Disclaimer – I am a HUGE fan of Sherlock Holmes.
Since, the character was killed by the author, I would relate my impression in past tense.
Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot has failed to impress me. No, it was not his vanity that annoyed me. Most people, who dislike Poirot, they dislike him for being so vain. I would not term his remarkable and well-deserved confidence in his own abilities as vanity at all. I have purposely stressed on the name of the author in the beginning. Let me put it in another way – it is Agatha Christie who has failed to impress me. Here she has a wonderful and singular character – Hercule Poirot – who is dedicated to breach through the traditions of detecting crime by collecting data and evidence – and rather employ his superior knowledge of human behavioural patterns in different circumstances – but she ends up stifling the character and tormenting many great stories – with banal plots, banal words, banal endings, and banal structure. The general structure of the Poirot stories-as I noted is-
1. Describe the setting of Hercule Poirot – square room, square table, square chair – and only thing that is not square is the head of Poirot, which is egg-shaped;
2. Introduce the crime to him or him to crime;
3. Poirot goes, solves the crime, meets the client, presents them his findings – such as presented a lost letter or jewel or piece of art – all the while – without disclosing to the reader what he is thinking;
4. In the end, Poirot delivers all the explanation. This explanation, most of the time, is based on facts, which seem more like pulled out of thin air or a magician’s hat and suddenly introduced into the story, not introduced before or mentioned before, and shoves them down the ears of poor Hastings or Jap or the eyes of the poor reader.
Perhaps, Christie failed to recognise why Doyle needed a Watson to his Sherlock. Please bear in mind that Dr Watson is much better and stronger character than Hastings. I was surprised to find that in many stories he hasn’t even featured. Further, most of the stories are by an unseen narrator, which make the crime detection by Poirot more unrealistic and more based on stories created from facts pulled out of thin air or from nowhere. Dr Watson had this unique quality of walking the reader through facts or whatever he saw through his eyes. He would take us on sort of “sightseeing tour” atop an open bus to the scene of the crime. He would describe the grimness that beholds the scene of a serious crime in great details. He would describe the maps, trees by the walls, location of doors and windows, and layouts of the streets in greater detail. Sherlock, from time to time, would ask him about what he saw and he would describe all in greatest details not before Sherlock mocking him for not “observing” and for only mentioning the so-called trivial points. I have often wondered why Sherlock never appreciated powers of memory and sight in Dr Watson. Dr Watson would describe a scene as it was, which would enable a reader to start guessing the sort of clues or observations Sherlock will make. For example, if Watson described a client to Sherlock in terms of what the client wore, how the client looked and other such details – it would make me think on what points of the wardrobe will Sherlock contemplate e.g., thread, or shoe or from cuffs. Therefore, when Sherlock will give explanations of his methods, they never came up as “surprise”, because Watson’s details corroborated many of his findings. There was always a subtle link between Watson’s “trivial nonsensical observations” and Sherlock’s conclusions. In some cases, the reader himself can start eliminating the suspects or suspecting one of the characters.
Christie didn’t give that advantage to Poirot and failed to build the confidence of the reader in Hastings. An unseen narrator is as far removed from the story as a reader is. Poirot used his “grey cells”, so does Sherlock. However, Poirot’s claimed “genius” appeared more fantastic than realistic only because the scene of crime wasn’t explained in such ludicrously great details as is done by Dr Watson. Hastings singularly failed in this job of his.
Poirot always made criminals confess, which Sherlock Holmes “failed” to do – as mentioned by a reviewer somewhere on internet. I disagree. Sherlock Holmes is not only good with usage of words but is also a champion in taking a disguise. There is no reason to doubt that he can easily make any bird chirp as well but Sherlock is also a dramatist. He likes to build tension. He favours catching them red-handed deep in the muck of their crime. Poirot’s repeated assertions like: “It felt odd”, “it wasn’t satisfactory” distanced the reader further for he never really explained “what” he found odd or unsatisfactory. Sherlock was a man of data. He could easily tell about such odds by pointing towards the clues.
Moreover, Christie has also not utilised Poirot cleverly. In many scenes, Poirot makes no appearance but after the criminal is revealed to the reader, Poirot fills in the explanation taking clues from some such scenes. So, the mystery as well as its solution look like fantasy in a real world. The truth in Poirot’s stories is convenient and told in the end in a completely abrupt manner. Also, Holmes likes to reconstruct crimes to enable prosecution in court of law as court of law will not rely on hunches and intuitions of a egg-shape-headed man with square shoulder sitting in a square chair of a square room. Poirot is too lazy to do work and since more of his cases lack “outsiders” from the scene of crime – he feeds on a criminal’s fear, terror or guilt trip to do the job for him by asking pertinent questions.
An overrated character.