Hercule Poirot is a recurring character in Agatha Christie’s mysteries, appearing in thirty-three novels and more than fifty short stories over the course of her career. Recurring detectives are a tradition in mystery stories, one which includes Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. These detectives are often eccentric or solitary, but despite that, they often appear dashing or imposing, even if only for their considerable intelligence. Within the first pages of Christie’s novel, it’s clear that Hercule Poirot is not that sort of detective, as he’s described as “a small man muffled up to the ears of whom nothing was visible but a pink-tipped nose and the two points of an upward-curled moustache.” Yet, as becomes clear, Poirot’s disarming, even ridiculous personal appearance lends itself perfectly to his particular method of investigation, which involves extended personal engagement with suspects and witnesses rather than connecting many minute details of appearance or setting. Poirot does follow what are traditionally called “clues,” or material evidence, but he, and the novel, suggest that more effective crime-solving requires diving into the psychology and experiences of the subjects of the investigation.
Hercule Poirot is a short, rotund man with a waxed mustache and elegant clothes, which is what few would expect in a detective. He’s able to hear, observe, and extract details of the passengers’ private lives partially because he appears unthreatening or unserious. His eccentricities, rather than alienating suspects and witnesses as Sherlock Holmes would, end up drawing information out of them. On first observing Poirot, “In spite of her preoccupations Mary Debenham smiled. A ridiculous-looking little man. The sort of little man one could never take seriously.” His appearance even soothes her anxiety over the murder she’s contemplating. A little later, Mary Debenham “seemed suddenly to come to herself, to realise that she was talking to a stranger and foreigner, with whom, until this morning, she had exchanged only half a dozen sentences.” Fellow detective Mr. Hardman even issues Poirot a backhanded compliment: “but no one would believe it to look at you. I take off my hat to you. I do indeed." The fact that “no one would believe it” is a cornerstone of Poirot’s effectiveness as a detective.
The setting of the novel also highlights Poirot’s personal touch. After conducting all his interviews, Poirot remarks, “We are cut off from all the normal routes of procedure. Are these people whose evidence we have taken speaking the truth, or lying?” The novel’s primary setting—a stranded train in Yugoslavia—precludes the kind of deep research and cross-referencing of crime-scene information that mysteries often call for. Poirot’s method instead seeks and finds “clues” by pushing small emotional levers in his suspects and observing them keenly for any changes in behavior. For instance, when interviewing the Countess Andrenyi, Poirot surprises her by saying, “‘I work mainly in London. You speak English?’ he added in that language.” She responds, “‘I speak a leetle, yes.’ Her accent was charming.” The novel reveals later that the Countess is, in fact, American, and it’s not clear whether Poirot finds the accent “charming” for its authenticity or its clumsiness. But he acquires information by requiring that she deny her reflex to speak perfectly in her native language, and instead speak in a Russian misunderstanding of it.
Similarly, he’s attentive to and willing to exploit pain or nostalgia in suspects. Speaking with Mr. Hardman, Poirot rhapsodizes about European women in what seems like a non-sequitur: “The French or the Belgian girl, coquettish, charming—I think there is no one to touch her.” But Hardman’s wistful glance out the window is how Poirot confirms that he was the lover of the young French nursemaid employed by the Armstrongs.
Poirot’s subtle nudges might be less dramatic than a reader would expect in detective fiction. However, the style of a Sherlock Holmes, in which minute details are connected and arcane expertise comes into play, may not be effective in a situation where the details of the crime scene are irrelevant, as they’ve been intentionally planted. Instead, Christie privileges smaller details: moments where Poirot induces a suspect to act against or in accordance with their instincts. In the process, she creates a distinctive niche for her detective and holds up the inner lives of victims and perpetrators as the most compelling aspects of murder.
Detective Methods and Inner Lives ThemeTracker
Detective Methods and Inner Lives Quotes in Murder on the Orient Express
"You have saved the honour of the French Army—you have averted much bloodshed! How can I thank you for acceding to my request? To have come so far—" To which the stranger (by name M. Hercule Poirot) had made a fitting reply including the phrase—"But indeed, do I not remember that once you saved my life?" And then the General had made another fitting reply to that, disclaiming any merit for that past service; and with more mention of France, of Belgium, of glory, of honour and of such kindred things they had embraced each other heartily and the conversation had ended.
She had never seen anyone quite so heavily muffled up. It must be very cold outside. That was why they heated the train so terribly. She tried to force the window down lower, but it would not go. The Wagon Lit conductor had come up to the two men. The train was about to depart, he said. Monsieur had better mount. The little man removed his hat. What an egg-shaped head he had! In spite of her preoccupations Mary Debenham smiled. A ridiculous-looking little man. The sort of little man one could never take seriously.
The Colonel sat down. "Boy," he called in peremptory fashion. He gave an order for eggs and coffee. His eyes rested for a moment on Hercule Poirot they passed on indifferently. Poirot, reading the English mind correctly, knew that he had said to himself, "Only some damned foreigner."
He was a man perhaps of between sixty and seventy. From a little distance he had the bland aspect of a philanthropist. His slightly bald head, his domed forehead, the smiling mouth that displayed a very white set of false teeth—all seemed to speak of a benevolent personality. Only the eyes belied this assumption. They were small, deep-set and crafty. Not only that. As the man, making some remark to his young companion, glanced across the room, his gaze stopped on Poirot for a moment and just for that second there was a strange malevolence, an unnatural tensity in the glance.
“Name your figure, then," he said. Poirot shook his head. "You do not understand, Monsieur. I have been very fortunate in my profession. I have made enough money to satisfy both my needs and my caprices. I take now only such cases as-interest me."
“It is the psychology I seek, not the fingerprint or the cigarette ash. But in this case I would welcome a little scientific assistance. This compartment is full of clues, but can I be sure that those clues are really what they seem to be?"
"I do not quite understand you, M. Poirot."
"Well, to give you an example—we find a woman's handkerchief. Did a woman drop it? Or did a man, committing the crime, say to himself: 'I will make this look like a woman's crime.
"Without a doubt, that is the solution of the mystery. Doubtless he and this Ratchett were in this kidnapping business together. Cassetti is an Italian name. In some way Ratchett did on him what they call the double-cross. The Italian tracks him down, sends him warning letters first, and finally revenges himself upon him in a brutal way. It is all quite simple." Poirot shook his head doubtfully.
"I am not a Jugo-Slavian detective, Madame. I am an international detective." "You belong to the League of Nations?"
"I belong to the world, Madame," said Poirot dramatically.
Mr. Hardman sighed, removed the chewing gum, and dived into a pocket. At the same time his whole personality seemed to undergo a change. He became less of a stage character and more of a real person. The resonant nasal tones of his voice became modified. "That passport's a bit of bluff," he said. "That's who I really am." Poirot scrutinised the card flipped across to him.
“You are, I think, a little bit contemptuous of the way I prosecute my inquiries," he said with a twinkle. "Not so, you think, would an English inquiry be conducted. There everything would be cut and dried—it would be all kept to the facts—a wellordered business. But I, Mademoiselle, have my little originalities. I look first at my witness, I sum up his or her character, and I frame my questions accordingly.”
"It has this advantage," said Poirot. "If you confront anyone who has lied with the truth, he will usually admit it—often out of sheer surprise. It is only necessary to guess right to produce your effect. That is the only way to conduct this case. I select each passenger in turn, consider his or her evidence, and say to myself, 'If so and so is lying, on what point is he lying, and what is the reason for the lie?' And I answer, 'If he is lying—if, you mark—it could only be for such a reason and on such a point.'”