Hercule-an Efforts

When you’re a scientist and you think of fictional personas that you might like to emulate, I think the easiest answer that pops to mind is Indiana Jones. I mean, come on: he’s a Professor, Archaeologist, Finder of Lost Things, and gun-totin’, whip-wielding, Nazi-beating collection of awesomeness.

Scientist

But you’ll probably be surprised to learn that being a scientist isn’t always a life of traveling around the globe, saving the girl, and beating up the bad guys. Sometimes it involves looking at data, making astute observations, sitting and thinking, and drawing conclusions. And that brings us to my latest fictional hero: Hercule Poirot.

Poirot is, of course, Agatha Christie’s great Belgian detective. Growing up, I never read too many mysteries and Christie’s in particular always seemed like they would be a little too stodgy for a young Indiana Jones aspirant like myself.

Poirot

But a recent turn of watching David Suchet’s wonderful performance as Poirot on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery has made me appreciate the character so much more than I ever had in the past. In many ways, I think of Poirot as the first metrosexual: comfortably wealthy, professional, conversant in a multitude of topics, a very snappy dresser, skeweringly astute, and a lover of art, music, food, culture, and cocktails. I love the way in which he admonishes his companions to “use their little grey cells” more than they do.

As I thought about it, maybe – just maybe – could it be that I shared more in common with the little foreign detective than the American archeologist? While I considered the potential advantages of growing a tiny mustache and waxing it, and began walking around The Aerie using tiny steps while affecting a Flemish accent, the Beloved quickly made it clear that “going full-on Hercule” was probably a Bad Idea.

Alas – so while the mustaches are decidedly out, a few of his books have recently in my reading queue.

Murder on The Orient Express. Perhaps Poirot’s most famous case. He is an unexpected traveler on a train crossing Eastern Europe back to Paris, so that he can return to London. One of the passengers – a most unseemly fellow – is murdered while the train is stuck on a mountain pass due to heavy snows. All of the passengers in the car, who come from a wide range of backgrounds and classes, seem to have an alibi.

I listened to the audiobook of this and was surprised to find that David Suchet performed all the characters for it – demonstrating an amazingly wide range of accents and personas that really made this story come alive.

Great fun. Four stars out of five.

Three Act Tragedy (originally known as Murder In Three Acts). This was a book that I picked up on the paperback shelf at Costco. I puzzled over it for a minute and then realized after I got home that the reason it had seemed familiar was that it had been adapte for last season’s Masterpiece. So I went into this one a little spoiled, but was curious to see if there were changes between the PBS adaptation and the original.

As it turns out, there were actually very few. In the story, Poirot attends a cocktail party hosted by a friend who is a once-famous actor on the downside of his career. At the party, the old village clergyman suddenly dies. Was it a stroke? Or was it murder? And who would want to off the gentle vicar, anyway? These questions are bandied about until some months later, another friend of the actor at a different dinner party also mysteriously dies. Poison!

Poirot investigates with the help of his actor friend and his would-be girlfriend (the actor’s, not Poirot’s). Having just seen the adaptation, I knew what was coming so that might have diminished the enjoyment of it a bit. Also, the secondary characters were a little less likable than in the other books I read. I will say though, that it has one of the best closing lines I know.

Three stars out of five.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Nothing like having  the title tell you what’s going to happen. The titular Ackroyd was a wealthy man who is found murdered in his locked study on the evening of a big house party. The guests naturally then become the main suspects and Poirot is assisted by a Dr. Sheppard – his neighbor, who had been one of the guests and the person that was called in after the body was discovered. This is one of Christie’s earlier works and Sheppard serves as the narrator of the story and his observations of the people of his village and particularly of Poirot are pretty amusing.

This was a very good mystery and a very enjoyable read.

Four stars out of five.

I’m sure there will be more Hercule in my future, both on the screen and on the page. And though I will keep trying to use my little grey cells throughout the day, I suppose not-so-much in my mannerisms.

24 thoughts on “Hercule-an Efforts

  1. Wonderful post, Steve! I love Indiana Jones! ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ is my most favourite movie in the series – I have seen it so many times :) Glad to know that you are loving Agatha Christie and Poirot! My first Poirot book was ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’ and since then I have been a Christie-Poirot fan. ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ is one of my alltime favourite Christie books. I haven’t read ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ but have seen the movie version and loved it. Bizarrely, Ingrid Bergman got a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ for her role in this movie. One of my favourite Christie novels is ‘And Then There Were None’, which is wonderful with an amazing twist in the end. Have you read it?

  2. I had to laugh at the idea of you sporting a waxed moustache :) But it was interesting to read the difference between the two, Indiana Jones and Poirot. Is Poirot who Steve Martin was trying to imitate in that awful Pink Panther movie last year?

    I remember the movie, “The Orient Express.” I saw it in the theater. I have read some of Agatha Christie’s books too. But reading your reviews makes me want to give her books another try. Thank you for the reviews and your wonderful descriptions of the two very different men.

  3. I have read a bunch of Agatha Christie books, thanks to my older sister, who bought every one she found at a used bookstore when we were teens. Don’t limit yourself to just Poirot though, they’re all good. One of my favorites is The Man In The Brown Suit, which I think was also a television movie with Stephanie Zimbalist in an Indiana Jones type role. Most of the rest I just don’t remember, other than they were all good and I never can figure them out, at least not all the way. I did read Roger Ackroyd and Orient Express. (Was Roger Ackroyd the one with the pig bladder?) Well anyway, enjoy the mysteries!

    • cranky — I will have to check out “The Man in The Brown Suit” — it seems like she has quite a few that are non-Poirot, non-Marple. I don’t recall any pig bladder in Roger Ackroyd — though maybe I don’t have Hercule’s eye for details!

  4. Pardon my non-book-related response … are you a Doctor Who fan and/or have you seen any episodes? There is a Doctor Who episode titled, “The unicorn and the wasp.” Doctor Who travels to the time of Agatha Christie. It’s a brilliant episode. Brilliant. 5 out of 5 stars.

      • It’s a Tenth Doctor episode from Series 4. I’d give it maybe 3 out of 5, especially compared to the incredibly strong episodes around it, but it’s definitely a fun lighthearted romp, gloriously silly. Most of the fun comes from the Doctor gleefully running around trying to be like Poirot, telling people to use their “little grey cells,” conducting private interviews with suspects, and interjecting dramatically. Worth a watch especially if you’re a fan of both Doctor Who and Poirot!

  5. This post makes me want to pick up some agatha Christie! I’m not a huge mystery fan, but I might like her. I’ve seen bits of the PBS “murder on the orient express.”. I enjoyed it. Thanks for the review!

  6. Great reviews. I have a really hard time getting into mysteries, but my boyfriend watches one almost every night. We’ll have to consider more Poirot,

  7. I watched an Indiana Jones marathon on one of the cable channels last month and thought the movies haven’t aged as well as I had hoped, especially in light of contemporary events. I don’t even want to bring up “The Temple of Doom” in front of the Indian in-laws—I cringe at the way Indian culture is presented in the movie compared to what I know now. David Suchet’s performance of Poirot is really timeless, however. Maybe it’s because Christie’s books are timeless as well: every time I re-read one of them, I’m impressed by how well the plots and characters hold up. I wish it was acceptable to assign her work in a freshman English class as an example of good writing, but mysteries are still held in contempt by those who establish the literary canon. Which is more of a loss for them than for Christie.

    I admit I LOL’d when I thought of you sporting a waxed mustache, but I don’t think it would be too far fetched. You see quite a few men in Europe sporting a groomed mustache with a shaved head. The effect is quite stylish!

    • HG — yeah, I have to agree with the Raiders series. I think the first one still plays great, and parts of the third one are still good.

      The Beloved’s family hails from Virginia and apparently there having facial hair means that you have something to hide — so there’s been much approval since I’ve gone clean-shaven.

  8. I think I am very close to having seen all of David Suchet’s episodes as Poirot — but I’ve only read one Christie novel! (the first one, The Mysterious Affair at Styles) I think the books might disappoint me, because I’m so used to having Hastings and Inspector Japp around all the time, and my impression is that they are rarer presences in the books, comparatively. But still, it’d be nice to read some of the books, to get Christie’s ideas as she expressed them. In the meantime, though, Suchet is excellent.

    • David — it is funny how when I’m reading the books I expect them to play out like the Masterpiece movies and I don’t like it when they don’t! For example, in Three Act Tragedy he doesn’t really show up until about 1/2 way through the book!

  9. Pingback: Spring Murder Spree | Stevil

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