Agatha Christie's "Curtain"

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In “Curtain”, Hercule Poirot’s last case, he faces a very unusual murderer, who kills only for pleasure, and never personally pulls the proverbial trigger. Instead, he finds people in difficult situations: a young woman forced to give up her life to care for an invalid mother, a protective father seeing his naive daughter falling for a lothario, a henpecked husband continually tormented by an overbearing wife. He then manipulates the situation to make it go from miserable to intolerable. He never cousels murder, but he needles, and goads, and manufactures flash point incidents with a deft hand. Of course, he doesn’t have a 100% “success” rate, but he is responsible for some half dozen murders by Poirot’s count.

I won’t tell you how Poirot deals with him, but how would we deal with it today in real life? Take it as read (ha) that this guy can persuade ordinary people to commit murder, how do we stop him. Can he be arrested? He never tells anyone to do violence. He just makes it inevitable that they will. Could he be publicly exposed so people would have their guards up? Poirot’s solution, if you know it, seems a bit off the ideal, but I can’t really come up with anything better.

I think we live in a different era where people are not nearly as impressionable (or rather, they’re influenced by different things). The villain is Curtain is described as a sadist, but I remember that most of his comments were off-hand remarks–ones that planted the seed of an otherwise “unthinkable” idea into the murderers’ heads.

Now, I don’t think he could be so subtle, living in a society where the “unthinkable” is in the back of most people’s heads, he’d have to do more to push people over the edge–enough, maybe (IANALawyer) to have some D.A. try to prosecute. Certainly, there are enough (or too many?) laws that would give him a window to try to assign some second-hand responsibility to the suspect.

Poirot’s solution is a surprising one, but surely permanently incapacitating or crippling him might suffice, instead of full-blown murder? Maybe even framing him for a crime so he’s locked away might be easier and more ethical

As I recall, Poirot uses the analogy of Iago, in “Othello.” While we, the audience, see how Iago drove Othello to murder, Iago NEVER says anything to Othello that remotely hints that he should kill Desdemona! On the contrary, Iago plants seeds of doubt and suspicion, but his WORDS to Othello always counsel restraint. Iago is always cautioning Othello not to succumb to “the green-eyed monster” of jealousy. Iago’s brilliance lies in that very fact: that he can egg someone on to violence and murder while SEEMING to be a moderating influence.

As Poirot points out, if it hadn’t been for the handkerchief (a rather clumsy device), NO witness would have testified that Iago was responsible for Othello’s rage. They’d all have said that “honest Iago” was a calming influence on the Moor. Iago would never have been suspected of any wrongdoing. And, in “curtain,” Poirot can see that there’s no concrete, tangible evidence to suggest that the guilty party ever did anything wrong.
His manipulation was subtle, not blatant.

Suppose a henpecked husband says out loud, “God, I hate my wife! Sometimes, I just want to strangle her.” The guilty party wouldn’t egg him on directly- rather, he’d PRETEND to be sympathetic, and say all kinds of things that SEEM harmless, but which only fuel the anger: “Oh, you SAY you hate her. We all say things like that. But we don’t mean them. Guys like you and me, we’re all bark and no bite. Heck, we’ll probably die pathetic old men, nagged to death by our wives…” That kind of thing only makes the henpecked husband think, “All bark and no bite, huh? You think I’m too pathetic ever to DO it, huh? I’ll show you…”

And if that husband ever DID strangle his wife, on what basis could anyone argue in court that the sympathetic friend was the instigator?

Poirot’s initial suspicions, after all, have NOTHING to do with physical evidence. His suspicions come from common sense: no ordinary, law-abiding Englishman (or American, for that matter) is likely to count six murderers among his friends and acquaintances. That alone was enough to make one individual suspicious, in Poirot’s eyes. But even at the end, Poirot had no evidence that could possibly get this person convicted in court.

But still, his solution was completely at odds with his own character. It was disappointing to me because he was always true to his character up until the final book. He acted in a way Hercule Poirot simply would never have acted, and so it was wrong–not the act, but the performance of the act by a character that just could not act in such a manner.

It would have been funny if Miss Marple had been the one suspicious of an ordinary person accidentally running across so many murders. :slight_smile:

Archive Guy makes a good point that people today might be less vulernable to suggestions like these, but for the sake of argument, let’s say they’re not, or at least some of them aren’t. You figure out that this guy has Iago-ed six people to commit murder, and shows every sign of continuing and even improving his technique. What do you do?