I settled not to work this weekend—I needed to get my entire body out of work to reboot itself. So, while my system is on auto-defragmentation, I decided to go over one of the novels I bought before but never really got to read right away. I chose Curtain by Agatha Christie.
At first, I felt something peculiar about this novel. It’s like I read something significant about it before but all together, it looked like any normal Christie novel. When I researched on Wikipedia, that was when all my assumptions were justified: Curtain chronicles the last murder mystery case of Christie’s main protagonist, Hercule Poirot. “Oh great!,” I thought. I’ve read just two Hercule Poirot murder mystery novels and now, I’m about to read his last case! And from what I gathered, he dies in this novel.
And he did. It was such a shock that he had to die while seemingly leaving a case unsolved. But in the final chapter, it turns out that he still emerges successful.
Curtain takes our Poirot and his Watson, Captain Arthur Hastings, back to the setting of the first novel (The Mysterious Affair at Styles) of the Poirot mystery series—Styles Court. Our hero perceives that a murder would happen once again in this revered place—a case that has some relation to five earlier executed, but unrelated, murders. Poirot knows the identity of the murderer and labels him “X,” apparently closing his identity to Hastings (and the reader). Now “X” is described as the most cunning and most intelligent of the murderers that Poirot has encountered all throughout his sleuthing career.
Poirot reports that this murderer is able to enjoy the satisfaction of killing without ever having to do the actual act. At first, I didn’t get what he meant, but as I read on, it dawned on me that this murderer urges a would-be victim to commit murder. He will identity a person who would likely have a motive to kill—a daughter being maltreated by an uncle, a wife with a womanizer husband, a father who wants to protect his daughter from a cunning suitor, etc. He closes in to these victims and enlarges their angst against the objects of their rage. Their desire to kill will be awakened that they will go about with the deed, not realizing the wrongfulness of their actions. “X”—like any enraged and sadistic criminal—would have had the satisfaction without being convicted.
Poirot explains that all of us have the tendency to commit murder. There are people whom we would rather see out of this life. I suppose this is true for most people. Some would say “I’m so angry I could kill him!” or “I wish he were dead!” Personally, if you have a solid grounding on the importance and beauty of life and GOD’s law, you wouldn’t say these things. I think I’m getting personal with this novel—it’s just an entertainment story.
I understand that Christie made this novel before some other novels and intended it to be published as the last in her Poirot series. She even had the original manuscript to this novel locked away in a vault for 30 years, before being released. This was so the last novel of her series would continue to be published should she die in World War II. Although she did survive the London bombings, she still had Curtain released, as she no longer had the ability to write any new novels.
I am impressed by the dedication placed by Christie to her creation, Hercule Poirot. She really wanted her protagonist to have a grand, fitting ending. The fact that she came up with this murder mystery plot before other formulae added to my amazement. With that, Curtain is my new favorite Agatha Christie-Hercule Poirot murder mystery novel. It was just unfortunate that Poirot’s career had to end in such a final act. Never would I think that an angel of justice and captor of murderers would do that thing. But he died a little while after doing it, anyway. I have been thinking, what if Poirot succumbed to the manipulation of “X?” Would that mean that at the end of his career, Poirot lost his supposedly biggest case?