Almost fourty years after the death of Agatha Christie, one of her most beloved characters has been given a new lease on life: Inspector Hercule Poirot is back in The Monogram Murders, a stylish mystery designed to take you back to the heyday of early crime writing and early crime fighting.
After years of proposals to the estate of Agatha Christie to revive her characters posthumously, the green light was finally given to Sophie Hannah to create a brand new Poirot instalment. Sophie Hannah is a renowned crime writer in her own right, and while her style of writing has not been somewhat different to that of the legendary Christie’s, this self-confessed Agatha Christie fan obviously did a great amount of thinking on how to re-create an authentic reading experiences for the die-hard Christie fans, while simultaneously making it interesting and relevant for a new readership.
Hot on the heels of an explosive saturation of re-writes of classics of all genres published over the last couple of years, The Monogram Murders arrives with that same sense of expectation – if you are indeed a Christie fan there will be some particulars that you will be looking for in this novel, such as the sheer simplicity with which Christie used to convey some very complex plots and inner workings of characters; or the atmospheric layering of “old-worldliness”; or the masterful characterisation with which she penned the quirky, enigmatic, and frustratingly likeable character of Hercule Poirot – complete with the eccentricities and “otherness” of the Belgian character as seen through a staunchly British lens.
The plot of this novel does indeed re-create the “British murder mystery” formula of the old Christie classics: The time is 1929, the place London. A chance encounter of Poirot with a young woman frightened for her life becomes a major clue to the investigation of the murder of three people, all on the same night and at the same upmarket hotel. All three bodies are found with a cufflink in their mouths, which has been engraved with the monogram PIJ. The novel is narrated by Edward Catchpool, of Scotland Yard, who plays the “doubter” to Poirot’s intricate and methodical piecing together of the puzzle, as he uncovers a litany of foiled love, religious bigotry and lethal passions that have been simmering away for years. The plot is engaging and multi-layered, and requires the reader to suspend disbelief at times, and to have faith in the skills of the author to negotiate her way to the conclusion without too many loose ends.
The atmosphere of the novel confirms Hannah’s skill at creating the literary nuances that convey the period feel of this novel – the tone is set by a variation of that “big city -dark alleyways” kind of feeling, and the English “country house” quality. As a protagonist, Hercule Poirot stands in characteristic contrast to his surroundings and the people he is investigating. With a character as iconic as Poirot – immortalised not just through Christie’s novels but the multiple film and TV adaptations – there is obviously a lot of pressure to “get it right.” And while Hannah’s Poirot certainly does and says all the right things, there is a kind of dullness to him, something which keeps him from making that real connection with the reader, and which detracts from the story as a whole – if it is to be judged in terms of “authenticity.”
If, on the other hand, The Monogram Murders is to be judged in terms of being an engaging, noteworthy, and well-constructed novel from one of the finest contemporary crime writers, then this new take on Hercule Poirot is most certainly a worthy read.