On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
THE WORLD’S two greatest consulting detectives, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, had overlapping careers. It was around the advent of the Great War, World War I to those of us recognizing that another was to follow. Both detectives were often consulted by signatories of the Entente Cordiale, but did Holmes and Poirot ever meet? Let’s examine the evidence as presented by Julian Symons, British chronicler of crime fiction.
Symons wrote some three dozen works of crime fiction, an equal number of non-fiction biography, history and literary criticism and two books of poetry. I focus here on his Great Detectives: Seven Original Investigations and “Sherlock Holmes and the Poirot Connexion,” a short story first appearing in The Illustrated London News.
The two detectives have a great deal in common. Holmes had Dr. John H. Watson as friend and chronicler. Watson came home on military pension after the 1880 Battle of Maiwand. (“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” says Holmes when they’re introduced.) Poirot had Captain Arthur Hastings as friend and chronicler. Hastings was invalided home from the 1916 Battle of the Somme.
Chronicler Watson had Arthur Conan Doyle as literary agent. Similarly, Hastings had as literary agent a woman named Agatha Christie. Indeed, each had skeptics claiming these relationships were otherwise construed.
Each detective had an occasionally less-talented friend at Scotland Yard: Holmes’ Inspector G. Lestrade; Poirot’s Inspector (later Chief Inspector) James Harold Japp. Each detective seems to have had a brother, Mycroft Holmes and Achille Poirot (or is Achille just Hercule in disguise?). And each had a singularly fascinating female interest, Holmes’ Irene Adler and Poirot’s Vera, Countess Rossakoff.
What’s more, both detectives had eccentricities galore. Well known to Sherlockians are Holmes’ 221b Baker Street digs, his enthusiasm for home target practice, his recreational drug habit and his mouse-colored dressing gown.
Whereas Holmes is angular and tall, Poirot is gently refined and short. Symons cites, “hardly more than five feet four inches… His head is a perfect egg shape, and is carried a little to one side.” Poirot is always elegantly and immaculately attired, with perfectly knotted cravat and pointed patent leather footware. Even informally, he wears “a very marvelous dressing gown.” There’s reason to believe his carefully trimmed moustache and slick-backed hair profit from a pomade “to restore the natural colour….”
Poirot’s dinner is “the supreme meal of the day,” carefully crafted and presented. Though residing in London, he eschews English tea for hot chocolate, no doubt of the best Belgian variety.
Poirot is a Belgian of Flemish background; despite this, his native tongue is French, not Flemish; Catholicism, his faith. He’ll remind people that he most definitely is not French, but Belgian. (In Murder By Death, a neat sendup of cozy and hard-boiled genres, Neil Simon has a Sam Spade type call the Poirot-like character “Frenchy.” The latter sputters, “I am not a Frenchy! I am a Belgie!”)
Did Poirot and Holmes ever meet? Julian Symons offers tantalizing evidence in this regard. Sir Charles Mulready is found dead, a secret Plan X for the English/French Entente Cordiale is missing from his room. Sir Charles’ German stepson, Hans, is of an Oscar Wilde persuasion and has been blackmailed by German Intelligence. Monsieur Calamy, the French entente negotiator, is a house guest of the Mulreadys. Calamy is accompanied by his valet and chef (who, oddly, isn’t known for his cooking, but makes excellent hot chocolate).
“You are an agent of the French Government,” Holmes said rather stiffly.
“At the moment that is so, but I am, like yourself, a private detective. It is truly an honour to meet the greatest detective in Britain.”
Symons observes, “The narrative ends here, so that the pseudo-chef’s identity remains uncertain. The scandal of Sir Charles’s death was evidently hushed up. Hans Mulready had in later life a successful stage career as a female impersonator.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015