The End of Poirot?

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Is this end of Agatha Christie’s long-standing detective Hercule Poirot, as we know him?

Unlikely, I say.

Although British actor David Suchet is making his last appearances as the dapper Belgian detective, Poirot, like Christie’s work, will never go out of style.

But for now, we must say farewell to Suchet in the final five 90-minute episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Suchet’s final turn as the TV Poirot began with The Big Four on July 27 and with Dead Man’s Folly on Augl 3. Those episodes air on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series. The series begins at 9 p.m.; check your local listings for changes, and for viewings On Demand. Those episodes also are available at www.Acorn.TV, Acorn TV for iPhone and iPad on the App store, on Roku and other platforms.

The Big Four also is a bit of a reunion as it brings back several Poirot’s supporting characters. Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) and Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) were last together more than a decade ago, in Season 8.

The final three episodes will air exclusively on AcornTV. Those episodes, which are available on Mondays, are Elephants Can Remember (Aug. 11); Labours of Hercules (Aug. 18); and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case on Aug. 25. If you are a Christie fan, then you already have a good idea of what happens during that finale.

In addition to those five new episodes, the 65 previous ones then will be available on the British TV streaming service AcornTV, part of RLJ Entertainment Inc. (These episodes aired in Britain in 2013.)

Suchet has been playing the sleuth for the past 25 years and it is hard to imagine anyone else bringing such life and intelligence to the fussy Belgian, whose appearance is as impeccable as his detection skills. Suchet has given Poirot’s “little grey cells” the upmost respect and care through the years.

And he has had such good material to work with.

Mystery fiction—or crime fiction if you prefer—has radically changed since Christie began writing back in the 1920s. But her work has endured because she is one tough plotter. Her novels were as much about social issues of the time, as today’s novels are. She explored the privileged wealthy, the imperfect justice system, and even the effects of war.

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Poirot first appeared in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920, and left her novels in Curtain, published in 1975. Poirot was the only fictional character to receive an obituary on the front page of The New York Times.

Christie’s novels showed Poirot through the whole of his life in England. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, he is a refugee staying at Styles; in Curtain, he makes a final visit to Styles.

The novels gave scant clues to Poirot’s childhood. Apparently, he comes from a large family that had a little money. We do know that Christie wrote that Poirot was a Roman Catholic. His religion gave him a strong sense of morality and justice, which are not necessarily the same thing.

It was the 1926 novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that really put Poirot on the map with readers. The surprising solution to Roger was controversial at the time. Roger is still one of Christie’s most famous novels, having launched myriad parodies as well as proving a springboard for other similar plots. Edmund Wilson used the title for his screed against detective fiction, Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?

But Poirot’s most famous case was Murder on the Orient Express (1934). I never tire of that novel and the 1974 movie with its all-star cast is always a pleasure.

Poirot appeared in 33 novels, one play (Black Coffee), and more than 50 short stories. On screen, he has been portrayed by John Moffatt, Albert Finney, Sir Peter Ustinov, Sir Ian Holm, Tony Randall, Alfred Molina, and, of course, Suchet.

While Poirot has never gone out of fashion, he was often criticized by an unlikely source: Agatha Christie. Through the years, Christie often was quoted as saying she had grown weary of Poirot. In 1930, she was quoted as calling him “insufferable.” In 1960, she was quoted as calling him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep.”

And that description is never in Suchet’s wheelhouse. Suchet portrayed him as many things—precise, fussy, astute, a bit too know it all. But never a creep, though he could be insufferable to murderers.

No doubt other Poirots will come after Suchet, as did those before him.

But Suchet’s performances as the detective will continue to live on as the actor begins other acting adventures.

Captions: Top, David Suchet as Poirot; Center, From left, Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon), Philip Jackson (Japp), David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) and Hugh Fraser (Hastings) in The Big Four. Photos courtesy Acorn TV

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-03 06:05:00