The Lack of Change in the Detective Genre

Sherlock Holmes is the most famous detective in literary history. He was the first detective to solve cases by the use of deduction, not because the criminal made a mistake. This genre gained favour with many authors of the time, and spawned many other detectives, like Arsene Lupin and Hercule Poirot. How do these detectives compare to Sherlock Holmes? I will try and glean the similarities between short accounts of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, a Belgian immigrant who worked in the Belgian police force as a detective.

I have noticed that the basic elements are present in both sets of accounts, which is suggestive, meaning that the genre hadn’t evolved much over a period of 30 years. In fact, Agatha Christie, the author of the Hercule Poirot stories, stated in her autobiography that she had set out to emulate the content and writing style of the Sherlock Holmes accounts, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I will try and find these similarities, and also illustrate the lack of change that had occurred in the detective genre between the late 1900s and the 1930s.

The most obvious point of comparison is the many similarities between the two main characters, the detectives themselves, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The fact that both are most “colossally vain” and “self-obsessed”, in Dr. Watson’s words, is apparent even on the first reading. Poirot is very conscious about his physical image and reputation, while Holmes is less so, and only to Watson does he declare himself as “the greatest”.

Poirot, for example, while Hastings, his assistant, relates to him the details of a particular crime reported in the papers, completely ignores him, says to himself while admiring himself in the mirror, “Decidedly, this new pomade, it is a marvel for the moustaches”. This shows a more self-absorbed side of Poirot, and is comical due to the fact that Poirot hasn’t perfected the use of the English language.

Holmes, on the other hand, says that he knows that he is the best detective in Britain, showing that he is very vain, and wants people to notice that, but also wants people to acknowledge that even he has failed in cases in the past, saying “… it has happened far more that people who read your accounts… may realise” to Watson. In both cases, both detectives show their egotistical natures very clearly. Both detectives also prefer to keep all their clues to themselves until the end, for their own reasons.

Holmes doesn’t want to wrongly accuse innocent people, while Poirot does it for no discernable reason, probably only included by Christie to make the stories more like the Holmes accounts. This means that the reader is left in suspense for longer, and means that when the detective actually presents us the solution, it is often a shock. The stories are written with a twist at the end, to let the reader marvel at the skill of the detective and of the writer for including this loop in the story.

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