As a lifelong reader of Agatha Christie’s mysteries I put off reading The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah for almost a year. I didn’t do this because I am opposed to new mysteries containing Christie’s characters. I put off reading it because I worried that Hercule Poirot would be a caricature of Christie’s beloved character with all of his idiosyncrasies trotted out repeatedly. Would there be little French phrases on every page and mustache twirling galore? How many descriptions of his egg-shaped head would I have to endure? It turns out I needn’t have worried too much on that score. Hannah’s Poirot is pretty solid and authentic to the original although his tone is occasionally more sarcastic than the original Poirot and he seems a little more obtuse and petty. All things I could deal with if the mystery was first rate.
Unfortunately I didn’t feel the mystery was first rate. Is it complex? Yes. Is it clever? A little. Does it make sense? Not really. Without including spoilers, I would say that the motivation behind the crimes is a little weak. The repetition of what could have happened but didn’t, left me cold when the final denouement took place. I honestly didn’t care at that point. One of the ways Christie’s writing shines is that you often end up liking the person who is the murderer. Or if not like, at least are intrigued or surprised by them. I didn’t find Hannah’s characters to be particularly likeable or even all that interesting.
Hannah uses the character of Detective Catchpool to tell us the story. He is the Hastings in this mystery. Unfortunately, Catchpool comes off as super dense especially given the fact that he works for Scotland Yard. Hastings’ density to Poirot’s genius is understandable and comedic at times as he has no detective background. I caught myself wondering more than once how Catchpool could possibly be from Scotland Yard. He really should have been able to hold his own with Poirot a little bit better. He should have been more Superintendent Battle and less Hastings. Out of all the characters, I wanted to like Catchpool the most and I kept waiting for a lightbulb to go off in his head. I am still waiting.
A secondary criticism is the over reliance on multiple characters behaving unrealistically. For example, one staff member from the Bloxham Hotel overhears a conversation and is able to repeat it verbatim even though he had no cause to even pay attention to the conversation in the first place, let alone memorize it. Normally this would be neither here nor there, but the accuracy and emphasis on the diction of these statements is relied heavily upon by Poirot to solve the case and I feel it smacks of nonsense.
In the end this wasn’t a standout new Poirot mystery for me. I respect Hannah for giving it a try and also for her in depth reading of Christie’s work to try and get things right. Her research pays off most in the way she wrote Poirot and ultimately, that was the biggest challenge to overcome. Though the mystery fell a little flat for me, I did admire some of the settings and scenes that reminded me of Third Girl, At Bertram’s Hotel and even, in terms of plotting, Murder on the Orient Express. Is that a stretch? It is also important to note that this particular author and story received the blessing from the Christie estate so they must see something in resurrecting Poirot in this way.
Sophie Hannah has another new Poirot coming out in the fall. Will I pick her a second book? Probably.