Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes showdown

The Hound of the Baskervilles is my first Sherlock Holmes read and imagine my surprise when I was introduced to Dr. Watson. Perhaps I should explain; I’m an ardent Agatha Christie fan and have read all her novels loving each and every one; in Dr. Watson, I saw how Hastings had been created. Almost point for point the two men are the same. Innocent and naive, believing in ideals and in their mentor, longing for approval from said mentor, believing that they themselves had learned a thing or two about detection and of course that slight annoyance at being used and information being withheld from them because of their beautifully transparent natures. Do I make it clear? Yes, I believe so, because as far as I can see, Dr. Watson and Captain Hastings are one and the same. The only thing they don’t have in common is their profession; also, Hastings is more chivalrous than the doctor! I could say that Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes are also identical but there I found some differences – slight, but enough to make them widely different men.

Both Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes are renowned detectives. Even there natures are somewhat similar in that they are both egotistical, and reticent about their discoveries till the last minute (Poirot more so than Sherlock), but in their detection methods I found a big difference. Poirot is forever about the ‘grey cells’ and arranging ‘the ideas’ with ‘order and method’. Physically gallivanting about on foot and searching for clues is solely Hastings’ passion and something Poirot never deems necessary. It is not so for Sherlock Holmes. He examines and looks at every footprint, searchs in every nook and cranny and for every single physical piece of evidence at the scene of a crime. Poirot usually leaves this to the detective assigned to the case. But to Holmes this is important. Nevertheless, both men are geniuses who know the art of deduction.

Hercule Poirot is the type to recline in his chair and fit together the pieces of the puzzle. All he needs is some quiet time to organize his thoughts. Sherlock Holmes, to a certain extent, is the same. But as I said before, his detection is more scientific. I don’t mean to stress his scientific approach because he was not at all scientific – only as far as comparison goes, he is more scientific than Poirot.

As for physical characteristics, who doesn’t know of Poirot’s egg shaped head, and his famous moustache? He is not at all a handsome man, but then he plays on that and his insignificance allows him to be taken non-seriously, tricking the criminal into letting down his guard. Sherlock Holmes is decidedly handsome (I think Robert Downey Jr. attests that fact!) and doesn’t have the advantage of fooling people into revealing their secrets. Nevertheless, this doesn’t keep him back and he is more than enough of a detective to compete with Hercule Poirot.

Then, we also have the styles of the two authors. Conan Doyle likes to reveal the mystery as we move along. That is, we are slowly shown and have it explained to us. At least that was the way it was in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Agatha Christie, on the other hand, creates a sort of atmosphere in which we have all the facts – but are led to look another way. The mystery is only revealed in a gathering at the end of the novel. This atmosphere is detectable on reading the book for a second time. You then begin to see how each fact was presented to us from the beginning, and how we missed it.

Wait till next time to read my opinions on Irene Adler and Countess Vera Rosakoff. So far, I haven’t had a chance to read an Irene Adler story. Look for my later comparisons as I read more Sherlock Holmes.

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The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Rating: ****

Agatha Christie’s first published novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles led to her continuing success through famous detective Hercule Poirot and his side-kick Arthur Hastings. Lieutenant Hastings, out on sick leave from the army during World War I, is invited by friend John Cavendish to spend his time at Styles Court. Styles Court is owned by John’s step-mother, formerly Emily Cavendish who has recently married a young and mysterious Alfred Inglethorp. John and his brother Lawrence are sure that the man is after their step-mother’s money but have no way of proving it. The old lady is absolutely besotted creating a lot of tension.

In this out of the world place, Arthur unexpectedly meets an old friend Hercule Poirot. Emily Inglethorp, always charitable and generous, has helped Poirot and some of his countrymen to settle in England. It is because he is indebted to her that the renowned Belgian ex-detective takes on a new case – that of Emily Inglethorp’s murder; For one day, Emily is found suffering from seizures in her bed; her subsequent death is put down to strychnine poisoning.

The murder increases the tension pitching the whole family into a nightmare. The prime suspect is Alfred Inglethorp, but Poirot does everything he can to stop his arrest – it is crucial to the solution that Alfred is declared innocent and John tried for the murder. The family desperately awaits the outcome.

I am a huge Hercule Poirot fan. I love his method, his idiosyncrasies (which in this case actually help with a key piece of evidence), and his ‘grey cells’. In re-reading the novel I was sure I would find some loophole or some fact that didn’t go with the solution to the murder, but I found no such thing. Each and every piece of the puzzle was found by Hercule Poirot and properly accounted for. I looked at everything in a different light and saw how Poirot’s logic, which led him to the murderer, was actually really sound. I wonder how I never got it the first time round!

It was really the characters rather than the plot that made this novel so great. I loved the intricate relationship portrayals and how we are shown Hastings’ chivalry and innocence right from the beginning. Among the notable characters in the novel was John Cavendish’s wife Mary – a unique character and one I have not found in any other Agatha Christie novel. Poirot, always out to nail the murderer, nevertheless has a human side that shows itself in the little things he does for the innocent.

Poirot’s Early Cases

A collection of short stories dealing with cases early on in Poirot’s career. The short stories are ones that had been published in other books before and were later published together under the title Poirot’s Early Cases. Some of the cases are conducted with Arthur Hastings and some with his secretary Miss Lemon.

The most notable of the short stories is Double Clue. It is the first appearance of Countess Vera Rossakoff (the closest thing to a romance with Poirot). She appears in twice more in The Big Four, and The Labours of Hercules.

Other favorites are Wasp’s Nest in which Hercule Poirot comes to prevent a murder and leaves changing the murderer to be, The Lemesurier Inheritance where Poirot investigates the reality of family curse, The Chocolate Box, Poirot’s only failure and The Third Floor Flat in which a crime happens in Poirot’s own building.

Agatha’s short stories are as good as her novels and are fun to read. These stories include characters Captain Hastings, Miss Lemon, Inspector Japp (or Chief Inspector Japp as he later beomes), and Countess Vera Rossakoff.