A few months back, Netflix Canada acquired Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the ITV series starring David Suchet. Since then I’ve developed a tradition whereby most Sunday mornings I make an omelette for breakfast and sit back to watch an episode, occasionally tweeting mockery of the characters. I really enjoy Poirot: it is one of those series that so obviously loves its source material, with actors who are great at embodying their characters; yet, it isn’t afraid to take risks in its adaptations. I’m afraid this review is mostly an encomium for the series rather than a discussion of Poirot Investigates, because I just like the former better!
I’ve seen many of the dramatizations of the stories contained in Poirot Investigates, a few recently enough that I even remembered whodunnit! I was surprised to discover the extent to which the televised versions were altered from the original stories … but in pretty much every case, those alterations definitely improved the material. It’s with a heavy heart I admit that Christie’s versions just aren’t as memorable, exciting, creative, or fulfilling.
“The Million Dollar Bond Robbery”, a mere 11 pages in this book, is a good example of what I mean. The TV version adds a few characters and rewrites others (Inspector McNeill becomes the security chief of the bank, instead) and even deepens some of the characters (Philip gets a gambling habit and becomes a much more interesting, tempting suspect). Poirot and Hastings become more directly involved in the case, and all in all, the story is a lot more fun. It remains true to the general idea of the heist as Christie lays it out, but its elements are much more interesting.
This is not, I hasten to add, a fault of Christie’s in the sense that these stories are bad. Obviously Poirot remains a compelling character in order for him to be the subject of so many adaptations and for her books to remain popular. But as is often the case with prolific writers, not all of Christie’s stories are of the same quality. In particular, I think the Poirot novels have the upper hand over the shorts. There is just more space, more breathing room, to allow her to develop all the characters and create a satisfactory sense of mystery. These short stories rush everything. Naturally, when translated to a fifty to seventy minute adaptation on screen, the screenplay writers can take liberties to add depth.
So my advice, quite unusually, is not to read this book but to go watch the stories’ episodes on Poirot instead! You won’t regret it. As I’ve mentioned, the stories are just better. There is also so much care put into realizing the setting and weaving the sense of humour that makes Christie’s writing so enjoyable, juxtaposed as it is with the darker urges of human impulse. Morevoer, it’s amazing that Suchet & co. started portraying these characters in 1989, the year I was born, and kept plugging away at it until just three years ago! Now that is dedication.
Some books are important for what they are; others are more important for what they inspire. This is one of the latter.