Saturday, 23 November 2013

Hercules Poirot Collection by Agatha Christie

Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend.

For our 100th post I would like to review the beginning of a few Hercules Poirot novels, which is fitting, as David Suchet just finished doing all of Hercules Poirot's stories a week or so ago. Rudy and I both like his adaptation of the penguin detective, so here are some of my favorites novels from the Dame of Murder. How do those opening lines stack up?

Curtain, Poirot's Last Case

Who is there who has not felt a sudden startled pang at reliving an old experience or feeling an old emotion?

I like how this preys on personal emotions. However, as the title explains, this is Poirot's last case and comes off a little too sentimental. And beginning a novel with a question is always a risky business. In this case, this question does not arouse my curiosity - it does not hook

First thing said:

"It'll be Captain Hastings now, won't it?"

Verdict: Fail

Murder on the Orient Express

It was five o'clock on a winter's morning in Syria. 

Weather and a dot on the map. Not much to begin with in this murder classic. One of the most classic murder mysteries ever does not have an opening line that is equal to the novel. Why? Are opening lines not important in days gone by, by a writer that has already made her name?

What follows is a technical brief on the train.

First thing said:

"You have saved us, mon cher." 

Verdict: Fail

Peril at End House

No seaside town in the south of England is, I think, as attractive as St Loo.

Straight out of a travel brochure. Those interested in England might be interested, but not I. This is not to say that setting is not important, but in a mystery, mystery comes first, followed by a few other things like character. There's no harm in mingling setting when needed., but writers shouldn't expect to hook many people if they begin that way.

First thing said:

 "So it said on our menu in the restaurant car yesterday, mon ami."

Verdict: Fail

Appointment with Death

"You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?"

This attracts attention, even though we don't know who is saying it and in what context. It could be a joke or the radio in the background for all we know - that is to say a false hook. But it hooks most people into reading on to find out who is saying this and why. That is to say, it raises questions.

Verdict: Pass

The ABC Murders

by Captain Arthur Hastings, O.B.E.

In this narrative of mine I have departed from my usual practice of relating only those incidents and scenes at which I myself was present. 

Chapter 1


It was in June of 1935 that I came home from my ranch in South America for a stay of about six months. 

This is pure exposition with back story and it bores. Though, to be fair it is told in first person and is about a series of events that have already happened, which needs to be made clear - or does it and so soon?

First thing said:

"But yes, my friend, it is of a most pleasing symmetry, do you not find it so?"

Verdict: Fail

Overall, rather disappointing beginnings. Obviously Agatha Christie is not remembered for her opening sentences, or opening chapters for that matter with the information dumps and introduction of umpteen characters. We all know though that if the reader invests time and gets to say page 50 or so, he or she starts to feel the pleasurable sting of being hooked.

Theodore Moracht

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