Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie

Published 1975, written in the 1940s







The sound of the gong startled me as I went along the passage. I had completely forgotten the passage of time. The accident had upset everything. Only the cook had gone on as usual and produced dinner at the usual time.

Most of us had not changed and Colonel Luttrell did not appear. But Mrs Franklin, looking quite attractive in a pale pink evening dress, was downstairs for once and seemed in good health and spirits. Franklin, I thought was moody and absorbed.

After dinner, to my annoyance, Allerton and Judith disappeared into the garden together. I sat around a while, listening to Franklin and Norton discussing tropical diseased. Norton was a sympathetic listener, even if he knew little of the subject under discussion.



observations: This was the last Poirot story, and most people know what’s going to happen to him. Our old friend Hastings is narrating, and the people mentioned in this short extract include his daughter, and others who may be murderers, potential murderers, victims…. who knows? Mrs Franklin is a classic Christie character, enjoying her ill-health and exercising power over men.

Famously, Christie wrote this book during the Second World War, and locked it away in a bank vault – in the end it was published shortly before she died. Opinions vary on its merits: I re-read it to coincide with the TV version - going out tonight as an end to all the Poirot adaptations starring David Suchet – and realized it was one of very few of her books that I had read once and never read again. 

Perhaps, knowing it could be published at any time over the next half-century, Christie deliberately didn’t root it in any time, and to me it lacks the casual details that make her books so engrossing. It is set at Styles – the country house where the first Poirot mystery was set – and she’s good at creating a tense atmosphere with a certainty that something bad is going to happen. It actually does read like a final mystery, with a sad air of ending up – you have to keep reminding yourself that she wrote books with a lively, healthy and busybody Poirot for years after this one.

The lack of a rooted time also means that the ages don’t work out: Hastings seems ancient at some moments, but is said to be only 10 years older than a 35-year-old at another - the older age is more likely.

Other books are referenced: Poirot speaks of Death on the Nile, and Hastings mentions a detective story by someone else which Clothes in Books is able to confidently identify as John Rhode's 1928 The Murders in Praed St. [This could be a spoiler – Hastings mentions the motive for a series of murders – but nobody in modern times could read the book and not see the links between the crimes a million miles off.] Christie twice says that someone ‘negatived’ something – an odd usage that we drew attention to on the Guardian books blog recently.

It’s a serious book, not much in the way of jokes, but there is one fine moment: Hastings has told us much about a character who is a fine man, the best sort, a wonderful person. Late on Poirot says in passing ‘he is one of the most pompous and boring individuals that I have ever come across! Just the sort of man you would admire!’

The end of a great character, and always worth reading for that reason.

The picture is by Ambrose McEvoy and comes from the Athenaeum website.

12 comments:

  1. Moira - I agree with you about the somewhat disconnectedness if I can put it that way of this story in time. As you say, the ages and dates don't quite match. But I've forgiven that because it is a fine story and as you say, an end to a great character. I give Christie credit too for planning what what happen to Poirot at the end. Shows some cleverness on her part (not that that surprises me of course... ;-) ).

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    1. Yes indeed Margot, I agree with all you say. It's hard to believe she wrote it and put it away for 30 yrs, knew all that time how it was going to end! The TV adaptation was very dark and sad, with some good moments... I had to keep reminding myself of the point I make above, that he actually lived on for many fine books...

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  2. Can you guess the response? Correct, I don't even need to type the little word.

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    1. Actually, right at the end of the book, Poirot reveals that when he was a young police officer he shot a man with a gun, a sniper who was threatening innocent lives. How unlikely-sounding - I meant to put it in my entry, but also it sounds like the Poirot story YOU might enjoy.

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  3. Aaaaarrrrrgh, Moira stop twisting my arm, it hurts......

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    1. I may have to write this prequel myself just to force you to read it...

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  4. I have never read this novel. This one (and the last Miss Marple) I can be sure about. And I won't read them until I get through each series. I have always wondered how it would work to have written something so long before it was published. Sounds interesting, and I like that Hastings is narrating.

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    1. It is good, though personally I think Sleeping Murder is the better of the 2 'saved' books. But it *is* nice to have Hastings back. You have a lot of great books to get through first...

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  5. Hastings is a great character, beautifully played by Hugh Fraser. It was lovely to see him again (you can hear him in Fraser's many recordings). Simon Williams makes a good Hastings in the BBC radio adaptations.

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    1. I did think Hugh Fraser always did a great job - he owns the role as far as I am concerned. Haven't heard Simon Williams...

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  6. This isn't a book I've reread often, which is a shame as it's a good story. The TV adaptation was very good I thought.

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    1. I was impressed when I re-read it, it was better than I remembered, and the TV adaptation was very faithful I thought.

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