Poirot & Wimsey shorts
I spent the last couple weeks reading Golden Age short stories featuring Hercule Poirot and Peter Wimsey. For two sleuths written at the same time, I am continually surprised by how different they are. These two short story collections brought the differences into sharp relief.
First, I started with Agatha Christie’s The Labors of Hercules. It started out all right and was entertaining, but by the end, I was almost bored with the premise the stories. Perhaps reading these one at a time, instead of straight through, the effect would have been different.
Poirot is perhaps his most cloying, proper, insufferable self in this collection, at least as far as I can remember. I love him, but I think he’s best spread across several
chapters with other characters mixed in. In a short story, he is too concentrated and becomes difficult to stick with.
I was reminded of a ‘one minute puzzle’ book I read as a kid where each page had a scenario or tiny story and you had to spot the thing that was wrong. (Incidentally, this book is where I learned that you shouldn’t file or trim your nails after a bath when your nails are soaking wet.) This collection mysteries had its clever moments, but also some very obvious moments as well. I’m not sorry I read it, but it wasn’t as engaging or engrossing as I’d hoped.
On the other hand, I tore through Dorothy L. Sayers’ stories in Lord Peter Views the Body. I find Wimsey charming and funny and full of endless information and facts. These stories see him doing all manner of things from revisiting Scotland (calling back to The Five Red Herrings), to doing a crossword puzzle to solve a riddle. (I’d only just found out a tiny bit more about the puzzle craze in the 20s while listening to a Shedunnit episode so that was a nice bit of serendipity.)
Throughout the stories, Wimsey puts all of his personas on display. He is secretive and elusive, he’s busy as a collector, he spends some time masquerading (as a couple of different characters!), he’s a sort of partner to Parker, and more. I think that these different facets to his character and interests make him a far more well-rounded character than Poirot. Wimsey can be unpredictable and sometimes has some wild schemes. Poirot often ends up feeling a little more two dimensional to me and a little less dynamic.
These two collections are worth the read, but perhaps not straight through. The labors of Hercules conceit is a contrived frame for the stories. Those twelve don’t have to be read as a group to make sense. I adore Christie and her characters, and I do find Poirot fun to read, but this was too much for always wish there was more Wimsey to read. And his adventures are far more varied than those of Poirot, making for a more vivid picture.
I’m not sorry to have come across both collections. I’ve never read much in the way of short story detective fiction, but I’m quite interested to find some more by some other authors. I just happen to have picked up a couple of British Library Crime Classics collections and I’ll be digging into those soon to see how other authors compare to two of the Golden Age queens.
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