FA­MOUS LAST WORDS

CURTAIN: POIROT’S LAST CASE, 2013

Crime Scene - - CONTENTS - AN­DRE PAINE

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”

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