Guest Post: Agatha Christie’s The Clocks – TV Adaptation a Source for Strike?

In 2019 I wrote about Agatha Christie’s 1963 Poirot novel, The Clocks, a send up of the James Bond spy-thriller then in vogue: Agatha Christie’s ‘The Clocks’ or ‘Arabella Figg Meets Hercule Poirot.’ Chris Calderon thinks that the 2009 teevee adaptation of this novel for BBC1’s series ‘Poirot’ has a lot to tell us about the Cormoran Strike series that Rowling may have been plotting and planning at the time.

Make the jump to read the connections he has found between the show and the series!

An Overlooked Inspiration for the Strike Series?

Chris Calderon

I want to talk about a TV adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel for a moment. It’s the kind of thing that’s looked down upon here at HogPro. That means there’d better be a darn good reason for bringing it up in the first place. The best I can offer is to wonder if the TV episode I watched didn’t out itself as an unmentioned bit of inspiration for certain aspects of Robert Galbraith’s Strike Mysteries. This was the train of thought that wandered into my mind as I sat and watched the show unfold. What brought it all about was in the way certain plot elements jumped out at me with their familiarity. I kept having to think along the lines of: “I’ve read all this elsewhere, haven’t I”? The adaptation seemed eager to line up its story in a way that left me to wonder if the scribe of Denmark Street might not have used it for the main plot of her new ongoing saga.

The idea may sound absurd. Though perhaps it’s no more far-fetched than Gilderoy Lockeheart meeting Gellert Grindelwald on the “Not Hogwarts Express”, outbound from Istanbul. That one was made after the fact, however. The timing of the adaptation I’m thinking of makes things just a bit more interesting for my premise. In any case, all I intend to do is to give a list of those elements as they occurred in the course of the adaptation’s runtime. It will be up to the reader to decide if I’ve run across a genuine bit of inspiration, or if I’m just confusing a work of imagination with mere uninspired fancy. Won’t you join me in trying to crack this particular mystery? The game’s afoot!

The Nature of the Adaptation.

Here are the facts in the case. The adapted novel in question goes under the title of The Clocks. It was one of the final handful of books that Christie wrote in career as a successful novelist of detective stories. After this one, there were just four more cases for Hercule Poirot to solve. By then his author had long since tired of the little Belgian sleuth, anyway. A good overview of the Christie novel itself can be found at the link provided here. Among the main takeaways is that Christie wrote her late career novel as a spoof on the genre of Spy Fiction. She doesn’t seem to have had in mind the by now stereotypical approach of an Ian Fleming. The story itself tends to follows the more grounded lines of a John Le Carre yarn.

It’s also mentioned in passing that Tom Burke played a role in the BBC TV adaptation. It’s one of the first possible Rowling connections that greets the reader. The good news is he’s also just the possible first link in the chain of clues. As the show plays out, we’re treated to several other bits of Cormoran Strike info that weren’t in the original dossier. That’s generally another thing that gets frowned down upon. For our purposes, however, what matters is less what gets changed, and more whether those changes helped ignite another creative spark. The chief clue for me comes in the form of an additional victim, featured in the episode’s slam-bang opening. The character, and what happens to her, is used as a catalyst for the book’s second main lead, Colin Lamb (changed to Race, for some reason, in the BBC episode).

It should be noted that in addition to the curious change of handle for the story’s second main lead, meant by Christie to represent the usual type of figure who serves as the genre hero for the kind of story the author is parodying, the TV episode sees fit to raise the stakes for Our Man Called Intrepid’s motivation. He’s given a love interest. Not the one that he finds himself with over the course of the original novel, either. This one is original and new exclusively to TV version. Her name is Fiona Hanbury, and perhaps now is the best time to announce spoilers ahead. Her role in the adapted story is limited to just a handful of two, maybe three scenes. It’s just two of them that stand out as significant.

The first occurs right at the start. Fiona is shown to be working with Colin in an undisclosed branch of the British Naval Intelligence. She’s waiting up for Col, while he finishes up a game of cards. She then witnesses a theft of valuable Maguffin documents by an appropriately suspicious and shady enemy agent. She chases this other girl out into the street, where both are promptly shuffled off-stage for the remainder of the narrative. Cut to Colin showing up before Poirot to explain Fiona’s being written out as part of his motivation for asking kindly old Inspector Gray Cells for his help. He feels guilty over what happened to her, and part of what drives his asking Poirot to take the case is because he’s determined the same fate doesn’t happen to his new acquaintance from the original novel.

Now we move to the final added scene of significance. Colin is seated on at a desk in his office when it seems as if Fiona is in the room. “This morning, though, the wraith…seemed to drift on his cigarette smoke around him. He could hear her saying”:

Fiona: Is that mine?

Colin: …Yes.

Fiona: Where did you find it?

Colin: …Sorry I wasn’t there for you.

Fiona: What do you mean?

Colin: On the night you died.

Fiona: Let me get my hat and my coat. Let’s go down the Bluebell. Then let’s go to my house.

Fiona then walks out of frame, leaving Colin clutching her necklace. It’s pretty much all he has left of her. “He couldn’t hate her”. Any sharp eyed reader will be able to spot what I’ve done. All I had to do was take the liberty of inserting a line or two from page 34 of Rowling’s Troubled Blood into a sequence where it’s never even brought up. However, this snippet insert does serve a function. It highlights just how similar that one sequence in a TV adaptation does an eerily unexpected, yet effective job of spelling out a key aspect of the latter author’s mystery series. Strike is an ongoing story where the past has a way of haunting its main protagonist. This happens, for the most part, via the troublesome presences of a guilty memory. However, there are also one or two hints here and there that some specters of the past can at least tip over into literal faint traces.

That Poirot sequence outlined above acts like another interesting case in point. Based just on the way it’s framed, and how it plays out, it can be read as going either way. You can look at it and say that Agent Parody is having a guilt trip induced flashback of some kind. Or else that he’s imagining a conversation he wishes could happen. A third interpretation is also available, one which incorporates the memory theory above. You could say that Colin’s handling of the necklace triggers his memory, which in turn either summons Fiona’s spirit, or else her shade uses his musing state to try and contact him in order to both say goodbye, and offer an indirect form of encouragement. I just wish I knew where I’ve seen or read something like it before?

In all sincerity, however, I can’t shake the idea that I’ve stumbled upon a very odd, yet intriguing find. The script for TV version of The Clocks was written in such a way that it almost anticipates plot points that Rowling later put to a very sophisticated use in the fifth book of her thriller series. More than that, it almost reads as if the viewer is watching the early formation of a character that would later morph into the figure of Strike. It’s all down to the way the adaptation changes and handles Colin’s motivation. By having his character arc be one of trying to avenge the death of a loved one, you almost remake him into an entirely different person. It also makes TV Colin into someone who almost can’t help coming off as familiar. The similarities between the TV Christie and the later Galbraith novels are so darn striking (no pun intended), that you can almost make a diagram between plot points.

TV Colin = Strike.

Fiona = Leda.

Her death = His desire for justice.

Anyone else starting to notice a pattern, here? I almost hate to introduce a chicken and egg question here. However, I couldn’t help coming away from this adaptation wondering if a certain Presence might have been lucky to catch it one night on the Telly, or else she just was/is enough of a Christie fan that she would devote some time to viewing any of the episodes from the David Suchet series. If that were the case, then it is just possible to theorize that a lot of Strike’s character and motivation may have come from the Queen of Crime passing on some inspiration (quite unintentionally) to her most talented inheritor and protégé. The only other piece of evidence on offer boils down to a question of dates. The Poirot episode was made and premiered in 2009. Right now, I’m not sure I’ve ever been told the definitive date and chronology of composition for the first Strike novel. Does this leave a plausible enough window of time for Bobbi Galbraith to have witnessed this episode, and add one of its subplots to the compost heap of her imagination?

Of course, all this is just speculation. There’s very little to go on besides the episode itself, and those eerily similar plot points. There’s always that, whatever you make of them. Check out the video posted above for the TV version of The Clocks. See for yourself, and then make up your own mind about it. Is it possible Rowling could have gathered a bit of inspiration for her peg-legged private eye from a second-hand version of an Agatha Christie novel? Or is it all just a red herring? Give the show a view, and tell me what you think below.

Speak Your Mind