Tag Archives: David Suchet

Which Orient Express is yours?

You can choose your Poirot – and mine is David Suchet – and you can choose your Orient Express, if you have one. Unfortunately, for me the two didn’t coincide.

But never mind.

Actually, I don’t remember the David Suchet Orient Express some Christmases ago terribly well. I only recall quite how weird he was. Not David so much, perhaps, as the way he had to portray Poirot in that film.

If we’re talking films, the 1974 express is mine, Albert Finney notwithstanding. And say what you will, but his moustache was far better. Kenneth Branagh’s took over the whole film, especially considering that on a cinema screen you get pretty close up to such growth. But, the man’s entitled to have whatever he wants in the middle of his face.

The question is, do I prefer the old film, because it was better (I’d like to think it was), or because it was my first? As with the Branagh express, the film is full of stars, but I suppose I feel the 1974 stars were starrier, as well as more my kind of star. In this new version all I could think of was who someone had been played by in the older film. Judi Dench vs Wendy Hiller; Michelle Pfeiffer vs Lauren Bacall?

Murder on the Orient Express, 1974

It’s mainly a matter of personal taste. And if this new film was your first, you are likelier to prefer it, even if you try the older one later.

Apart from the ghastly moustache, I mainly objected to the [unnecessary] changes Kenneth Branagh had made. I got the impression from an interview I read somewhere, that he was jolly pleased with his ‘originality.’ Whereas it seemed to me as if he borrowed the worst from the Suchet version, and then changed how the murder was committed. Those sleeper compartments are small, even on a fancy train. Just saying.

I had read the book before seeing the 1974 film. Today it appears many cinema goers might not have, but have bought the book since, judging by increasing sales. This is good. I hope that even a mediocre film can grow fresh fans for Agatha Christie. And crime. And train travel.

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Books To Die For, again

Hot on the heels of Bloody Scotland comes the paperback version of Books To Die For. You know, the book about crime writing by crime writers for crime readers that I love so much. (I’ll tell you a secret. When I picked the books I just had to have with me during my temporary home displacement, BTDF was one of the few I simply had to have by my side. It is that wonderful.)

So two years after John Connolly and Declan Burke travelled round talking about their beautiful collaboration, here it is for anyone who managed to miss it first time round. Who wouldn’t want to hear about Sara Paretsky’s favourite, or find out whose favourite Sara herself is? And so on and so on.

The main danger as always, is finding more people whose books you must read than you have time.

And that leads me to the – slightly horrifying – thought I had on Sunday when listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her admiration for Agatha Christie. Because a lot of the writers in BTDF started their careers in crime by liking Christie’s work.

Like me, Sophie began reading Christie around the age of 12. It was the natural thing for people that age with a taste for reading and that inexplicable spare time we all seemed to have, to do. You looked at your parents’ shelves, or maybe the neighbours’ shelves or anyone else among close grown-ups. And you’d find Christie and you’d try her and most likely be hooked.

After that, you’d go on to more crime, and more, and more.

We didn’t have all those books children today have, and I’m all for pointing the 10-year-old reader in the direction of Artemis Fowl. But will the Artemis Fowl fan grow up to be a fully paid up member of crime reading? Do 20-somethings read a lot of crime today?

I have no idea, and I’m the first to admit I’ve not been pushing Agatha Christie at young people, either. Offspring know her through television. Will she be known mainly for ‘screenwriting’ for Joan Hickson and David Suchet? And what will happen to that natural progression towards all kinds of – written, fictional – crime?

Books To Die For could take over from those parental bookshelves. I hope it will.

Sophie Hannah on Poirot

Sunday morning at Bloody Scotland just had to mean Sophie Hannah on writing the new Poirot. As Alex Gray who talked to Sophie said, it’s the kind of thing that will make you very excited. There had been a lot of serendipity involved in her getting the job, which involved Sophie’s crazy maverick of an agent (a man with hints of Sophie’s mother, Adèle Geras), a HarperCollins editor, Agatha Christie Ltd, and the fact that Sophie already had an idea for a plot that she simply couldn’t make fit into her own novels.

A life-long Agatha Christie fan, Sophie knew the books very well (and hearing her talk about them made me want to rush home and start re-reading), and like Poirot she is rather OCD (in her case about the tassels on her Persian rug). She reckons that David Suchet is Poirot, but she didn’t write with him in mind. There is a strong film interest in her book, The Monogram Mysteries, but as she pointed out, David Suchet has said he won’t do more Poirot.

Sophie Hannah

The novel is set in 1929 in the gap between The Mystery of the Blue Train and Peril at End House. Poirot has gone on holiday, to temporary lodgings opposite his own flat (which seems to have been inspired by Sophie’s father, Norman Geras), in order to be free from people seeking his help. The story is told from the point of view of a young detective called Catchpool, to avoid Sophie having to try and imitate Agatha’s style of writing. Catchpool is there to offset Poirot, to be bright, but obtuse.

One of the many coincidences in her being given the task of writing the book was that long before this she had booked a family holiday staying at Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway. Another odd thing was that the week they were there, the filming of Dead Man’s Folly took place on the property. Sophie worked every evening, and by the time the holiday was over, she had the whole novel in her head. She is ‘very serious about crime fiction’ which is the best kind of fiction.

She accidentally invented a new way of writing while jotting down her ten page plan, when it became 100 pages with every detail of the book. Sophie found that this meant she could forget worrying about plotting while also trying to write nicely, as the job had already been done. (She has since written her latest novel in this way as well.)

Before Sophie was allowed to go public with the news about her book, she discovered on Twitter that feelings go very deep when it comes to people taking over writing somebody else’s work, and she was shocked but not worried. She sat down and thought about it and came to the conclusion it wasn’t morally wrong, and that real fans would want to read a new book, and others were free to not read it. Most of her Twitter followers have since come round, with the help of tea and scones, except for Troy in Minnesota.

There was no reason to list what had to be in the book; she knew instinctively what it needed. She’d be happy to write another Poirot, but does not feel she should be the one to write about Miss Marple – a shrewd old bat – but this would be better done by someone else, like Lee Child…

Her Christie favourites keep changing, but Murder on the Orient Express remains on top, along with Sleeping Murder, and more recently Lord Edgware Dies (it’s got the best murderer in it) and After the Funeral (best motive) and Appointment With Death (psychological tyrant).

People who say Agatha was not a terribly great writer are wrong. There’s a reason Agatha Christie sold more books than anyone else, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare. The books can be read by a 12-year-old ill in bed, or a middle aged professor. They are the perfect blend of simple and complex; funny but filled with darkness, suffering and torment. Sophie reckons that people who say the books are no good ‘might just be a bit stupid.’

Sophie Hannah

The last question of the morning came from ‘Troy  in Minnesota,’ or so he claimed. Probably here for his tea and scones. Sophie said she likes rules, whether for poetry, crime or Agatha Christie. And her own next book has a bit of Golden Age Mystery in it, now that her appetite for such things has been awakened.

Alex Gray spoke for all of us when she said that we would happily have stayed another hour. At least. I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t get out of bed early enough to hear Sophie talk Christie.

Out cold

Or as the (Norwegian, obviously) pilot (many years ago) announced on landing the plane twenty minutes early, that we should please remember this and use it as credit against any delays we might encounter some other time.

I am fairly certain there have been days with more than one blog post from me. I am cashing in some of my credit today. As on many Boxing Days in the past, I compensated for too much time spent slaving over the dishwasher, by flopping and doing nothing more than watch television.

So, we enjoyed The Clocks with the ever nicely padded David Suchet, after which I remembered that I’d intended to hang on for the Dolly Parton concert on BBC4. Unfortunately I don’t work Nine to Five, but I Will Always Love You. Within reason. Obviously.

Before couch-potatoing all evening I started reading Advent by James Treadwell, which is looking quite promising. I know it’s the end of December, and Advent is over, but I don’t think it’s that kind of Advent. Besides, the book hasn’t been published yet. Very nice cover, for a proof. For a ‘real’ book too.

In between the above dubious activities I mainly lectured the Resident IT Consultant in the art of using lemon and honey for his poor throat. That’s despite him looking at my present (A Wrinkle in Time), while sitting in my chair.

Pieces of Poirot

Poirot falling to pieces was a novelty. I’ll give them that. But the consensus in these parts seemed to be that we prefer a slightly saner Poirot, and if the murderers can be more cheerful as they go about their business that would not be a bad thing. At least if it’s Murder on the Orient Express, and they are almost justified, and they get to travel on that great train.

David Suchet, Murder on the Orient Express

But it must have been the justification that had the screenwriter in a twist. It wouldn’t be pc to allow murderers to get away with it (although it seems to be in vogue in real courts, here and now), so we need to have Poirot all religious and with flashback to a possible mistake made earlier, as well as putting the current murderers in context with the stoning of an adulteress.

It is a very Christmassy Christie, what with the snow and all. Considerably more ‘current news’ than they could possibly have hoped for, as well. Trains stuck. Cold trains. Bad customer service. Ineffective digging in snow drifts. Almost British. The period feel is good, and the train is lovely.

But we don’t want Poirot falling to pieces. He didn’t in the ‘old’ film, nor, as far as I recall, did he in the book. When did he become a catholic, or at least, so overtly religious? As the film began Daughter muttered that she hoped they weren’t going to change who did it. A bit hard with this scenario, but it began to look as if they’d change Poirot’s decision at the end.

Was it just me, or had much of the casting been done by someone who knew exactly what each character should look like, as defined by the old film?

And was this intended as Poirot’s last case? If so, I suppose he’s allowed to go round the bend somewhat. As Son pointed out, everyone was so very angry.

Murder on the Orient Express 2010

(This post co-published with CultureWitch)