The Usual Suspects: Agatha Christie’s Detective Hercule Poirot as Refugee and Icon of the “Other” in The ABC Murders

Curator's Note

Immigration is hotly contested within the Western world. Some welcome the free movement of peoples and work toward realizing a world without borders. Others bemoan dramatic demographic shifts they view as threatening to economic, cultural, and social stability as well as the erasure of recognizably ethnic nation states. The former include French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while the latter is represented by President Donald Trump in the United States to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary. Debate regarding the desirability of newly arrived immigrants—representing diverse and divergent ethnicities, languages, religions—is not limited to the political pulpit; or to cable, print, and social media pundits; or online bloggers. The same debate is carried out within popular culture. An example is 2018’s television adaptation of The ABC Murders, based upon a novel featuring Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The series includes a revisionist backstory emphasizing Poirot’s “Otherness” from the British cultural milieu in which he operates. Antipathy toward immigrants is depicted in the series’ first scene, in which a lodger arrives at a London boarding house displaying this flyer:

Your England

We must stem the alien tide

March for you country & your blood

The landlady proudly proclaims she “runs a clean house, very clean, no foreigners.” Poirot himself is the direct target of slights small and large. Other times, he serves as a proxy for fellow immigrants: “It’s not you the neighbors object to; it’s the others who breed like flies.” Although the events depicted in the ABC Murders occur during the interbellum between WWI and WWII we contend the series’ narrative obliquely comments (our term for the rhetorical strategy that uses the past or an imagined future to comment upon the present) upon the current controversy surrounding immigration, for which Poirot functions as an iconic representation of immigrant “Otherness.” The resemblance need not be complete, nor literal; and indeed, Poirot does not look like most immigrants now entering the European Union, but like many his religion and mother tongue differ from that of his new home. And that makes ALL the difference!


This is a terrific post.  Thank you both for writing it.  I really enjoyed the piece.  I saw the 2018 adaptation of The ABC Murders when it became available in the United States.  I remember thinking the adaptation was commenting on the current controversy over immigration.  Thus, I am glad to see a piece that addresses the adaptation's treatment of this subject.

In describing Poirot in many stories and novels, Christie emphasizes his  qualities.... mustache, patent leather shoes, and his precise nature.  I'll need to see this new version to consider how it differs.  I also wonder how Miss Marple offers a view of older women.

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