|Hercule Poirot (David Suchet)
For me, my all-time hero would be none other than Hercule Poirot. A persnickety retired Belgian detective who appeared in 35 books by the late Dame Agatha Christie, M. Poirot solved his cases using his brain and not his brawn.
Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about M. Poirot, who loomed large on the screen as well as the page, is that he was but 5 foot, 4 inches tall. Perhaps his balding, egg-shaped head gave him the appearance of more stature. Or maybe it was his huge ego. He never accepted that a mystery would go unsolved, a criminal never brought to justice, on his watch.
His sense of justice was such that he wouldn’t give up. Not even to his dying breath, where, once again, he set the world right, ensuring the murderer paid for his crimes, even if nobody else knew.
As with all heroes, his sidekick, Hastings, was a true and loyal friend. In fact, were it not for Captain Hastings, we may never have been introduced to Poirot. For indeed, as with Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes, it was Hastings’ writing of Poirot’s cases that put the little man first page in the news and in the hearts of London of the 1920’s through 1975.
Over the years, several actors played the part of Poirot in television and movies. Austin Trevor was the first to bring the detective to theaters in 1931, with David Suchet playing him both on public television and in movies. In fact, Suchet was such a talented actor, he portrayed the great sleuth in 70 stories, double the number of books Dame Christie wrote.
Humility was never one of Poirot’s characteristics, and he often claimed to be the greatest detective in the world. Prior to arriving on the shores of England as a refugee after World War 1. In some places, he is referred to as having retired from police work, but in others, only that he fled Belgium and landed in England, alone and knowing nobody.
In Dame Agatha’s autobiography, she described the creation of Poirot as happening during a time when, in 1914, she worked at a Red Cross Hospital in Torquay. Beginning as a nurse, she later moved to the dispensary, where began her interest in poisons. Her sister Madge had challenged her to write her own detective stories, and so Agatha thought about that while surrounded with drugs and compounds that could kill. She said, “Since I was surrounded by poison, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected.”
Dame Agatha’s writing process began with the crime, then extended to the procedure, leaving room for a twist that readers could detect and perhaps solve. In August 1914, a colony of Belgian refugees lived near her, and she thought, “Why not make my detective a Belgian? There were all types of refugees. How about a refugee police officer? A retired police officer.”
She wanted her detective to be as unlike her as possible, which meant he was a tidy little man, since Christie was the opposite. His moustache came next, along with his immaculate and almost compulsive grooming habits and dress code. In fact, Hastings commented, “I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain that a bullet wound.” Since she considered herself to be less than intelligent, he would be brilliant. A big man needed a big name, so Hercules was the first. Then came Poirot. However, not liking the sound of that, she dropped the S and Hercule Poirot was born in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
For the initial book, Dame Agatha had the beginning and the end, and worked hard at filling in the middle. However, realizing she had an over-complicated set of plot lines going, she wisely rewrote the entire middle.
She sent the book to a publisher, who promptly returned it. But she wouldn’t let that stop her, so she sent it to another company, and Poirot was finally introduced to the world in 1921, four years after it was written.
Her final book about the great detective, Curtain, was written in the 1940s, but didn't appear in print until 1975.
Leave a comment, and I will randomly draw for a print copy (US only) of another favorite author of mine, Patricia Moyes, in her novel from the 1960s Down Among the Dead Men.
Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
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