|“||I have been called in too late. Very often another, working towards the same goal, has arrived there first. Twice I have been struck down with illness just as I was on the point of success.||„|
Hercule Poirot is the protagonist of most of Agatha Chrisitie's detective novels. He is an arrogant Belgian detective. Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-lived characters, appearing in 33 novels, one play (Black Coffee), and more than 50 short stories published between 1920 and 1975.
Poirot has been portrayed on radio, on screen, for films and television, by various actors, including the late John Moffatt, the late Albert Finney, the late Sir Peter Ustinov, Sir Ian Holm, the late Tony Randall, Alfred Molina, the late Orson Welles, David Suchet, John Malkovich, and most recently, Kenneth Branagh in the 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express.
A brief passage in The Big Four provides original information about Poirot's birth or at least childhood in or near the town of Spa, Belgium or in the village of Ellezelles (province of Hainaut, Belgium – a few memorials dedicated to Hercule Poirot can be seen in the center of this village): "But we did not go into Spa itself. We left the main road and wound into the leafy fastnesses of the hills, till we reached a little hamlet and an isolated white villa high on the hillside." Christie strongly implies that this "quiet retreat in the Ardennes" near Spa is the location of the Poirot family home. Christie is purposefully vague, as Poirot is thought to be an elderly man even in the early novels. And in An Autobiography, she admitted that she already imagined him to be an old man in 1920. At the time, however, she had no idea she would write works featuring him for decades to come. In the Ellezelles birth memorial 'attesting' Poirot's birth, his father and mother were named Jules-Louis Poirot and Godelieve Poirot.
Hercule Poirot had joined the Brussels police force by 1893. Very little mention is made about this part of his life, but in "The Nemean Lion" (1939) Poirot refers to a Belgian case of his in which "a wealthy soap manufacturer [...] poisoned his wife in order to be free to marry his secretary". As Poirot was often misleading about his past to gain information, the truthfulness of that statement is unknown.
Nevertheless, he regards the 1893 case in "The Chocolate Box", as his only actual failure of detection. Again, Poirot is not reliable as a narrator of his personal history and there is no evidence that Christie sketched it out in any depth. During his police career Poirot shot a man who was firing from a roof into the public below. In Lord Edgeware Dies, Poirot reveals that he learned to read writing upside down during his police career. Around that time he met Xavier Bouc, director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. Poirot also became a uniformed director, working on trains.
In The Double Clue, Poirot mentions that he was Chief of Police of Brussels, until "the Great War" (WWI) forced him to leave for England.
World War I & Post-World War I
During World War I, Poirot left Belgium for England as a refugee (although he returned a few times). On 16 July 1916 he again met his lifelong friend, Captain Arthur Hastings and solved the first of his cases to be published: The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It is clear that Hastings and Poirot are already friends when they meet in Chapter 2 of the novel, as Hastings tells Cynthia that he has not seen him for "some years". Particulars such as the date of 1916 for the case and that Hastings had met Poirot in Belgium, are given in Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, Chapter 1 (someone had been shot in a village where Hastings was duck-shooting and Poirot had been called in from the Brussels police to investigate). After that case, Poirot apparently came to the attention of the British secret service and undertook cases for the British government, including foiling the attempted abduction of the Prime Minister.
After the war Poirot became a private detective and began undertaking civilian cases. He moved into what became both his home and work address, 56B Whitehaven Mansions. Hastings first visits the house when he returns to England in June 1935 from Argentina in The A.B.C. Murders, Chapter 1 (it is a plot point in the novel that the flat is at Whitehaven Mansions because a letter to Poirot is misaddressed). In the story the address is Whitehaven Mansions W1. The TV programmes place this in Florin Court, Charterhouse Square, in the wrong part of London. In the Books the address is said to be Flat 203. It was chosen by Poirot. according to Hastings 'chosen entirely on account of its strict geometrical appearance and proportion' and described as the 'newest type of service flat' (The Florin Court building was actually built in 1936, decades after Poirot fictionally moved in.) His first case was "The Affair at the Victory Ball", which allowed Poirot to enter high society and begin his career as a private detective.
Between the world wars, Poirot travelled all over Europe, Africa, Asia, and half of South America investigating crimes and solving murders. Most of his cases occurred during this time and he was at the height of his powers at this point in his life. In The Murder on the Links, the Belgian pits his grey cells against a French murderer. In the Middle East, he solved the cases Death on the Nile and Murder in Mesopotamia with ease and even survived An Appointment with Death. As he passed through Eastern Europe on his return trip, he solved The Murder on the Orient Express. However, he did not travel to North America, the West Indies, the Caribbean or Oceania, probably due to sea sickness.
Meeting the Countess
It was during this time he met the Countess Vera Rossakoff, a glamorous jewel thief. The history of the Countess is, like Poirot's, steeped in mystery. She claims to have been a member of the Russian aristocracy before the Russian Rebellion and suffered greatly as a result, but how much of that story is true is an open question. Even Poirot acknowledges that Rossakoff offered wildly varying accounts of her early life. Poirot later became smitten with the woman and allowed her to escape justice.
After his cases in the Middle East, Poirot returned to Britain. Apart from some of the so-called Labours of Hercule, he very rarely went abroad during his later career. He moved into Styles Court towards the end of his life.
While Poirot was usually paid handsomely by clients, he was also known to take on cases that piqued his curiosity, although they did not pay well.
Poirot shows a love of steam trains, which Christie contrasts with Hastings' love of autos: this is shown in The Plymouth Express, The Mystery of the Blue Train, Murder on the Orient Express, and The ABC Murders (in the TV series, steam trains are seen in nearly all of the episodes).
Confusion surrounds Poirot's retirement. One alternative would be that having failed to grow marrows once, Poirot is determined to have another go, but this is specifically denied by Poirot himself. Also, in "The Erymanthian Boar", a character is said to have been turned out of Austria by the Nazis, implying that the events of The Labours of Hercules took place after 1937. Another alternative would be to suggest that the Preface to the Labours takes place at one date but that the labours are completed over a matter of twenty years. None of the explanations is especially attractive.
In terms of a rudimentary chronology, Poirot speaks of retiring to grow marrows in Chapter 18 of The Big Four (1927) which places that novel out of published order before Roger Ackroyd. He declines to solve a case for the Home Secretary because he is retired in Chapter One of Peril at End House (1932). He is certainly retired at the time of Three Act Tragedy (1935) but he does not enjoy his retirement and repeatedly takes cases thereafter when his curiosity is engaged. He continues to employ his secretary, Miss Lemon, at the time of the cases retold in Hickory Dickory Dock and Dead Man's Folly, which take place in the mid-1950s. It is therefore better to assume that Christie provided no authoritative chronology for Poirot's retirement, but assumed that he could either be an active detective, a consulting detective, or a retired detective as the needs of the immediate case required.
One consistent element about Poirot's retirement is that his fame declines during it, so that in the later novels he is often disappointed when characters (especially younger characters) recognise neither him nor his name.
Post World War II
Poirot is less active during the cases that take place at the end of his career. Towards the end of his career, it becomes clear that Poirot's retirement is no longer a convenient fiction. He assumes a genuinely inactive lifestyle during which he concerns himself with studying famous unsolved cases of the past and reading detective novels. He even writes a book about mystery fiction in which he deals sternly with Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins. In the absence of a more appropriate puzzle, he solves such inconsequential domestic riddles as the presence of three pieces of orange peel in his umbrella stand.
Poirot (and, it is reasonable to suppose, his creator) becomes increasingly bemused by the vulgarism of the up-and-coming generation's young people. In Hickory Dickory Dock, he investigates the strange goings on in a student hostel, while in Third Girl (1966) he is forced into contact with the smart set of Chelsea youths. In the growing drug and pop culture of the sixties, he proves himself once again, but has become heavily reliant on other investigators (especially the private investigator, Mr. Goby) who provide him with the clues that he can no longer gather for himself.
Poirot passes away from complications of a heart condition at the end of Curtain: Poirot's Last Case. He had moved his amyl nitrite pills out of his reach, possibly because of guilt. He thereby became the murderer in Curtain, although it was for the benefit of others. Poirot himself noted that he wanted to kill his victim shortly before his own death so that he could avoid succumbing to the arrogance of the murderer, concerned that he may come to view himself as entitled to kill those he deemed necessary to eliminate.
The "murderer" he was hunting, who is revealed to be a seemly innocent man named Stephen Norton, had never expressly killed anyone, but subtly and psychologically, he had manipulated others to kill for him, manipulating the moments where others desire to commit murder so that they carry out the crime when they might otherwise dismiss their thoughts as nothing more than a momentary passion. Poirot thus was forced to kill Norton himself, as otherwise he would have continued his actions and never been officially convicted as he did not legally do anything wrong.
It is revealed at the end of Curtain that he fakes his need for a wheelchair to fool people into believing that he is suffering from arthritis, to give the impression that he is more infirm than he is. His last recorded words are "Cher ami!", spoken to Hastings as the Captain left his room. (The TV adaptation adds that as Poirot is dying alone, he whispers out his final prayer to God in these words: "Forgive me... forgive...")
Poirot was buried at Styles, and his funeral was arranged by his best friend Hastings and Hastings' daughter Judith. Hastings reasoned, "Here was the spot where he had lived when he first came to this country. He was to lie here at the last."
Poirot's sense of Justice
|“||No! No, you behave like this and we become just... savages in the street! The juries and executioners, they elect themselves! No, it is medieval! The rule of law, it must be held high! And if it falls, you pick it up and hold it even higher! For all of society, all civilized people will have nothing to shelter them if it is destroyed!||„|
|~ Poirot in TV Series|
In the original novel, however, Poirot is more willing to spare them in order to make things after discovering that twelve of the thirteen different suspects participated in Casetti's murder. There was no question of his guilt, but he had been acquitted in America over a technicality after rigging his trial. Considering it poetic justice that twelve jurors had acquitted Cassetti and twelve people had stabbed him, Poirot produced an alternate sequence of events to explain the death.
Although letting the Countess escape was more morally questionable, it was not uncommon. In The Nemean Lion, Poirot sided with the criminal, Miss Amy Carnaby, allowing her to evade prosecution by blackmailing his client Sir Joseph Hoggins, who, Poirot discovered, had plans to commit murder. Poirot even sent Miss Carnaby two hundred pounds as a final payoff prior to the conclusion of her dog kidnapping campaign. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot allowed the murderer to escape justice through suicide and then withheld the truth to spare the feelings of the murderer's relatives.
It all went into climax in Curtain which Poirot actually killed the mastermind behind X's killing to stop him from evading laws or hurting more people. Poirot eventually accepted his death after leaving Hastings a note describing the entire event and truth. In the TV series, Poirot was shown to saying prayers to God in his last moments, amplified his guilt over breaking his codes to pursuit true justice.
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
- The ABC Murders
- Lord Edwards Dies
- Sad Cypress
- The Hollow
- Pearl at the End House
- Murder on the Orient Express
- Death on the Nile
- Curtain: Poirot's Last Case
- In 2014, the Poirot canon was added to by the first author to be commissioned by the Christie estate to write an original story, Sophie Hannah. The novel was called The Monogram Murders, and was set in the late 1920s, placing it chronologically between The Mystery of the Blue Train and Peril at End House. A second Hannah-penned Poirot came out in 2016, called Closed Casket.
- About Poirot's retirement: Most of the cases covered by Poirot's private detective agency take place before his retirement to grow marrows, at which time he solves The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It has been said that the twelve cases related in The Labours of Hercules (1947) must refer to a different retirement, but the fact that Poirot specifically says that he intends to grow marrows indicates that these stories also take place before Roger Ackroyd, and presumably Poirot closed his agency once he had completed them.
- There is specific mention in "The Capture of Cerberus" of the twenty-year gap between Poirot's previous meeting with Countess Rossakoff and this one. If the Labours precede the events in Roger Ackroyd, then the Ackroyd case must have taken place around twenty years later than it was published, and so must any of the cases that refer to it.
- While Poirot's actual death and funeral occurred in Curtain, years after his retirement from active investigation, it was not the first time Hastings attended the funeral of his best friend. In The Big Four (1927) Poirot feigned his death and subsequent funeral to launch a surprise attack on the Big Four.
- Christie wrote that Poirot is a Roman Catholic, and gave her character a strong sense of Catholic morality in later works. Christie provides little information regarding Poirot’s childhood, only mentioning in Three Act Tragedy that he comes from a large family with little wealth.
- David Suchet, the actor who portrayed Poirot in ITV adaptations, once portrayed Japp in the 1985 film, Thirteen at Dinner (1985), adapted from Lord Edgware Dies.