Among the English novelists, if I really adore someone, it’s Agatha Christie. Decades back, I happened to read Peril at End House and thereafter there was no looking back for me. That day and today, I have been her ardent fan. And also an ardent fan of her brain-child, Hercule Poirot. This Belgian detective has won me over the same way he has won millions of readers all over the world.The marvellous association of Hercule Poirot and Captain Arthur Hastings in the field of crime-detection had started from Mysterious Affair at Styles in which they had investigated and finally unravelled the mystery of the murder of Emily Inglethorpe. Now after two decades, life has come full circle for them when another investigation, a rather unusual kind of investigation takes place at Styles again. The unusual characteristic of this investigation is that Poirot is in the last stage of his life and may bid adieu to this mortal world any time now. The murder has not yet taken place but he has called for his old friend and comrade, Hastings to prevent a likely murder from taking place because a potential murderer is at large at Styles. Poirot is feeble and not-so-active now due to poor health and Hastings, therefore, has to act as his eyes, ears, hands and legs in this mission of saving an innocent life. He tells Hastings that he knows the would-be murderer who has already been associated with a series of murders in the past. However he does not know who is going to be the unfortunate victim this time. Poirot refuses to tell Hastings anything about the murderer or his style of functioning or anything else which matters in this case. However he underscores that this ‘Mr. X’ is shrewd to the hilt and even after leading to many deaths, he cannot be held guilty in any court of law.
There are so many people living in that old-fashioned guest house at Styles including the couple running the guest house, Mr. and Mrs. Luttrell that it is not easy to decide as to who can be the murderer and who can be the likely victim. Hastings is irritated over the fact that Poirot who at least knows the murderer, is not ready to confide anything with him in this regard. But again, he has even more important an issue to deal with. His young daughter, Judith seems to be in love with an unworthy person, Major Allerton. But the more he tries to convince his daughter that she should stay away from that philandering scoundrel, the more she becomes adamant not to listen to him. She is serving as an assistant to a scientist, Dr. Franklin who is apparently a workaholic and there seems to be no love lost between himself and his wife, Barbara Franklin who mostly remains unwell and talks confusingly about her husband and her perception of herself in his life. The other characters presently at Styles are Elizabeth Cole, Stephen Norton, Boyd Carrington, Nurse Craven who is attending Mrs. Franklin and Curtiss – Poirot’s new servant who has taken the place of his regular general handyman – George who has proceeded on an uncertain leave to his home. Who is ‘Mr. X’ (or ‘Ms. X’) among these and whom is he (or she) going to strike now ?
The first casualty comes in the form of Mrs. Franklin and the second in the form of Stephen Norton and thereafter Poirot himself dies without resolving this murder mystery, leaving the balance work on the shoulders of Hastings to take it to the point of conclusion. Before dying, Poirot has left some clues for Hastings to enlighten his way towards the revelation. These clues include references to Shakespeare’s famous play – Othello and the third act of St John Ervine’s play – John Fergueson and also paying a visit to Poirot’s ex-servant, George. However Hastings cannot move further in the right direction except making guesses here and there. His daughter Judith gives him a jolt by deciding to marry (now) widower Dr. Franklin and moving to South Africa with him. Finally, four months after Poirot’s demise, a sealed envelope comes to Hastings from Poirot’s lawyers (because he is the executor of the will of Poirot) which contains a bunch of papers handwritten by none else than Poirot only which tell Hastings the complete mystery hidden behind the now rung down curtain.
Agatha Christie always present a psychological basis of the crimes taking place in her novels and Curtain is no exception. She has explained through Poirot how and why crimes do take place even without apparent motives and understandable reasons. She also puts forth with force a very significant fact that inducing someone to commit a crime is no lesser crime in itself and in fact, the inducer is the real criminal who escapes the law just because he / she has not involved himself / herself in the act and used someone else to do it (that too without knowing that he / she is doing it for the inducer only and not for self). She delves deep into the psyche of her characters and makes them real and their activities reliable for the readers. That’s why her novels (including Curtain) are accounts of not only crimes but also human psychology.
I have had discussions with Hindi mystery writer – Surendra Mohan Pathak regarding Agatha Christie’s work. He asserts that any novel written by her is quite boring to read in the beginning but once the reader has gone past some 50-60 pages, the story grips him in such a way that it becomes a Herculean task for him to leave the novel till its last word has been read by him. He is right. That’s the case with many novels of the mystery-queen. And Curtain, in particular, is one such novel only. The first casualty takes place after two third part of the novel has gone past the eyes of the reader. In fact, the non-happening of the supposed murder had started irritating me. However, the remaining pages of the novel compensated more than enough for that. Once everything got well-connected with everything else and I could join the links of the chain of events properly with the backgrounds and the reasons, I understood the reason of the excessively lengthy build-up for the main, shorter, story. The final phase of the novel titled as ‘Postscript’ is simply mindboggling, ultimately leaving the reader in shock and awe.The title of this novel actually reads as ‘Curtain : Poirot’s Last Case’ which is correct in the context of Poirot’s life and the publication of the novel. He is shown as dying in this novel which got published in 1975, just a year prior to the death of Agatha Christie. With this novel, Poirot pulled down a curtain on his eventful and adventurous life-drama. However actually this novel had been written several decades prior to its publication but not published due to the desire of Madam Christie who was not sure of being able to write further at the time of breaking of World War II and hence had penned this novel as the last one of Poirot.
If you are a mystery-fan, there’s no better choice than Agatha Christie. Please do dive into the sea of mystery created by her and find pearls of entertainment for yourself. I term Curtain : Poirot’s Last Case as one of her best works.
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