July 28, 1914, the First World War has broken out. Germany invades Belgium and turns millions homeless. Belgians seek asylum in England. A bus full of Belgian refugees reaches Torquay in 1915. Among these shell-shocked refugees is a man named Jacques Hornais. With his diminutive figure, eccentric gait, egg-shaped bald pate, and extravagant moustache, he turns heads around the terminus.
Meanwhile, in a Torquay town hall, a young woman named Agatha Miller (she would later marry Archibald Christie, a military officer) is working as a nurse and dispensing chemist. Soon, at a fund-raising program held for war emigrants, Agatha, spots Hornais. And when she starts writing crime novels in 1916, she instinctively homes in on the man she would now cast as her detective.
She says in her autobiography, “I settled on the Belgian detective. I allowed him slowly to grow into his part. He should have been an inspector so that he would have a certain knowledge of crime. He would be meticulous, very tidy… And he should be brainy — he should have little grey cells of the mind… Yes, he would have little grey cells.” While shaping her protagonist, Agatha spontaneously came up with someone who would solve crimes with astute observation and knowledge of human psychology.
While naming the sleuth, Agatha fancied Hercules, the mythical Greek hero, an embodiment of brawn and brain. But, perhaps in deference to her detective’s 5’4” height, she decided to remove the ‘s’. She arrived at the famous surname by merging the names of two fictional detectives — Hercule Popeau and Monsieur Jules Poiret. A hundred years have passed since the creation of Hercule Poirot. The Mysterious Affairs at Styles was published by John Lane in the U.S. in October 1920 and in the U.K. by The Bodley Head in January 1921.
Hercule Poirot’s primary attraction was his way of detection, which was quite unlike any followed by his peers in the genre until then. The detective got into the mind not only of the murderer but also the victim to solve the crimes. But creators often come to hate what they have made. As Poirot’s popularity kept soaring, Christie began to find him insufferable, calling him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep”. She would eventually kill him off in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case.
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