book review: Poirot Investigates, by Agatha Christie

delightful travel reading, and the short story format makes it easier to take breaks along the way

I have been seeking to read Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries in publication order, and this is the third.* A collection of 14 short stories, this book obviously flows differently than the previous novels, but it was lovely travel reading. With short stories, I often enjoy a story but feel no particular compulsion to move on to the next. Not so here! I read the whole book in the course of a weeklong business trip to Brazil, winding down my evenings with the delightful company of Hercule Poirot and his partner, Captain Hastings.

Christie varies the nature of the crimes, including murders, robberies, kidnappings, and blackmail. She also experiments with the voice: Some have Hastings describing the events; others are narratives of past cases narrated to Hastings at the fireside; Poirot solves one mystery without ever leaving his apartment (on a bet with his friend Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard).

The final story (The Chocolate Box) is a special treat: the one time where Poirot actually got the answer wrong!**

For a work trip, in some ways this beats a novel since stopping between stories is a little bit easier. While the stories are not all equal, the book as a whole was a great ride.

Note on content: As usual, the characters are sexist (Hastings: “I am not a great admirer of the so-called New Woman myself, and, in spite of her good looks, I was not particularly prepossessed in her favor”) and racist (Poirot: “To the Oriental mind, it was infinitely simpler to kill [the victim]”), although the latter doesn’t come up much. And Poirot is arrogant, but charmingly so: “I, who have undoubtedly the finest brain in Europe at present, can afford to be magnanimous.”

* After Mysterious Affair at Styles and Murder on the Links.
** Although the critic Pierre Bayard argues Poirot got it wrong in the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as described in his book Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?: The Mystery Behind the Agatha Christie Mystery. (I haven’t read the book, I just saw the reference on Wikipedia under “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.”)

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