When Agatha Christie died in 1976, fans mourned not only the passing of the author, but the loss of the famous fictional sleuth she created, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. In Christie’s 1975 book, Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, Poirot solved his final case and then died. (“The Washington Post” reported the interesting information that Christie actually wrote that book in the 1940’s and kept it under wraps until she was ready to finish the series.)
Poirot has now come back to life in the pages of Sophie Hannah’s new mystery, The Monogram Murders. The novel was authorized by Christie’s literary estate, and Hannah, a long-time fan of Agatha Christie’s books, says she was careful to create a Poirot recognizable to his fans. In this, I think she succeeded.
The Monogram Murders is set in early 1929 in London. Quite humorously, Poirot is “vacationing” at London lodging house only 300 yards away from his house. If he stays home, he explains (referring to himself in the third person) to a fellow housemate – the young Scotland Yard Detective Edward Catchpool, he will get no rest:
“Disturbance will arrive in one form or another. At home one is too easily found . . . and the little gray cells will once more be busy and unable to conserve their energy. So, Poirot, he is said to have left London for a while, and meanwhile he takes his rest in a place he knows well, protected from the interruption.”
Alas, a murder mystery still manages to find Poirot, because Catchpool has been presented with a case involving three simultaneous murders at the Bloxham Hotel in the Piccadilly Circus area. Catchpool speaks of the case to Poirot, who immediately takes over in an act of astounding chutzpah. Catchpool accepts Poirot’s direction because in truth, the ritual nature of the murders spooks him. (And apparently Scotland Yard allows Poirot’s involvement because of his reputation.)
Poirot not only is intrigued by the case, but also sees this as an opportunity to train Catchpool to become a better detective. Poirot, obsessively attentive to detail, takes note of important facets of the case that have eluded Catchpool, but holds back some of his insights in order to force Catchpool to figure out their significance on his own. Catchpool of course finds many of Poirot’s observations silly and/or irrelevant, but as the solution to the crime unfolds, Catchpool finds, to his frustration and admiration, that Poirot has been right on the money.
Evaluation: There is a great deal of humor in the portrait Hannah paints of Poirot, and he seems very much like Christie’s character. I wasn’t too taken by the mystery, however, for the same reason I ultimately wasn’t so enamored of the book. It seemed too “dated” to me. The behavior and attitudes of the British in the 1920’s may well have been depicted accurately, but struck me as overly hysterical, or perhaps, theatrical. I admit I have been spoiled by the pace of modern crime thrillers, but I don’t see any reason for Christie fans not to love this resurrection of Poirot.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014