Hercule Poirot, Belgium's most famous little grey cells
If anyone can solve a mysterious crime, then it must be the man with the moustache - the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. As the fictive main character in over thirty novels and fifty short stories he is one of Agatha Christie's most famous characters.
Hercule Poirot makes his first appearance in the novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, which was written in the heat of the First World War, only to be published later on. In the story, Poirot appears as a Belgian detective who is obliged to leave his country and emigrate to Great Britain. This choice of motive is no coincidence. Although Agatha Christie never spoke about Poirot's identity herself, recent research indicates that the character was inspired by the Belgian police officer Jacques Hornais. When Germany occupied Belgium in 1914, Hornais fled across the English Channel for a better life. Christie probably met the Belgian refugee when she held a piano concert in her home town of Torquay.
The first novel featuring Poirot in the leading role was applauded loudly by the British public. From that moment on, it was not only the immodest Belgian detective who became more famous, but also Agatha Christie herself. The vain moustached Poirot stood out immediately in the undynamic world of detectives with his manic cleanliness, coloured hair and love of mint and banana liqueur. Poirot's greatest success is the novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’) in which he needs to use his ‘little grey cells’ – Poirot's favourite expression – to the full in order to solve the murder case. With his pathological urge for perfectionism and large ego Poirot as a character is even someone with whom Christie herself has a love-hate relationship.
Agatha Christie was so fed up with Poirot's strange character traits that, shortly before the Second World War, she wrote the novel ‘Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case’ in which Poirot dies. Christie kept the script in a safe for over thirty years, meaning that the book was not published until 1975. Even then, Poirot still lived on in the many renditions. Actors such as Peter Ustinov and particularly David Suchet were to become the face of Poirot. Despite Agatha Christie giving her character a suitable farewell, Poirot recently rose from the dead. The British authoress Sophie Hannah was given permission by the publisher HarperCollins to write some sequels featuring Poirot. In this way the name of the Belgian detective is sure to live on.