Hercule Poirot (in French) is a fictional Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie. Along with Miss Marple, Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-lived characters: he appeared in 33 novels and 51 short stories.
Poirot also bears a striking resemblance to A. E. W. Mason's fictional detective – Inspector Hanaud of the French Sûreté-who, first appearing in the 1910 novel At the Villa Rose, predates the writing of the first Poirot novel by six years. In chapter 4 of the second Inspector Hanaud novel, The House of the Arrow (1924), Hanaud declares sanctimoniously to the heroine, "You are wise, Mademoiselle… For, after all, I am Hanaud. There is only one."
Christie's Poirot was Belgian. Unlike the models mentioned above, Christie's Poirot character was clearly the result of her early development of the detective in her first book written in 1916 (though only published in 1920). Not only was his Belgian nationality interesting because of Belgium's occupation by Germany (which provided a valid explanation of why such a skilled detective would be out of work and available to solve mysteries at an English country house),, but also at the time of Christie's writing, it was considered patriotic to express sympathy with the Belgians – since the invasion of their country had constituted Britain's casus belli for entering World War I, and British wartime propaganda emphasized and exagerated the "Rape of Belgium".
By 1930, Agatha Christie found Poirot 'insufferable' and by 1960, she felt that he was a 'detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep'. Yet the public loved him, and Christie refused to kill him off, claiming that it was her duty to produce what the public liked, and what the public liked was Poirot.
This is how Agatha Christie describes Poirot in The Murder on the Orient Express in the very initial pages:
In the later books, the limp is not mentioned. Poirot has dark hair, which he dyes later in life and green eyes that are repeatedly described as shining "like a cat's" when he is struck by a clever idea. Frequent mention is made of his patent-leather shoes, damage to which is frequently a subject of (for the reader, comical) misery on his part. Poirot's appearance, regarded as fastidious during his early career, is hopelessly out of fashion later in his career.
Among Poirot's most significant personal attributes is the sensitivity of his stomach. He suffers from sea sickness, and in Death in the Clouds believes that his air sickness prevents him from being more alert at the time of the murder. Later in his life, we are told:
Poirot is extremely punctual and carries a turnip pocket watch almost to the end of his career. He is also fastidious about his personal finances, preferring to keep a bank balance of 444 pounds, 4 shillings, and 4 pence (The Lost Mine).
In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot operates as a fairly conventional, clue-based detective, depending on logic, which is represented in his vocabulary by two common phrases: his use of "the little grey cells" and "order and method". Irritating to Hastings is the fact that Poirot will sometimes conceal from him important details of his plans, as in The Big Four where Hastings is kept in the dark throughout the climax. This aspect of Poirot is less evident in the later novels, partly because there is rarely a narrator so there is no one for Poirot to mislead.
As early as Murder on the Links, where he still largely depends on clues, Poirot mocks a rival detective who focuses on the traditional trail of clues that had been established in detective fiction by the example of Sherlock Holmes: footprints, fingerprints and cigar ash. From this point on he establishes himself as a psychological detective who proceeds not by a painstaking examination of the crime scene, but by enquiring either into the nature of the victim or the murderer. Central to his behaviour in the later novels is the underlying assumption that particular crimes are only committed by particular types of person.
Poirot's methods focus on getting people to talk. Early in the novels, he frequently casts himself in the role of "Papa Poirot", a benign confessor, especially to young women. Later he lies freely in order to gain the confidences of other characters, either inventing his own reason for being interested in the case or a family excuse for pursuing a line of questioning.
In the later novels Christie often uses the word mountebank when Poirot is being assessed by other characters, showing that he has successfully passed himself off as a charlatan or fraud.
All these techniques help Poirot attain his principal target: "For in the long run, either through a lie, or through truth, people were bound to give themselves away …
It must also be said that Hastings was a man who was capable of great bravery and courage when the road got rough, facing death unflinchingly when confronted by The Big Four and possessing unwavering loyalty towards Poirot. However, when forced to choose between Poirot and his wife in that novel, he initially chose to betray Poirot to the Big Four so that they would not torture and kill his wife. Later, though, he told Poirot to draw back and escape the trap.
The two were an airtight team until Hastings met and married Dulcie Duveen, a beautiful music hall performer half his age, which was not objectionable in the late Victorian, Edwardian world. They later emigrated to Argentina leaving Poirot behind as a "very unhappy old man." Poirot and Hastings are at last reunited in Curtain: Poirot's Last Case. They are also reunited in The ABC Murders when Hastings arrives in England for business.
She has authored over fifty-six novels and she has a great dislike of people taking and modifying her story characters. She is also the only one in Poirot's universe to have noted that "It’s not natural for five or six people to be on the spot when B is murdered and all have a motive for killing B." She first met Poirot in the story Cards on the Table and has been bothering him ever since.
It is difficult to draw any concrete conclusions about Poirot's family, due to the fact that Poirot often supplies false or misleading information about himself or his background in order to assist him in obtaining information relevant to a particular case.
In chapter 21 of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for example, we learn that he has been talking about a mentally disabled nephew: this proves to be a ruse so that he can find out about homes for the mentally unfit … but that does not mean that Poirot does not have such a nephew.
In Dumb Witness, he regales us with stories of his elderly invalid mother as a pretence to investigate the local nurses. In The Big Four Hastings believes that he meets Achille Poirot who (in an apparent parody of Mycroft Holmes) is evidently his smarter brother. On this occasion, Achille is almost certainly Poirot himself in disguise (Poirot speaks in Chapter 18 of having sent Achille "back to the land of myths"), but this does not conclusively demonstrate that Poirot does not have a brother, or even a brother called Achille.
Any evidence regarding Poirot for which Poirot himself is the source is therefore most unreliable. Achille Poirot is also mentioned by Dr. Burton in the prelude to The Labours of Hercules. Here Hercule Poirot replies that he has had a brother called Achille "only for a space period of time", so the existence of this brother remains unconfirmed even by Hercule Poirot himself.
Poirot was apparently born in Spa, Belgium and, based on the conjecture that he was thirty at the time of his retirement from the Belgian police force at the time of the outbreak of the First World War, it is suggested that he was born in the mid 1880s.
This is all extremely vague, as Poirot is thought to be an old man in his dotage even in the early Poirot novels, and in An Autobiography Christie admitted that she already imagined him to be an old man in 1920. (At the time, of course, she had no idea she would be going on writing Poirot books for many decades to come.) Much of the suggested dating for Poirot's age is therefore post-rationalisation on the part of those attempting to make sense of his extraordinarily long career.
Poirot is a Roman Catholic by birth, and retains a strong sense of Catholic morality later in life. Not much is known of Poirot’s childhood other than he once claimed in Three Act Tragedy to have been from a large family with little wealth. In Taken at the Flood, he further claimed to have been raised and educated by nuns, raising the possibility that he (and any siblings) were orphaned.
As an adult, Poirot joined the Belgian police force. Very little mention is made in Christie's work about this part of his life, but in "The Nemean Lion" (1939) Poirot himself refers to a Belgian case of his in which "a wealthy soap manufacturer […] poisoned his wife in order to be free to marry his secretary". We do not know whether this case resulted in a successful prosecution or not; moreover, Poirot is not above lying in order to produce a particular effect in the person to whom he is speaking, so this evidence is not reliable.
Inspector Japp gives some insight into Poirot's career with the Belgian police when introducing him to a colleague:
In the short story The Chocolate Box (1923) Poirot provides Captain Arthur Hastings with an account of what he considers to be his only failure. Poirot admits that he has failed to solve a crime "innumerable" times:
It was also in this period that Poirot shot a man who was firing from a roof onto the public below.
Poirot had retired from the Belgian police force by the time he met Hastings in 1916 on the case retold in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
It should be noted that Poirot is a French-speaking Belgian, i.e. a Walloon; but there can hardly be found any occasion where he refers to himself as such, or is so referred to by others. At the time of writing, at least of the earlier books where the character was defined, non-Belgians such as Agatha Christie were far less aware than nowadays of the deep linguistic divide in Belgian society, assuming that all Belgians were French-speaking.
After the war Poirot became a free agent and began undertaking civilian cases. He moved into what became both his home and work address, 56B Whitehaven Mansions, Sandhurst Square, London W1. It was chosen by Poirot for its symmetry. His first case was "The Affair at the Victory Ball", which saw Poirot enter the high society and begin his career as a private detective.
Between the world wars, Poirot traveled all over Europe and the Middle East investigating crimes and murders. Most of his cases happened during this period and he was at the height of his powers at this point in his life. The Murder On the Links saw the Belgian pit his grey cells against a French murderer. In the Middle East he solved the cases of Death on the Nile, and Murder in Mesopotamia with ease and even survived An Appointment with Death. As he passed through Eastern Europe on his return trip, he solved The Murder on the Orient Express. However he did not travel to the Americas or Australia, probably due to his sea sickness.
It was during this time he met the Countess Vera Rossakoff, a glamorous jewel thief. The history of the Countess is, like Poirot's, steeped in mystery. She claims to have been a member of the Russian aristocracy before the Russian Revolution and suffered greatly as a result, but how much of that story is true is an open question. Even Poirot acknowledges that Rossakoff has told several wildly varying accounts of her early life. Poirot later became smitten with the woman and allowed her to escape justice.
Although letting the Countess escape may be morally questionable, that impulse to take the law into his own hands was far from unique. In The Nemean Lion, he sided with the criminal, Miss Amy Carnaby, and saved her from having to face justice by blackmailing his client Sir Joseph Hoggins, who himself was plotting murder and was unwise enough to let Poirot discover this. Poirot even sent Miss Carnaby two hundred pounds as a final payoff before her dog kidnapping campaign came to an end. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd he allowed the murderer to escape justice through suicide and then ensured the truth was never known to spare the feelings of the murderer's relatives. In The Augean Stables he helped the government to cover up vast corruption, even though it might be considered more honest to let the truth come out.
After his cases in the Middle East, Poirot returned to Britain. Apart from some of the so-called "Labours of Hercules" (see next section) he very rarely traveled abroad during his later career.
There is a great deal of confusion about Poirot's retirement. Most of the cases covered by Poirot's private detective agency take place before his retirement to grow marrows, at which time he solves The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It has been said that twelve cases related in The Labours of Hercules (1947) must refer to a different retirement, but the fact that Poirot specifically says that he intends to grow marrows indicates that these stories also take place before Roger Ackroyd, and presumably Poirot closed his agency once he had completed them. There is specific mention in "The Capture of Cerberus" to the fact that there has been a gap of twenty years between Poirot's previous meeting with Countess Rossakoff and this one. If the Labours precede the events in Roger Ackroyd, then the Roger Ackroyd case must have taken place around twenty years later than it was published, and so must any of the cases that refer to it. One alternative would be that having failed to grow marrows once, Poirot is determined to have another go, but this is specifically denied by Poirot himself. Another alternative would be to suggest that the Preface to the Labours takes place at one date but that the labours are completed over a matter of twenty years. None of the explanations is especially attractive.
In terms of a rudimentary chronology, Poirot speaks of retiring to grow marrows in Chapter 18 of The Big Four (1927), which places that novel out of published order before Roger Ackroyd. He declines to solve a case for the Home Secretary because he is retired in Chapter One of Peril at End House (1932). He is certainly retired at the time of Three Act Tragedy (1935) but he does not enjoy his retirement and comes repeatedly out of it thereafter when his curiosity is engaged. Nevertheless, he continues to employ his secretary, Miss Lemon, at the time of the cases retold in Hickory Dickory Dock and Dead Man's Folly, which take place in the mid-1950s. It is therefore better to assume that Christie provided no authoritative chronology for Poirot's retirement, but assumed that he could either be an active detective, a consulting detective or a retired detective as the needs of the immediate case required.
One thing that is consistent about Poirot's retirement is that his fame declines during it, so that in the later novels he is often disappointed when characters (especially younger characters) do not recognise either him or his name:
Poirot is less active during the cases that take place at the end of his career. Beginning with Three Act Tragedy (1934), Christie had perfected during the inter-war years a sub-genre of Poirot novel in which the detective himself spent much of the first third of the novel on the periphery of events. In novels such as Taken at the Flood, After the Funeral and Hickory Dickory Dock he is even less in evidence, frequently passing the duties of main interviewing detective to a subsidiary character. In Cat Among the Pigeons Poirot's entrance is so late as to be almost an afterthought. Whether this was a reflection of his age or of the fact that Christie was by now heartily sick of him it is difficult to assess. There is certainly a case for saying that Crooked House (1949) and Ordeal by Innocence (1957), which are not Poirot novels at all but so easily could have been, represent a logical endpoint of the general diminution of Poirot himself within the Poirot sequence.
Towards the end of his career it becomes clear that Poirot's retirement is no longer a convenient fiction. He assumes a genuinely inactive lifestyle during which he concerns himself with studying famous unsolved cases of the past and reading detective novels. He even writes a book about mystery fiction in which he deals sternly with Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins. In the absence of a more appropriate puzzle, he solves such inconsequential domestic problems as the presence of three pieces of orange peel in his umbrella stand.
Poirot (and, it is reasonable to suppose, his creator) becomes increasingly bemused by the vulgarism of the up and coming generation's young people. In Hickory Dickory Dock, he investigates the strange goings on in a student hostel, while in the Third Girl he is forced into contact with the smart set of Chelsea youths. In the growing drug and pop culture of the sixties, he proves himself once again, but has become heavily reliant on other investigators (especially the private investigator, Mr. Goby) who provide him with the clues that he can no longer gather for himself.
The Poirot books take readers through the whole of his life in England, from the first book (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), where he is a refugee staying at Styles, to the last Poirot book (Curtain), where he visits Styles once again before his death. In between, Poirot solves cases outside England as well, including his most famous case, Murder on the Orient Express (1934).
Hercule Poirot became famous with the publication, in 1926, of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, whose surprising solution proved controversial. The novel is still among the most famous of all detective novels: Edmund Wilson alludes to it in the title of his well-known attack on detective fiction, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Aside from Roger Ackroyd, the most critically-acclaimed Poirot novels appeared from 1932 to 1942, including such acknowledged classics as Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders (1935), Cards on the Table (1936), and Death on the Nile (1937). The last of these, a tale of multiple homicide upon a Nile steamer, was judged by the celebrated detective novelist John Dickson Carr to be among the ten greatest mystery novels of all time.
The 1942 novel Five Little Pigs (aka Murder in Retrospect), in which Poirot investigates a murder committed sixteen years before by analyzing various accounts of the tragedy, is a Rashomon-like performance that critic and mystery novelist Robert Barnard called the best of the Christie novels.
For a list of novels and short stories featuring Hercule Poirot, please see Hercule Poirot in literature.
Trevor reprised the role of Poirot twice, in Black Coffee and Lord Edgware Dies. Trevor said once that he was probably cast as Poirot simply because he could do a French accent.
Albert Finney played Poirot in 1974 in the cinematic version of Murder on the Orient Express. His portrayal was considered by many to be the definitive Poirot until David Suchet took up the role. It was a very faithful adaptation of the novel and was, at the time, the most successful British film ever made. It received the stamp of approval from Agatha Christie herself. Finney is, so far, the only actor to receive an Academy Award nomination for playing Poirot, though he did not win.
Had she still been alive, Christie might well have been less sanguine about Ustinov's portrayal, given that Poirot, written as short, slim, and with coal-black hair, bore little resemblance to the tall, heavy, grey-haired Ustinov. When Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks, observed to Ustinov that Poirot did not look like him, Ustinov quipped "He does now!
He appeared again as Poirot in three made-for-television movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Dead Man's Folly (1986), and Murder in Three Acts (1986). The first of these was based on Lord Edgware Dies and was made by Warner Brothers. It also starred Faye Dunaway and David Suchet as Inspector Japp, just before he himself played the famous detective. (Ironically, it is reputed that David Suchet highlights his performance as Japp to be "possibly the worst performance of [his] career.")
The series, adapting several of the best-known Poirot and Marple stories, ran from July 4, 2004 through May 15, 2005, and is now being shown as re-runs on NHK and other networks in Japan. Poirot was voiced by Satomi Kōtarō and Miss Marple was voiced by Yachigusa Kaoru.
The British television show Count Duckula features a parody of Hercule Poirot (in passing) known as Mr. Hercules Parrot, arm in arm with a character called Miss Marbles.
Although not strictly a reference to Poirot, the new series Christé and Doyle will feature a lead role similar to that of Hercule Poirot. With the name of the character being similar to that of Poirot's creator Agatha Christie and his being half Belgian, Christé also shares many of Poirot's methods and characteristics, the series is expected to begin filming in the late summer in Sandhurst.
In the movie Spiceworld, Hercule Poirot (Hugh Laurie) is about to blame a weapons-packing Emma Bunton, but after she flashes him an innocent smile, Poirot instead accuses an innocent man of the crime.
In Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, Poirot appears as a young boy on the train transporting Holmes and Watson. Holmes helps the boy in opening a puzzle-box, with Watson giving the boy advice about using his "little grey cells", giving the impression that Poirot first heard the line here. Poirot would go on to use the "little grey cells" line countless times throughout Agatha Christie's fiction.
The Belgian brewery Brasserie Ellezelloise makes a highly rated stout called Hercule with a moustachioed caricature of Hercule Poirot on the label.
Dave Stone has created two parodies of Poirot named Dupont. The first, Andre Dupont, appears in the Detective-Judge Armitage story Dowager Duchess of Ghent. The second, Emile Dupont, appears in the Bernice Summerfield novel Ship of Fools.
In the English version of Geronimo Stilton series, the main protagonist has a friend named "Hercule Poirat".
In the Israeli sitcom 'The Pajamas', one of the characters of Kobi is a grotesque policeman named 'Marcel Fuero', as a reference to Poirot ('Poirot' and 'Fuero' are written the same way in Hebrew, פוארו).