Monday, 11 January 2010

Poirot's Early Cases (1974)

Plot: A book of short stories from Poirot's early days

This is a 1974 collection of Poirot stories from the 20s and 30s - so during "The Golden Period" between The Mysterious Affair At Styles and Poirot's retirement where the TV series plonks itself firmly.

As a collection this sees Poirot and Hastings established pretty much in the Holmes and Watson mould that they can also be glimpsed in in The Big Four. Several cases feature Poirot behaving rather more like Holmes than normal - The Veiled Lady is a perfect example of this, featuring as it does a veiled visitor who is not all she appears (how Victorian!), a Charles Augustus Milverton-style of blackmail, and even Poirot entering a house in disguise.

Also in this category are The Market Basing Mystery (a locked-room suicide), the LeMesurier Inheritance (an country estate falls under an ancient curse) , The Double Clue (robberies and mysterious nobles), and The Submarine Plans (Christie's version of The Bruce Partington Plans). That's not to knock these stories - they're all rather fine adventures, and The Double Clue even introduces us to Poirot's Irene Adler, Countess Vera, the charming jewel-thief.

At the risk of making this entry full of lists, we move rather more with the times in stories like The Victory Ball, with its bright young things mingling murder and cocaine, The King Of Clubs (in which The Casting Couch collides with suburbia), and Double Sin, which is marvellous fun all about the tourist charabanc. Perhaps the most period piece is Problem At Sea, which features the dreadful Young Gals Kitty and Pamela with their plans to "rescue" dull guests. How ripping!

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook sees Poirot venture very much into the modern suburbs, where, much affronted, he sweeps aside the airs of the middle class and realises that this is basically A Servant Problem caused by too much gullible reading of sensational magazines.

Wasp's Nest is interesting as it shows Poirot preventing a murder, and even tipping a chemical into a fellow's drink. It's a neat counterpoint to The Cornish Mystery which sees Poirot on the scene just a moment too late, and bitterly resentful of this fact. The latter story also features the monster of gossip (which we'll see again in the similar Many Headed Hydra section of The Labours of Hercules).

The Adventure Of The Third Floor Flat has its fascinations. It's very much a period piece about Darling Pat and the men around her, but we do learn that Poirot leases his flat in the name of "Mr O'Connor", and the mystery itself is Really Very Clever, even if it betray's Christie's cynicism about charing men and wide-eyed women.

The Lost Mine is almost an antidote to The Big Four, neatly spoofing that book's sinister Chinese dens and mysterious forces. The Chocolate Box is fascinating in that it purports to show one of Poirot's Failures, but even here, the old rogue can't resist showing off.

The Plymouth Express is in some ways a dry run for The Adventure Of The Blue Train which is, in turn, a dry run for Murder On The Orient Express. It does feature a criminal called "Red Narky", so for that alone, we forgive it anything. "How Does Your Garden Grow?" is similarly a pre-echo of Dumb Witness, and The Victory Ball (with its impersonations, actresses, cocaine and murder) is something of a precursor to Lord Edgware Dies.

Poirot is a sprightly delight throughout. Picking out a sentence at random "'The shoes were all wrong,' said Poirot dreamily" shows the fun that Christie is having both with her mystery and with her detective. If Hastings is sillier than Watson, Poirot is absurder than Holmes, and yet, somehow warmer and more human. What pervades these stories is both a cynicism about, and yet a delight in, human nature.

I'll leave you with the truly bizarre original paperback cover:

Next: More of the same in Poirot Investigates

No comments:

Post a Comment