Plot summary: The crime-fighting careers of Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings have come full circle - they are back once again in the rambling county house in which they solved their first murder together.
Both Poirot and Great Styles have seen better days - but despite being crippled with arthritis, there is nothing wrong with the great detective's 'little grey cells.' However, when Poirot brands one of the seemingly harmless guests a five-times murderer, some people have their doubts. But Poirot alone knows he must prevent a sixth murder before the curtain falls...
On the face of it, this is a fairly straighforward Agatha Christie novel. There's a big country house, a murder and lots of guests of varying genders, ages, professions and potential motives. The 'twist' with this one is that Poirot's knocking on a bit in years. He's confined to a wheelchair because of his arthritis so he has to use Captain Hastings as his eyes and ears... much to his evident (and fully justified) frustration. More on Captain Hopeless later.
Turning to the actual plot, this is possibly the cleverest Agatha Christie novel I have read, with the exception of perhaps And Then There Were None. It's certainly the cleverest in the Poirot series. I think what made it stand out for me was how sinister it is. It's very, very dark, much more so than any of the others. It's possibly why it's stuck in my head more than a week later. I keep thinking about it and shuddering a little.
The ending is... unexpected. I ran round asking everybody I knew, 'Does Poirot die?' before I even dared to pick it up. The answer is almost irrelevant - it's so much more than that. I also liked that this book, the last of the series, takes place at the same manor house that features in the first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It's a perfect end to the 84 novels, stories and plays featuring the little Belgian detective.
I'm not sure this book would have the same impact if you didn't have a few of the previous novels under your belt so that you really understand Poirot's character. It is quite depressing that that he's is old and poorly but I felt better when I realised his mental faculties were completely unimpaired, and that he retained his inherent cheerfulness (and lack of faith in Captain Hastings).
Speaking of. I've ranted about Captain Hastings on several occasions before, but he really takes the cake with this one. Look. You have been a sidekick to this detective for three decades, during which time Poirot has never once, NOT ONCE, been wrong. This means that you could probably stop from questioning his sanity, experience and sense every single time he implies he might have reached a conclusion. His age is immaterial. SHUT UP.
It's just that he seems even sulkier in Curtain. His best friend is stuck in a wheelchair, has suffered multiple heart attacks and can't run around solving the murder he desperately wants to... and you're going to sit there and give him the cold shoulder because he won't tell you who he suspects in case they murder you next. How unreasonable. I haaaate you.
Curain is genuinely amazing. I'm not sure I'll read it again in a hurry, partly because I don't think it would have the same impact if you already knew what was coming, but also because I'm not quite ready to be this traumatised again in the near future.