Arts Reviews

March Book Of The Month: ‘Curtain’: Poirot’s Last Case By Agatha Christie

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Agatha Christie is a world-renowned writer whose books are only outsold by Shakespeare and the Bible. Her little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, has become one of the most famous fictional detectives of all time. Hannah Walton-Hughes, ardent Christie fan, discuss Poirot’s last ever case, and all the plot twists, murder, laughs and tears that comes with it. ‘Curtain’ was published in 1975, the last of Christie’s novels to be published before her death in 1976. 

Whoever thought that the enigmatic Hercule Poirot would reach his final case? For me, Poirot and his ‘little grey cells’ go on, and will continue to go on, astonishing readers for generations to come. Despite this, ‘Curtain’ was indeed the last literary appearance of the little Belgian detective, and is arguably, one of his finest cases. 

The story is set in the very same place as Christie’s first ever Poirot novel: the magnificent stately house of Styles. Except our first visit to this house happened during World War One, whereas in this novel, we return in post- World War Two times. Joined by his faithful second-hand-man, recently-widowed Captain Arthur Hastings, Poirot, now a crippled old man, turns to his old friend for help. He believes that “a murder will shortly be committed here”. And as usual, Poirot is not wrong. 

The most dangerous and cold-hearted of all of Christie’s killers

This particular murder case is, in my opinion, the most ingenious of all of Christie’s novels. I won’t give too much away, but it is safe to say that the cunningness and indeed the indirectness of these murders, bring us the most dangerous and cold-hearted of all of Christie’s killers. Will even Poirot be quick enough to stop them

The characters that litter this book are all both mysterious and entertaining. From the serpent-tonged Daisy Luttrell to the stuttering, bird-obsessed Mr. Norton, and the guarded Elizabeth Cole, (whom Captain Hastings takes a particular interest in), it soon becomes clear that almost everyone has painful histories and plenty of motive for murder. By bringing in crimes of the past, Christie shows how secrets can never really be buried, and every choice made in the past can affect the present in more ways than we could possibly imagine. 

By telling the story from Hastings’ first-person narration, (a common choice among several of Christie’s novels), we, as readers, have a limited perspective on the events of the novel; however endearing Hastings is as a character, there is no denying that he is not always the brightest of buttons! Nevertheless, this means that we have to work harder to form our own opinions about the characters and the events that unfold. 

One of the key features of Christie’s writing is that it makes the reader work their brain- her books are not meant to be easy-going and predictable reads; you keep guessing and guessing with every twist and turn, and you are almost always entirely wrong! I guarantee you will be in this case, unless you are, in fact, a modern-day Poirot! 

Whilst Poirot maintains his charisma and inflated sense of self-importance, he is indeed an (albeit defined) shadow of his former self

For those of us who have read the majority of Poirot novels, this novel is a tear-jerker. Whilst Poirot maintains his charisma and inflated sense of self-importance, he is indeed an (albeit defined) shadow of his former self. The fact that he must rely so heavily on Hastings evokes such sympathy for the reader; if there is one thing that Poirot hates to admit, it is that he and his brain are not capable of solving a crime alone. 

For me, the most emotional and poignant moment of the novel is Poirot’s final letter to Hastings, explaining everything, and revealing the shocking truth of the killer/killers. This letter deviates from tradition, by replacing Poirot’s usual ‘drawing room reveal’, where he gives a long speech, accusing everyone in turn, before arriving at his verdict. This letter is so much more personal, and feels like a message not only to Hastings, but also to the reader. 

By reflecting on all the cases they have solved together, Poirot not only makes Hastings reminisce, but the readers too. “They were good days” Poirot comments. “Yes, they have been good days…” and for Christie fans, they certainly have been, and always will be. 

This novel perfectly combines Christie’s classically cold methods of plotting, with a real sense of closure

This book is an incredible murder mystery, and I implore you to read it. I would suggest that you read a couple of other Poirot novels prior to it, in order to appreciate its full emotional significance. Whilst emotions do run high in the majority of Christie’s novels, Poirot himself usually refrains from become too emotionally attached to the characters and the case. The opposite is true here. This novel perfectly combines Christie’s classically cold methods of plotting, with a real sense of closure. We want these two characters, who have been with us for so long, to find peace.  

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Ed Robertson via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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