Monsieur Hercule Poirot was a very precise and fastidious man who knew his place in the scheme of things. He was quite simply the best at doing what he did and there was no arguing. No one else ever came anywhere close to the brilliance he showed when he was on top form. Poirot, the accomplished Belgian detective, was created by English crime novelist Agatha Christie in 1920 as the star sleuth of her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles. In a long and successful career that spanned 55 years, Poirot appeared in 35 mystery novels, more than 50 short stories and he made appearances in stage plays and movies when he had time. Never a person to hide his exceptional talents behind false modesty, Poirot knew that he was the world's top detective and he basked in the glory of his position. During one of his investigations, a murder suspect once made the appalling mistake of referring to Poirot as 'a detective'. 'I am THE detective,' Poirot immediately corrects him. It was important to Poirot that potential criminals knew what they were up against when they crossed his path. Poirot was hardly a prepossessing figure when it came to physical appearance. He didn't have the commanding presence of his only fictional rival, Sherlock Holmes. He was a plump, elderly man, short in stature - hardly five feet, four inches tall - with a balding, egg-shaped head. He had piercing, green eyes and a stiff, perfectly trimmed black moustache that curled upwards at the ends. Whatever the situation, Poirot was always immaculately dressed. He wore a formal three-piece suit, black, pointed shoes and carried the necessary cane and bowler hat. He looked a little like a well-dressed penguin, but no one would have ever dared point out the resemblance to him. Many people believed that Poirot was French and this was another big mistake that he hated. He was Belgian and he always corrected anyone who got his nationality wrong. Poirot's nationality was a vital part of his character and he took great pains to put people right when they got it wrong. It was a mistake that no one made twice. Poirot first came to England during the first world war. He was a retired officer who had been highly respected in the Belgian police force. When war broke out in mainland Europe, Poirot and a group of his countrymen sought refuge in England. There, he slowly built up a highly esteemed new career for himself as a private detective tracking down criminals of all shapes and sizes. Above all, Poirot was a professional who had a high opinion of his own abilities and took his job very seriously. He was a very intelligent and observant man with a mind as sharp as a razorblade and he was an excellent judge of character. Nothing escaped him when he was investigating a crime. All the time he relied on 'the little grey cells' that worked everything out in his brain. He had an uncanny ability of getting into the mind of the murderer he was investigating and this always gave him a head start over the police. By the time he took on his last case in Curtain (1975), Poirot was ill and confined to a wheelchair, but his 'little grey cells' remained as sharp and quick as ever. When he died, Poirot became the only fictional character ever to be honoured with an obituary in the New York Times. He was the best, and since his death 30 years ago, no one has come anywhere near replacing him as the world's greatest detective. Can you answer these questions about Hercule Poirot? 1. Who was the author who created Poirot? 2. What nationality was Poirot? 3. When did he make his first appearance and what was the name of the novel? 4. Can you describe briefly what he looked like? 5. What sort of dress sense did he have? 6. Why had he settled in England? 7. What were his 'little grey cells'? 8. When did he conduct his last murder investigation? 9. What was the last Agatha Christie novel in which he made an appearance? 10. What honour did he receive when he died? Answers 1. Agatha Christie created the detective Hercule Poirot. 2. He was Belgian. 3. He first appeared in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. 4. He was small, plump, with an almost bald, egg-shaped head. 5. He always dressed formally. 6. He first came to England to get away from the war in Belgium. 7. His 'little grey cells' were his brain power. 8. He conducted his last case in 1975. 9. The last 'Poirot' novel was Curtain. 10. His is the only fictional character ever to have an obituary in the New York Times.