Agatha Christie is regarded as one of, if not the, best mystery writers of all time. Among her popular characters is Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who solves cases in the early decades of the twentieth century. Keeping in the vein of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot has help, but it is he, himself, unraveling most of the crimes.
By 2013, David Suchet (The Way We Live Now), considered by many to be the definitive Poirot, will have filmed all of Christie’s novels and short stories featuring this lead character. This is not a small feat, there being over thirty novels and more than fifty short stories in existence. His body of work is quite impressive.
For those who have not yet delved into this run, though, a good way to start is by checking out Acorn Media’s new release, Agatha Christie’s Poirot The Early Cases Collection. This thirteen disc set brings together all 45 mysteries comprising the first six series of the ITV series, which airs on PBS as part of Masterpiece Mystery in the states. The episodes have been remastered, and released on Blu-ray and DVD.
Among the cases included in this collection are: “The Adventures of Clapham Cook,” the first in the series; “Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” in which Poirot mixes cooking with crime solving; “The King of Clubs,” where Poirot has only a playing card to go on; “Double Sin,” in which Poirot comes to a decision about his career path; “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” featuring Poirot and Hastings’ (Hugh Fraser) first case together; “Wasps’ Next,” where Hastings gets to use his love of photography to save the day; “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest,” a dinner party that takes a tragic turn; “The ABC Muders,” in which the culprit sends Poirot clues in letter form; “Yellow Iris,” where Poirot revisits an unsolved case; “Murder of the Links,” yet another vacation is interrupted when the infamous detective is asked to use his skills, this time in France; and “Dumb Witness,” which brings premonition into the mix.
These are just a scant few of the many, many mysteries that Poirot is tasked with solving in these six series. Besides Hastings, the Watson to Poirot’s Holmes, our lead is sometimes joined by Chief Inspector James Japp (Philip Jackson), a competent enough detective who is usually a step behind Poirot, and Miss Felicity Lemon (Pauline Moran), Poirot’s nearly perfect secretary, who seems to also be brilliant, attractive, and fashionable. Sometimes these characters are placed in stories in which they didn’t appear for the print versions, but they help humanize Poirot, and provide a cohesiveness to the series, each being a good addition to the overall recipe.
The bottom line here is, Poirot is a very well developed character, with a good supporting cast, which leads to many entertaining crimes being solved. Yes, it is a bit of a procedural, but the tales were developed in the days before it became a commonplace television genre. Written by one author, there is a singular vision and a detailed world in which the stories can play out. Liberties have been taken in these filmed versions, of course, most signficantly by mixing up the order, and moving some around in time by ten or twenty years. But the core of the character shines through, and Poirot proves higher quality than many of the CSI and NCISs made today that owe it dues.
Poirot The Early Cases Collection has no special features. This isn’t so obvious when plowing through forty-seven hours of episodes, a huge amount by nearly any standard. Because Poirot is what it is, one likely won’t miss the extras much, even if it would be interesting to get Suchet’s take on what the series is, and what it means to him.