December 29, 1975 12:00 PM

I shall have been dead four months when you read these words. I have debated long whether or not to write down what is written here, and I have decided that it is necessary for someone to know the truth…”

The truth, of course, is that Agatha Christie, in the novel Curtain, has let detective Hercule Poirot die from the infirmities of old age. Or was he killed? The solution to Curtain’s mysterious multiple murders comes from documents Poirot leaves behind. Never have herrings been so red, a country house full of suspects so blatantly suspicious, the guilty so serenely camouflaged—or the English mystery novel so smartly rendered.

The New York Times indulged in a gentle spoof and published a front-page obituary for the “Belgian detective who became internationally famous” in 35 novels and numerous short stories. Bereft fans telephoned to ask where flowers might be sent. (Poirot was a quaint dandy, barely 5’4″ tall, with a head “exactly the shape of an egg,” slick black hair, a stiff moustache and an occasional limp.)

When Miss Christie finished off Curtain and Poirot back in the mid-’40s she put the book away, intending that it be published only after her death. But the success of the film Murder on the Orient Express, with Albert Finney as the eccentric little detective, caused her to allow this last adventure to be released. Because it has been on the best-seller lists since October, a growing number of Americans are aware of who done it. It is of course the venerable Dame Agatha, who has written 86 books which have sold an estimated 400 million copies—more, it is said, than those by any other author except Shakespeare and the Bible. At 85, she lives in Wallingford, near Oxford and, although frail, enjoys supervising her beautiful gardens.

But surprises from ingenious author Christie are not over. In a novel already written and stored in a vault, the heartless Dame Agatha disposes of her second most popular sleuth, Miss Jane Marple.

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