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Murder by the Book (1986)

| Drama, Mystery | TV Movie
Poirot has been murdered! Did Agatha Christie do it?

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(as Nicholas Evans)
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Agatha Christie's agents propose that it's time for her to publish the manuscript she wrote thirty-five years earlier, a novel in which she finally kills off her most famous creation. And it's not an entirely sad occasion. "That wretched little man," she says. "He's always been so much trouble. How is it Miss Marple has never upset me at all, not ever?" That night, who should appear at her doorstep but the wretched little man himself, Hercule Poirot? The great fictional detective and his creator proceed to play a very Christie-like game of cat and mouse for the manuscript - and for their own lives. Written by J. Spurlin

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A gimmicky idea makes for a surprisingly funny and poignant little tale
20 March 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Agatha Christie's agents propose that it's time for her to publish the manuscript she wrote thirty-five years earlier, a novel in which she finally kills off her most famous creation. And it's not an entirely sad occasion. "That wretched little man," she says. "He's always been so much trouble. How is it Miss Marple has never upset me at all, not ever?" That night who should appear at her doorstep but the wretched little man himself, Hercule Poirot.

Does that sound like an unbearably cutesy idea? It did to me, but this hour-long story proves to be funny and even a little touching. Poirot is investigating a murder that hasn't yet taken place. He's the intended victim – and Christie herself is the would-be murderess. This leads to a cat-and-mouse game in which Poirot tries to get hold of her manuscript, while she poisons his cocoa to prevent him from interfering with it.

The script is filled with in-joke references for mystery fans and Agatha Christie readers. Christie and Poirot even debate the merits of various actors who have played the great Belgian detective. "For some reason," she says, "they always wanted big fat men to play you: Francis Sullivan, Charles Laughton." Poirot replies that Albert Finney wasn't too off the mark, but Christie protests that his "moustache was simply ghastly." Peggy Ashcroft and Ian Holm play creator and creation, and do it so beautifully that they're not only funny but poignant. Christie has a love-hate relationship with her little Belgian, while Poirot feels betrayed by the woman who writes such unflattering descriptions of his appearance and plots such an ignoble demise for him.

I shouldn't have been surprised that this situation moved me a bit. Poirot has always seemed to me to live beyond the confines of the printed page, just as many other great literary characters do. And I've always thought it was sad that the real Christie preferred the mildly entertaining Miss Marple – and even the wretched Tommy and Tuppence – to her one truly great character.


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