There seems to be quite a fashion for modern novelists to take classic characters created by earlier writers and feature them in new novels. I tend to be a bit wary of this, because each writer has their own writing style. I’ve read more than one modern story featuring Sherlock Holmes, for example, that has fallen far short of Conan Doyle’s brilliance.
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I picked up ‘The monogram murders’ by Sophie Hannah, since it stars one of the great classics of crime fiction, Hercule Poirot.
The story opens with Poirot as the sole customer dining at a London coffee house, when a harassed-looking woman bursts through the door. She asks one of the waitresses for her ‘usual’ and sits down at a table with her back to the door.
As Poirot watches her, he is intrigued to see her keep twisting round in her seat in order to look at the door. Aware of her distress he gets up, goes over to her table, and asks if he can join her. She agrees, distractedly, still intent on watching the door. He introduces himself as a retired policeman and asks if he can be of any assistance to her.
She reveals to him that she is about to be killed and, in her opinion, when she is dead justice will have been done. The words are barely out of her mouth before she declares she has said too much and beseeches Poirot to leave the crime of her murder unavenged. Before he can stop her, she gets up and runs out of the coffee house, leaving Poirot’s curiosity aroused and his appetite gone.
On the same evening of this curious event, Poirot learns that three people have been murdered at the prestigious Bloxham Hotel. The crime is being investigated by his friend, Scotland Yard detective, Edward Catchpool. For reasons Catchpool is at a loss to understand, Poirot is convinced that the murders are somehow related to the young woman he met in the coffee house.
The novel is written from the point of view of Edward Catchpool (a new character invented by Sophie Hannah), much as Captain Hastings narrated many of Agatha Christie’s original Poirot stories. This struck me as a clever plan by the author, allowing her to present the Hercule Poirot known and loved by millions of readers, without having to copy Agatha Christie’s writing style.
Poirot’s character is reassuringly well reproduced, and his speech and mannerisms nicely in keeping with the character created by Agatha Christie. The voice of the narrator is noticeably different from the original novels, but I didn’t find this detracted at all from the story. In fact, if anything, it added authenticity, because Catchpool and Hastings are quite different characters.
I was so gripped by this book that I found it hard to put down. The plot is ingenious, and very well worked out. I sometimes get a bit lost in the detail when reading murder mysteries but, despite its complexity, I found the plot of ‘The monogram murders’ relatively easy to follow. This, I think, demonstrates the skill of the author, and I take my hat off to her.
I scored this novel 19/20, using my 4 Ps rating system.