Revisiting Hercule Poirot: Did We Really Need To?

poirot and hastings

Happy Easter!! On this fine Easter Sunday, which sees me returning to the shire for some much needed R&R, I explore the need to revive existing, popular characters such as Poirot and whether this adds anything to the canon of excellent literature already produced by creator Agatha Christie.

As a huge fan of Christie’s seminal Golden Age detective, I was both pleased and surprised when I encountered Sophie Hannah’s reinvention of the pernickety and fastidious Belgium detective in The Monogram Murders (check out my review HERE).

The book is a triumph, as is the follow up, Closed Casket, which I have just devoured in practically one sitting. However, whilst I acknowledge them as being excellent in their own way, it rather got me thinking about whether it was the plot or the reincarnation of Poirot himself that was so special about the books. The answer is the former.

Taken together with the recent reincarnations of Dorothy L Sayers’s excellent Lord Peter Wimsey by Jill Paton Walsh (read my thoughts HERE) and the many reinventions of other famed detectives such as Sherlock Holmes, this can be seen as the age of revival. Hollywood is constantly remaking movies, often shot for shot, and the literature world is no different, with these new versions of classic characters reappearing regularly. But are they worth it?

With the new Poirot novels, it is the differences from the originals that stand out almost as much as the similarities. In an effort not to borrow too heavily from the original Walsh invented her own sidekick, Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard detective with a limited imagination but an eye for detail. Catchpool is supposed to be the stand in for Christie’s brilliant Captain Hastings.

A note for those who have never read Christie’s works; Hastings is not the man you have seen on screen. I have never seen him portrayed properly. Whilst Poirot himself has been well done on a number of occasions, including Peter Ustinov’s measured version and the recent seminal portrayal of the character by David Suchet, Hastings always comes across wrong. From Jonathan Cecil’s incredibly upper class outing to the Hugh Fraser’s bumbling oaf, each of which are good characters in their own right, every on screen version of Hastings fails to take into account Christie’s writing, which showcased a brave and loyal man who was astute and intelligent, although occasionally lacking a little in common sense.

Creating a new sidekick in the form of Catchpool does allow Hannah to distance herself just enough from the Queen of Crime’s work and highlight her own talent for character creation, but what I cannot understand is the need to use Poirot to achieve this. Hannah’s other novels have all been huge successes, with the spectacular Little Face being one of the creepiest and most engaging books that I have ever read. Whilst I understand the value of wanting to reimagine a highly popular character such as Poirot, these novels would be even better if they instead introduced a new character that readers could enjoy without the burden of prior knowledge and high expectations.

The plots are a key area that are constantly compared to Christie’s original books, and whilst they are intriguing and inventive there are, in my opinion, too many twists to Hannah’s revised Poirot novels, reducing the impact and lessening the tension in the narrative. Christie was a master at creating taunt, tight stories that crackled with atmosphere; whilst they are great books in their own rights, The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket are both lackluster in comparison.

At the end of the day it is this constant commitment to reviving old characters and stories in an attempt to reinvigorate past success that is killing creativity across the media industry, and whilst I enjoy Hannah’s new Poirot novels it is my sincere wish that writers create new and exciting books which will one day become classics in their own rights, rather than constantly looking to prolong past appreciation.

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