“Who is there who has not felt a sudden startled pang at reliving an old experience, or feeling an old emotion?”
Curtain bids a bittersweet farewell to the one and only Hercule Poirot. While I know that by this point Agatha Christie feelings towards him were less than amicable, her novel doesn’t convey its creators impatience. Rather than hurrying Poirot off from the stage, Christie grants him one final performance.
I will admit that seeing the formidable Poirot altered in such a visible way did indeed affect me. Still, in spite of his physical appearance, his mind remains as sharp as ever and he is, as per usual, always a mile ahead of his naïve friend Hastings (who is yet again played like a fiddle). Surprisingly Hastings was not as irritating as he could usually be, and while his younger self was more of a stick-in-the-mud kind of chap (at times acting like little more than disgruntled child), this older Hastings seems far more genial. Hastings’ feelings mirrored my own ones: being at Styles again brings about a bout of nostalgia, and his reunion with Poirot reveals that underneath his somewhat priggish British exterior, lies a deep affection for his Belgian friend.
Their banter was as amusing as ever, especially in those occasions when Poirot teases Hastings about his partiality for redheads.
While many of Christie’s murderers are often motived by financial gain, in Curtain our ‘X‘ is driven by much more fiendish impulses. Suspecting this, Poirot is forced to act fast. Sadly, his failing health does seem to disrupt his investigation so much so that Poirot finds himself seeking once again Hastings’ assistance.
The group of people residing in Styles offer us with interesting little portraits of human nature: a domineering spouse, an ambitious doctor, a womaniser…some of these have indeed in some form or other in previous works by Christie but that doesn’t make them any less interesting. Christie, as per usual, demonstrates that she is perfectly attuned to capture certain personalities—their attitudes, moral and political standpoints, as well as their fears and desires, their strengths and weaknesses—and the way in which they talk—through different word choices, expressions, and turns of phrases—so that each character leaves a vivid impression in the readers’ mind.
“As my taxi passed through the village, though, I realised the passage of years. Styles St Mary was altered out of all recognition. Petrol stations, a cinema, two more inns and rows of council houses.”
Christie’s own nostalgia is apparent in this novel, and Hastings, similarly to his creator, perceives the changes in his world with an uneasy acceptance. There are quite a few works by Christie that express uncertainty over the modernisation and rapidly changing social norms of her country, and these feelings particularly suited the story of Curtain as much of it seems to be a dialogue between the various cases that have shaped Poirot’s career.
The mystery was skillfully executed, and I enjoyed reading of the way in which seemingly small events and exchanges seemed to alienate the characters from one another. The reveal was both clever and effective, bringing light to the whole affair.
I thoroughly recommend this one to fans of Poirot. Sad as it may be it demonstrates Christie’s greatest strengths (wit, murder, drama). And while the novel might be presenting us with Poirot’s final case, I am eager to be reunited with him in his early adventures…