Sunday, August 27, 2006

P. D. James on Hercule Poirot

"Hercule Poirot made his debut in Agatha Christie's first detective story, The Mysterious Affair at Styles," writes P. D. James in a feature article in the (London) Telegraph's Seven magazine, "which was written during the First World War but did not come out until 1920, after being rejected by a number of publishers."

The setting is Styles Court, a magnificent English estate, dominated by an autocratic matriarch. When she is poisoned, Captain Arthur Hastings, a wounded veteran who is staying in the house, persuades the family to call in his friend, a detective retired from the Belgian police.

Hastings is the narrator and gives us the first description of the detective: 'Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible, I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandified little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumphs by unravelling some of the most baffling cases of the day.'

James observes that "Christie grew to dislike Poirot intensely--she once called him a 'detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep'. She saw him as an incubus, albeit a profitable one." Yet she loved him enough to kill him off so that no one could continue his career after she was gone--a notion which has Harry Potter's fans terrified that his creator will do the same to him.

Click here to read the entire James article, "The strange case of Hercule Poirot."

You may read
The Mysterious Affair at Styles for free online here.

Previously on the blog: here's a link to an interesting item (via Normblog) on Agatha Christie by Sophie Masson, and click here for P.D. James' list of the five most riveting crime novels.

--Marshal Zeringue