Sophie Hannah was an unexpected choice by the Agatha Christie estate to write the all-new Hercule Poirot mystery, The Monogram Murders. Her own books are very strong contemporary thrillers, relying more on fast-paced action and a sense of suspense, where apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative. Classic mysteries, such as Agatha Christie writes, rely more on an exploration of character and setting while offering subtle plot twists the reader tries to solve before the protagonist (here, Poirot) reveals all. We felt this was a substantial challenge for the author to have taken on.
On the whole, we felt Hannah did a fine job capturing the feel of Poirot, particularly in his dialog and approach to solving the case. Some members felt that the characterization could have used more of Poirot’s mannerisms, while others felt there was enough there to be consistent with Christie’s version without relying on mannerisms to get the character across.
We talked about characterization in traditional mysteries in general and with Christie specifically. Many critics feel she only gave this aspect of mystery writing a surface, even superficial treatment. Others, (including Hannah!), feel that while the treatment can be sparse, Christie always gets across both the light and darker aspects of each character.
Points we found amusing ways this Poirot reflecting the original were his “vacationing” across the street from his own apartment, his annoyance with Sam Kidd for even thinking he could ever speak exactly like Poirot, and his often expressed disappointment with Catchpool not being able to figure out things that are so obvious to Poirot.
We had a bit more of a problem with Hannah’s main protagonist, Scotland Yard detective, Edward Catchpool. In fact a number of members concurred he needed to be smacked upside the head on numerous occasions! We found it unbelievable that he would have left the murder scene without fully examining it, his constant reliance of Poirot for even the smallest steps in the case got annoying, and in general he seemed more underfoot than helpful in what was actually his case to solve. All of which, could be seen as the author giving the character room to grow in future books (which we know Hannah is writing). For at least one member, he “couldn’t grow fast enough”!
Aside from being annoyed with this character however, we did feel that Hannah does an excellent job of establishing the mentor-mentee relationship between the two. It is different than that between Poirot and Hastings in the Christie books, and Poirot sees potential for Catchpool as a detective that he never saw in Hastings.
We liked Fee Spring a good deal, and hope that she will turn up in future stories. We talked about the fact that some reader sites have speculated that Catchpool is gay, and felt that while he is wary with women, he and Fee could have potential both in a personal relationship and as a team solving crimes.
We liked the way Hannah wove the different plot threads, and found her plot twists fun to follow. We questioned a couple of them for their believability, but enjoyed the journey enough not to let this bother us.
We speculated whether readers who were completely unfamiliar with Christie’s Poirot, would like this Poirot as much as readers who were first time readers of Christie’s Poirot. Most felt that the Hannah’s Poirot upholds the essence of Poirot enough, that these readers would probably like him better than those who approach the character looking for differences between this Poirot and the original. We also thought that readers who are mainly traditional mystery fans, would find more to criticize than readers who are more thriller-suspense-oriented fans. This was based on traditional fans being more familiar with the strengths and tropes of the genre. We have fans of both traditional and contemporary thrillers in our group and everyone liked this book enough that they are looking forward to reading the next one! In all, we felt Sophie Hannah achieved a job well done!