FAMOUS LAST WORDS
CURTAIN: POIROT’S LAST CASE, 2013
Poirot’s ingenious ending.
Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, both the book and the 2013 TV adaptation, must be one of the greatest send-offs in the crime genre. Agatha Christie had her detective’s swansong planned years in advance. Her final Poirot, in 1975, was the last published before she died the following year ( Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple’s Last Case appeared posthumously). When Poirot’s death was revealed, there was mourning around the world; he’s the only fictional character who has had an obituary in The New York Times.
But Curtain was actually written in the early 1940s (Christie may have been mindful of mortality in wartime). As well as being a reunion for Poirot and Hastings, it’s also a return to the scene of their first investigation – Styles Court – although it is a more depressing place three decades later. Hastings is widowed, while Poirot is seriously ill and confined to a wheelchair (David Suchet’s shrunken appearance as the detective is a shocking sight). Although Poirot is ailing, he and Hastings have one last case to crack, involving a truly evil individual who induces others to commit murder, a sly killer who’s compared to Iago in Othello. Poirot himself is at the heart of this mystery, and Hastings only discovers the truth after the great detective’s death.
The end comes with the old man in distress, agonising over his actions. “It was not suicide – it was murder,” he tells Hastings, referring to a key point in this case. The bedridden sleuth adds a barely audible “cher ami” as Hastings leaves him to rest. Soon after, Poirot dies alone of heart failure. “He was my dearest friend, you know,” an ashen Hastings tells his daughter. “He was always there keeping an eye on me, ticking me off, like a father really. I’m not quite sure how I’ll cope without him.”
But Poirot has a few more things to say. Four months later, Hastings receives a manuscript from the detective’s lawyers (it appears as a postscript in the novel). As Hastings reads, Suchet is seen portraying the fiendish solution to the case – and his thwarting of the killer – as set out in Poirot’s hand-written document. “At last, at the end of my career, I had come across the perfect criminal – well, nearly perfect,” he writes. “No one gets the better of Hercule Poirot.” Of course, Hastings is flabbergasted.
Poirot ends with what really are his final words: “Ah, Hastings, my dear friend. They were good days. Yes, they have been good days.” Suchet gives a long, lingering look directly at the viewer, and after 25 years on screen, Poirot and his little grey cells are gone.
“At last, at the end of my career, I’d come across the perfect criminal”