On 21 January 1921, Agatha Christie introduced her British readers to the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. She had written The Mysterious Affair at Styles in the middle of the First World War, in 1916, but it was not published until several years later.
The novel featured Poirot, a Belgian refugee who had fled to Britain after the German invasion. He is staying at the home of Emily Inglethorp, and helps to solve a murder in the family’s country house.
Christie had worked during the war as a nurse in the English beach town of Torquay, and had taken care of wounded Belgian soldiers as well as refugees.
She went on to write a further 33 novels featuring Poirot, along with two plays and over 50 short stories. In film and TV series, Poirot has been played by some of the world’s great actors including Peter Ustinov, Orson Welles, David Suchet and John Malkovich.
Over the years, Poirot has often been chosen as the most famous Belgian of all time. The town of Ellezelles in Wallonia claims to be his birthplace. And in August 1975, after Agatha Christie published her final Poirot novel, The New York Times published an obituary of the Belgian detective on its front page.
In 2020, a Belgian researcher announced that he had found the real Hercule Poirot. He was called Jacques Joseph Hamoir, a former policeman from Herstal, who escaped to Britain after war broke out. Maybe he inspired Agatha Christie. Maybe not. It would take Poirot’s little grey cells to find out the truth.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.