Having spent my impressionable years in the stimulating company of the greatest fictional detectives ever conceived, held in thrall – often till late in the night, reading by torchlight under a cover so as not to awaken my parents who had declared “Lights out” hours earlier – by the honed, observational skills and brilliant deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes or the meticulous methodology and psychological insight of Hercule Poirot, I have come to believe that some things are sacred and when they cease to be, their “good is oft interred with their bones” (as Mark Antony famously mouthed in Act 3 Scene 2 of the Bard’s Julius C and, with more such pithy observations, managed to turn the tables on the dagger-wielding Brutus – of “Et tu, Brute” fame – who had shown the early advantage). And that is as it should be, the memory of the good preserved with veneration and awe, honoured and genuflected upon from time to time, usually on the birth or death anniversaries of their creators, or when the BBC deigns to do a filmic revival faithful to the original conceptualizations as only the BBC knows how.
Which is why this new, burgeoning trend of the estates (read “inheritors”) of the matchless legacies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and, the most blasphemous of all, even “PG,” commissioning (quite the appropriate word this, because the endeavour is nothing but crass commercial enterprise disguised as homage) contemporary writers to resurrect the creations of authors long dead, fills me, first, with anticipation, dread, soon after and, finally, deep dissatisfaction.
Take, for example, one such recent publication by an author who, for purposes of propriety and discretion, will remain nameless, that digs up Poirot from the grave that Christie consigned him to in Curtain and, quite literally, hangs him out to dry, brilliantined hair, waxed moustache and all. Touted as a publishing event to rival The Second Coming (which wasn’t a publishing event but quite momentous nonetheless), it is an abomination to readers like me who, having devoured the 33 novels and 54 short stories that comprise the original Poirot inheritance were rewarded for our loyalty by David Suchet’s pitch-perfect, 25-year, television portrayal of the Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head and character idiosyncrasies far too many to mention, not the least being an abhorrence for dust, a speck of which, according to his loyal, long-suffering companion, Captain Hastings, would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound!
In his exhumed incarnation, Poirot is almost unrecognizable: he is overbearing and verbose, his mouth doing substantially more work than his legendary “little grey cells;” his idiomatic English and vocabulary have uncharacteristically improved beyond any recognition; his reasoning is obfuscating to the point of being irritating and when he does deliver the grand denouement, it smacks more of whimsy than logic. And the plot, while tipping its hat at Christie’s classic modus operandi – the evils and misdeeds of the past echoing in the crimes and misdemeanours of the present – is so far-fetched and fanciful that even poor Poirot, no doubt debilitated by his protracted residence six feet under and having to permanently carry, even to the extent of sharing temporary lodgings with him, a seemingly unoccupied Scotland Yard man called Catchpool (after Captain Hastings, Catchpool? Really?) flounders, which probably explains why his ponderous, almost incoherent, reasoning at the end of the adventure sounds convoluted and totally implausible.
The best fictional detectives – Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Nero Wolfe, Jules Maigret, Peter Wimsey, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade – have the ability not only to challenge our brain to solve a puzzle before they do but, by transporting us to the here and now of their situation, invoke our imagination to be at one with theirs, our eye for detail as sharp and our memories as accurate, thereby making the suspense of the whodunit more gripping, the puzzle more fascinating and the eventual solution more participative. To be able to do that requires a talent and originality of thought far greater than what a counterfeiter can reproduce however much of an official sanction he or she might have from the respective legacy holders.
Like sleeping dogs, dead detectives must be allowed to lie, their inheritance intact, undiluted and untainted.