Recently I watched an episode of The ABC Murders, starring John Malkovich as a rather twitchy, guilt-ridden, autumnal Poirot. It is directed by Brazilian. Alex Gabassi, and often has a rather brutal, phantasmagorical quality. It is more David Lynch than the genteel Christieville world of cucumber sandwiches at the vicarage that we are used to.
Intrigued, I paid a visit to IMDB and was struck by how many well/known actors have played Poirot. Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, David Suchet, Orson Welles and Kenneth Branagh. The recent Orient Express movie feels like a vanity project so that our Ken would get a chance to play the great sleuth.
Initially it was beyond my ken, why Hercule should be so popular, but on reflection, I began to appreciate the charm of this rather stiff and pedantic Belgian brainbox. And of course a detective with flaws is always appealing.
Agatha Christie was definitely rather fond of her creation who was inspired by the Belgians she met working as a nurse during the Great War. Poirot appeared in 33 novels, one play and over 50 short stories.
By contrast, her other great character, Miss Jane Marple from the village of St Mary Mead appeared in only 12 novels and several short stories. I like Christie’s description of her as “the sort of old lady who would have been rather like some of my step grandmother’s Ealing cronies – old ladies whom I have met in so many villages where I have gone to stay as a girl.”
Two wonderful roles for any actor! Hamlet, Hedda Gabler, Lady MacBeth or King Lear might look better ona thespian CV. But I suspect that playing a sleuth, from Philip Marlowe to Inspector Rebus, from Precious Ramotswe to Vera Stanhope, is just as much of a challenge and a lot more fun.
Back in the 1930s, Christie and the other Queens of Crime, Ngaio March, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham, ruled supreme. How many of them are read now? Today there are many pretenders to the throne and crime fiction is a ridiculously broad field. From Greenland to Glasgow, is there a geographical location that has not appeared in a crime novel? And as for historical periods…… Medieval murder mysteries are probably a genre in their own right.
Personally, I have a great weakness for the Tartan Noir of Rankin and Brookmyre. A while back I binge read some of Donna Leon’s novels about Venetian cop Guido Brunetti and enjoyed them a lot. Please give us a few clues about your favourite crime fiction characters: either on the page, or on the screen!