Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mini Review: Curtain by Agatha Christie

“This, Hastings, will be my last case. It will be, too, my most interesting case- and my most interesting criminal. For in X we have a technique superb, magnificent- that arouses admiration in spite of oneself. So far, mon cher, this X has operated with so much ability that he has defeated me- Hercule Poirot! He has developed the attack to which I have no answer… 
My limbs they are paralyzed, my heart it plays me the tricks, but my brain, Hastings- my brain it functions without impairment of any kind. It is still of the first excellence, my brain.”
If you’ve been around here a few months you’ll remember that one of my reading resolutions for 2012 was to read an Agatha Christie Poirot novel before David Suchet once again dons that immaculate, up-turned moustache and films the final five Poirot stories later this year. For Mrs. DeMarest and me, watching the final cases as they are released on Masterpiece is a given, but I wanted to have the experience of comparing adaptation to book, if only once, before the series is brought to a close.

I chose the final Poirot book, Curtain, for my little experiment. And I was very glad I did. It’s not high literature, mind you, but it’s a decent genre “palette cleanser” on your way from one classic to another.

Christie wrote the final case in the early 1940s and had it locked away in a safe in the event that she herself were to die before bringing the series to a satisfying conclusion. For this reason, it has the sentimental feel of a “bringing the band back together” tale, set some years after the previous book, and reuniting Poirot with his Watson-like assistant, Captain Hastings. The action unfolds at Styles Court, which was the site of the very first Poirot mystery so many years earlier. And as you can see by the quote above, it appears that the diminutive Belgian detective may have finally met his match.

Never having read an Agatha Christie, I was struck by a couple things. First, Captain Hastings is the narrator. I never would have expected that, given the hokey caricature of him in the film versions I’ve seen. Second, Poirot doesn’t get much air time in the first hundred and fifty pages or so of the book. Not at all what I was expecting going in. Third, I thought for sure I’d be able to pick out the murderer long before the final reveal. I was dead wrong. Of the one attempted murder and two, consummated “offings” in the book, I had absolutely no idea who was responsible. The surprises will knock you over.

Naturally you want spoilers. I won’t share anything about the case itself, but let me just share the two biggest spoilers for any Poirot aficionados out there: we learn that in his later years, Mr. Poirot wears not only a wig (gasp!) but also a false moustache (double gasp!)

Yeah, I know.  Read it anyway, and we’ll follow up with a critique of the film version later this year.


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