I seem to be experiencing a bit of reader’s block at the moment, struggling to ‘get into’ any novel I pick up (and it doesn’t help that most of them are in boxes, as I’m moving house this weekend.) One author is working for me, and I am chain-reading her… it’s Agatha Christie. I’ve read five in quick succession (Five Little Pigs, Crooked House, Cat Among the Pigeons, Lord Edgware Dies, and A Pocket Full of Rye) and I’ve just started The Secret of Chimneys. I shan’t blog about all of them, because they’ve gone back to the library, and anyway it’s very difficult to write about a detective novel properly, but I did want to share an excerpt from Lord Edgware Dies.
Is there anybody who has read an Agatha Christie novel in which he appears who does not love Captain Hastings? He is so adorable – yes, he is essentially a Watson to Poirot’s Holmes, but without Watson’s adulation of Holmes. Hastings can’t ever quite shake the feeling, during investigation, that Poirot’s best days might be behind him, or that his European ways are letting the side down. I love their dynamic, and nowhere is it better illustrated than this fantastic exchange:
“No human being should learn from another. Each individual should develop his own powers to the uttermost, not try to imitate those of someone else. I do not wish you to be a second and inferior Poirot. I wish you to be the supreme Hastings. And you are the supreme Hastings. In you, Hastings, I find the normal mind almost perfectly illustrated.”
“I’m not abnormal, I hope,” I said.
“No, no. You are beautifully and perfectly balanced. In you sanity is personified. Do you realise what that means to me? When the criminal sets out to do a crime his first effort is to deceive. Who does he seek to deceive? The image in his mind is that of the normal man. There is probably no such thing actually – it is a mathematical abstraction. But you come as near to realising it as is possible. There are moments when you have flashes of brilliance when you rise above the average, moments (I hope you will pardon me) when you descend to curious depths of obtuseness, but take it all for all, you are amazingly normal. Eh bien, how does this profit me? Simply in this way. As in a mirror, I see reflected in your mind exactly what the criminal wishes me to believe, That is terrifically helpful and suggestive.
I did not quite understand. It seemed to me that what Poirot was saying was hardly complimentary. However, he quickly disabused me of that impression.
“I have expressed myself badly,” he said quickly. “You have an insight into the criminal mind, which I myself lack. You show me what the criminal wishes me to believe. It is a great gift.”