Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's a Two-fer!

After watching my Poirot DVDs twelve times over, I've turned to my massive Agatha Christie collection to satisfy my craving for mystery, the 1930s, and French-speaking Belgians. Oh, you don't know what I'm talking about? WELL LET ME ENLIGHTEN YOU.

I'm a bit of fan-girl when it comes to Agatha Christie's greatest fictional character, Hercule Poirot, one of the most adorable detectives EVAR. Poirot is a former Belgian police detective who moves to England and becomes a private detective, unraveling the most obtuse and Gordian-knot-like mysteries. And honestly, if you ever need to bump someone off, her books are a pretty excellent how-to.

I own over half of Christie's nearly 50 Poirot novels, several of which have been turned into one of the most excellent of detective shows starring the inimitable David Suchet as Poirot. Still turning out the occasional tv special, the series has been going since 1989. As a kid, one of my most favorite things was staying with my grandmother on Long Island and watching PBS's "Mystery!" theater while laying under the covers in the dark on the blowup mattress in the living room. A good portion of my attachment to the show is the result of such well-formed memories, but in all honesty, the show really is that good. Suchet is THE perfect, quintessential, and only Poirot. The prim and exacting minuscule detective with the elegant mustache is embodied in Suchet's performance; if you watch carefully, you will discover an entire catalogue of mannerisms that create a real, living embodiment of a fictional character. Not to mention that Suchet's accent and use of French is parfait, and you will find yourself repeating the words for later use.

My love of Poirot in this context is such that if I were to ever meet David Suchet, I would have to insist that he wear the mustache and speak with the accent. I couldn't talk to him otherwise, everything he said would just sound like white noise. Not to mention that I can't stand anyone else playing Poirot. I rented the film "Murder on the Orient Express" once, and after ten minutes I'd had enough, it was so painful watching another actor massacre my image of the little detective.

What is interesting, and something that I have discovered in reading the novels, is that the writers of the show have actually improved on Christie's design: in the novels, Poirot is a little bit of a dick because his well-earned ego is so huge. He consistently reminds his pal Capt. Hastings what an idiot he is, and how inferior he is to Poirot's superior intellect. In the show, Poirot is well-aware that he is the best there is and that his friend isn't as smart as he, but he is a bit more humble about it and doesn't make Hastings feel like an ass unless the situation calls for it. The relationship feels warmer and based on mutual respect and affection rather than an audience for Poirot's impressive use of his "little grey cells." The books also paint Poirot more akin to a cat, with flashing green eyes and a dainty, nimble quickness. While the twinkle remains in Suchet's eyes, he's portrayed as a portlier fellow, someone who clearly enjoys the finer foods and drink and the comforts offered by British high society. I'm okay with this, because he's still dainty and fussy and the fanciest of dressers. How fancy? He has a special napkin that buttons to his shirt front for meals. He has a silver case for his cigarette ashes. He wears SPATS. He is so goddamned fancy.

Another reason I love the show is the immersion and dedication to the setting and costumes. ART DECO MOTHERFUCKERS.

I squeed pretty hard during an episode when I recognized a giant oil painting in the background as being done in the style of one of my favorite painters, contemporary to the period, Tamara De Lempicka.

So, if you're curious, as far as the books go, some of my favorites are:
Murder on the Orient Express
After the Funeral
Murder in Retrospect
Elephants Can Remember
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

The great thing, and also the worst thing, about her books is that once I start reading, I find it very difficult to stop, because I want to get to the end with Poirot's fantastic denouement and find out the who/what/where/when/why of the plot. This means that I actually manage to get through more than one book in a week, but it also means that I don't get much else done.

So if you love the 30's and 40's, art deco, Britishisms, detective stories, psychology, and tiny Belgian detectives, you can pick up any of Christie's novels up at the library or bookstore and find the DVD collections of the television show at It's well worth it. Look at those mustaches!

Til next time dear reader; I hope it won't be another 10 days.

1 comment:

  1. Poirot is nothing without David Suchet!

    That is not to say, of course, that the novels are nothing. Merely that the Poirot of the books just so happens to look and sound exactly like David Suchet. I have INCONTROVERTIBLE EVIDENCE OF THIS. In my mind.