Poirot’s latest outing is a true representation of the Queen of Crime’s work- with a convoluted plot and a range of odd characters, the novel has all the classic hallmarks of a true Poirot mystery.
Sophie Hannah’s incarnation of Agatha Christie’s pristine, pedantic Belgium sleuth is an intriguing portrayal of human drama and emotion, although the limited number of murders is almost disappointing for fans of Christie and her vast body counts.
The mystery begins with an irate woman waiting for the detective outside his home. She accuses him of writing her a letter in which he claims to know that she has murdered a man named Barnabas Pandy- a man she claims not to know. Shortly afterwards, a man arrives with a similar story.
So begins an intriguing tale of misdirection and mayhem, all set against the usual backdrop of British institutions: the private boy’s school, the stuffy lawyer’s office and the vast country pile.
With four letters sent in total, Poirot delves into the mystery and soon discovers lies, deceits and many generally strange goings on. Hannah skilfully embodies many of Christie’s renowned tropes, however the reduced body count plays on my mind throughout the novel. Despite this, it is a well-done impersonation of the Queen of Crime, and readers will be impressed by how quickly they are hooked by this engaging mystery.
Twee, quaint and at times just a little absurd, The Mystery of Three Quarters gives readers everything they look for in a traditional Christie. Poirot’s on going fixation throughout the novel with a café owners’ ‘church window cake’, (which is basically a Battenberg cake under a different name) and its supposed relevance to his case is one of the lighter moments of the novel, which, like many of Christie’s own creations, often dresses up incredibly dark moments and calculated deceptions as whimsical and merely something to be observed.
It is in her characterisation that Hannah truly excels, creating a range of characters that are in equal parts pitiable and utterly vile. The majority of her suspects have few attributes to recommend them as even remotely decent human beings, and yet Hannah manages to make them vaguely sympathetic, giving the reader something to ponder alongside the mystery itself.
When all’s said and done, readers will be hard pressed to find any reason not to believe that The Mystery of Three Quarters was actually written by Christie, thanks to Hannah’s skilful characterisation and attention to detail. That’s all anyone really wants when reading a reincarnation of a character who original author is long dead, and the book not only succeeds in this area, but triumphs thanks to its ingenious plotting and exceptional characterisation.