“Why not make my detective a Belgian?...I could see him as a tidy little man, always arranging things, liking things in pairs, liking things square instead of round. And he should be brainy – he should have little grey cells of the mind.” Agatha Christie – An Autobiography
And so one of the greatest detectives in literature was born!
Hercule Poirot made his first appearance in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, called upon by his friend Hastings, to solve a most mysterious murder. This Belgian refugee from the First World War began his career as a police officer - Christie felt it only fitting that he had a professional background as it would explain his knowledge of police proceedings when he later became a private detective. He began his private career on the continent, which is where he formed his lifelong friendship with Hastings.
Poirot would be the first to call himself a great man - he has never been known for his modesty - but with such success in his career he is quite justified in his opinion! He finishes each case with a dramatic dénouement, satisfying his own ego and confirming to all, that he is truly “the greatest mind in Europe.” His love of elegance, beauty, and precision, as well as his eccentric mannerisms are often ridiculed by the local bumbling policemen, but it is always Poirot who has the last word!
Christie's inspiration for Poirot lay behind the Belgian refugees who had escaped the war and made their home in the Parish of Torre. Christie had seen how the locals had opened their arms to them and how some, not understanding the British way of life, preferred to do things their own way. Christie decided to make Poirot more mature, a decision she would later regret; “the result is that my fictional detective is well over a hundred by now.”
But not even Christie could ever have imagined how popular Poirot would become, nor how many stories she would write about him. He would star in thirty-three novels and fifty-four short stories, including some of Christie’s best such as Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Death on the Nile.
Poirot deserves his place in crime fiction history and this was certainly achieved on his death in 1975; Poirot became the only fictional character in history to be honoured with an obituary on the front of The New York Times!
As a character, he has been played by many great actors. The first was Austin Trevor who would appear in Alibi, Black Coffee and Lord Edgware Dies. Trevor would also play a small role in The Alphabet Murders which starred Tony Randall as Poirot and was made by MGM in 1965. Academy Award nominee Albert Finney appeared as Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express in 1974; when this was remade in 2001 it starred Albert Molina in the role of the great detective. The great Peter Ustinov, winner of two Academy Awards, played Poirot in six films. Though the fictional Poirot looks little like Ustinov, he successfully captured the Belgian and is much loved by the public.
Perhaps, however, the actor most synonymous with Poirot is David Suchet, who first appeared in the role in 1989. Agatha Christie never saw David Suchet in the role but her grandson Mathew has commented: “Personally, I regret very much that she never saw David Suchet. I think that visually he is much the most convincing and perhaps he manages to convey to the viewer just enough of the irritation that we always associate with the perfectionist, to be convincing!”
Masthead Photography: Joan Hickson image © BBC
MURDER MOST FOUL © Turner Entertainment Co. A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. All Rights Reserved.
AGATHA CHRISTIE® POIROT® MARPLE® Copyright ©2009 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved.