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5056Re: Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot!

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  • Sajan Venniyoor
    Apr 28, 2016
      Dear Sumal,

      This subject had come up earlier on the SHSI list, in Nov 2013, when Agatha Christie's Poirot, which had been running on British television from 1989 till 2013, came to an end with the last episode, Curtain.

      As I had written then, "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)."

      Scroll website recently reviewed the 2015 book by Kathryn Harkup, 'A is for Arsenic -- The Poisons of Agatha Christie'. It is an excellent book which confirms our belief that Christie was far ahead of her times in her appreciation of the use of rare and common poisons in murder and assassination. She stumbles rarely. Christie was using ricin to poison her victims in 1929, though the deadly poison was "untreatable and untraceable" before 1978, when Christie was no more. (In 1978, ricin was used in the assassination of Gregori Markov, a Bulgarian journalist and dissident in the UK, very possibly through a poison-laden pellet fired from an umbrella. Bond would have loved that touch. Indeed, it was Ian Fleming who floated the notion that the Soviet Union used the Bulgarian secret service to carry out their dirty work). 

      But unlike Fleming, who had a pretty fair idea about international politics, Christie -- as I had written then -- "had a wide-eyed innocence about the world -- like in The Big Four -- which makes you wonder why a couple of hundred years of Empire hadn't endowed the writer (or reader) of popular fiction in England with a more subtle and penetrating sense of realpolitik than could be found in the pages of The Boy's Own Paper.

      I suppose it says something of the formative influences on English writers who grew up in Edwardian -- or Late Victorian -- England that they never quite outgrew the Golden Age, though Christie, like Wodehouse, was writing well into the 1970s. (Note: Ian Fleming, a far more 'contemporary' writer, died in 1964). Poirot, if I remember, was already 60 years old or more when he first appeared in 1920 (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), but he was hardly any older when he died in 1975 (Curtain: Poirot's Last Case), and his world hadn't changed very much either. The Second World War blew over his well pomaded hair without ruffling a strand."

      I can't help feeling that ACD wouldn't have bothered with subtleties like ricin-laced fig sandwiches. He would probably have inserted a phantasmal poison frog of the genus Epipedobates into the prospective victim's bathtub and hoped for the best. 

      Sajan


      Dear Holmesians,
      Why is Sherlock Holmes more popular than Hercule Poirot still?Is it due to the first mover advantage?
      Sherlock Holmes appeared in 1887 whereas Hercule Poirot was around only by 1920.
      Was the quality of the Canon superior to Agatha Christie's works?
      Can members come out with their reasons for this phenomenon?
      Regards,
      Sumalsn

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