I just finished reading Curtain, Poirot's last case. (I promise I won't give away the end.) And recently I'd also read Sleeping Murder, which is Marple's last case. In both cases the books were written years (decades) before they were published.
Also in both cases the sleuths are still sharp, still the same old human-observers, and still fun to read.
But, oh, how the sleuths are treated differently by their creator.
Miss Marple is the same as always. The story hinges on the case itself being unique. A "murder in retrospect." The idea of a murder in retrospect is that the case has laid dormant, but still has the power to affect people. I think that this was a very poetic way to end the Marple series.
Inspector Poirot, however, is not the same as always. He is much older, wheelchair bound, and his comically dyed hair seems that much more pitiable, according to his buddy Hastings who returns for the final act. The end of this series is cyclical in a more direct way than the end of the Marple series. Hastings returns. The whole thing takes place at Styles -- which has been transformed into a hotel. The characters take their old bedrooms. The difference is in the characters and not necessarily the plot.
I'm not certain how I feel about this. I've read in various places that, like Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie got tired of writing about Poirot. She apparently preferred writing the Miss Marple series, even though there are almost twice the Poirot stories/novels out there in the world. Somehow I sensed that preference much more in the final books than anywhere else where it's easy to compare the two (like in the first books--but those are always much more hopeful anyway, aren't they?)
Marple gets to be whole and the hero. Poirot, still heroic, gets a ton more difficulties added to his plate.
Do authors have to be fair to their series' characters? As an author, of course I say no. After all, we're only human and we will inherently like one character over another. It can feel monotonous to write one character over and over again, and if we don't feel particularly close to a character, or we don't identify with a character, they're harder to write.
Seems to me, as Christie got older, she would naturally identify more with her spinster, sharp-lady creation than her foreign, male counterpart. It only makes sense.
But authors also have to answer to their fans, and as a fan, I'll admit to being a little bothered by--what I am perceiving as--the unbalanced aspect of the two endings. It almost seemed mean. The end was written way before it was published...so she knew what was going to happen to Poirot for years before the readers got to see it...so how could she avoid the images of Poirot incapacitated in her head?
I know, life isn't fair. But this is fiction, cozy mysteries as a matter of fact, and it can be more fair than real life.
The reading for me was a bit jarring, I'll admit, and my impressions are probably just that: impressions. After reading Sleeping Murder, my expectations for the Poirot story were different than what I was presented, so it took some adjusting. In the end, as Christie shows with Poirot, it is all about mind over matter. (Something Jeffrey Deaver explores with his Lincoln Rhyme character, right?)
Plus, he goes out with a bang:
"Poirot deserves his place in crime fiction history and this was certainly achieved on his death in 1975; Poirot became the only fictional character in history to be honoured with an obituary on the front of The New York Times!"~from the Agatha Christie website
What do you guys think? If you have parallel-style characters, is it fair to expect fairness in their treatment? Or does the difference imply implicitly that you should present differences?