#4 – Poirot Investigates

Across eleven stories, Poirot and Hastings investigate murder, suicide, kidnap, robbery, and even a missing will. There are distinctly Sherlockian elements such as making deductions about a client from observations from the window, Hastings commenting on a newspaper story that then leads into a case, a historic case where sufficient time has passed for the events to now be made public, and insufficient evidence to prosecute with an accident then overtaking the guilty parties so that justice is not denied. To my mind there are also distinct echoes of the second, sixth, and seventh stories from “ The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” which given what Christie later does in “Partners in Crime” may be deliberate.

The cases presented are:

The Adventure of “The Western Star” (WS) – in which Hastings surprises a client with his deductions.

The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor (MM) – in which Inspector Japp plays a ghost.

The Adventure of the Cheap Flat (CF) – in which it is shown that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge (HL) – in which Poirot solves a case from his sickbed.

The Million Dollar Bond Robbery (MDBR) – in which Poirot deduces the existence and appearance of a ship’s passenger.

The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (ET) – in which Poirot protects himself with magic.

The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (JRGM) – in which chalk and dust hold the solution.

The Kidnapped Prime Minister (KPM) – in which Poirot facilitates the Second World War.

The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim (DMD) – in which Japp makes his easiest ever arrest.

The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (IN) – in which the advisability of a full post-mortem is shown.

The Case of the Missing Will (MW) – in which it is shown that paying a professional is better than doing-it-yourself.

With HL and DMD being the strongest.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Has worked on the case of the dancer, Valerie Saintclair, and matters relating to the death of Lord Cronshaw’s nephew (WS).

Has knowledge of precious stones as he is able to pronounce the “Western Star” to be flawless (WS).

Mrs Murchinson is his landlady (WS).

Orders his books by size, with the largest on the top shelf (WS). Ludicrous, as in the main alphabetically by author’s surname is preferable, and heavy reference books should be stored on lower shelves for ease of access and to avoid the danger of them falling and cracking one’s egg-shaped head!

Again shows a more physical side than expected when he romps with the Yardly’s children (WS).

Is “as good as a woman” when dealing with the collapsed Lady Yardly (WS).

Is practical as demonstrated when he fixes the bolt of the coal lift so that it can be opened from the inside (CF).

Takes a “noxious” tisane (herbal tea) to combat the flu and wears a “garish” silk dressing-gown (HL).

Suffers from seasickness and would therefore not enjoy an ocean cruise (MDBR). This is then evidenced in the journey from Marseille to Alexandria (ET). Laverguier’s method which he uses for the much shorter Channel crossing (KPM) appears to be a fiction as my internet search just returns quotes from this book itself.

Whilst in Egypt he dresses the same as he would in London and carries a small clothes-brush in his pocket to wage war on the dust. He is unsuccessful in his attempts to ride a camel (ET).

Uses benzene to dry clean his own clothes (KPM).

Was recommended to the British Cabinet by the exiled King of Belgium, Albert I (KPM).

Prefers thick, sweet hot chocolate to tea, which he refers to as “your English poison” (DMD)

Captain Hastings

Speculates on the stock exchange (JRGM).

Worked in recruiting towards the end of the First World War (KPM).

Signs of the Times

£50,000 would be worth approximately £2m today based solely on inflation (WS and MM).

Both Hastings and Poirot are (shamefaced) readers of “Society Gossip” (WS and HL). This could be short-hand for “Broadway Brevities and Society Gossip”, first published in New York in 1916, shutting down in 1925, before enjoying two further short incarnations. Heat Magazine and its ilk are not a new phenomenon.

Poirot consults “Peerage” (WS) This is almost certainly “Burke’s Peerage”, first published in 1826 and now in its 107th edition. It claims to be “the definitive guide to the genealogies of the titled families of the British Isles”.

Mr Maltravers had not consulted with Dr Bernard as he was a Christian Scientist (MM). The main principles of Christian Science were developed by Mary Baker Eddy in her 1875 work “Science and Health”. This teaches that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone. At its height in the 1930s there were 270,000 adherents in the US alone; this has declined to 100,000 in the 1990s.

German reparations were discussed at dinner (MM). The Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the London Schedule of Payments (1921) required Germany to pay 132bn gold marks (approximately £8bn) to cover civilian damage during the First World War. At most a quarter of this was paid before a final payment was accepted in 1932.

“Who’s Who” is referred to for information on a client (HL). This has been published annually since 1849 and is now in its 168th edition. Subjects are selected based on their public prominence and are asked by the editors to complete a questionnaire. Some checks are made on their responses, but subjects are free to say or omit what they wish. Once in, they remain in for life.

The tomb of Tutankhamun was opened in November 1922 (ET). Lord Carnarvon, who had funded the work, contracted blood poisoning and died in March 1923, thus beginning the supposed curse.

David MacAdam (in reality David Lloyd George) is Prime Minister towards the end of the First World War (KPM). He has an audience at Windsor, which would have been with King George V.

Japp sees Kellett at Bow Street (DMD). A court was established here in 1740 and in 1749 a group of constables was stationed there, becoming known as the Bow Street Runners, effectively London’s first police force. When the Metropolitan Police Service was establised in 1829, a station house was built there. The court closed in 2006.

Poirot refers to “Almanach de Gotha” for information on Count Foscatini (IN). A European equivalent of “Burke’s Peerage”. Originally published in 1763, with annual editions from 1785. The final edition was published in 1944 as Soviet troops systematically destroyed the archives in 1945.

References to previous works

Poirot was recommended to Lady Yardly by characters from “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” (WS).

Vintage Reading Challenge

Fulfils “Why – Book made into TV programme/film/play” as all the stories were made into separate episodes of “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” starring David Suchet.


5 thoughts on “#4 – Poirot Investigates”

  1. Heh—I used to love this book as a kid; it’s what got me interested in Christie in the first place. (The earliest mystery books I read, in elementary school, after Sherlock Holmes: this, Ellen Raskin’s still-brilliant The Westing Game, and an inexplicable-in-elementary-school copy of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, which I naturally only skimmed through!)

    In retrospect, it may well be one of her weakest short-story collections; with that said, though I love Mr. Quin and Labours of Hercules and greatly enjoy Partners in Crime, she never excelled in the format at all, to be honest. Some good ideas—“Million Dollar Bond Robbery” is Chestertonian in its simplicity—but not very well-written or even thought-out: she was still very much writing in the Sherlock Holmes mode, as you note and as she pointed out in her autobiography.

    In fact, “Mr. Davenheim” cribs nearly everything from Doyle’s “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” but Christie’s cluing is good, and Carr (of all people!) borrowed, either consciously or not, from Christie’s take for “The Adventure of the Highgate Miracle” (The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes). “The Western Star,” though obvious, is a neat parody of The Moonstone (though Hastings is an ignoramus) that warrants a better handling; “Hunter’s Lodge” is interesting inasmuch as it prefigures the much-later After the Funeral and “The Cheap Flat” for its variation on Doyle’s “Red-Headed League” gambit.

    Perhaps I’m giving this collection short shrift, as some of the plotting ideas are quite clever, but the writing really is weak, and the later stories aren’t as good. I do recall a sneaking fondness for “The Western Star,” though…


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