Last week’s NYRB fun was so, well, fun, that I’d decided to do my own little imprint-week this week. All Hesperus Press, all the time! That was the plan, but as you may have noticed if you follow my sidebar or list of books finished this year, I’ve fallen into a bit of an Agatha Christie hole.
I only read my first Christie a relatively short time ago. Nearly two years now, but anything I’ve read since I’ve been blogging still seems recent. But I’d been watching Poirot and Miss Marple (David Suchet and Joan Hickson versions, respectively) like a fiend for years. I can watch an episode of Poirot for the twelfth time and still not necessarily remember who did it—or, more usually, how exactly Poirot figures it all out. (I’m the same with jokes. You can tell me the same joke, at least annually, and I will laugh every time like I’ve never heard the punchline. Should I be worried?)
The point is that for ages my only Christie reading experience was of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, an anomaly in some important ways. About six weeks ago, when I picked up Poirot Investigates, a collection of extremely short stories previously beloved to me in the form of 45-minute television programs, I discovered something amazing: Hastings is the narrator.
Captain Arthur Hastings is Poirot’s detective-fiction sidekick. He’s gullible, apt to fall for beautiful women at the bat of an eyelash, so pure that he can hardly imagine anyone could be evil, and not very bright. He does see some things Poirot doesn’t, like the detective’s tendency to conceitedness. But he is a bit simple. A darling! But simple.
In the mysteries narrated by Hastings, we witness his confusion, and his charm, from the inside. We also witness the quiet dignity of his sense that Poirot is wrong to make fun of his intellect. And I feel like as I’ve made my way through from The Mysterious Affair at Styles to Lord Edgware Dies (I’m now working in order) he’s also grown a bit of a backbone and gets some good gibes in at Poirot.
Aside from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the only other non-Hastings book I’ve read thus far is The Mystery of the Blue Train and I have to say it suffered from his absence. It wasn’t just that I missed the familiar personality; the narration felt so impersonal, it gave the mystery a completely different ambiance. Another point—Roger Ackroyd isn’t Hastings, but it is first-person; Blue Train is third-person omniscient. The omniscience is just as off-putting as the missing Captain, suddenly seeing what witnesses see rather than seeing them describe it later.
The missing Captain is also a problem for another reason; these books, for me at least, rest completely on the strength of the characters, especially the recurring ones. If you don’t love the detective and his sidekick, you will not love the books. I was actually almost surprised at the extent to which this was true; I think I expected to think more of Christie’s writing? In any case, I am certainly enjoying it, and that’s what mystery holes are about.
And I promise lots of lovely Hesperus once I’ve crawled out!