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4197Poirot and Holmes

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  • sajan venniyoor
    Nov 16, 2013
      Agatha Christie's Poirot, which had been running on British television from 1989 till 2013, came to an end this week with the last episode, Curtain, airing on 13 November. The admirable David Suchet played Hercule Poirot for nearly 25 years. 

      Comparisons are odious, but Christie herself refers several times to the influence of Sherlock Holmes on her Poirot books. As she was casting about for her fictional detective, Christie admits in her Autobiography, she asked herself, "Who could I have as a detective? I reviewed such detectives as I had met and admired in books. There was Sherlock Holmes, the one and only – I should never be able to emulate him." 

      But of course she tried to emulate Holmes. The Holmes motif pops up often, and frankly, in her autobiography. Later in her memoirs she says, "I was still writing in the Sherlock Holmes tradition – eccentric detective, stooge assistant, with a Lestrade-type Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Japp." 

      Christie was a much more careful plotter than Doyle, and she generally stuck to things she knew about: poisons, for instance, about which she knew a great deal thanks to her work as nurse and pharmacy dispenser during the two World Wars. (I was fascinated to see Thallium introduced as an unusual poison in the 2010 movie, The Edge of Darkness. Christie had used Thallium for murder fifty years earlier)

      Regrettably, both Doyle and Christie came to detest their detectives, though both were painfully aware of the popularity -- and marketability -- of their creations. Of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle wrote to his mother, "I must save my mind for better things, even if it means I must bury my pocketbook [bank account] with him." In 1893, as we know, Doyle bumped him off, recording briefly and with relief in his diary: "Killed Holmes". As he was to confess later in a speech, "I have been much blamed for doing that gentleman to death, but I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defense, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me."

      Christie was made of sterner stuff. By 1930, we are told, Christie found Poirot "insufferable", and by 1960 he was a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep". Yet she soldiered on with the little Belgian till 1975, "claiming that it was her duty to produce what the public liked." (The middle-aged Conan Doyle, by the way, was a dead ringer for Hercule Poirot, egg-shaped head, pointy mustaches and all. They were born about the same time, too). 

      As much as I admire Christie, and as prolific as she was, I'd be hard put to attribute a single quotable quote to her. 'Little grey cells', perhaps. ACD is full of quote-worthy lines, including things Holmes never did say. 

      Elementary, my dear Agatha.

      Sajan
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