Our Man Hastings and Poirot vacation in the north of France, a seaside town called Deauville, where they meet rich and reclusive businessman Paul Renauld. He asks Poirot to stop by the next day, as he’s a-feared for his life – with good reason, as the very next day Renauld turns up dead – stabbed in the back – in a shallow grave dug into a golf course bunker. (Hastings, lucky devil, finds the body while chasing down an errant ball during a round.)
What follows is a tale of Our Belgian matching wits with the blustery, arrogant Inspector Giraud of the Surete. Giraud is a
walking, talking walrus a celebrity, one of those only-in-literature detectives who get marked with a nickname, in this case… “Le Pipe”.
It means “The Pipe“, in French.
They call him that because he, um, smokes a pipe.
The French may not be at the top of their nickname game, is what I’m saying.
ANYHOO, Giraud bets Poirot he can find the killer first, and the two men agree to the wager in a good old-fashioned TRADEMARK WAR! (Note: these are not good, nor old-fashioned.)
If Giraud wins, Poirot must – mon dieu! – shave off his vaunted moustache. If Poirot wins, “Le Pipe” surrenders his… er… “le pipe”.
You can probably guess how that turns out, given that there’s no Poirot episode anyone remembers as “the one where he shaved his moustache off”.
But I’m burying the lead here, which is that in the midst of all this investigatory squabbling Our Man Hastings falls desperately in love with a suspect, and Hugh Fraser plays smitten like no other. It’s a sweet, sometimes corny subplot but one that nevertheless pays off in canon, with Hastings and his dearest presumably tottering off to Argentina at the end of the show.
(Side Note: You may be saying to yourself, “Dude, Hastings falls in love with a pretty young thing every other episode.” And that’s largely true, but here he’s so deeply entranced that he outright lies to and conceals information from Poirot, which tells me it’s something more. Well, he thinks he conceals information, anyway. It is still Hastings we’re talking about here.)
The crime itself is another one of those rooted in the past, with a 10-years-ago-prologue planting the seeds of what’s to come quite chillingly – a woman on trial for murder, her lover has fled the country, and the newsreel footage telling us all this freezes on her 9-year-old daughter staring forlornly, while the BBC editor deadpans, “Her mommy’s going to hang.” Yikes!
And the solution to Renauld’s murder isn’t really awe-inspiring, but the way Poirot deduces who didn’t do it – and why – is pretty damn clever, coming as it does after no less than three people have been accused of the killing. Yeah, there’s a bit of an eye-roll with a conveniently placed tramp who figures into the circumstances, but overall it’s a mystery where the pieces line up nicely and none of it really stretches credulity too much.
Suchet is great as per the usual, and the way he and Giraud part company was a good character moment that shows how deeply he understood Poirot and his motivations. The contrast between Poirot’s manner with suspects (including the working class) and Giraud’s shows the two men – while similarly convinced of their own importance and ability – could not be more different when it comes to treating people like human beings, particularly in dire circumstances such as these.
I will complain here again, though, about yet another episode in which a key plot point is shown visually that undercuts an alleged later reveal (in this case the identity of a key figure). It takes our heroes an hour to make the connection between Renauld’s murder and the events of the prologue, when we’re tipped to it within the first 10 minutes of the episode. Grrr.
There’s also a weird production issue with this episode, in that nearly all of Giraud’s dialogue sounds clumsily dubbed in after the fact instead of naturally recorded.
***UPDATE: Checking IMDB, it looks like actor Bill Moody’s dialogue was in fact all dubbed, though no clue as to why, nor any hint as to why it wasn’t cleaned up on the Blu-Ray transfer.***
Additionally, at the beginning of the second act, the Blu-Ray version reverts jarringly to the natural, muddy, low-def version that was originally broadcast, rendering a good quarter of the episode looking like an old Rockford Files episode. I didn’t realize how well-cleaned-up the Blu Ray actually was until they took it away from me for half an hour! Oh well.
These are relatively minor gripes, though, for a good return to form for the show; I wouldn’t call it top-tier Poirot (it’s not funny enough, what with Hastings being twitterpated the entire time, and the plot is a shade too Sherlockian for its own good) but it has a good sense of place, and enough twists and turns to keep me wondering whodunnit.
Poirot: “To hit a little ball into the little hole, in the middle of a large open field – I think it is not to the taste of Poirot.”
Giraud: “What are you thinking, Poirot?”
Poirot: “I think the thoughts of Hercule Poirot are far beyond your comprehension.”
Hastings: “I’m in love with her.”
Poirot (heartbreakingly) : “Then for you, mon ami… I am most sad.”
Next Week, on Poirot: Series 6 ends with a story of inheritance, a weekend in the Lake District, probably a dinner party and definitely a murder (I’m just playing the odds here) and– hey! Come back! This one has a speedboat and an adorable dog! Who’s a good boy? WHO’S A VERY GOOD BOY?!? Find out in… “Dumb Witness”!