Poirot’s Early Cases is a collection of 18 mysteries featuring Agatha Christie’s well known Belgian private detective, Hercule Poirot. Given that the readings are by the two actors most associated with the successful ITV television adaptations (as shown on PBS and A&E) of Poirot’s adventures, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this audio book. As it turns out, these are straightforward dramatic readings, some by Suchet (who plays Poirot in the series) and some by Fraser (who plays his aide, Col, Hastings).
All 18 adventures take place early in Poirot’s career, when Hastings is the Doctor Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, narrating the adventures and filtering our understanding of the great detective through his less rarified senses.
It was Edgar Allen Poe who set the pattern for eccentric detectives with his three tales of the French investigator, Dupin, early in the 19th century. Dupin’s adventures are narrated by an anonymous friend. He favoured dark rooms and had a peculiar reputation with the official police.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adapted the pattern to his tales of Holmes, with their gothic atmosphere, his dependence on Watson and his competitive relationship with Inspector Lestrade.
The early Poirot stories were similar, with Hercule exercising his “little grey cells” from his apartment/office, focussing on clues, seeing what others do not, and baffling people with his appearance, arrogance and vanity. How could a fussbudget with such a sensitive stomach, and such an obsession with his mustache possibly be brilliant?
In many ways, Jacques Clouseau is simply Hercule Poirot carried to extremes.
Later on, of course, he would shed the detective agency and the supporting cast (including Hastings’ narrative voice) and adopt a psychological method more in keeping with Miss Marple than with his earlier self, but that was later.
These adventures are very much in the Conan Doyle tradition: tight little puzzles hinging on one or two carefully concealed clues which only Poirot, with his concentration on “order and method”, can pick up and work with.
Suchet and Fraser are fine readers, each adopting a “Hastings” voice for the narrative and a “Poirot” voice when the detective takes the stage. There are differences in their presentation, but each of them does a good job and I have no quarrel with either interpretation.
This set of readings took us all the way to Whitehorse and half way home again.