

Things I Loved

1.) Location! Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the episode is the wonderful location. It is the first time in the series that we see Poirot vacationing off in exotic places (yet perpetually unable to escape the murderous English). The filming was really done in Rhodes, and there are many amazing shots of famous landmarks. In Christie’s original short story, the only landmark to speak of is the Mount of the Prophet, and adding more touristy eye candy spices up the story.

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L: The castle of Monolithos. R: The temple of Apollo.

2.) Music. Admit it– you’ve always wanted to hear the Poirot theme song on a santouri!

3.)  The wardrobe.  🙂  What marvelous costumes…

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4.) Making it a real mystery with discernible clues. Christie usually does play fair, but “Triangle at Rhodes,” like “The Veiled Lady” and a couple others, really don’t include fair clue-dropping for the reader. In the original short story, Poirot just seems to know instinctively that Marjorie Gold is a baddie because, as he tells us at the very end, he’s known nice, respectable women criminals like her before. In the episode, his suspicion is first aroused by Mrs. Gold’s claim that it was her husband’s idea to come to Rhodes when Poirot knows it wasn’t (but see “Things That Really Confused Me” below), and he becomes sure when he realizes that the Catholic Mr. Gold would have been unlikely to demand a divorce from his wife, again contra her claims. A plot device borrowed, perhaps, from Lord Edgware Dies.

5.) Poirot crossing himself at the chapel at Monolithos. An early display of an important character trait of our favorite detective.

6.) Poirot speaking Italian! Christie’s canon (e.g. Black Coffee) reveals that Poirot is fluent in Italian, and this might be the only episode where we hear him speaking the language. When it is discovered that certain passports are missing, he asks the desk what happened, and is answered, in that language. He also asks at the harbor about the boat departures when he and Miss Lyall are chasing the villains. One wonders why he mightn’t have used those linguistic skills with those obstinate customs officials, to score a few more points.  🙂

7.) These glasses. That is all.

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Things I Didn’t Love

1.) Chase scene? Poirot on a speedboat, zipping out of Rhodes harbor to nab the villains as they try to book it to Turkey. I understand that it makes for an exciting chase scene (with dynamite, no less) but I cannot in a million years imagine this actually happening. The mal de mer!

2.) Hunting down the poison-seller. Considering the fact that Poirot warns Mrs. Gold before the murder takes place, why does he waste time after the murder by personally hunting about for who sold the poison to whom when he knows perfectly well whodunnit already? I know, I know… TV pacing. But really, by the time he gets back to the hotel, the villains have left and they have to go running after them, nearly missing them. Seems a little inefficient for Poirot.

Things That Really Confused Me

1.) Douglas Gold’s grumpiness on arrival. Poirot overhears Gold grumbling as he and his wife enter the hotel; one gets the impression that his wife insisted that they come to Rhodes, and he himself wasn’t keen. Later on the beach, Marjorie Gold mentions that it was actually HIS idea to come. Poirot looks up in surprise at this contradiction. It makes sense for the wife to have insisted that they come, since she and Chantry have a plot they’re hatching, and for her to make a pretense that it was her husband’s idea, not hers, to divert suspicion from herself. Well and good. But why doesn’t Douglas Gold  contradict his wife when she says this, since he knows better? In the original story, Mr. Gold does make a couple of comments about what a long way to come it is and such like, but it’s not portrayed as grumpiness, just conventional commentary. Also, when explaining the solution to Miss Lyall in the episode, Poirot doesn’t mention the above contradiction as one of the things that alerted his suspicions– just the Catholic thing. But he certainly suspected Mrs. Gold before mention of divorce came about.

2.) Miss Pamela Lyall. It didn’t really confuse me, but it’s a curious anomaly in the Poirot TV series and is worth commentary. In the book, Christie’s own Miss Lyall is an enthusiastic young tanner who wears minimal bathing dress and gets Poirot to rub oil on her back! The scriptwriters turn her into a Poirot fangirl who uses Major Barnes’ unwanted advances as a way to attach herself to Poirot, thus providing him with a necessary and ever-present sidekick for crime-solving. Still, this leads to a couple moments of (in my opinion) a curious awkwardness, particularly the scene below, which needs to be filed under “Failed Poirot pick-up lines” for a future blog post.  🙂

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***************

Overall? An enjoyable romp with notably spectacular visuals.  🙂

The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge: episode overview

I realized I hadn’t done much analysis on my blog lately– too busy making artworks and getting The London Syndicate finished. But I missed writing about the books and the show, so I thought I’d set a task for myself. A random episode was selected, in this case The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge. What follows are Things I Loved, Things I Didn’t Love, and Things That Really Confused Me. One must be methodical.  😉  And if any of you dear readers can help me out with stuff in that final category, all the better! Here we go.
***Spoilers, as always***

Things I Loved

1.  This money shot! What a location. The moors, the rolling hills… the random sheep! “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

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2. Hastings as impromptu valet. Producer Brian Eastman had decided not to include George the valet in these early episodes for reasons of his own, and occasionally you’ll see Hastings picking up some of this slack throughout the series– he seems expected to pay cabs, tip servicemen, arrange Poirot’s jacket, and generally keep an eye on his health. In this episode, Poirot matter-of-factly orders Hastings to shoot eight grouse for him (to his friend’s exasperated amusement) and equally matter-of-factly expects Hastings to fluff his pillow when he’s sick! Good thing Hastings is such a sport.

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3. Many hilarious moments of dialog and action. Highlights include: Poirot complaining that his lungs are full of the gunpowder and the fresh air; “You are leaving? One can leave??”; Hastings tapping his nose “in that theatrical manner”; “Mon Dieu. Look at this, Hastings. I am a corpse waiting to die! I shall not survive to enjoy my tetras a l’anglois” (later fed to the cat); Japp heckling the local police; sickly Poirot vaguely waving his hand out from under his blankets. I have to stop now because I’m still giggling. There were some funny moments in the original story that, alas, were left out (Poirot’s article in society gossip about his ‘flu; telling Hastings that his crime scene photographs were bound to be “underexposed and not in the least artistic”), but plenty of fun to make up for it.

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4. A clever way for Poirot to catch the culprits. In Christie’s original short story, the Haverings get away with their murder because Poirot and Japp don’t have enough evidence to convict. The TV adaptations always find a way for Poirot to get his man, though, and in this case, a scent hound is cleverly and appropriately employed to prove Poirot’s theory about the missing Mrs. Middleton.

Things I Didn’t Love

1. Hastings’ firearms mistake. Hastings tells Poirot that Mr. Pace was shot with one of his own revolvers. Now, I’m no gun expert, but that thar looks like a semi-automatic to me. “Gun” or “pistol” would be the generic term if he weren’t sure what was used. Anyway, the police did know which gun it was from the very beginning; there was no mystery there (at least in the TV adaptation). Well, if Hastings did make a mistake, I can forgive him for that… he gets muddled. For me, what’s worse is…

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2.  Inexplicable Archie. Perhaps the worst of the underdeveloped red herrings in this episode is Archie– a poor, bike-riding, awkward, and perhaps vaguely communistic relation of the murdered man. Early in the episode, he accidentally (or maybe not? the viewer wonders) shoots and wounds his obnoxious uncle who had just yelled at him. This makes him suspicious– fine and good. Later, when we hear of the bicycle that is stolen by a suspicious character in a fake beard, Poirot says that he would very much like to establish whether or not Archie had an alibi for the time of the murder; again, very sensible. Hastings goes out to interview him, and never finds out nor reports anything whatsoever about whether Archie has an alibi or not. Archie just yells at him for suspecting him, asks why on earth he should want to kill a man like his uncle, and proceeds to give a number of very good reasons why he should want to do just that. Okay then. Speaking of things that aren’t explained, there seems to be a weird love interest on his part for his cousin Zoe, who’s married to Roger. That is also never explained. In theory, if Archie had been the murderer, he might have also conceived of framing Roger Havering for the deed to clear the way for himself and Zoe– but this is never speculated upon by anyone. One more thing about Archie: Poirot is entrusted with the task of keeping the hapless fellow from brooding at lunchtime, but immediately forgets to do this, being preoccupied with his own discomfort from the cold. Conclusion: Archie is useless and no one really cares.

3.  Jack Stoddard on the night of the murder, just chillin’ in the freezing cold with his rifle. This character is considerably more interesting than Archie, and he also has a motive for wishing his brother’s death. We see him take his rifle from his house on the night of the murder and wander down to Hunter’s Lodge. This clearly is meant to make him look extra suspicious to the viewer, but he seems to have no purpose for being there. It’s possible that he actually meant to shoot his brother and the killer managed it before he did, but again– it’s never speculated upon. No one seems to comment on the fact that the man was right outside the house with a gun and that this is weird and suspicious. Other things confused me about Stoddard, including…

Things That Really Confused Me

1.   The account Stoddard gave to Poirot about Mrs. Middleton sending him for the police. Stoddard tells Poirot that Mrs. Middleton had said that she didn’t ring for the police because Zoe was freaking out and she wanted to get Zoe to sleep “before the police came.” So she ran outside like a maniac, happened to spot Stoddard, and sent him running somewhere else to get the police. Even Stoddard is bright enough to have found this very weird. The excuse that Mrs. Middleton WANTED the delay just to conk Zoe out before the police came is extraordinarily suspicious on “both” ladies. If Zoe had really been freaking out, Mrs. Middleton (had she existed) could have calmed her down upstairs while Stoddard entered Hunter’s Lodge to phone himself, even after a suitable delay, had there been need of delay. Of course, any excuse for needing a delay was ridiculous in light of the fact that there was a dangerous killer on the loose. If the local police had had any sense at all, they’d have detained the housekeeper then and there, and the crime would have been solved pretty speedily.

2.  Along the same lines– why, exactly, DOES the disguised “Mrs. Middleton” decide to dash outside in the first place? She probably didn’t realize she’d find Stoddard standing right there. Why not fire the shot, change disguise, wait a spell, and then call the police from the Lodge? Did she run outside to see if there might be a person in earshot that she would have to send away in a panic, lest they come into the house to investigate while she was changing her disguise? Her plan would be upset if there were more than one person outside in the vicinity. All this is most unsatisfactory…

3.  The escape of the killer. The police notice the open window and assume the murderer had escaped that way. But the “ladies” only describe having heard the shot. Do they actually see the man leave the house? They never say. Had an outside killer really been involved, wouldn’t it have been safer to have invited Stoddard, who was ARMED even, into the house with them, since the killer certainly wasn’t far away? Yet another reason that the police should have seen through this in a heartbeat.

4.   Mr. Anstruther’s bike. The murderers must have known that the man’s bike would definitely be there for the taking at the rail station. Their whole plan depended on it. They mean to initially throw suspicion on Roger Havering, who could theoretically have booked it back to Hunter’s Lodge on that bike, shot his uncle, and then taken a faster train to London to his club. There was even a pre-dug ditch for Zoe to  bury the bike and one of the disguises. But what would Zoe have done if Mr. Anstruther’s bike wasn’t exactly where he had left it? Suppose she couldn’t find it in the dark after all, or that he was keeping it close to himself? So much for the plan. Next time, villains, I recommend planting your own bike nearby to use, thus lessening your chances of not getting a bike at all, or being detained by Mr. Anstruther or anyone nearby he might press into service on his behalf.

5.  What about that delivery of game birds? Mr. Stoddard had been waiting for Mrs. Middleton to stop by to pick up the game birds, but she never arrived. Wouldn’t that have directed immediate suspicion to both the housekeeper and Roger Havering, who was supposed to have dropped her off there? Stoddard surely would have heard the nephew’s car pull up and would have met the housekeeper then and there, had they actually arrived. And if Stoddard gave up waiting for her and was going to (inexplicably) take his rifle for a walk down to Hunter’s Lodge later, why not just bring that delivery of game birds with him? If Mrs. Middleton had been planning to walk back to Hunter’s Lodge herself with them, they couldn’t have been too heavy. In fact, this would have given Stoddard the perfect excuse to have been right outside the lodge that night, rather than standing there for no reason.

6.  The Chief Inspector Japp is most amusing… “for a policeman.” This gentle, retaliatory jibe of Poirot’s is fun, but every-so-slightly odd-sounding to me, only insofar as Poirot is a retired policeman himself. Sooo, he’s kinda dissing himself…? Possible, I guess, but not especially characteristic.

* * * * *

Summary: Whew! I’ve always liked watching the episode, but I never quite realized until now just how many things in it completely confuse me! The plot is substantially altered and added onto from the original short story (which would be un-filmable otherwise), but it seems to have also created either a lot of plot holes, or just a lot of perplexity to myself.  🙂

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.

The Double Clue, Marc Chagall, the elusive lovers’ dream, and guilt expiation

Well… that’s the direction that my convoluted brain wanders while watching this Poirot episode… (Note: associations are my own and are not intended to reflect genuine intent on the part of script writers or art departments.)  🙂

The only thing that comes as close to the awesomeness of the famously-moustachioed Dying Gaul as a focal statue in the chess tournament scene of The Big Four, is the use of Chagall’s “Feathers in Bloom” in The Double Clue.

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Before reaching the gallery interior, previous conversations with the Countess had emphasized certain points of commonality between the characters: the sad and lonely aspects of foreign exile. Despite the mutual appreciation of the painting and the reference to Chagall’s own “exile” from Russia, the gallery scene in general focuses more on the differences in personality and background between the pair. Poirot offers to take the Countess to the Tate to see the Turner landscapes– sublime, comparatively bourgeois,  and quintessentially English. She voices a preference for the more “exciting” and avant-garde continental Expressionists, which Poirot only appreciates “in part.” (At this point, he gently chides her for using his first name, maintaining a wholly formal address between them.) The scene concludes with Poirot demonstrating his cred as “the most famous detective in England” by hinting that he already knows of her guilt. This all resolves with Poirot maintaining himself on the side of England, as it were, while able (as a fellow foreign refugee) to grasp something of the psychology of the criminal.

That’s about as far as the episode goes with Chagall. But there are some other interesting things about it that come to bear on some of the story’s themes.

“Feathers in Bloom” features some of Chagall’s most commonly-used symbols. The moon is usually present at the meeting of lovers. The horse (in this case, with the legs of a man) represents ideas such as strength, virility, and freedom. The chicken or rooster is used throughout his work in two senses: first, in terms of fertility and also associated with lovers; secondly, as a Jewish symbol (along with the goat) for the expiation of guilt and sin, in connection with Yom Kippur. More on that later.

You can see typical examples of all of these symbols together in Chagall’s works, such as the following:

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…But of course, those Chagalls all share another iconic visual that is (perhaps sadly) lacking in the “Feathers in Bloom” painting encountered by Poirot and the Countess. Namely, this one:

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One could, perhaps, read “Feathers in Bloom” in this context as a meeting of love interests that will not result in that idyllic, dream-like state with bride and groom flying off into the sunset.

But speaking of goats and chickens…

Chagall’s Hasidic Jewish background is one of the preeminent influences of his artwork, and the goat (or, by more modern parallel, the chicken) as symbols of sacrifice and atonement happen to come to bear on some of the story’s themes, as well. In ancient times, the Day of Atonement would involve the sacrifice of a goat, and the binding of a second goat in scarlet which would then be driven away into the remote wilderness as a sign of the expiation of guilt. This is where we get the term scapegoat. The scapegoat appears throughout The Double Clue.

Japp: “The Commissioner’s come down on me. He wants action. If not, he’s going to have to give them a scapegoat.”
Poirot: “A goat?”
Japp: “Me.”

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In the episode, the propitiation takes the form of the Countess relinquishing her stolen goods, Poirot “covering” for her, and transferring the guilt onto the tramp as a scapegoat. However, like the scapegoat, the Countess herself must be driven away, never to return to the society.

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Yes, I know I’m reading a lot into it. Blame whoever thought to stick Marc Chagall into the script!!  🙂  🙂  🙂  Where there is Chagall, the symbols start flying!

Speaking of Chagall and all the random mental associations he seems to conjure up, we could finally note a few coincidences of his family history. Born and raised in Russia, of a Lithuanian Jewish family (Moishe Shagal russified to Mark Shagalov). Found his way to Paris and its creative epicenters, where the family name was rendered as the French-sounding Chagall. From Paris, moved on again into the English-speaking world, where he settled for good. If that doesn’t remind you of a certain unnamed actor’s family history, well…

Another Christie/Chesterton connection… from Lord Edgware Dies

***Spoiler for Lord Edgware Dies and “The Wrong Shape”— read it here if you’d like to before continuing on.***  🙂

Almost immediately after I posted my speculations about whether Christie borrowed an idea from Chesterton’s Father Brown story “The Sign of the Broken Sword” for The A.B.C. Murders, I ran across something else. Soaking in the bathtub the other day and reading Lord Edgware Dies, I was reminded of another Chesterton story.

In “The Wrong Shape,” the solution to the mystery is uncovered because the murderer snips off a tiny, upper-left corner of the paper on which the victim had been writing. We are to assume at first that the paper is a suicide note, but Father Brown realizes that the paper is the wrong shape because quotation marks have been snipped off the top corner, thus completely changing the intended meaning of a text (an exotic story).

Is this not exactly what helps break open the case of Lord Edgware Dies to Poirot– the torn sheet of Carlotta Adams’ letter which removes the letter “s,” turning “she” to “he” and obscuring the original meaning of the victim’s writing?  🙂

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I have insufficient knowledge of the tropes of classic detective fiction to know if this was actually a super-common device among writers at the time, but I’d think it unlikely, or the solution would be too glaringly obvious to the reader. Is this another cause for a hat-tip to Chesterton?

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The best endings to Poirot stories: My top 12

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?’

‘No?’

‘”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.

‘Eh?’

‘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 

‘I died…’

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?’

Poirot said:

‘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.

Weird endings: The Veiled Lady

The episode The Veiled Lady begins (more or less) and ends with Poirot, Hastings, and Japp enjoying a pleasant jaunt in a park. This particular park is full of boys who have somehow acquired toy sailboats and are taking them out for a float on the water.

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Poirot: “They fear me, Hastings, the criminals, they fear Hercule Poirot so much that they have repented of their naughty ways and have become citizens of the most upright.”
Hastings: “Oh, rubbish, Poirot– I say! Look at that schooner!”
Poirot: “Rubbish, do you say, Hastings?”
Hastings: “Well, I don’t imagine most of them have ever heard of Hercule Poirot.”
Poirot: “You strike a man while he is down, eh!”
Japp: “I wish you were right. I wouldn’t mind retiring early. It strikes me they’re getting even cleverer, our criminal friends…”

Japp goes on to explain a recent jewel robbery that has impressed him; Poirot seems to consider it not really in his line, being a mere crime of “audacity.” But he falls into a reverie– what fun it would be to work against the law. Who better to confound Japp and his men than a great genius like himself, Hercule Poirot?

And at the end of the successful case, they’re back at the park and Hastings has procured for himself an enormous sailboat.

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Poirot: “Sit here, Hastings. Now I hope that you will not again wound my feelings by saying that I am unknown to the criminal classes.”
Hastings: “Oh, I didn’t mean that, exactly.”
Poirot: “Ma foi, they even employ me themselves when they do not know which way to turn!”
Hastings (finishing with the boat): “What do you think?”
Poirot: “Well… I think… that we have made a good choice, Hastings.”
Hastings: “Not bad, eh?”
Japp (suddenly coming up): “Poirot, Hastings? I thought she’d never stop talking!”
Hastings: “What do you think?”
Japp: “It’s a beauty. I thought you were going to get the smaller one.”
Hastings: “Oh, I’d feel silly with a small one.”
Japp: “You going to try it out now?”
Poirot: “Captain Hastings has not brought it here for the good of his health.”
Japp (wistfully watching Hastings launch off): “Did you ever think of going to sea, Poirot?”
Poirot: “No, no, my friend. This is as close as I like to get.”
Japp: “I used to dream about the sea.” (Boat drifts away; credits roll.)

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What. Was. That. All. About.  ??

It drives me crazy when I can’t figure out just why dialog is used. I mean, the boat scenes certainly serve a couple of obvious useful purposes. They showcase Hastings’ impulsive boyishness (often directed toward cars, tracking down criminals, or auburn hair). Perhaps the juvenile nature of the activity is part of what directs Poirot’s imagination to the prospects of playing the criminal and the fun it would be.  And is that an unconsciously jesting dig against Poirot when Hastings tells Japp, “Oh, I’d feel silly with a small one”?

But what is the takeaway supposed to be? It has the feel of a takeaway. Is Japp considering the “audacity” with which Poirot and Hastings pulled off their little investigative stunt– audacity inspired by the initial jewel robbery– and reflecting on his own stolid and by-the-book existence in Isleworth? Japp’s a homebody who likes his garden, and never really seems too enthusiastic in the few times we see him abroad. Does he feel a sudden longing for adventure? Are his words about early retirement coming back to him? “When I retire, I shall have a little place in the country, far from crime– like this,” Japp had said in Christie’s “The Market Basing Mystery.” Does he sense early retirement might be coming after all, what with Poirot putting all these criminals away?  😉

Hastings, that impulsive romantic who pushes off his sailboat, does in fact ultimately get in a boat and go across the sea, all the way to South America, leaving Poirot and Japp behind. Is this a deliberate presage that we, the viewers, are seeing?

What are your impressions of these scenes? What’s up with the boats? What do you get from watching it?

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 one Poirot-esque thing I can do that David Suchet can’t.

I can make my eyes go greener– on command.

No, seriously.   😉

Whenever Christie writes how Poirot’s eyes turn steadily greener, there is a definite feeling of unreality. It’s as if she’s reminding the reader: “Oh, by the way, this is fiction; this little detail is here to make things entertaining in an outrageous sort of way.” Do anyone’s eyes change color just because they are excited or are happening upon a significant truth?

Mind you, that’s not what turns my eyes greener. In fact, I think that most green-eyed or hazel-eyed people probably have eyes that go greener under certain circumstances– specifically, when they are crying. The edges of the eyes turn reddish, and then the green pops, right into a bright and crazy emerald. So despite the fun unreality of Christie’s description, it is quite practically possible. If being excited makes the blood rush to Poirot’s face in some small way, maybe that stimulates the effect.

This has been your weird and speculative whatsit for today!!

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