Sunday, 5 June 2016

Poirot Project: Reading My First Poirot Novel – a guest post by Rob Shedwick

This post is part of my 2016 Poirot Project. You can read the full story of why I’m doing this in my Introduction post. The previous post was a review of ‘The Adventure of the Western Star’.

Even though he was a bit reluctant at first, I’ve managed to persuade my husband Rob to join in with my Poirot Project this year. He’s watched all of the first two series with me, and he’s listened to hours and hours of me talking about Christie’s fiction and the ITV adaptation. Up until this year though, he’d never read an Agatha Christie novel. Before we got to the adaptation of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, I thought it would be cool if he read the novel. And I asked him to give me his thoughts after he read it.

Over to Rob…

My wife Hannah is a huge fan of Agatha Christie and the David Suchet TV series of Poirot. I’ll admit, Poirot has some negative associations for me – when I was younger, anything aired during primetime on a Sunday was stained as heralding the inevitable arrival of Monday morning, which I hated with a passion. Plus I’m not a huge fan of art deco. That alone was enough reason to avoid the show when it was first shown on television (that’s just how petty I can be).

Christmas 2015, and the BBC produced a three-part dramatization of And Then There Were None, starring Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill and Aidan Turner, to name a few. In stark contrast to the Poirot stories, I’ve always had a soft spot for this tale (I’m very much the horror fan, and this particularly dark story by Christie is right up my street), and though I can’t recall specifics I’m sure I’ve seen at least two previous film or television versions. After the third and final part of the BBC adaptation (no spoilers here, but I will say I was humming the Saw theme by Charlie Clouser with the final reveal), Hannah suggested I read the novel. I’d never read Agatha Christie before, and I’m pleased to say I absolutely loved the book just as much as I’d enjoyed the three-part serial.

Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the BBC mini-series, I strongly suggest you do!

I’m drifting off course here. All of this preamble is leading to the inevitable: reading my first Poirot novel.

Around the same time, Christmas 2015, Hannah came up with a plan to finally watch Curtain, the final Poirot story. As she’s been unable to bring herself to watch this episode (the thought of it alone makes her eyes well up), she decided to watch every single episode of the TV series and read the corresponding short stories and novels, and blog about her progress. Effectively forcing the completist in her to watch Curtain. And I’ve been watching the episodes with her, despite my previous ill-feeling toward them (which has now been eradicated you’ll be pleased to hear!).

So when it came to The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Hannah suggested I read the novel first. With it being the first Poirot novel Christie wrote, it would be a good place for me to continue with Agatha Christie’s books. It’s worth noting despite Styles being Agatha Christie’s first novel, and also the introduction of Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, and Inspector James Japp, the episode itself doesn’t appear until the start of the third series. At time of writing I haven’t seen the episode yet.

The story is set during the First World War at Styles Court, a country manor house belonging to Emily Inglethorp (was Cavendish). It is told in the first person by Hastings, a guest at the house and present when the body of Emily is found, a victim of strychnine poisoning. On the day of her murder, Emily Inglethorp was heard arguing with someone, possibly Alfred (her husband) or John (her stepson). Following the argument, she was quite upset and supposedly rewrote her last will and testament, but the case assumed to hold the freshly written will has been forced open by someone and the document is missing. The mechanics of Mrs Inglethorp’s poisoning are a mystery.

Poirot, a Belgian refugee and remarkable (retired) detective, and also a friend of Hastings, is staying at a village close by and so Hastings enlists his help in solving the mystery (despite noting that he has himself improved on Poirot’s methods of detection).

Naturally, it would be absolutely rotten of me to say much more about the plot because I’d hate to give away any spoilers. The interaction between Poirot and Hastings is fantastic, with Poirot constantly dropping hints to his friend as to what nuggets of information will be important in apprehending the killer, regularly leaving Hastings bewildered (much to the amusement of the great detective).

Before I started to watch the series, I assumed the relationship between Poirot and Hastings was like the relationship between Holmes and Watson, quite stuffy and grave. One of the things I really like about the ITV adaptation of Poirot is that the relationship between the detective and his friend is actually jovial and affectionate. Reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles, I was pleased to find out that this isn’t something created for the TV show, but is in Agatha Christie’s original stories. In the novel, Poirot ribs Hastings but not out of a need to be superior. It seems to be purely out of affection for his friend. And even though Hastings is very British and very much of his time, he is also clearly fond of his dandy little Belgian friend.

If I had to give any criticism at all, it would be that the characters other than Poirot and Hastings are not always as easy to follow. Although we get plenty of facts about each of the characters, they didn’t always feel as ‘human’ as Hastings and Poirot, so remembering where everyone fits in is a little tiring, though it doesn’t detract from the story at all.

I think I’m rapidly becoming a fan of Agatha’s.

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