Stars: 2.5 / 5
The Monogram Murders is a new Hercule Poirot book by British poet and novelist Sophie Hannah published in 2014. This is the first time Agatha Christie's estate have permitted someone to bring back our favorite Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
Agatha Christie had brought a very fitting ending for the great detective in her 1975 novel Curtain - a fitting title too. Poirot had become so real for everyone - something how Sherlock Holmes has become - so much so that New York Times even had a real obituary in their August 6 1975 paper (Check here: http://www.nytimes.com/1975/08/06/archives/hercule-poirot-is-dead-famed-belgian-detective-hercule-poirot-the.html). But, will such a fictional character who has become a household name and your next door neighbor ever die? Just as Ian Fleming never killed James Bond nor would have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle kill Sherlock Holmes (he did rebirth Holmes in 1901 - 1902 The Hound of Baskervilles - eight years after The Final Problem in which Moriarty and Holmes were supposedly dead), one would have expected Christie's Poirot to be reborn. However, it hasn’t happened until 2014 - 39 years after Curtain.
Fleming bringing back Bond time and again or Doyle succumbing to public pressure and bringing back Holmes is different though. They were done by the authors who created the characters in the first place. However, with Poirot, the rebirth is being done by an author who was in no way connected to Christie or Poirot. Will the new Poirot live up to everyone's expectations? Has Sophie Hannah successfully mastered the recipe Agatha Christie had for her novels? Well, you see, I am already starting the book with these and so many more questions in my mind. I will try my best to keep the review as unbiased as possible, yet I can't help comparing Hannah's Poirot to Christie's Poirot. Oh well, here is my take on the new Hercule Poirot mystery.
The plot is set in London in 1929 when Hercule Poirot is taking a brief sabbatical from taking up any cases so he can rest and recharge his "little grey cells". During his rest time, Poirot is sharing a lodging house with a young Scotland Yard Detective Edward Catchpool. What kind of a last name is that for a detective, not a Christie style though. Anyways, one of his routine was to go to this tiny establishment in St. Gregory's Alley, in a part of London that perhaps Poirot would not have come normally but for the best coffee they serve. Also this place gives him the anonymity he thrived during his rest time. On one such evening while he was enjoying his coffee and waiting for dinner, a woman walks into the place, with scared eyes and looking over her shoulder. Poirot's interest piques and engages her in conversation with her - Jennie - and finds that she will be murdered soon, but doesn’t want Poirot to do help her in anyway. In fact if she is found dead, she doesn’t want her case to be solved. Saying so she dashes out of that place leaving a puzzled Poirot frowning and his little grey cells actively working. Who is this Jennie? Why is she going to be murdered? And why doesn’t she want her murder to be solved? What is the crime she committed that warrants her to be dead?
When Poirot returns to his lodging he learns from his housemate Detective Catchpool that there murders happened in three different rooms at Bloxham Hotel, all with similar M.O. And the murderer left a calling card - similar looking monogrammed cufflinks in each of their mouths, same initials on all three "PIJ". Poirot immediately connects it to what Jennie had told to him, relates it to Catchpool, but Catchpool doesn’t find it as connected as Poirot thinks. Poirot however is very sure that a fourth murder will be committed soon - possibly of Jennie's - since cufflinks come in pairs.
Detective Catchpool comes with a dark secret from his childhood that he tries to forget as much as he can. What has that anything to do with the murders? Are the murders and his past related? Who killed the three people at Bloxham Hotel? What is it with their case that keeps Poirot at it although Detective Catchpool thinks it cut and dry.
The first chapter of the book is written in the Christie format. However starting second chapter onwards the story converts into a narrative mode - being told from a third person's perspective, in particular from Detective Edward Catchpool's mouth. This is different from Christie's approach giving it a fresh feel rather than making it look like a copying a famous author. The format of the plot again changes to author's tone like any book at the beginning of the fourth chapter then continues into a narrative mode. The book is written in chapters just like any book, but each chapter has a title to it similar to a kid's story book - another trait different from Christie's style.
A very Christie-Poirot kind of book at first glance and grips you to the chair or sofa - if I may say - for most part of the book. However trying to personify Poirot the author has just made him look more and more in paper without life as the chapters proceeded. Of course the french words here and there, his twitches with his moustache and all the elements of Poirot are very much twined in the plot. Yet it makes me feel so much that Poirot is with no life in there. Although Poirot is portrayed to be superior and proud of his brain - which is the usual case in most of his books - here, however he comes of very condescending towards Detective Catchpool. That portrayal did not jive with me well. Also the plot while being unraveled to reveal the murderer, the motive, etc. the author included quite a few twists and spins that kept me reeling. Even at the end I was left thinking if there is more to it. This is an unsual feel for me when reading a Poirot book.
All in all a good plot with considerable twists and turns. But, I would have liked it to be a plot for any different detective who is newly introduced to a series rather than put in the mouth of Poirot. I perhaps would have liked the book better then.
1. There is no Captain Hastings or Inspector Japp in this plot although Poirot does elude to them a few times.