Agatha Christie's Detectives/Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple/Hercule Poirot
|Agatha Christie's Detectives|
|Occupation||police officer / private detective|
|Year of Birth||1844|
|Year of Death||1974|
|Distinctive features||fierce black moustache, silk suit, grey cells, egg-shaped head|
General information and physical appearance
Origin and previous work
Hercule Poirot is a Belgian refugee to Britain from the time of World War I. During his adult years in Belgium he worked as a police officer and after settling in Britain he started his career of a private detective. The evidence of his Belgian origin is visible in his French sayings such as “Monsieur”, “Mademoiselle”, “Tiens! Voilà ce qui est curieux!” (“The Third-Floor Flat” 265) or “Tiens, c`est drôle, ça!” (Death on the Nile 96). Although there is no definite mention of Poirot`s age, H. R. F. Keating, in his article “Hercule Poirot – A Companion Portrait”, analysing Poirot`s career from the beginning, calculates that Hercule Poirot, born in 1844, begins to work as a private detective at the age of 60 and dies in 1974 aged 130 (207). In Death on the Nile Poirot says, “It is true, yes, I have one leg in the grave” when one of his co-visitors to Egypt complains about lack of young participants in the trip (53).
The detective is a man of low height and elegant style. He usually wears fancy clothes such as a “resplendent dressing gown and embroidered slippers” in the evenings (“The Third-Floor Flat” 264). His work outfit is composed of a well-ironed silk suit, a bow tie and a hat (Death on the Nile 52;131;107). The “fierce” black moustache (“The Third-Floor Flat” 264), as well as his green eyes are his distinguishing characteristics (“Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds” 192). Poirot`s physical appearance may make people think he is an intelligent person. This is because of his egg-shaped head (“The Third-Floor Flat” 264). The epithet is usually linked to the unusually intelligent people.
Hercule Poirot seems to be strongly self-confident. In “The Third-Floor Flat” we can see it when he assures Patricia Garnet that he is skilled in gaining access to a flat without having the key to open the door (265). The situation takes place when Donovan Bailey and Jimmy Faulkener finally get to Patricia`s flat (as she lost her key) by the coal lift. The problem is that a moment earlier the two men entered the wrong flat (by accident) and found a dead woman there. When Donovan goes to Pat to call the police, they meet Hercule Poirot who offers his help.
Poirot`s self-confidence is also visible in his organization of work at the place of the crime even if he is not the main person to hold the investigation. In “The Third-Floor Flat” he directs the actions almost as if he were the boss. Firstly, he orders Patricia to make the supper for them and secondly, he orders the police inspector to meet them at Pat`s and to interview the witnesses after checking the crime place (“The Third-Floor Flat” 268). The way Poirot speaks about himself, e.g. “If I am right, and after all I am constantly in the habit of being right” also presents his self-confidence (Death on the Nile 165).
The strongest example of his self-confidence appears when he argues that a witness saw the suspect at the scene of the crime. The suspect, however, does not believe him and wants to know who told Poirot about that. When Poirot ignores this request and the suspect sets his mind on getting to know how Poirot received the information, the detective`s reply is: “Because I am Hercule Poirot I do not need to be told” (Death on the Nile 370).
Yet, the self-confidence of Hrcule Poirot sometimes turns into arrogance and conceit. Poirot shows this by saying about himself, “I am not a middle man. I am a top man” or “I am a detective” in such a manner as if he was talking about a person from an upper social class (Death on the Nile 141). When he is on the point of unraveling who the murderer of Linnet Doyle is, he intentionally keeps his listeners in suspense and confesses that he is vain and “puffed up with conceit.” Poirot also admits that he likes to introduce the resolution of the mystery by praising himself with the words: “See how clever is Hercule Poirot” (Death on the Nile 385).
Another characteristic of Hercule Poirot is that he likes surprising his witnesses. When he discovers a clue or a piece of evidence in a way which astonishes the suspect or the witness, as he did by the use of a ruse with finding Patricia`s key to her flat, he smiles widely and seems to be very proud of himself (“The Third-Floor Flat” 278).
These characteristics contribute to the fame of Poirot. The reaction of Patricia Garnet when she reads the card given to her by the detective shows that he is really famous: “The M. Poirot! The great detective?” (“The Third-Floor Flat” 265). Not only those who hire him, but also the police officers are full of appreciation for his work: “The inspector recognized Poirot and greeted him in an almost reverential manner” (“The Third-Floor Flat” 268). He is known not only by the people who worked with him or by those who had the opportunity to entrust their cases to him. Poirot`s fame spreads by the means of the grape-vine created by the content clientele: “Miss Van Schulyer said: ‘[…] I have heard of you from my old friend […] you must tell me about your cases sometime’” (Death on the Nile 170). His fame also makes people think that he is trustworthy. That is why he gains the permission to look around the place of the murder of Mrs Ernestine Grant without the company of the police (“The Third-Floor Flat” 273).
Unfortunately, in “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” Poirot`s fame seems to decrease. The detective`s friend Henry Bonnington, with whom Poirot is having dinner, says that Poirot starts to look for the crime instead of waiting for it. That is caused by Hercule`s idea of making an investigation about sudden deaths of people in their sixties – the idea that emerged in Poirot`s mind when they were talking about the young who seem not to tolerate the existence of elderly people (180). It implies that during the later stage of Poirot`s career there are fewer people who want him to solve their problems, and that he himself seeks for mysteries to have a job.
Other characters' attitudes towards the detective
Some people respect Hercule Poirot and his achievements in the field of solving crimes; nonetheless there are people who have little sympathy for him. A good example is Tim Allerton, who calls Poirot an “old mountebank” when his mother expresses her hope that Poirot will solve the mystery of the murder of Linnet Doyle (Death on the Nile 277). Tim`s attitude, however, is caused by the fact that he is a robber of jewellery and he does not want to be denounced by Poirot during the investigation about the murder of Linnet Doyle (during which it occurs that Tim stole Linnet`s pearls) (Death on The Nile 369).
Poirot's emotions and manners shown to other characters
According to the characteristics of the detective story, the detective should be ruled by logic rather than by emotions. Examining Poirot`s investigation concerning the murder of Mrs Ernestine Grant it is not easy to decide whether he solves the case in accordance with the evidence and logic or whether he is affected by his emotional relation with Patricia. Hercule Poirot admits that Pat resembles the English girl with whom he has been in love (“The Third-Floor Flat” 268). Taking into consideration the fact that Miss Garnet is a friend of the suspect, Poirot may not want to hurt her feelings by proving that Donovan Bailey is guilty. What is more, when he talks with Patricia about the play she saw that evening with her friends, Poirot is flirting with her by saying that “It should have been blue eyes – the blue eyes of mademoiselle” rather than The Brown Eyes of Caroline (“The Third-Floor Flat” 274). This implies that Poirot treats Patricia with more sympathy than an average client of his.
Apart from that, in Death on the Nile Poirot also seems to be emotionally affected, this time, by the suspect. He hopes that the girl, Jacqueline de Bellefort, with whom he spoke openly at the beginning of their trip, is not the person who murdered Linnet Doyle. When he is informed by Colonel Race about the fact that Jacqueline shot her ex-fiancé (but he has only his leg hurt), Hercule strongly believes that she is incapable of murder “Let us hope it is true. […] I shall be glad if it is so, for I have for that little one much sympathy” (196).
Hercule Poirot is also an example of great politeness. He addresses the people with whom he talks “Mademoiselle” or “Monsieur”. His gestures also take their source in good manners, for example, when he introduces himself to Patricia and Donovan he bows in a chivalrous manner to Pat (“The Third-Floor Flat” 264). After dinner Poirot also expresses his appreciation for Patricia`s hospitality (“The Third-Floor Flat” 274). Apart from that, he politely apologises when he starts to talk about things which should not be the point of his interest, for example Linnet Doyle`s fortune (Death on the Nile 148).
Hercule Poirot at work
Another characteristic of Hercule Poirot is that he is a well-organised and careful man. He does not act spontaneously because he thinks that without planning one`s life in advance a man is not able to gain any success. He agrees with Simon Doyle that “it`s better not to trust anybody” (Death on the Nile 101). In “Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds” Poirot admits that he likes “order and method”. It means that for him everything should fit and create a logical entity. When facts do not correspond to each other in a logical way, Poirot is anxious about the situation (187).
Another aspect of this “order and method” is to have all the evidence and information in order – the practical use of that is visible in the list of the most important facts concerning the murder of Linnet Doyle. The list is made by Colonel Race (a police officer sent on that trip in order to lead his separate investigation of a serial killer) before the search for Linnet`s stolen pearls in Death on the Nile (256). Colonel Race prepares a “précis of the facts” in order not to overlook any important detail (Death on the Nile 256). The document consists of several elements. First of all, there is data where, at what time and by whom the victim was last seen alive. Secondly, the list of people who have an alibi for the time from when the murdered woman was last seen until the moment of the murder. Apart from that, the précis contains the information about the probable crime instrument and course of events (on the basis of the testimonies of interrogated witnesses). The names of the people who definitely did not commit the crime are also included. The last part of the document enumerates a list of people with possible motives for the murder and objections to the speculations of their blame.
In Death on the Nile Poirot shows that he has his own rules. He participates in the trip for his pleasure – he is on holiday – and he does not work during his time of leisure. That is why he does not take any money from Linnet Doyle for helping her with the problem of persecution. It means that he is not in charge of Linnet but he helps her in order to care for “the interest of humanity” (Death on the Nile 84).
Poirot and his investigations
As a private detective Poirot is free to choose in which way to hold the investigation. Apart from additional questions asked to the police officers while they recount their actions, Poirot`s investigation consists of several elements. The uniqueness of the investigation in Death on the Nile consists in the fact that Poirot is working with a police officer instead of only by himself. Colonel Race is on the boat because of his own, separate investigation but they decide to work together on the case of the murder (Death on the Nile 188).
The first element of Poirot`s investigation is the interview with the witnesses. In “The Third-Floor Flat” as well as in Death on the Nile Hercule Poirot meets people who could see anything connected with the crime. He asks detailed questions, for example where one of the witnesses last saw her stole which was used as a silencer during the murder (Death on the Nile 237). The questions and answers to them help Poirot establish the course of the events from different points of view and conclude what the main aspects of the crime are.
The second important element of the investigation is the examination of the place of the crime. On the spot of the crime the detective finds the evidence which makes it easier to detect the person responsible for the murder. In Death on the Nile a piece of such evidence is the letter “J” written with the blood of the victim on the wall in the cabin (190). The evidence is often connected with the events preceding the crime. At the beginning of the trip, Hercule Poirot meets a woman who with a small-calibre pistol in her hand boasts that she shoots very well. It was Jacqueline de Bellefort, Linnet`s former best friend who was engaged to Simon Doyle before Linnet married him. Jacqueline`s target was, as she declared, Linnet Doyle (Death on the Nile 92).
Both in Death on the Nile and in “Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds” the detective talks with the doctor who examines the body. The important details such as the scorched skin around the wound on Linnet`s head (Death on the Nile 189) or the contents of Henry Gascoigne`s stomach make it easier for the detective to hold the investigation (“Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds” 185). In “Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds” Poirot visits the surgeon who analyses the dead body of Henry Gascoigne – an elderly man, unknown in his area, who had a habit of eating in one particular restaurant on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The meeting gives Poirot the general information about the dead man (where he lived, whether he had any family and what was their reaction when they got to know about Henry`s death). The interview with the doctor also gives Poirot the information about the time of death, how long before death the victim had a meal, when that person was last seen alive or how he died. Poirot gets to know about Henry`s family and their relationships as well. The curious thing is that Henry`s twin brother, Anthony, dies only several hours before Henry (179 – 185). On the basis of the gathered information he can assume that the woman in Death on the Nile was shot without the use of the silencer and check (in the case of Mr Gascoigne) whether the man has changed his eating habits.
After analyzing the evidence and testimonies of the witnesses there is often a reconstruction of the events. The detective gets to the place of the crime and follows the steps of the suspect or the witness. Thanks to that, he can analyze the behaviour of the witnesses of the crime and probably discover new facts which will change the whole situation. In that way Hercule Poirot discovers that the light in the kitchen in Ernestine Grant`s flat works perfectly well instead of being broken down. (“The Third-Floor Flat” 266). It is a significant piece of information because earlier that evening, when the two men mixed up the flats it was Donovan who claimed that “Light [in the kitchen] won`t come on. Dud bulb, I suppose.” (“The Third-Floor Flat” 258). It means that Donovan lies about the light in the kitchen and because of that Poirot gains suspicion about him.
When the investigation lasts long because of the big number of witnesses, as in the case of Death on the Nile, Colonel Race (or the detective) prepares a document to make the investigation easier as discussed earlier in this chapter. The document consists of the information where, by whom and what time the victim was last seen; who has the alibi for the time of the murder; the probable course of events and the list of people who (on the basis of the evidence) are out of suspicion. The probable motives for all the suspects are also included in the detective`s “crib sheet” (257-260).
There are also some unconventional methods of holding an investigation by Hercule Poirot. One of them is presented in “The Third-Floor Flat”, where the detective uses a ruse in order to obtain the essential evidence which puts the blame on the suspect. Poirot takes a small bottle out of a dustbin in the kitchen and pretends to have a cold. This makes Donovan unstop the bottle and sniff its contents – ethyl chloride. As a result Mr Bailey loses consciousness and Poirot ransacks his pockets in order to find the evidence – the key to Patricia`s flat, stolen by Donovan, and a marriage certificate confirming that Donovan Bailey married Ernestine Grant eight years earlier (“The Third-Floor Flat” 274-278). In addition, in “Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds” Poirot does not hesitate to lie. His aim is to make George Lorrimer believe that his uncle Henry Gascoigne was married. Poirot lies that Henry`s wife met him and wanted to consult the case of her husband`s death. Poirot`s aim is to make Lorrimer think that he killed his uncle for nothing, due to the rule that Henry`s wife inherits his property (192).
Hercule Poirot owes his success as a detective to the experience gained during his work as a police officer and to his characteristics such as self-confidence and scrupulousness. Without them he would not be able to collect the necessary evidence and to solve the mysteries entrusted to him.
As a literary character, he is static and flat. His occupation is being a detective whose job is rather static. Each type of investigation consists of the same elements such as interrogation of the witnesses, examination of the crime place or reconstruction of the events. That is why he does not experience any circumstances which may change his behaviour. However, it may be attractive to the reader because he knows the scheme of Poirot`s work and does not encounter any unexpected elements which may distract him from reading.
The detective also attracts attention by his sense of humour. In Death on the Nile, by saying: “It is true, yes, I have one leg in the grave” he shows that he is not excessively serious and that makes the distance between Poirot and the reader less visible (53). Poirot`s attractiveness as a character is also connected with his self-confidence. People of his kind are impressive to the layman and they are worth attention. People often seek for an authority, even in literature, and someone who gains success thanks to his hard work and confidence is a paragon for those who feel the need to follow somebody`s example.
Poirot is well-remembered by the reader because of the detective`s unchanging appearance and personality. The little, extremely self-confident man with green eyes, black, “fierce” moustache, struggling with misunderstandings in communication caused by his Belgian origin, is definitely exceptional and that is why he does not need to be reintroduced to the reader.
For those readers who would like to familiarize themselves with the plots of books alanysed in the project I include internal Wikipedia links to the pages summarizing book plots:
Watch on YouTube
You can also watch filmings or listen to audiobooks uploaded on YouTube:
Christie, Agatha. Death on the Nile. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001."
Christie, Agatha. “Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds.” The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. London: Harper Collins Publishers UK, 2009. 177–195
Christie, Agatha. “The Third-Floor Flat.” Poirot`s Early Cases. London: Harper Collins Publishers UK, 2002. 253-281
Keating, H.R.F. “Hercule Poirot – A Companion Portrait.” Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime. Ed. H R.F. Keating. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd, 1977. 207-216