‘Poirot Investigates’, originally published in 1924, is a collection of fourteen Poirot stories, told over 211 pages. They are short, energetic, playful pieces, all centring around Poirot’s brilliance in solving apparently unsolvable puzzles.
At an average of fifteen pages per story, there isn’t a lot of space for anything more than exposition, investigation and resolution – think the kind of thirty-minute TV mystery shows that were pumped out in the 1970’s – but they’re delivered with brio, self-confidence and humour that makes them engaging.
The subjects of the stories range widely. We have spies, blackmailers, jewel thieves, cursed Egyptian tombs, a kidnapped Prime Minister and opportunistic but devilishly cunning murders.
The only thing that they have in common is that they let Hercule Poirot play his part of Magician Detective, the man who can and does solve crimes while sitting at his desk with his eyes closed.
I began to see Poirot like this:
What pulls the stories together, and what I found more interesting than the puzzles posed, is the way Poirot and Hastings are revealed to us. With rapid, deft strokes, Christie gives us a clear portrait of both men and the relationship between them.
Poirot, the small man with the large ego, a compulsion for neatness, a self-serving sense of humour and an analytical mind that treats people and their actions as no more than puzzle pieces. A man whose vanity is displayed as much in his refusal to speak English fluently as his luxurious moustaches. He is bright but often less than kind. My main impression of him? M. Poirot, il est un connard, non?
Christie skilfully manages to give us Hastings through his own eyes and still present someone different from the man Hastings sees when he looks in the mirror. He’s an affable, reliable man, the epitome of his class, one step up from Bertie Wooster. Woman are an alien species to him but he is always willing to worship at the altar of the auburn-haired beauty, provided she’s a woman of good family and character and not one of these ‘new’ women. It was pointed out to me that he’s a perfect example of the Dunning-Krugar effect, a cognitive bias that allows a person of low ability to sustain an internal illusion of superiority.
The early stories read like playful trope twists on Sherlock Holmes stories. They all read as if Christie is having fun playing with ideas and using her stories as a lab for testing them out. Yet, taken together, they give a picture of this odd couple that is very different from Holmes and Watson and much more endearing.