Through her early 80s Christie found it increasingly difficult to write. Contemporary studies suggest she was suffering from Alzheimer's, as her capacity for vocabulary began to diminish exponentially. In 1975 she chose to release Curtain, the "final" Hercule Poirot novel. It was released in Britain in September of that year, and shortly thereafter in the United States where it became a best-seller.
Critics noted this work was a marked improvement over her recent work. This may have been because Christie had actually written Curtain during World War II. She has also written a "final chapter" for her popular detective, Miss Jane Marple. She did this out of concern for her own survival during the war, and to give her characters what we today might call "closure."
Because in the case of Poirot, he dies. Sorry to give away the ending. He did receive an obituary in the New York Times, so it's not exactly a secret. I will say no more.
Oddly enough, the author did little to update the book from the 1940s to the present, in spite of the fact that her other works took place during the time period in which they were published. Poirot's last case reunites the Belgian detective with Captain Arthur Hastings whom we meet in the very first Poirot mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, though Christie had not used Hastings as a character since 1937. If contemporary, Hastings would be in his late 60s ... and Poirot a centenarian.
Preparing for the role of Hercule Poirot has its challenges. I'm not a big mystery reader, I never read a single Poirot novel or story until this year. However, my awareness of the character stretches back to 1976 when my brothers returned from a trip to England with my father. Henrik was consumed with mystery novels, he had a monthly subscription to Ellery Queen Magazine. Christie had been dead since the beginning of the year, and though I had little comprehension of what he was telling me about her detective, the idea of writing a novel to be published posthumously (it wasn't, but I thought he was telling me it had been) seemed kind of spooky. So did the shadowy cover of this book, written by a dead woman, featuring a guy in a bowler and a weird mustache.
I have avoided watching any of the films, or any of the TV series -- which is a shame because I love David Suchet and am looking forward to seeing what many have told me is the definitive interpretation of the role. No, I am just reading the books, finding my inspiration there. Right now I am ploughing through The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. My father famously gave away the ending to Henrik, for which he has never been forgiven. Unfortunately, whenever my father recounts this tale (he finds it amusing) he gives away the ending again, to whomever is listening.
Including me. I will never forgive him.