agatha christie poirot novels statistics
Of all the specific professions called out, the most common is that of a doctor. No surprise, you may say, given all the deaths however, they still outnumber even the Police in the Poirot novels (of which there are 23). All the doctors are of course male with the one exception being Dr Sarah King in ‘Appointment with Death’.
Under the term ‘doctors’ I also included everyone with the title of Doctor which includes academic professors and psychological doctors as well as the purely medical ones. For example, I include Dr Eric Leidner of ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’. I find the profession of doctor in Agatha Christie one of the most interesting as very quickly we learn to always question if the doctor is trustworthy or not. Agatha Christie introduces the character of the ‘suspicious doctor’ in her very first novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’. Here we meet Dr Bauerstein, a famous toxicologist whose behaviour by turning up unexpectedly on the night of the murder and being an expert in poisons gives credit to our suspicions of his being the murderer.
It is possible Agatha Christie could have been inspired by the real life murderer Dr Crippen, a doctor who was found guilty of poisoning and dismembering his wife in favour of his new lover. The gruesome tale gripped the nation in 1910, the very year in which ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ was published when Christie was only 20 years old. After being questioned by police about the disappearance of his wife, Crippen fled to Brussels with his mistress (Ethel) dressed as a boy. The two then attempted to escape towards Canada via a ship from Brussles but were caught after the captain of the ship noticed their inappropriate affection for each other (given they had claimed to be father and son!) Detective Inspector Walter Drew managed to board another faster ship, the Laurentic, and overtook the fugitives before meeting them at the doc in Canada to make his arrest. At the Old Baily court in London, Crippen was found guilty and later hanged while Ethel was found innocent and acquitted as his accomplice to the killing. The story caused such a stir and was in so many papers for so long, it is hard to imagine a mystery writer not being inspired or influence by it.
The trope of suspicious doctors and professors who have the knowledge and means to kill, continues throughout the novels (not just concerning Poirot) but how many of them are actually guilty? Indeed, of the 25 Doctors we meet in the Poirot novels alone, how many become victims? Doctors make up roughly 3% of the population of the characters in the Poirot novels and of these 16% are murderers and equally 16% are victims. This means that whenever you meet a Doctor in the world of Agatha Christie you are right to be concerned – either for your safety or theirs! Christie strikes a balance between ‘good’, ‘bad’ and what I’ll term ‘standard’ doctors in order to always keep you guessing which type you are dealing with. ‘Standard’ doctors covers those that feature in the novel simply to examine a body, confirm cause of death and pin down the timings. These include the doctors featured in ‘After the Funeral’ for example and Dr Kerr in The ABC murders. Of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ these range from Lionel Cloade in ‘Taken at the Flood’ and Doctor Roberts in Cards on the Table on one end of the spectrum, to Dr Lord in Sad Cypress at the other. For me, the most interesting of all Christie’s doctors (other than the obvious one which many readers will expect!) is the character of Dr John Christow in The Hollow. Christie perfectly balances our sympathy and disdain for him by detailing both his good work in discovering a cure in his care for his patient Mrs Crabtree as well as his extra marital affairs with Henrietta Savernake and Veronica Cray. Christie presents his case to us the reader and leaves us to decide is he is deserving of his fate or not.
Given her knowledge of poisons and interactions with doctors, it’s no surprise we meet so many medics. Nurses on the other hand are much fewer and of the nurses 15% are killers. However we also meet some victims and more sympathetically portrayed characters, one of which even becomes a victim of poison. Within the category of nurses I also include nursemaids such as Mrs Matcham in Elephants Can Remember and dispensers such as Cynthia Murdoch in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I have, however, excluded the role of ‘Governess’ as I will reviews these a category on their own. Some of the most notable nurses in the Poirot novels are Amy Letheran who is the narrator for ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’, Nurse Jessie Hopkins in Sad Cypress and the dispenser Celia Austen. Of the wider novels I am also intrigued by the relationship between Robert Gardner and his nurse Miss Davis in The Sittaford Mystery. They only feature in a minor capacity but I find the tension and suggestions raised by Christie subtle but compelling.
So what does all this tell us? Well we could look do draw conclusions such as Christie always presents dispensers in a sympathetic light as she was one herself and make suggestions that perhaps she found nurses difficult as she presents some of them less sympathetically but I do not want to make these assumptions. Just because I met a grumpy waitress once doesn’t mean I will dislike all waitresses. Just because I did process analysis doesn’t mean all process designers are fabulous people. All I think we can say is that Christie keeps us guessing and that by reusing these tropes, roles and professions throughout her novels with some being irrelevant, some victims and some killers is part of the joy we get from Christie’s puzzles, keeping us on our toes and second guessing her at our peril.
Doctor: Don't worry, I'll deal with you later...