Poirot: The Hollow [2004]

Portly, mincing, gracious, and unrelenting, Hercule Poirot rivals Sherlock Holmes as the greatest sleuth of the English murder mystery genre--a form as strict as a sonnet that's part logic puzzle, part magician's misdirection, of which Agatha Christie remains the undisputed queen. The New Mysteries Collection pulls together TV-movie adaptations of four Poirot novels, each a compendium of eccentric characters, intricate plotting, sleek storytelling, and sprinklings of wit (such as a dotty matriarch's declaration, "Murder is a very awkward thing--it upsets the servants so"). Death on the Nile sets an entire boatful of suspicious character afloat in Egypt, where Poirot's vacation is disrupted by a splash in the night, falling rock, missing pearls, three murders, and a boozing gargoyle named Salome Otterbourne. The plot is one of Christie's more preposterous, yet also one of her most popular. Sad Cypress opens with a murderess on trial, then flashes back to young lovers, a wealthy but stricken dowager, a spiteful anonymous letter, and a pretty young blonde. A wonderfully creepy dream haunts Poirot as he struggles to redeem the wrongly convicted killer. In The Hollow, Poirot's vacation in the English countryside gets disrupted by a philandering doctor apparently shot by his adoring wife, his blood trickling into a swimming pool clotted with leaves. But the best of the lot is Five Little Pigs, a story told almost entirely in flashback, as a young woman hires Poirot to clear her mother, who was convicted of murdering her father. Not only are the clues deftly planted and the solution cunningly worked out, it's one of the rare mysteries that inspires a genuine sorrow for its characters. Scattered throughout are a wealth of recognizable faces, though not many recognizable names--among the better known are James Fox (The Remains of the Day), Edward Fox (The Day of the Jackal), Paul McGann (Withnail and I), Sarah Miles (White Mischief), Lysette Anthony (Husbands and Wives), and David Soul (Starsky & Hutch!). But it's David Suchet as Poirot who keeps everything in motion, his beady eyes glittering under heavy lids, constantly tending to one of the most ridiculous mustaches in literature. Poirot has been played by such stars as Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney, but Suchet has made the fastidious Belgian detective his own. He's simply magnifique. --Bret Fetzer

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