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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Novels in this series
- 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.)
- Affectionate Parody / Deconstruction: "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.
- Always Someone Better: Subverted, since of course there is no one better than Hercule Poirot. Not even his brother Achille. Who doesn't exist.
- Asshole Victim: Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot's Christmas, and many others described on their individual pages (some of which turn out to be subversions).
- Author Avatar: Ariadne Oliver, famous author of a series of mysteries featuring an exotic foreign detective, is sometimes a mouthpiece for Christie's frustrations (and sometimes the vehicle for a bit of self-deprecating humour).
- 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!
- Berserk Button: Does not like it when people confuse him for French. He is Belgian, and will let you know it! (Though sometimes, when he wants to charm people, he lets it go.)
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Boyntons in Appointment with Death and the Lees in Hercule Poirot's Christmas.
- Book Ends: The novel Curtain is this for the whole Poirot cycle - the plot takes place in the same location as The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first book in the cycle.
- Brain Fever: in The Murder on the Links. Interestingly, in The Big Four, a doctor dismisses brain fever as an invention of writers.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Poirot's many eccentricities are compensated by his exceptional skills as a detective.
- Busman's Holiday: Multiple times, sometimes lampshaded.
- The Butler Did It: Subverted.
- Catch Phrase: Poirot has "the little grey cells" and less often "order and method".
- Celibate Hero: Poirot does not have a romantic relationship over the course of his literary career. He expresses a strong admiration for Countess Vera Rossakoff, but Christie does not pursue a relationship between them. Although Poirot never has a romantic/sexual relationship of any kind, he is more a Celibate Hero of the "Love is a Distraction" variety than a true asexual. He typically acts gallant towards the women he meets — much more so than, say, Sherlock Holmes in similar situations — and he often makes polite comments about their looks and/or fashion choices; Hastings even jokingly remarks in Curtain: Poirot's last case that the detective prefers showy, voluptuous redheads. It never goes beyond that, though.
- 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.
- The Corrupter: Stephen Norton in Curtain.
- 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).
- Dead Man's Chest: "The Adventure of the Clapham Cook"
- Death by Looking Up: The cause of death for Louise Leidner in Murder in Mesopotamia.
- Death in the Clouds: The 1935 novel of that title is the Trope Namer.
- Detective Patsy: Poirot is far too clever to fall for this, but occasionally he despairs of Hastings.
- 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."
- The Dutiful Son: Richard Abernathie, whose funeral is the catalyst for the events in After the Funeral.
- Another example is Alfred Lee, the oldest and most dutiful of Simeon Lee's sons from Hercule Poirot's Christmas.
- Eagle-Eye Detection
- Enfant Terrible: Nigel Chapman is referred to as a grown-up version of this in Hickory Dickory Dock.
- 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.
- Funny Foreigner: a deliberate front, as pointed out in Three-Act Tragedy.
- Gambit Roulette / 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.
- Great Detective
- Halloween Episode: Hallowe'en Party
- 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). 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.
- The Hero Dies: Though having penned this adventure, Christie set it aside for thirty years while she continued to turn them out.
- 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.
- Insistent Terminology: Poirot is Belgian, not French.
- Inspector Lestrade: Inspector Japp.
- Insufferable Genius: Sometimes comes off as this.
- It's for a Book: Poirot feels that if one must tell lies, they should be excellent lies.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Poirot often comes off as an arrogant, vain egotist, but he's got a good, kind heart underneath it all.
- 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.
- Love Triangle: "Triangle At Rhodes".
- Mad Artist: Michael Garfield, Mad Landscape Gardener, in Hallowe'en Party.
- 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.
- Master of Disguise: In The Big Four (see above).
- The Matchmaker: It's astounding how many relationships and marriages were influenced by the fastidious hand of Monsieur Poirot.
- Mistaken Nationality: He is Belgian, not French. It annoys him, although Hercule Poirot does not forget his dignity so far as to call it a Berserk Button.
- 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.
- My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Boynton in Appointment With Death is a nigh-perfect example, bleeding over into Evil Matriarch (or Wicked Stepmother in the Poirot adaptation).
- Mystery Magnet: Lampshaded in "Dead Man's Mirror" when Major Riddle remarks that with Poirot on the scene, any apparent suicide would be murder.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Poirot frequently plays the dotty old man to disarm suspects, making them more vulnerable to his questioning. He also uses his accent to this purpose, as he explains in Three-Act Tragedy:
"It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say - a foreigner - he can't even speak English properly. It is not my policy to terrify people - instead, I invite their gentle ridicule. Also I boast! An Englishman he says often, 'A fellow who thinks as much of himself as that cannot be worth much.' That is the English point of view. It is not at all true. And so, you see, I put people off their guard."
- Out-Gambitted: Poirot is a master at foiling the murderer's Evil Plan.
- Patchwork Story: The Big Four was originally a series of short stories that were published in The Sketch before being converted into a novel.
- Path of Inspiration: The Labors of Hercules: The Flock of Geryon
- Plucky Comic Relief: Ariadne Oliver, Christie's Author Avatar, who tends to lighten the atmosphere of any scene she's in.
- 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.
- Pretty Little Headshots: Someone is killed by this method in Poirot's last case, Curtain. It turns out to be a major Chekhov's Gun.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Madame! WHO DO YOU THINK KILLED YOUR HUSBAND?", from Lord Edgware Dies.
- Put on a Bus: After Christie realized Poirot didn't really need a Watson-type character, she quickly married off Captain Hastings and had him move to Argentina (although he periodically returned for more adventures with Poirot).
- Raised Catholic/Christianity Is Catholic: Word of God states that Poirot's religion is Roman Catholicism.
- Sarcastic Devotee: Captain Hastings, at times. Hastings relates a story where (in a shout out to Sherlock Holmes) Poirot solved a mystery involving a box of chocolates perfectly, except for having overlooked a vital clue that would have told him very clearly who the murderer was, and thus accused someone who was completely innocent (but who was quickly exonerated once the truth was known). After that affair, Poirot tells Hastings that if he ever acts too conceited, he should use the words "chocolate box" to bring him down a peg. Poirot isn't amused when Hastings uses the code words mere seconds later.
- 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.
- Super OCD: Some books hinted at this, but of course, that's what makes him a good detective.
- Poirot's insistence on symmetry and neatness, to the point of rearranging ornaments on a stranger's masterpiece, in one case directly leads him to the solution.
- Poirot's Super OCD helps solve the mystery of a book he wasn't even in (Towards Zero), when his friend Superintendent Battle looks at something asymmetric and thinks about how much that would have bugged Poirot.
- Take That: In Death in the Clouds, one character (a novelist) says that the Sherlock Holmes stories are overrated and filled with logical fallacies.
- Third-Person Person: Often crosses with a pat-my-own back But He Sounds Handsome.
- Thriller on the Express: The Mystery of the Blue Train.
- 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.
- The Watson: Captain Hastings in the early Poirot novels. After gradually phasing Hastings out, Christie used a variety of one-shot characters in this role. He was brought back for Curtain. This is sometimes lampshaded; in one story, a girl says something to the effect of, "Dr. Watson, I presume?" when introduced to him and Poirot.
- We Would Have Told You, But...: He pulls this constantly. Hastings finds this as intensely irritating as the readers do.
- 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.
- 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 Look Familiar: Prior to playing the famous detective himself, David Suchet appeared as Inspector Japp opposite Peter Ustinov's Poirot in a 1985 TV adaptation of Lord Edgware Dies.
- 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?'
- Similarly, after Hastings outlines an elaborate theory of the crime in The Murder on the Links and asks what Poirot thinks, Poirot says, "I think you should write for the cinema."
- In several stories, characters complain that investigating a real life case is never as neat as a detective story.