Poirot Investigates is a short story collection written by Agatha Christie. It was first published in March 1924. There are eleven stories in which the distinguished and eccentric detective Hercule Poirot solves a variety of cases from theft, to kidnapping, to murders. Overall the collection is an entertaining one time read.
Poirot investigates makes an entertaining read but lacks depth in various departments of detective fiction. Let us evaluate it on different essential parameters of a good detective fiction:
Detective character – The detective must be a memorable character. If the audience is not able to connect with the main character, the story loses its shine. Detective must be super intelligent, witty, eccentric, someone who does not follow norms, clever, good observer, and have some idiosyncrasies that makes them unique.
Poirot Investigates did well here. Poirot is an extraordinarily gifted detective. His deduction powers, observation of each detail no matter how trivial, humor, and never giving up attitude connects very well with the audience. He is a good actor and unpredictable, a trait he utilized well in Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, where for the entire story he pretended to be a superstitious guy. In the end it turned out to be a feint to trap the murderer. He considers it his responsibility to make sure an innocent does not face incrimination. He does not work only for money, he also undertakes for the fun of it, he enjoys his work. In The Adventure of the cheap Flat, he investigated despite the case not offered to him just to quench his curiosity.
Sidekick – Though not necessary, detectives often have sidekicks. Watson for Sherlock Holmes, Hastings for Poirot, entire circle for Miss Marple, etc. The smarter the sidekick, the more realistic a story looks. Many authors have a tendency to create sidekick characters that look foolish and clueless, to make the main detective character appear like a genius. Then why the detectives even employ them in the first place. To write their memoir? If writing memoirs is the only reason, why not hand them the minutes of the case, to employ their writing skills. The depth of the case, the tortuous ride to arrive at the solution, the obstacles in the way must be the reasons to make detective character shine.
Hastings is the sidekick. He behaves like an imbecile with no deduction powers. A reader might wonder why he is even present in the stories. It is hard to think of any instance where he contributed to the story. Poirot keeps on bragging about his extraordinary faculties and inability of Hastings to use his grey matter. A weak sidekick does not add to the story. He is present here only to make appear Poirot’s genius appear larger than life. An extraordinary detective with a smart sidekick would have added more depth and realistic tinge to the story, but then such stories are more difficult to write. Poirot Investigates does not score well here.
Opponent – Along with an exceptional Detective, there should be an outstanding opponent, as good as or even better than the detective in employing. A math puzzle like detective stories, where few facts are provided and an over-smart detective uses his commonsense do not look realistic. Such case could be easily solved by the police. An opponent with escape plan, who derails the progress of investigators, with multiple backup plans, adds to the depth of detective fiction.
All the stories are in puzzle form. Poirot only needs to solve these puzzles step by step to reach the solution. No active participation of the perpetrator of crime to make life difficult or to create any hindrance. The detective is smart, sidekick is a fool, and the antagonist does not bother considering an escape plan. Hastings is the sidekick. He behaves like an imbecile with no deduction powers. A reader might wonder why he is even present in the stories. It is hard to think of any instance where he contributed to the story. Poirot keeps on bragging about his extraordinary faculties and inability of Hastings to use his grey matter. A weak sidekick does not add to the story. He is present here only to make appear Poirot’s genius appear larger than life. An extraordinary detective with a smart sidekick would have added more depth and realistic tinge to the story, but then such stories are more difficult to write. Poirot Investigates does not score well here.
Facts of the story – The author must provide significant portion of the facts to the reader, but at the same time keep the solution elusive for most of the story. Reader must be able to participate, and be in a position to guess the solution. Unrealistic solutions do not create impact. Realistic solution that require high application of grey matter in head leave the mark.
For most of the stories, facts are provided. But the path to reach the solution is so straightforward, one wonders why the police is not able to solve it. In multiple stories, there are only two or three main suspects. Simple hypothesis and ruling out unlikely suspects would solve the problem. Detective is smart, but what matters the most is smart problem. Poirot Investigates does not score well here.
Logical solution – Unrealistic solutions, illogical deductions, supernatural answers, facts popping out from nowhere make the story look shallow. All the aspects of the case, all questions must be answered at the end.
The book does well here. All the solutions are logical, and consistent with facts provided.
Vulnerable – A larger than life character, who always dominate the case and everyone around including the antagonist is a low brow way of telling a detective story. A detective is human, vulnerable, and there is always a chance of antagonist getting a upper hand.
Poirot is larger than life. He can add two and two to reach four, which other less gifted people can not do. No challenge offered by any case, except maybe The Case of the missing Will, but the man who challenged him already died in this case. The book
Losing is not bad – In a short story collection, if a detective loses to the antagonist, it is fine and human, given the story is well rounded and makes sense. A 100% win record is not mandatory. Moreover, it requires great imagination and presentation skills to achieve such a story where your main character loses but still the story leaves a mark.
Poirot is hardly challenged by any case or antagonist. Most of the cases are straightforward. In The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim, he did not even leave his house to investigate and solved the mystery sitting in his chair. Unrealistic. Book does not perform well here.
Overall, Poirot Investigates is an entertaining and enthralling one time read. Recommended for new entrants in Detective Fiction.