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Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot: Who Is The Better Detective?

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Let’s be real, most of us love murder mysteries not just for the suspenseful cases but also for the ones who solve them. There have been many detectives throughout pop culture who have won over fans, but two have become iconic over the years — Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. No wonder the Sherlock Homes vs Hercule Poirot debate is an age-old one. 

But before we delve into Holmes’ cases or Poirot’s personality to compare the two, let’s first learn a bit more about the typical pop culture detective and where it came from. 

In 1841, Edgar Allen Poe created his fictional character, August Dupin, who is considered the first detective in literature. Dupin became a prototype and set precedents for all other fictional detectives including Holmes and Poirot.  

In this genre, the detective must possess certain characteristics — physical and intellectual — that set them apart from ordinary people, making them superior. While an eccentric personality and high intellect are the most common tropes, there are some more typical traits:

  1. A unique physical feature to make them stand out in a sea of people.
  2. The character is usually emotionally and socially awkward with little to no family or friends.
  3. The detective usually has an intellectually inferior sidekick.
  4. An archnemesis who is at par with him in intelligence, thus posing a challenge.
  5. A love interest who goes in and out of their life like a breeze.
  6. Innovative investigative methods that are completely different from those of the police.

Now that we have established these similarities, let’s use them to test, compare and find out who is better, Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot.

Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot: Comparing the legends

Appearance 

Sherlock Holmes was first introduced by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 in his story A Study in Scarlet. He is an English detective described as tall and gaunt with a lean physique. With a messy and littered appearance, his signature clothing has always been a cloak/overcoat with a hat, and he always carries a smoking pipe.  

In popular culture, there have been many adaptations of Holmes. But some of the most famous portrayals have been by Robert Downey Jr. in the Warner Bros movies, Henry Cavill in Netflix’s Enola Holmes and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s Television series Sherlock. Downey and Cumberbatch have been often praised for their authentic portrayal of Holmes. 

Image credit: IMDb/Death on the Nile

Meanwhile, Hercule Poirot was first introduced by Agatha Christie in 1920 in her story The Mysterious Affair at Styles. He is a retired Belgian police officer turned private detective. He is described as short and vain. Poirot’s signature look has always been his perfectly groomed, waxed moustache and leather shoes. He always carries a pocket watch with him.

In cinema, one of the most famous portrayals of Hercule Poirot was by David Suchet in the ITV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot from 1989 to 2013. More recently, Kenneth Branagh stepped in the character’s shoes in the movie adaptations co-produced by him and Ridley Scott.  

In terms of appearance, Holmes and Poirot are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. While Holmes’ appearance is in tandem with the descriptions of the classic detective — tall and dark; Christie’s Poirot makes certain departures from the same.

Personality, family, friends and some iconic sidekicks 

Sherlock Holmes’ personality is very bohemian and cat-like, as described by Dr Watson. He is eccentric and cold with no regard for conventions or social etiquette. In fact, Downey and Cumberbatch’s portrayals brilliantly capture his aloofness towards social settings. This is one of the reasons why his socially awkward behaviour brings comedic relief to the audience.

Further, his aberrant behaviour is also of great trouble to his landlady Ms. Hudson. For instance, she is deeply concerned about his drug use and disturbed by his violin playing. 

Image credit: IMDb/Sherlock

When it comes to emotional attachments and family, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have many. Especially, Downey’s Holmes, who is shown as a pariah with no emotional attachment towards anyone other than Dr Watson (Jude Law), his trusted companion. Even though he doesn’t admit it, he goes to great lengths to prevent his marriage in A Game of Shadows as that would mean Watson would no longer solve cases with him. Watson is the primary narrator of Holmes’ cases and the two of them share an apartment in Baker Street, London. 

For family, he has an estranged older brother, Mycroft Holmes, with whom there are always undertones of comPetition.

Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot
Image credit: IMDb/A Haunting in Venice

Albeit a bit warmer, like Holmes, Hercule Poirot is also socially aloof and eccentric. For instance, in A Haunting in Venice, Branagh’s Poirot retires post-war. He decides to take a break until, of course, a case comes his way and the plot moves forward.

Unlike Holmes, Poirot has many sidekicks. For example, Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, Arthur Hastings and Inspector Japp. Sometimes Poirot simply picks at random from the group of people present as to who will assist him in solving cases. Oliver (Tina Fey) assists him in the film A Haunting in Venice, and Inspector Japp is a minor character in the book series. 

But Poirot’s most trustworthy sidekick is Captain Hastings, the Watson to his Sherlock. The duo also shared a flat in the detective’s early days and much like Watson, Hastings, too narrates and keeps records of Poirot’s investigations. However, in Branagh’s portrayals in the three films, Hastings has not yet been introduced.  

In terms of family, it is not explored much. However, in the film A Haunting in Venice, Poirot is shown reeling from the loss of his wife, Katherine. And after losing her, he becomes more isolated and emotionally vacant.  

Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot: Their archnemesis

Image credit: IMDb/Sherlock

In all of Sherlock Holmes’ cases, there is always an overarching presence of a bigger antagonist, a greater evil that is much more important than the cases. Professor James Moriarty is that looming presence. At par in intellect and a complete mirror image of Holmes, Moriarty is his archnemesis. He is a part of the bigger plotline of Sherlock Holmes’ story, not only in the book series but also in the movies and TV series. 

In Downey’s Sherlock universe, Jim Moriarty (Jared Harris) is a mastermind who relishes toying with him. Similarly, Cumberbatch’s Moriarty (Andrew Scott) acts as a mastermind whose interest in Sherlock borders obsession.  

Moriarty’s presence adds tension to Sherlock’s story and personality, thus challenging his capabilities as a detective.  

Unlike Holmes, Poirot doesn’t have an “archnemesis” per se. Each of Poirot’s antagonists lasts only until the case is solved. Then, there is a new case and a new villain. Although, there may be one person who would come closest to being Poirot’s archnemesis; his Moriarty. It is Stephen Norton from Christie’s last Poirot novel Curtain.

Just like Moriarty, Norton does not commit any crimes himself but manipulates people using psychological warfare and uses them to commit murders in his stead. 

Female counterparts and romances

Now usually, because the figure of the detective is supposed to be emotionally unavailable, there are rarely any romantic interests introduced in stories. But here, we do have female counterparts for both our detectives.  

Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot
Image credit: IMDb/Sherlock Holmes

Irene Adler is an opera singer who goes in and out of Holmes’ life as she pleases. She is the only woman who challenges him and intellectually outsmarts him, thus piquing his interest. She is a femme fatal and Holmes’ on-and-off romantic interest.

In Downey’s and Cumberbatch’s universe, Rachel McAdams and Lara Pulver play the role, respectively.  

Canonically, in Christie’s works, there is only one woman to whom Poirot admits being attracted and that is Countess Vera Rossakoff. She is a MMArErrorV2Themed SCXW15367764 BCX0">jewel thief who only appears in one novel and two short stories but he still is smitten by her.

Additionally, in Branagh’s universe in the 2022 film Death on the Nile, Poirot finds himself attracted to Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) a blues singer.  

Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot: Their investigative methods

A good detective is judged by his ability to solve cases and his investigative methods. Therefore, in this Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot crossover, investigation is the most important parameter in judging who is better. So let’s take a look.

When it comes to Sherlock Holmes, his investigative method is mostly deductive reasoning. Because he is observant, Holmes picks tiny details and draws large conclusions. Most of his deductions happen inside his head as he creates an image of the criminal much before finding out who the criminal is. A big fan of disguises, Holmes loves going undercover to solve his cases.

Now, because Holmes’ process is internal leading to a big reveal, it is difficult for the audience to follow him as he deduces and solves the case. The audience is not let in on all the clues so they cannot attempt to solve the cases parallelly, which can be both frustrating and refreshing, especially for those who like suspense. 

Opposed to Holmes, most of Poirot’s cases are closed-room murders. The investigation is mostly psychological as he interviews each suspect. Further, his process, unlike Holmes, is not very internal, although he does refer to his “little grey cells” that help him. Poirot’s cases are fun for the audience because, through these interviews, the clues are all there for them to try and solve the cases themselves.  

Additionally, there is also a kind of mystification in Poirot’s cases, an element of the supernatural that deviates from the murder mystery genre, offering lazy conclusions or explanations. For example, in A Haunting in Venice Rowena is killed by her daughter’s ghost; unlike Holmes’ cases that are grounded in reality, well-thought and offer a rational explanation for every occurrence.  

Who is better Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot? Our verdict

While the two sleuths are similar in many aspects, it is their differences that make them so popular and unique. Hence, it would be unfair for us to give a definitive answer to this one. But after going over all these comparisons in this Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot saga, who do you think is better, Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot? 

(Header and feature image courtesy: IMDb/Sherlock Holmes)

This story first appeared on Augustman Singapore

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Has Sherlock Holmes solved more cases than Hercules Poirot? 

Sherlock Holmes has solved 60 cases after appearing in 62 stories in total, 4 novels and 58 short stories. In comparison, Hercule Poirot has solved 80 cases and has appeared in 33 of Christie’s novels, 51 short stories and a play.

Who is more popular: Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot? 

While Poirot is one of the most long-running detectives, Holmes is certainly more popular in terms of movie and TV adaptations, book series, etc., In fact, it is rumoured that once Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes in one of his stories. But he was so popular that the public revolted and Doyle had to bring him back.

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