In Times of Trouble – Turn to Poirot
When life gets a little too stressful and you are having trouble concentrating on your reading you might want to turn to Agatha Christie. Comfort food for the body might be a favourite stew, for me comfort food for the brain is a familiar and frequently read novel by Agatha Christie, especially those featuring Hercule Poirot.
Late this summer a final Poirot television film was aired – which I missed – featuring the one and only perfect Poirot, David Suchet, in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. I thought I’d read the book as a distraction but within a few pages realized I should start by reading the very first Poirot story, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920, and takes place in 1916, bringing us a relatively young Poirot, who has been forced to leave Belgium during the war. Living quietly in Styles St Mary, Poirot is delighted to meet again a young friend, Captain Arthur Hastings who has been “invalided home from the front”.
Hastings is our narrator, and after arriving at “an absurd little station with no apparent reason for existence” he proceeds to Styles Court to visit his good friend John Cavendish. Hastings is a nice man, polite, kind, idealistic, trusting – an altogether agreeable companion and most importantly a good listener. Hastings is always an easy guest, and a good friend. Poirot recognizes these qualities, and as well as genuinely caring for “mon ami, Hastings”, Poirot is able to use Hastings as his inside man. The observations Hastings shares with Poirot about the family and their activities provide Poirot with very useful information as he attempts to identify the culprit when the inevitable murder takes place.
As Poirot often says it is all a “mere matter of method …If the fact does not fit the theory – let the theory go”.
Moving on to Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, published in 1975, we have a much older, and ill, Poirot, but he is again in Styles. Hastings, who has just returned from Argentina, now a widower, has been summoned. Arriving at the same little unchanged train station, Hastings makes his way to Styles Court, now a residential hotel. Now that “mon ami, Hastings” has arrived Poirot puts it to him that there will be a murder at Styles. Poirot, who can no longer get about on his own, requires Hastings to be his eyes and ears at Styles Court.
There is no need to spoil the story for you, the plot is as convoluted as is necessary to prevent even the most perceptive reader from discovering the solution – and really why try? The pleasure of these novels is that you don’t need to think; you can simply read for the delight of the story, the pleasure of scenes set, and the characters created by a very clever and astute writer.
Hastings says “nothing is so sad, in my opinion, as the devastation wrought by age” and it is sad of course to witness the end of the life of the great Poirot - but we can always read and re-read these novels so really Poirot never dies.
While looking up some information about Agatha Christie I came across an article from a British newspaper worthy of a Poirot investigation. When Agatha Christie’s effects were auctioned off in 2006 an old travelling trunk that had belonged to Christie’s mother was purchased by a lucky bidder. She was even luckier when she later discovered the trunk contained a valuable diamond broach and a diamond ring. The jewels will be sold at auction this month – I can almost picture Poirot viewing the spectacle from the back of the room.