Book Review: Curtain

After I read Poirot by Mark Aldridge, I mentioned a few Christie books that I needed to either read again or buy. Curtain was one that I had never read so, I bought it, read it, and am now disappointed. Disappointed by Christi, not Aldridge, just to be clear.

Aldridge explained in his book that Curtain was going to be the final word on Poirot so that he would not live on indefinitely like James Bond.

And, Curtain confirms one last time that Poirot indeed used to be with the Belgium Police, something that is kept uncertain in the ABC murders series from Amazon.

We are back at Styles where Hercule Poirot is trying to strengthen. He had been to Egypt in hopes that his health would improve but alas.

Captain Arthur Hastings describes that Poirot is now wheelchair-bound, crippled by arthritis, has lost a lot of weight, hints that his heart is failing, but that his eyes are as sharp as ever.

Poirot is not accompanied by his trusted valet George. We are told that George left to care for his family as his father fell ill. Curtiss, we never learn his full name, is now caring for Poirot. A big, tall, strong man as he is described to carry Poirot in his arms around Styles.

Poirot quickly tells Hastings to not let his medical condition taint anything as there is work to be done. As he himself cannot move at will, Hastings will have to do all the legwork and then report back. Poirot gives his old friend a case file with clippings about five old criminal cases.

  1. Leonard Etherington, drugs and drink were his life, arsenic poisoning, his wife acquitted. Depressed by the stigma, she took her own life two years later.
  2. Miss Sharples, single, disabled, morphine overdose. Her niece Freda Clay cared for her, admitted an accidental overdose to stop the suffering. Insufficient evidence to prosecute.
  3. Edward Riggs, suspected his wife and lodger of having an affair. The pair was found murdered. Riggs turned himself in but he claimed to have no recollections. He was sentenced to death but it was commuted to life imprisonment.
  4. Derek Bradley, had an affair, his wife threatened to kill him. Bradley died drinking a potassium cyanide-laced beer. Mrs. Bradley was sentenced to death and hung.
  5. Matthew Litchfield, a tyrant father to four daughters, was attacked, suffered blunt force trauma to the head. The oldest daughter Margaret, confessed as she wished for her three younger sisters to be free. She was found insane and committed to Broadmore where she died shortly after being admitted.

In all cases, there was no doubt about who was responsible for the crime. That it could not always go to trial, is another matter. However, there was never an investigation for an alternative suspect in either of these five cases.

Poirot then blows Hastings’ socks off by stating that a person he calls X is responsible in all these five cases. The hunt for a serial killer begins as he/she is about to strike again, right here, at Styles. If Poirot is right, Hastings has a few things to hold on to:

  • the killer can be either male or female
  • in the above-mentioned five cases, the method to kill is not novel meaning that the killer can be from any social and educational background and age, widening the pool of suspects to basically everyone in or near Styles
  • as the killer is experienced, time is of the essence to search for patterns, inconsistencies, etc.
  • the killer’s exact motive is unclear as it ranges from revenge for betrayal to being an angel of death, and most importantly,
  • in the above-mentioned cases five people were held responsible. So, how does X connect to them or the victims? There has to be a common demeanor as to place, person, incident, etc. that attracts the serial killer’s attention. Which bring us to the last point
  • how did X communicate with all the five people who were held responsible for the previously mentioned five crimes and how could that communication have gone undetected?

The premise of the book is fantastic. My issues lies with the execution and the characters.

I didn’t warm up to or bond with any of the characters. I found them all superficial. Poirot was condescending, arrogant, and aloof. Hastings was the only one whose thoughts and feelings were well described.

As this was the last book with Poirot, in which he actually dies, I had expected a more well-rounded character portrayal with glimpses of him as a younger detective and maybe a reflection here and there about his life, his train of thought, his regrets, and maybe even some humanity with doubts and wishes for what his life could be like had he not been weakened and in failing health.

The plot is convoluted with too many small clues that nobody picks up on. This causes the reader to place their trust completely in Hastings as he is Poirot’s extension. As he tries to figure out X’s identity, he also has to deal with family issues regarding his daughter, who is also at Styles. It muddies the pool.

Hasting’s butterfly brain finds no rest in the book, not even at the end. There is no rest at the end for the reader either. For in the end, we only have Poirot’s high-and-mighty word for what really happened.

If you read Curtain, let me know what you think about it and especially about the postscript.


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