Literature / Hercule Poirot

'There are moments when I have felt: Why-Why-Why did I ever invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature? ...Eternally straightening things, eternally boasting, eternally twirling his moustaches and tilting his egg-shaped head... I point out that by a few strokes of the pen... I could destroy him utterly. He replies, grandiloquently: "Impossible to get rid of Poirot like that! He is much too clever."'

The star of thirty-three books and fifty-six short stories by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot is one of the most famous fictional detectives in the world. Rightly so, he would say, being also one of the most conceited. His curiously elongated career lasted from 1916 to 1975, although he was at retirement age when it began. This would make him at least 110 when it ended.

Originally a Belgian police detective, he became a refugee when World War I broke out and ended up in the tiny English village of Styles St. Mary. Naturally, while he was there, someone was murdered. It was, Poirot later admitted, quite a common occurrence around him. Solving The Mysterious Affair at Styles revitalized him, however, and he embarked on a career as a private detective.

Fastidiously neat, we'd today diagnose him with OCPD.

Notable associates of his include: Captain Arthur Hastings, war veteran, secretary and later Argentinian farmer; Ariadne Oliver, irritatingly popular mystery novelist; the Countess Vera Rossakoff, possibly an aristocratic Russian refugee, most definitely a talented conwoman; Miss Felicity Lemon, a most efficient secretary; and of course any number of solid, even stolid, English policemen who good-naturedly allow him to take over their crime scenes. After all, Mr Parrot's only a Funny Foreigner. What harm could it do?

Many different actors have played Poirot on screen. Peter Ustinov gained some fame for his many appearances as the character in the 1970s and 1980s, Albert Finney was nominated for an Oscar for playing him in 1974, but nowadays the definitive portrayal is believed to be David Suchet's Poirot (though ironically, he first played Inspector Japp in the 1985 adaptation of Lord Edgware Dies before taking the role of Poirot).

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  • Adaptation Decay: In Mrs McGinty's Dead, Adriane Oliver works on a theatre adaptation of her book, and complains that the characters are completely changed. (Ironically, in real life, Agatha Christie's main complaint about early stage adaptations of her plays was that they stuck too closely to the books, as she felt that a murder mystery should surprise people.)
  • Always Someone Better: Subverted, since of course there is no one better than Hercule Poirot. Not even his brother Achille. Who doesn't exist.
  • Badass Moustache: Agatha Christie liked the 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, and had but a single complaint: Albert Finney's mustache wasn't magnificent enough! Subverted in The Big Four and Curtain, in which Poirot has shaved his mustache to pretend to be someone else.
  • Brother-Sister Team: Charles and Theresa Arundell from Dumb Witness frequently scheme to squeeze money out from their aunt. Exemplified in the TV adaptation, which Adapted Out Theresa's fiance, leaving the two to work together more often.
  • Christmas Episode: The novel Hercule Poirot's Christmas and the short story "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a.k.a. The Theft of the Royal Ruby)".
  • Clueless Mystery: All too often, Christie keeps the key clue to the story hidden from the reader until the summation comes. Sometimes it's possible to solve it, but not very often.
  • Clear Their Name: Mrs. McGinty's Dead involves clearing the name of a man accused of murdering the titular victim before he's executed.
  • Creator Backlash: As the quote at the top of this article suggests, Agatha Christie much preferred her other character, Miss Marple.
    • In universe, Adriane Olivier delivers nearly the same quote when talking about her own character, a Finnish detective with a bizarre quirk (he grates his vegetables before eating them).
  • Deconstructive Parody: "The Veiled Lady" is a literary Shot-for-Shot Remake of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", but with an extra Twist Ending.
  • Demoted to Extra: As Christie's dislike towards Poirot increases, his importance in the cases his solve begin to diminish as well. Many of Poirot's later novels actually feature very little of the Belgian detective, where he would have minimal involvement in the plot and only serves to Info Dump the solution of the mystery during the denouement. Some examples include Cat Among the Pigeons, where Poirot only show up in the last third of the books, and The Clocks, where he barely exists outside the reveal.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In Hallowe'en Party, Ariadne mentions that she likes apples. One of the teenage boys replies that "It would be more fun if they were melons. They're so juicy. Think of the mess it would make."
  • Eureka Moment: Poirot will often say such things as "Ah, the light shines on the case" when he discovers a vital clue that leads to his solving the case.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: The astute reader should be able to keep up. Part of the way at the very least.
  • Finally Found the Body: The resolution of Dead Man's Folly.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Nigel Chapman in Hickory Dickory Dock does what is called "double-bluffing". Numerous other examples are described on their respective work pages.
  • Gambit Pileup: The Big Four, where most of the plans (on both sides) counted on their victims seeing through one layer of deception but not one another. Achille Poirot's role also counts.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Poirot leaves the time of his death up to le bon Dieu.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • One of the novels involving Poirot is called Dumb Witness, with "dumb" as in "mute".
    • In Hercule Poirot's Christmas, one of the supporting characters is from Spain, and frequently wonders why the English don't seem to be "gay"; in this case, she is using the word "gay" in its old meaning of "happy".
  • He Knows Too Much: The surest way for an Agatha Christie character to sign his own death warrant is by attempting to blackmail a killer. Amberiotis of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe learned this the hard way. Also goes for anyone who didn't know that they knew anything significant (such as Celia from Hickory Dickory Dock), or who didn't know the whole story but knew something vital (like Miss Johnson from Murder in Mesopotamia). It happens twice in Death on the Nile to the maid and Mrs. Otterbourne. Basically, if you're in an Agatha Christie novel, you'd better hope and pray that you either don't have a major part, don't find anything out, aren't confided to by anyone; or if you do find something out, you know how to keep your mouth shut.
  • Idiot Ball: Beautiful women tend to have this effect on Hastings (such as leaving one alone among critical evidence in The Murder on the Links...)
  • Incriminating Indifference:
    • Subverted in Hickory Dickory Dock. Nigel Chapman, after Patricia is found dead, is incredibly upset, and because of this, the police say that he can't be the killer. Poirot points out that his tears were indeed genuine, and probably more so because he loved her and had to kill her.
    • Used unexpectedly in "Problem at Sea": This trope is in play, not after the murder, but before it. The saintly way the Asshole Victim's husband put up with her behaviour incriminates him after her murder — everyone wondered how he could be so patient with the awful woman. The truth was, he'd already worked out how to kill her.
    • Played with in The Murder on the Links, where the victim's wife initially appears suspiciously calm about her husband's disappearance, only to completely break down when called upon to identify his body in such a way that removes any possible doubt that she could have been involved in his death. Poirot is confused but then later realises that the husband had planned to fake his death and the wife was in on it. She was initially playing it cool because she thought it was all part of the plan, but when she saw his body she was utterly horrified to realise that someone actually had murdered him before he could finish faking his death.
  • It's for a Book: Poirot feels that if one must tell lies, they should be excellent lies.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Christie's novels occasionally revealed the solutions of previous works, a habit which vexed her publishers. For instance, in Cards on the Table, Poirot makes a reference to the solution to Murder on the Orient Express. The reference is very subtle, but enough to spoil it for someone who has not yet read that novel. Even worse, in Dumb Witness, Poirot casually mentions the names of the guilty parties from four previous novels.
  • Long Runners: Fifty-five years' worth of novels is not so bad.
  • Malicious Slander: Poirot's main motivation for solving crimes involves protecting the innocent from this.
  • Market-Based Title: Several of the novels had their titles changed for their US editions, for cultural reasons (US readers wouldn't know what a mews was, so the collection Murder in the Mews was titled Dead Man's Mirror after a different story in the collection), or to avoid consumer confusion (Murder on the Orient Express was changed to Murder in the Calais Coach because a mystery novel by the title of Orient Express had come out in the US that same year). The editions currently in print have restored the original British titles.
  • Masquerading As the Unseen: In The Big Four, one of the Four is a Master of Disguise. One of those disguises is an old Russian chessmaster, back from the gulags after many years of harsh treatments. The actual guy died in the gulags, and the Four are impersonating him to snatch up his huge inheritance.
  • Medication Tampering: In Dumb Witness, the victim’s liver pills are doctored with phosphorus. The hint is given by the ‘aura’ seen around the woman: the phosphoresence of her breath.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: "Triangle At Rhodes" has two. Marjorie Gold and Tony Chantry want to get married, but they're both already married. They decide to fix this problem by orchestrating a pretend love triangle between Tony, Marjorie's husband Douglas and Tony's wife Valentine, and then killing Valentine, making it look as though Douglas did it while trying to kill Tony, and letting Douglas be hanged for it. Unluckily for them, Poirot sees through it.
  • Mushroom Samba: In "The Flock of Geryon", one of the protagonists infiltrating the cult has what she believes to be a genuine religious experience; it turns out later that one of the cult's rituals involves secretly dosing the followers with liquid THC.
  • Poirot Speak: Naturellement. Although it's usually justified as being part of an Obfuscating Stupidity Funny Foreigner act; Poirot actually speaks very good English, but people tend to let their guard down around someone who doesn't even seem to speak the language clearly.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Madame! WHO DO YOU THINK KILLED YOUR HUSBAND?", from Lord Edgware Dies.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: Three Act Tragedy and The ABC Murders.
  • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare: Taken at the Flood (and, of course, its US title There Is a Tide...) is a reference to Marcus Brutus' line from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune" (IV, iii).
    • In Curtain, Poirot leaves behind two clues upon his death, one of them being Othello, which indicates the identity of the serial killer as Stephen Norton, the False Friend and Manipulative Bastard who fits the characteristics of Iago in that play.
      • And on a related note, according to the obituary on the August 6, 1975 edition of The New York Times, Poirot misquotes Shakespeare in the play Macbeth, whose actual line is spoken by Prince Malcolm to his father Duncan regarding the execution of the thane of Cawdor (and the same line holds true of the great Belgian detective): "Nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving it" (I, iv).
  • Society Marches On: In "The Capture Of Cerberus", what draws Poirot's attention to the villain is that she wears unflattering clothes, in particular, a skirt with pockets. To Poirot, this is unimaginable, because surely no woman would ever care so little about her own appearance as to wear pockets. Nowadays, it'd be hard to find anyone who'd agree.
  • Starbucks Skin Scale: In "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a.k.a. The Theft of the Royal Ruby)", there is a young man from an unnamed Eastern country who has a "coffee-coloured face".
  • Stealth Insult: In Death in the Clouds Poirot muses bitterly that his travel sickness means that when travelling "he has no little grey cells, he is reduced to a normal human being of rather below average intelligence" and then immediately segues into asking after Giraud, his rival from Murder on the Links.
  • Stopped Clock: Subverted in at least two Poirot stories, where a smashed watch is found at the scene to give a false time for the crime.
  • Strictly Formula: Every Poirot novel has a character at some point say/think 'The man's a mountebank' and is promptly proved wrong.
  • Taking the Heat: Done numerous times to provide red herrings.
    • In Appointment with Death, the Boyntons all lie about their final encounters with the victim, the family matriarch. Each had their own ideas about who the murderer is, and lied to protect the other. None of them were the murderer. The killer was someone outside the family
    • In The Hollow, everyone seem to deliberately go out of their way to bring suspicion to themselves to divert the attention away from the most obvious suspect. She turned out to be the murderer. However, the others tried to protect her out of family obligations.
  • Take That: In Death in the Clouds, one character (a novelist) says that the Sherlock Holmes stories are overrated and filled with logical fallacies.
  • Theme Naming: Hercule's fictional brother is named "Achille".
  • Trademark Favourite Food: It's not particularly emphasised, but Poirot likes his hot chocolate and his omelettes. Also parodied in Death in the Clouds, where a writer of detective fiction mentions that his own detective creation is always eating bananas, both because he did it once and the fans liked it, and also because that's something the author himself does.
  • Twist Ending: As Agatha Christie is widely considered one of the masters of the Twist Ending, this is to be expected; several of the Poirot novels are even claimed to have invented some notable twist endings.
  • Under the Mistletoe: Poirot, of all people, gets caught under mistletoe in "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a.k.a. The Theft of the Royal Ruby)", on account of being too busy exercising his little grey cells to notice where he's standing. He doesn't seem to mind the result.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The murderers in Sad Cypress and Mrs. McGinty's Dead both experience rather dramatic ones.
  • Wham Episode:
    • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, whose controversial solution not only made Christie a household name, but which completely changed the course of detective fiction.
    • Curtain was also considered this given the events of the story. It was part of the reason Christie locked the novel up for 30 years before allowing it to be published shortly before her death.
  • What an Idiot: Several stories have the twist ending that the apparent victim or bystander who first called Poirot in actually committed the crime, and wanted Poirot there so the police would assume if he couldn't solve it, no-one could. This despite the fact that Poirot's cases get published in-universe so they should know that this never works.
  • Where It All Began: The final novel, Curtain, not only returns to the location of the first, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but for good measure reunites Poirot and Hastings as well.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot's Christmas, and many others described on their individual pages (some of which turn out to be subversions).
  • Worthy Opponent: Any villain (identity usually unknown at this point in the story) whom Poirot describes approvingly as 'a man of method' after studying his crime, much to Hastings' annoyance.
  • You Just Told Me: In Death in the Clouds:
    Poirot (confronting the killer, Norman Gale): We found your finger prints on the bottle.
    Gale: You lie! I wore... (trails off, realizing what he just said)
    Poirot: Ah, you wore gloves?
  • You Watch Too Much X: in "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding":
    Poirot surveyed her gravely for some minutes.
    'You see too many sensational films, I think, Annie,' he said at last, 'or perhaps it is the television that affects you?'

Alternative Title(s): Poirot