2020-11-04

Agatha Christie 100 - Curtain: Poirot's Last Case

Poirot bows out with a mystery that harks back to his first recorded case in England.



A recently widowed Arthur Hastings is back again in England, travelling to Styles where he is going to meet his old friend Poirot. The detective, who is very poorly, intends to do one last murder hunt. He tells Hastings about five old cases that seemed to be solved already, but says that they were all caused by one certain person, someone who is now present at Styles. And now he wants the more mobile Hastings to help him find one final murderer.

I now wish that I hadn't read this novel so early on in my mystery reading career, because I wonder what I'd take way from it now, as a more jaded(?) reader. Back then, the emotional ending had an overwhelming effect which sort of overshadowed any impression of the mystery plot itself.

Because the thing is, I'm not sure this is a particularly great mystery. Or rather, I'm not entirely comfortable with the choice of having an Iago type villain, here called X, and the lengths to which Poirot goes in order to stop that villain from executing his plans. To some extent I feel that, while this X person definitely exploits the weakness of others, I feel that the ultimate responsibility for their actions lie with themselves, not with X. To put so much blame on X robs the individual killers of their agency, to use a modern term.

With that out of the way, the rest of the plot runs along quite nicely, if a bit circumspectly. There are in fact two culprits here, the X character referred to above and then a separate murderer who commits their crime towards the end of the story. And to be honest, most of the earlier parts of the novel become rather inconsequential to the murder mystery - they're mainly there to show the incredible power that X has over people and to justify Poirot's drive to find that person. However, there is some good cluing towards the person who commits the murder, which is a definite plus.

So, I'm somewhat in two minds about this one. It's a powerful story with a devastating ending, yet it is one that doesn't feel entirely earned due to some of the weaknesses I've discussed above. And yet again, chances are that a reader will be happy to overlook those weaknesses as the rest is just that powerful. I'll award this a 65 out of 100, but I'm not sure that is how I'd rate it tomorrow.

1976 1977 1977

It was a bit of a surprise to me that there have only been three editions of this pivotal novel, and even more so that all of them are almost contemporaneous, which means that Curtain hasn't been published in Sweden for over 40 years. The Swedish title is a direct translation of the British one, even keeping the subtitle.

The first cover is a bit dull. It focuses on the detective's most prominent characteristic but is otherwise just a bunch of text. Uninspired, would be my assessment. Meanwhile, the first of the 1977 covers is from Delfinserien. The image itself is fine, but the depiction of Poirot is not at all how I imagine him (nor most others, I think). 

Which means that the final cover is the best one here, and I think it's deservedly so, too. A dark-ish tint to the whole thing, with Poirot sitting in his wheelchair and an air of melancholy to the whole thing.

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