The point of Poirot

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

With his round body, balding head, spectacles and two mustaches, Hercule Poirot holds a pivotal role in Agatha Christie’s anthology. 

With his comic nature and quirky persona, Poirot has a special place in Christie fans’ hearts. 

However, one thing is very notable throughout the entire Poirot series: Poirot experiences zero plot development. 

In “Mrs. McGinty’s Dead,” Poirot laments his boredom with retirement and harps on the importance of delicious food, which puts a smile on the reader’s face. 

But this is minimally different from “Death on the Nile” or “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” where he insists upon his retired nature and tries to avoid crime, to no avail. 

This is a widely experienced sentiment for critics of Poirot. They feel that he needed more depth and to develop as a character over the course of the series. 

While those criticisms are valid, they are wholly incorrect. Poirot is simply a placeholder; a means to an end.

Poirot’s character is simple. He is a retired, but a highly acclaimed detective from Belgium who lacks humility (rightly so) and stumbles upon crime wherever he goes. 

His peculiar quirks and remarks become familiar and endearing to the reader. You can’t help but be amused by him! 

His character does have flaws, however. His inner mindsets and prejudices, which are reflective of the time, are very noticeable in Christie’s early works and trickle down throughout her entire oeuvre. In “Cards on the Table,” Poirot is disturbed by the victim, Mr. Shaitana, prior to his death due to his “foreign” nature. 

The novel does not describe much about his actual personality but specifies his ethnic ambiguity and his “otherworldliness,” which reads as racial bias and prejudice. 

This aspect of Poirot’s character is surprising and contradictory because he often experiences prejudices and stereotyping himself, as a Belgian who speaks French. English individuals often look down on him or are mistrustful of him as he conducts his investigations. 

This is demonstrative of Christie’s oversight and privilege as a white woman in 20th century England. She cannot understand the strife of people of color, but is able to sympathize with a rich, white man who simply happens to be a non-British man in England.

Irrefutably, Christie’s characters (Poirot especially) lack depth, but that is part of their appeal. The novels are fun, commitment-free reads that are entertaining and enthralling.

The books do not connect in plot, and while Poirot does analyze the psychology of his subjects, his own psychology is not discussed in depth. Poirot is quite literally a means to an end; he is a way for Christie to keep the reader in suspense, describe the clues and reveal the murderer(s) at the end. 

The consistent format but unique plots are part of the allure of Christie’s famous murder mysteries.

The BBC miniseries, “Poirot,” is very contrary to this idea.

The episodes attempt to provide the viewer with insight into Poirot’s mind. 

The “Murder on the Orient Express” episode attempts to use Poirot’s religious background to make him question his choices regarding the end culprit. It focuses on his morality and insistence on finding the truth.

These themes are present in the novel, but the series episode alters the plot slightly and loses focus on the actual crime/plot to develop Poirot’s character. 

While it is a unique take on Christie’s “protagonist,” the series has a peculiar, deeply serious energy that is absent in the novels, taking away from the series’ enjoyability.

Hercule Poirot is a classic, famed individual whose characteristics are distinctive and perfect for the purpose he has in Christie’s Poirot library. 

He does not require depth because, in reality, his opinions and thoughts hold no value. Readers simply want to find out what happened and why; Poirot provides that and a few chuckles along the way.