As Sophie Hannah releases the second in her series of reboots of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels, Closed Casket, I would like to review the first book, The Monogram Murders. Although at times the novel feels stilted, this tantalising book has all of the thrills and narrative techniques prevalent in the author’s other notable works such as Little Face and Kind of Cruel.
The novel portrays the great Belgium detective as he shares rooms with Scotland Yard Detective Edward Catchpool, who discovers three bodies at the illustrious Bloxham Hotel, each in separate, rooms, and each with a monogramed cufflink in their mouth. The murders take the pair to a small village where petty squabbles, sexual rivalry and religious bigotry reminiscent of a real Christie novel surface. Poirot, who has his own reasons for investigating thanks to a run in the previous evening with Jenny, a young woman who warns him of the crime but, cryptically, declares that it must never be solved, bustles through the investigation with his trademark pensiveness, and finds the solution despite the scant evidence.
Modelled on Poirot’s famous sidekick, Captain Hastings (who is not present in the novel but receives a brief and fond mention), Catchpool is an intelligent and fascinating character, with a traumatic history and a yearning for the truth. He acts as a foil to Poirot’s genius, but through his status as a policeman he combines the role of Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp, using his authority to allow Poirot access to all aspects of the case, including the victims, suspects and evidence.
Hannah’s vision of Poirot can, at times, feel like a caricature of Christie’s original; there are occasions where the outbursts of French and fussy habits feel overdone, as though they are being used as tokenism to show that Hannah really is a true Christie fan, a fact which does not require proving. It is evident in her excellent narrative style and the small details she places in the characterisation of her suspects, all of whom share the same traditional troupes which Christie prided herself on.
Overall, whilst there really is no substitute to reading a real Agatha Christie masterpiece, The Monogram Murders is a great tribute to the great author, and this and Hannah’s latest reincarnation of Poirot are the perfect way to relive the experience of enjoying a brand new tale of the adventures of the quirky and cerebral Belgium detective.