Literature / Curtain

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case is a 1975 novel by Agatha Christie, and the final story to feature the detective Hercule Poirot. It was published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club. The novel was written by Christie in the 1940s and locked away, as she was unsure of her own survival and wanted a proper conclusion for Poirot. She authorised its release shortly before her death.

The novel returns to the same location as The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot's first story. The elderly and crippled Poirot tells his old friend Arthur Hastings that one of the guests at the house is a serial killer, whom he calls "X", and he must act quickly to thwart the killer of their prey before it is too late...


Curtain contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Hercule Poirot drugs the murderer using his own sleeping pills, which he has been taking for many years. He uses the same gambit as Westley does in The Princess Bride, poisoning both cups while implying that only one cup is poisoned.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The Poirot adaptation (2013) mentions only the Litchfield, Sharples and Etherington murders, Margaret Litchfield is hanged during the opening credits (whereas she dies in an asylum in the novel), and the serial killer is not labeled as "X", although it is alluded when Poirot speaks to the others; but otherwise, it remains extremely faithful to the novel.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Discussed when Hastings began to rant about why women tend to fall for the superficial charms of jerks like Allerton. Poirot deduces that everyone wants to have thrills in their lives in some ways, but because women has less opportunity than men to pursue dangerous hobbies, they fulfil their desire through romance.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Hastings describes his daughter Judith as tall, with dark hair, and rather detached and unaffectionate.
  • Asshole Victim: X was eventually murdered for his crimes.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: At first glance, Mrs. Luttrell is a shrill harpy who bullies her husband, while the colonel is a Henpecked Husband who can only timidly submit to his wife's demand. After Colonel Luttrell accidentally shot his wife, the others realise that despite their frequent fights, they genuinely loved each other.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun:
    • The fact that Stephen Norton can never be tried or connected to the murders that he gets away with puts the lives of the entire UK in danger, leaving it hanging in the balance while Poirot is dying of a heart condition; and he is pushed to the absolute limit so much that he has no other option but to shoot Norton dead in order to stop any more crimes from happening. He could not say whether it was right to kill, but he is sure that it's for the benefit of everyone.
    • Related, but we get to see Poirot sans mustache. Speaking of the television adaptation, David Suchet stated he was hoping they'd remove that detail - he never wanted to be seen without Poirot's iconic mustache onscreen. At least we get to see what "Achille" looked like.
  • Beneath Suspicion: None of X's victims can reliably be traced back to X because he has no strong connection with them. It's what makes X such a "perfect criminal", as he could never be legally prosecuted for the murders.
  • Borrowed Catch Phrase: X invokes Poirot's favorite phrase of "little grey cells".
  • Break Them by Talking: X and Poirot exchange their bouts of lectures in the adaptation. X mocks Poirot's faith, saying God will punish him for killing someone who is technically innocent, then Poirot attacks X's Momma's Boy tendency, telling him she never loved him. Neither speech works.
    X: Shots in the dark, Poirot. Shots in the dark.
  • Call Back: As the story takes place in Styles Court, where Hastings and Poirot solved their first murder together, there's inevitably numerous references to the events of The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Judith calls Hastings out on interfering in her life.
  • Dead Man Writing: Poirot's letter, sent to Captain Hastings four months after the former's death, reveals the identity of the serial killer labeled as "X" (Stephen Norton) and gives a reason why Poirot died, leaving the case seemingly unsolved until now.
  • Epilogue Letter: The solution to the murders was revealed by Poirot through a letter delivered to Hastings in the final chapter, 4 months after his death.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Poirot stops taking heart medication after killing Norton and accepts his heart condition in this way as atonement so that he can have a calm, dignified end with hours to spare.
  • False Friend / Poisonous Friend: Norton, to several characters.
  • Famous Last Words: Poirot gets two.
    Poirot: "Cher ami!" (spoken as Captain Hastings leaves Poirot's bedroom for what is unexpectedly the final time)
    Poirot: They were good days, yes. They have been good days. Hercule Poirot. (last words to Hastings in a letter send four months after his death)
  • Foil: If you ever wanted to see what an evil Poirot looked like, it's Norton.
  • For the Evulz: Stephen Norton's motivation in Curtain.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Averted, as Curtain actually does provide a timeframe for her stories (or at least the ones about Poirot, though this would probably drag a lot of others into the mix as well by proxy due to overlapping characters), placing them in the period of the early 1920s through the early 1940s. This may not always be consistent with the details of all of her stories but at least it's established.
  • Go Out with a Smile: In the television adaptation, Norton wakes just in time to see Poirot aiming a gun at his head. He smiles, knowing at the very least, he got Poirot to do something he'd normally never do: murder.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Seeing Norton drive Hastings to attempt murder was probably the last straw for Poirot.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Defied by Poirot, who knew he possessed both the ability and the ego to become the very kind of serial killer he was always working to put behind bars. He orchestrates his own death, after having committed murder.
  • The Hero Dies: Poirot dies of heart failure near the end of the book.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mrs. Franklin drinks the coffee she'd poisoned that was intended for her husband, thanks to Hastings' unwittingly rotating the table.
  • Honorary Uncle: Judith Hastings calls Poirot "Uncle Hercule".
  • Karma Houdini: Defied. When X gloats to Poirot that he will never be arrested for his crimes, since he never directly committed the murders himself, and is technically "innocent" under the law, Poirot shoots him dead.
  • Irony: Norton's best skill is manipulating people to murder others. His final act is to manipulate Poirot into murdering him.
  • It's Personal: Hastings does not take Judith's flirtation with Allerton well. Norton exploits this to induce him to poison him. The fact Norton drove Hastings to murder was probably this Trope for Poirot as well.
  • The Last Dance: Poirot, dying of natural causes and dealing with a murderer he could not bring to justice through proof, kills the man himself and then accelerates his own death by withholding his heart medication.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall
    Hastings: I was tired of this silly joking about my 'speaking countenance'. I could keep a secret as well as anyone. Poirot had always persisted in the humiliating belief that I am a transparent character and that anyone can read what is passing in my mind.
  • Leitmotif: The television adaptation uses Fryderyk Chopin's Prelude, Op. 28, No. 15 (Raindrop Prelude) for Poirot's approaching mortality. It Bookends the episode as well.
  • The Matchmaker: In his final letter to Hastings, Poirot encourages his friend to marry Elizabeth Cole.
  • Meaningful Funeral: After Poirot has died of a heart condition, his funeral is arranged by his friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, and Hastings' daughter Judith, in which Poirot is laid to rest at Styles Court, which is the place where he lived when he moved from Belgium to England as a WWI refugee.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: This occurred repeatedly before the beginning of the story, thanks to X's repeated murders by proxy. Poirot manages to avert two further instances of this, firstly by drugging Hastings to stop him committing murder, and secondly by making sure that Mrs Franklin's death is reported as suicide. The latter instance is a case of choosing the lesser over the greater miscarriage of justice.
  • Momma's Boy: Norton. In the adaptation, there are shades of Norman Bates to the character. Poirot tells him his mother was horrified at what he'd become, but Norton sneers he doesn't care.
  • Murder by Mistake: Hastings turns around a bookcase, inadvertently swapping Mrs Franklin's coffee cup with a poisoned cup she had prepared for her husband.
  • Murder-Suicide: Poirot allows himself to die by not taking his medication for his heart condition after killing Norton.
  • Necessarily Evil: Poirot knows that murder is wrong, but he also knows that killing X the only way he could stop him from continuing his crime.
  • Never Suicide: Averted by Poirot, but played straight by Barbara Franklin, whose intended murder of her husband backfired, and Stephen Norton, whose apparent suicide was actually a murder by Poirot himself.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Zigzagged with Dr. Franklin. He's a scientist whose field of research is medicine, but he's not a practising physician, and does not deal with patients. Hastings expresses surprise when, after insisting that Poirot see a doctor, the latter requested for Dr. Franklin. Franklin can indeed diagnose the health conditions accurately, but cares too little about human life to be depended on for proper treatment and care.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Poirot pretends to be wheelchair-bound, but is in fact still able to walk.
  • Official Couple: Dr. Franklin and Judith gets married by the end of the story.
  • Overprotective Dad: Hastings is concerned that Judith might be having an affair with Allerton, a married man, and tries to convince her to leave him. When it doesn't work, he considers poisoning Allerton.
  • Parental Substitute: Hastings states Poirot was a father figure for him.
  • The Perfect Crime: Even Poirot calls the murderer the perfect murderer, as he could never be tried, couldn't even be connected to the crimes, and gets away with over six murders (three in the TV adaptation). In fact, the only way Poirot could stop him was to kill him.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Hastings is unhappy to learn Poirot is fine with dying.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Used twice, the second time along with Acquired Sleeping Tablet Immunity.
  • The Power of Love: In a way, the reason X's plan to manipulate Colonel Luttrell into murdering his wife failed is that, in spite of his his anger towards her, he still loves the woman, and deliberately missed shooting her vital parts.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Norton. The headshot turns out to be the clue to the identity of Norton's killer: Poirot himself whose legendary fastidiousness caused him to make an unnecessarily symmetrical headshot.
  • Shadow Archetype: X to Poirot, making for a fitting final case.
  • Shown Their Work: Besides her knowledge of poisons, Christie seems to show off her knowledge of medicines as well. At the time that Curtain was written during World War II, there was no known cure for angina pectoris, a sensation of chest pain, pressure, or squeezing, often due to ischemia of the heart muscle from obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries, most likely due to coronary artery disease. The only known treatments for angina at the time were amyl nitrite (synthesized in 1844 and pioneered for angina treatment in 1867 in the form of poppers, albeit with euphoric side-effects) and nitroglycerin (synthesized in 1847 and pioneered for treatment in 1879, thus superseding amyl nitrite). By the time the novel was published in 1975, however, it becomes Science Marches On, as amyl nitrite poppers were, and are, "very unlikely" to be sold in the UK, since it is illegal under its Medicines Act 1968 to sell them advertised for human consumption; and beta blockers and calcium channel blockers became active as other most common treatments for angina (since they were discovered in the early 1960s).
    • Shown Their Work is played straight in the Poirot adaptation, however, since it takes place in October 1949-February 1950 (as amyl nitrite and nitroglycerin were the only known treatments for angina and there were no beta blockers or calcium channel blockers at the time).
    • Also played straight in that Christie wrote Curtain in the 1940s and locked it away until she was no longer healthy enough to write.
  • Sissy Villain: Poirot speculates that it was Norton's resentment at his own "sissiness" and people's reactions to it that drove him to villainy.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: Poirot shoots Norton in the head after drugging the latter with sleeping pills.
  • Speech Impediment: Stephen Norton is a severe stutterer.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Poirot himself kills Stephen Norton, in order to prevent him from continuing his string of murders-by-proxy. A string which nearly turned Hastings into one of Norton's dupes. After killing Norton, Poirot lets himself die by not taking his medication.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Poirot neatly arranges his own death by putting his medicine out of reach, in order to atone for the murder he committed, leaving behind clues and a letter to Hastings.
  • Unwitting Pawn: X uses his psychological manipulations to drive people to commit murder when they would have, in other circumstances, let their offenders live.
  • Vigilante Man: Poirot becomes one in this story, as he has no alternative.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Inverted. In the book's prologue, Hasting's briefly outlines the current fate of the former residents of Styles Court: John Cavendish has died, and his widow Mary has moved to Devonshire while Lawrence, Cynthia and their children now live in South Africa.
  • Where It All Began: Set at Styles, the location of the first Poirot story.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Hastings admits his intention to murder Allerton, Poirot furiously tells him all the ways the murder would have pointed to him.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: X has grayish-silver hair, and is a completely sadistic Serial Killer who "kills" others by manipulating other people to commit the dirty work for him.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: During his childhood, Norton was bossed around by his mother, and was bullied by his peers. He becomes X, who manipulates people to commit murder for him in order to assert his superiority.

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