Introduces Hercule Poirot

Agatha Christie created detective Hercule Poirot, a shrewd and self-confident Belgian who became the symbol of the golden age of the mystery genre.

Summary of Event

World literature, including that of England, is rich in the realm of the mysterious. Tales of supernatural heroes date back to ancient times. The literatures of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and most other early civilizations contain such accounts. Early northern European literature contains tales of such heroes as Beowulf and Arrow-Odd. Not until the eighteenth century, however, did the modern mystery novel, built around fear and curiosity for their own sakes, begin to emerge. Mysterious Affair at Styles, The (Christie)
Literature;mystery genre
Mystery genre fiction
Detective novels
[kw]Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces Hercule Poirot, The (1920)
[kw]Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces (1920)
[kw]Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces Hercule (1920)
Mysterious Affair at Styles, The (Christie)
Literature;mystery genre
Mystery genre fiction
Detective novels
[g]England;1920: The Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces Hercule Poirot[04950]
[g]Ireland;1920: The Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces Hercule Poirot[04950]
[g]Scotland;1920: The Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces Hercule Poirot[04950]
[g]Wales;1920: The Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces Hercule Poirot[04950]
[c]Literature;1920: The Mysterious Affair at Styles Introduces Hercule Poirot[04950]
Christie, Agatha
Doyle, Arthur Conan
Sayers, Dorothy L.
Rinehart, Mary Roberts
Simenon, Georges
Gardner, Erle Stanley

Horace Walpole, Walpole, Horace the English author of The Castle of Otranto (1765), is often considered the originator of horror stories in their present form. During the nineteenth century, writers such as Edgar Allan Poe used a combination of reason and madness to raise mystery writing above the realm of entertainment and into the realm of the psyche.

The next significant development in mystery fiction was the detective mystery, usually featuring a supremely skilled protagonist whose amazing abilities are equaled only by the character’s self-confidence. The first and most famous of these heroes was Sherlock Holmes, Holmes, Sherlock created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887. As a young man, Doyle was an avid reader. Included in his reading were several early detective stories, but in reading such stories, Doyle felt that the abilities of the heroes were often insufficient to hold the reader’s attention. He thought that such early attempts relied more on circumstance than on the clever work of the detective to solve the mystery.

During his unrewarding career as a medical doctor, Doyle began to write mystery stories of his own. Beginning with A Study in Scarlet (1887), Study in Scarlet, A (Doyle) he turned out a steady stream of mystery stories and novels featuring Sherlock Holmes. Although Doyle had some initial difficulty in getting the attention of publishers, Sherlock Holmes stories soon became popular both in England and in the United States. By 1900, the common perception of a detective was based on Sherlock Holmes, and the detective novel was a permanent reality in the literary world.

Following Doyle and Sherlock Holmes came Mary Roberts Rinehart, an American mystery novelist and playwright. Known for her clever, well-constructed plots and for her realistic characterizations, Rinehart also had the unique ability to combine horror and humor. Her most popular mystery novels include The Circular Staircase (1908) Circular Staircase, The (Rinehart) and The Man in Lower Ten (1909). Man in Lower Ten, The (Rinehart)

With the field of mystery fiction well established, Agatha Christie and her master detective, Hercule Poirot, Poirot, Hercule made their grand appearance. Born and reared in the affluent middle class of late Victorian England, Christie seemed ill suited to become immersed in a fictitious world of violence, murder, and intrigue. That fictitious world did have some real-life foundations; with the advent of World War I in 1914, Christie worked as a wartime pharmacist. In that position, she learned about the poisons that would become a vital part of her mystery novels.

Christie and her entire family were voracious readers, reading everything from the classic children’s books of the day to the latest novels. Their reading included many mystery stories, including Doyle’s early tales of Sherlock Holmes’s exploits. Christie’s sister Madge first challenged her to write her own detective mystery. The challenge was made during World War I, when Christie was working as a pharmacist and the war had separated her from her first husband, Archie Christie. The result of her sister’s challenge was The Mysterious Affair at Styles: A Detective Story and the introduction of Hercule Poirot. After the manuscript sat on a publisher’s desk for two years, the novel was published in 1920. It was a tremendous success—so much so that when Christie and her husband bought a new home, they named it Styles.

From the beginning of her mystery writing, Christie concentrated on developing plots that were ordinary but contained surprising twists. She never wanted to write about an unusual crime with an unusual motive. Because of this, her novels became known for their extremely clever plots, detailed character descriptions, and intricate interpersonal relationships. Perhaps more than any other writer of mystery fiction, Agatha Christie became a master of the art of misdirection.

Christie’s ingenuity can be clearly seen in her creation of Hercule Poirot. In this creation, the historical context is significant. As a result of World War I, many Belgian refugees were living in England. Poirot was a retired Belgian police officer who felt gratitude toward the England that had aided his native land when it was overrun by the German military machine. At the same time, Poirot expressed a humorous disregard for the investigative abilities of English detectives. Poirot was described as short, with an egg-shaped head and a luxuriant and generously waxed moustache. He was meticulous to the smallest detail, even in his private life, and always made the best use of his “gray cells,” as he called the human brain.

The ability of Hercule Poirot to solve the most difficult of mysteries soon placed him on the level of the legendary Sherlock Holmes. In his observance of the smallest detail, he even surpassed his famous predecessor.


The impact of Christie’s creation of Hercule Poirot on the field of mystery fiction was both immediate and extensive. Within two years, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in England and in the United States and was serialized in the Weekly Times, a leading English magazine of the day.

Christie was soon hard at work on her second novel, a spy thriller titled The Secret Adversary. Secret Adversary, The (Christie) The new book, published in 1922, introduced two new heroes, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. In the person of Tuppence can be seen Agatha Christie herself, especially her experiences during World War I. Following the book’s publication, the demand for Christie’s writings grew still further. She was soon writing a series of Poirot stories for Sketch magazine and was also working on her next full-length Poirot novel, The Murder on the Links (1923). Murder on the Links, The (Christie)

In her autobiography, Christie admitted that in her early work she was writing in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. Along with Hercule Poirot, she also created Captain Hastings, Poirot’s assistant and sometime narrator; Hastings’s character had clearly been inspired by Watson, the narrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Realizing how close she was to Doyle’s style, however, Christie made some major changes. One was to marry off Hastings in The Murder on the Links; Hastings appeared only rarely in subsequent Poirot novels until Curtain: Hercule Poirot’s Last Case (1975), Curtain (Christie) which is marked by the shocking death of Poirot himself.

One of the most popular of Christie’s detective novels, and perhaps the most unusual, is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The (Christie) The story’s twist, suggested to Christie by Lord Louis Mountbatten, is that the narrator turns out to be the murderer. The book was written during the period when the author’s first marriage was coming to an abrupt end; later, in Unfinished Portrait (1934), Christie gave a glimpse into the frustrations of that period of her life. After her second marriage, to a noted archaeologist, Christie began to write more stories featuring spying and international intrigue. Examples of these books include Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) Murder in Mesopotamia (Christie) and Death on the Nile (1937). Death on the Nile (Christie)

In 1930, Christie introduced another mystery-solving hero, a quaint and shrewd older woman named Miss Jane Marple. Every bit as clever as Hercule Poirot, but not nearly as self-confident, Miss Marple solved many crimes in novels such as The Murder at the Vicarage (1930). Murder at the Vicarage, The (Christie)

Still in the early part of her writing career, Christie began to see her stories made into plays and films. In 1928, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was adapted as a play called Alibi. Although it was a success in London, Christie was not pleased with the portrayal of Hercule Poirot. About the same time, one of her short stories, “The Coming of Mr. Quin,” served as the basis for a film that she also found unsatisfactory. She was more pleased with a German film based on The Secret Adversary.

In 1929, as the result of her general displeasure over the way in which her books were being adapted as plays and films, Christie began writing her first original play. Black Coffee, involving murder and a formula for deadly weapons, was a success in the summer of 1930. About 1945, Christie wrote a short story titled “Three Blind Mice,” which she expanded in 1952 into her best-known play, The Mousetrap.

During the course of her career, Christie published many short stories, some of which featured yet another investigator named Parker Pyne. Among the most interesting of her writings is The Labours of Hercules: Short Stories (1947), Labours of Hercules, The (Christie) a collection of short stories featuring Hercule Poirot. The stories are based on the twelve labors of Hercules of ancient Greek mythology.

Hercule Poirot appeared in Agatha Christie novels over a period of fifty-five years. The end of Poirot reached the public only about a year before the death of his creator. Christie had written Curtain several years earlier, but her daughter, Rosalind, delayed its publication until 1975. In Curtain, Poirot and Hastings return to Styles to solve another crime; Poirot then meets his death in an extremely sensational manner. In January, 1976, Agatha Christie joined her master detective in death.

An English acquaintance of Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, also became a well-known writer of detective fiction. In 1930 and in 1931, Christie, Sayers, and four other writers of detective stories combined their talents in two unusual series for the British Broadcasting Company. The authors wrote and read over the radio alternating episodes of the same story. The 1931 series, with twelve episodes, was coordinated by Sayers. Christie and Sayers continued their professional relationship for many years. In her own detective novels, Sayers created Lord Peter Wimsey to solve the mysteries. In style and in success, Sayers was Christie’s closest rival in England.

Georges Simenon, a Belgian French contemporary of Christie, was obviously influenced by the success of the English writers of detective fiction. He created Inspector Maigret, a French detective who was designed to be more of a counterpart to Sherlock Holmes than to Hercule Poirot. Simenon wrote almost one hundred Maigret stories before his death in 1989.

Erle Stanley Gardner, an American contemporary of Christie, created Perry Mason, Mason, Perry a defense attorney who introduced a new aspect to detective fiction. Perry Mason specialized in accepting clients who were seemingly guilty and then, at their trials, presenting sensational revelations of the real criminals.

In the course of her extraordinary writing career, Agatha Christie wrote sixty novels, nineteen volumes of short stories, sixteen plays, and an autobiography. More translations have been made of her work than of that of any other English writer except William Shakespeare. In book sales, Shakespeare and the Bible alone surpass her works. By 2005, more than two billion copies of her books had been sold worldwide. Mysterious Affair at Styles, The (Christie)
Literature;mystery genre
Mystery genre fiction
Detective novels

Further Reading

  • Christie, Agatha. An Autobiography. 1977. Reprint. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1996. A personal look into the mind, private life, and work of the author. Gives a good survey of her books and explains how she got the ideas for them. Written over a fifteen-year period and ends eleven years before Christie’s death. Christie’s daughter edited the work, which was published after Christie’s death. Includes photographs.
  • Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie: A Biography. 1985. Reprint. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. The only authorized biography of Christie. The author received access to all the subject’s papers and personal effects and was introduced to almost two hundred of Christie’s friends. A valuable resource.
  • Pearsall, Ronald. Conan Doyle: A Biographical Solution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977. An interesting account of the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Discusses Doyle’s interests in spiritualism, the Boer War, and social reform and how these interests influenced his writing. Contains a good pictorial section of Doyle and his family. One chapter is devoted to the rivals of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Rinehart, Mary Roberts. The After House. 1914. Reprint. New York: Kensington, 2001. An exciting example of Rinehart’s mystery fiction. Illustrates the author’s ability to weave an interesting plot through a diverse group of characters and reach a suspenseful climax.
  • Sayers, Dorothy L. Murder Must Advertise. 1933. Reprint. New York: HarperTorch, 1995. An excellent detective novel by an author who worked closely with Christie on at least two occasions. In this book, Sayers introduces her own detective, Lord Peter Wimsey.
  • Simenon, Georges. Maigret and the Man on the Bench. Translated by Eileen Ellenbogen. 1975. Reprint. New York: Harvest Books, 2003. Illustrates the amazing abilities of Simenon’s French detective Inspector Maigret. Well-plotted novel is a good introduction to Simenon’s writing for American readers of mystery fiction.

The Maltese Falcon Introduces the Hard-Boiled Detective Novel

Penguin Develops a Line of Paperback Books