Written by Sophie Hannah — Have you ever had to step into someone else’s shoes? It’s tough trying to equal, or better, what came before, isn’t it? And when that someone else is the undisputed queen of crime, the legendary Dame Agatha Christie, then you would surely have to be crazy to take up the challenge.
Until, that is, the obviously sane and level headed Sophie Hannah decided to step up to the plate. An acclaimed and award winning crime winter in her own right – and a self-confessed Christie nut – she seems the perfect fit for the role as Dame Agatha’s partner in crime. But taking on the task of writing a brand new Poirot novel must surely have taxed even her little grey cells. All I can say is that the Christie estate was right to choose Hannah for the task – because on this showing, she is more than qualified for the job.
Harper Collins has thrown everything at this book, which gets a worldwide release today. The cover is exceptional – even the inside of the dust cover is worth a look – and once you remove the paper wrap, the golden binding is just gorgeous, as are the inside front and back leaves. It could all have fallen flat, were it not for the fact that the contents are excellent too. Hannah has channeled her inner Agatha to devastating effect.
The story opens in 1920s London, where Hercule Poirot is planning on enjoying a quiet supper alone in his favourite coffee house. But his peace is shattered with the arrival of another customer whose behaviour piques his curiosity. He may be retired now, but the little Belgian is unable to resist the lure of a damsel in distress, and this lady is certainly upset about something.
She introduces herself as Jennie and reveals that she is about to be murdered but pleads with Poirot to forget about her and her killer, and then disappears off into the night, leaving the detective to ponder upon her intriguing story. His mind is soon on other things, however, when he learns that three guests at a swanky London hotel have been murdered in their rooms – each with a monogrammed cufflink left in their mouth. Mon dieu! Could there be a link between the frightened woman and these dastardly acts? Poirot is determined to find out.
He is helped – and I use the word loosely – by his friend Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard detective who acts as narrator for the story and as an unwitting foil to Poirot and his brilliant mind. Catchpool is always at least one step behind (a bit like the reader), but as the plot thickens, his seemingly throwaway remarks prove vital to the search for the truth.
I had it sussed around halfway through… or so I thought! In true Christie style, Hannah had led me up a particularly circuitous garden path which was a complete dead end. There are also shoals of red herrings, clutches of cleverly disguised clues, and a cast list that ranges from the top drawer to the lowest of the low – all of whom have a part to play as the story pans out. My favourites were Fee Spring, waitress at Pleasant’s Coffee House, with flyaway hair and wits as sharp as the cutlery she polishes, loquacious Lazzari, manager of the Bloxham Hotel where the murders occur, clueless Catchpool and of course, the star of the show himself. Hannah has Poirot down to a tee and it is to her credit that you feel like he’s never been away.
I think Dame Agatha would heartily approve of The Monogram Murders – and really, what better recommendation is there than that?
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CFL Rating: 5 Stars