As far as I can remember Agatha Christie has been my favourite author and always there lies a book of her which I am (re)reading. The complicated plots, the underlying humour and romance once in a while, the characters that are never 100% evil, the fluffy Miss Marple, the loving couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford and the profou
nd feeling of friendship between Mr. Poirot and his lifelong friend Captain Hastings, they never cease to interest and amuse me.
That is why the introduction of a revived Poirot in Sophie Hannah’s ‘The Monogram Murders’ caused mixed feelings. On the one hand, Dame Agatha had not particularly liked her Belgian detective and had wished to dispose of him earlier. So why not let another one have a shot (perhaps that should be rephrased) at creating mysteries for Poirot. There is also the fact that successor to Dame Agatha’s inheritance, her grandson Mathew Pritchard, swept away by the compelling passion of Sophie Hannah for his grandmother’s writings and characters, had explicitly approved of this re-entrance of Poirot in mystery writing.
So I decided to give the brave Ms Hannah a fair chance and bought the book, with high expectations and a great curiosity. The new book looked and still looks great, sophisticated and with simple elegance. When opened, it did not close until all its content was revealed to me.
Both the character of Poirot and his young companion Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard, are individually distinguished characters, however together there consists no synergy, lacks the trust and friendship that were the basis of Poirot and Hasting’s joint adventures. Edward Catchpool seems to mistrust Poirot and, although obeying to his directives and going where he is sent by Poirot, the feeling, for me, is not there. Whereas Hastings is amusing with his comments and observations, Catchpool’s comments always seem a reflection of the, to him, apparent lack of insights into detecting as well as modern life Poirot has according to Catchpool.
The indulgence of both Poirot and Hastings to one another seems to be non-existent between Poirot and Catchpool and that causes the for me important lack of underlying humour that is a strong component of Dame Agatha’s writings and makes even the most sinister plot and gruesome murders bearable.
About the plot: what can you really say? After staying in the dark for many pages almost at once the clues appear and can be deciphered in such a way that even the reader can see the plot lay out and has an inkling of how things will work out. Moreover someone who has withdrawn from society for many years, only to keep searching for methods to amend his wrongdoings in the past, how credible is that? Then he does come up with a plan that obviously is not waterproof and at the same time relying on actions of someone else, whom he first wants murdered and then apparently trusts so fully that he is prepared to ‘go first’ and let her ensure everything will proceed along his wishes. Yes, right, that is what I would do when I’ve been planning and scheduling for years.
What should be the verdict then, all things considered? To begin with I think the book is very well written, pleasant to read and contains multiple murders, without being very explicit about the gruesome details of murder. Always nice when you’re, like me, a detective fan who welcomes murders, but sees them as puzzles to be solved, not as events that should be minutiously described with all details disclosed.
Furthermore I think Mr. Poirot does deserve a second change. He is still loved by so many fans and if Dame Agatha were alive today she would be astounded that the man with his little grey cells, her creation of old, still has this impact in modern society. So please, Ms Hannah, don’t stop writing detective novels with our Belgian detective playing a prominent part in them. But could you find a way to enhance the subtle humour within your writings and, most important of all, establish a more warm and friendly relationship between Poirot and his Scotland Yard apprentice Catchpool or whoever it is going to be in the next book? In my opinion that would be great and would add enormously to the authentication and warm feelings we fans have for our superb and characteristic detective with his sublime moustache.
For those who would like to read another Poirot mystery by Sophie Hannah: her next book will be published in September, 2016.