Cozy to Cold-Blooded: The Poirot Awards

by Sara Farmer
published in Reading

I spent the first months of 2023 reading Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, most for the first time. It all started when I read The ABC Murders. I received a Nintendo Switch Lite and the video game The ABC Murders for Christmas and I didn’t want the game to spoil the book. 

I enjoyed The ABC Murders and just kept going with the Poirot series. I’ve wanted to read Christie’s books for years. My grandmother loved them and so many mystery writers say they learned all about plotting from her. Christie was a plotter par excellence. Her stories are twisty and unrealistic, but they work. Every single loose end tucks in. Plus, how have I been writing this column for three years without devoting one to Dame Agatha?

It took me a while to figure out what to write about Poirot. He is a big subject. He debuted in Christie’s first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920. The fastidious Belgian (not French as he must often remind those who assume) with the magnificent mustaches, egg-shaped head, green eyes that glow when he begins to figure things out, and passion for order and symmetry endeared himself to readers, despite his enormous ego, as they reveled in Christie’s complex puzzle mysteries. 

Poirot and his “little gray cells” (his preferred metaphor for brains) proved so popular that 33 of Christie’s 66 detective novels comprise part of the Poirot series. Fifty-nine short stories and a play by Christie and four new novels by author Sophie Hannah feature him as well. 

Christie herself both loved and hated him, asking herself why in the world she gave him an egg-shaped head. 

Prior to the publication of Poirot’s last Christie case, Curtain, the New York Times ran a front page obituary, the first time that was done for a fictional character. He’s also been portrayed on stage, radio, and screen by such actors as Albert Finney, David Suchet (considered by many to be the definitive Poirot), John Malkovich, and Kenneth Branagh, who wins the award for most outlandish Poirot mustaches.

You see my dilemma. Huge subject within another huge subject (Christie) who have both already been well-covered. I could write about my favorite Poirots. I considered writing about the twistiest plots, but that would necessitate spoilers galore. 

So, welcome to the Poirot Awards. I chose four unique Poirot novels and highlighted the characteristics that make them so unique. Don your finery and walk the very straight and symmetrical red carpet. But beware. Where Poirot goes, murder follows. 

Note: I want to acknowledge that Christie’s books contain racist, sexist, classist, and anti-Semitic attitudes and comments. Some are definitely worse than others. (I’m looking at you, Dumb Witness.) I in no way excuse or condone any of that and hope you will read her books with care if you choose to do so.

Twistiest Plot: The Murder on the Links

Poirot receives a letter from a Mr. Renauld in France. He says he is in danger and implores Poirot to come and help him. Unfortunately, by the time Poirot and his friend Captain Hastings arrive Mr. Renauld is already dead. Intruders broke in and bound and gagged his wife before walking him out and shooting him before an open grave. (Just over the Renauld property line on a golf course, hence the title.)

Why It Wins This Category 

You keep thinking you know the culprit. All signs point there. Poirot even talks as if they are the culprit. But Christie pulls the rug out from under the reader over and over. Poirot demonstrates why it is NOT so and the story twists in another direction. I kept going back and making sure I understood what happened.

Most Experimental: The ABC Murders 

Poirot begins receiving letters from someone called ABC. Each tells of a murder that they will commit unless Poirot stops them. The first one is Alice Archer in Andover and so on through the alphabet with the first letters of the town and of the victim’s names matching. 

Why It Wins This Category 

This conceit could have been ridiculous with anyone but Christie. Yes, serial murderers like to play games with police sometimes, but this seems a terrifically hard one to pull off, especially in these small English towns. Plus, she experiments with the idea of Poirot losing the challenge. The murderer manages to stay one step ahead of Poirot…for a while. 

Most Original Method of Murder: Death in the Clouds 

On a flight from France to England (on a dirigible), an old French woman is found dead. She has a mark on the side of her neck and a wasp was seen flying around earlier. But then a dart decorated like a wasp is found on the floor, as well as a blowpipe stuffed down behind the seat of fellow passenger Hercule Poirot. 

No one saw anything. How did someone blow a poison dart across the full cabin and no one see anything?

Why It Wins This Category 

Killed by a poison dart covered in boomslang (a snake native to Africa) venom on a dirigible. Need I say more?

Most Original Plot: Cards on the Table 

This one employed such a clever conceit. The victim (Mr. Shaitana) claims to Poirot that he collects murderers. He invites Poirot to a dinner party to prove it. 

There are eight guests at the party, including Poirot. Three are detectives like him—Colonel Race, Ariadne Oliver, and Superintendent Battle. All are Christie series characters who appear in books of their own. 

The two groups—four alleged murderers the host has befriended and the four detectives—are split into those two groups to play bridge. The party eventually begins to break up and they discover their host is dead. He was stabbed with a thin stiletto from one of his tables cluttered with his collections. 

He must have been right about at least one of the murderers. But which? Who got spooked by the host’s speech and killed him in plain sight during a bridge game? (The four detectives were playing in the other room.)

Why It Wins This Category 

Collects murderers and invites them to a party full of famous detectives? If that is true, they’ve all escaped detection before. Are they actually murderers? Which one killed their host? Poirot and his fellow detectives must not only investigate the death of Mr. Shaitana, but find and investigate the other four alleged murders. Alleged murderers vs. detectives, who will win?

Christie’s plotting ability wows me. I also found that she creates deeper characters than she receives credit for, especially in the later books. The emphasis is on the puzzle, but she doesn’t skimp on the other important elements of fiction. I think I see more Christie columns in my future. In the meantime, let me know your favorite Poirot novels and on-screen portrayals!

Sara Farmer lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, three kids, and two cats. When she’s not chasing kids and cats, she reads and writes mysteries. You can find her at and on Twitter @avonlea79.

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