The Great Debate: Should We Let Poirot Rest in Peace?

poirotFor those of you who haven’t heard, the Agatha Christie estate is commissioning Sophie Hannah to write a new novel featuring the Queen of Crime’s master Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Among many other qualifications, Hannah’s most recent novel, The Carrier, won the Crime Thriller of the Year award at the 2013 Specsavers National Book Awards. The news of a new Poirot has sparked some controversy, manifesting itself in true understated fashion as pieces in The Guardian and other publications. Having grown up on these books and their movie adaptations, I was intrigued.

Many have speculated as to what Christie herself would have thought of this revival. The Guardian itself seems to be divided into two camps: one celebrating the new life given to one of British crime’s best characters and the other going so far as to say that “exhuming Poirot is disrespectful to Christie’s careful burial.” The argument against it rests on the fact that Christie wrote the final Poirot book, Curtain, during the blitz of London in 1939. She did not expect to survive, and therefore wrote out the manuscript—by hand, of course—and placed it in a bomb-proof bunker until she was safely out of harm’s way. Being a smart businesswoman as well as a prolific writer, she then went on to publish many more Poirot books in the interim before bringing out Curtain in 1975. So the argument is that Christie definitely wanted Poirot’s journey to come to a definitive end. However, those in favor of the book, including Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard, say that she wanted her books and her characters to be read by as many people in as many countries as possible.

But what would Poirot think? Avid fans will understand that this question conjures up an image of Poirot at his breakfast table, tisane in hand, while Arthur Hastings reads the day’s headlines aloud to him. Poirot would listen respectfully while lightly buttering his toast until he heard his own name, at which point he would perk up significantly and say something like, “Well, of course they want me back—I am the best detective in England,” once again proving that humility was not one of the great sleuth’s downfalls. This scene, of course will not be taking place in Hannah’s new book; the beloved Hastings will not be making an appearance.

No matter what the outcome of this debate, the book will make its appearance in September 2014. I, for one, am happily resigned to the fact that Hannah’s Poirot will not be Christie’s Poirot. I do not envy her this task. No matter how well she writes or how closely she sticks to the character’s original likeness (she mentioned that he won’t be learning how to roller skate, for example), her work will be measured against an unattainable ideal. I hope she takes this opportunity to breathe new life into these well-loved characters, but I hope she makes them her own as well. I just wish Hastings was going along for the ride.

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