Everyone who knows me, and now readers of this blog, know that my favorite author of all time is Agatha Christie. I’ve been devouring her works since elementary school and frequently re-read my favorites. I probably own two-thirds of her canon, thanks to Barnes & Noble gifts cards and secondhand bookstores. So when I heard that the Christie estate had given author Sophie Hannah license to write the 43rd Poirot book, I was ecstatic, then trepidatious, then back and forth again (and only more frantically once I learned about the Agatha Christie festival’s celebration of it).
The Monogram Murders begins with a mysterious young woman that Poirot sees at his usual cafe. She confesses that she fears she’s about to be murdered and insists that Poirot not investigate her killer before fleeing into the night. Poirot’s concern grows when he’s called to the renowned Bloxham Hotel, where three guests have been found murdered with monogrammed cufflinks placed in their mouths. With the help of Detective Catchpool, his fellow boarder, he puzzles over the link between the two incidents in order to solve the case hopefully before a fourth body is discovered.
Hannah absolutely nails Poirot’s voice. In my head, I can hear David Suchet speaking each of Poirot’s lines in that adorable Belgian accent, though there wasn’t nearly enough mustache-stroking and eye-gleaming for my taste. Sadly, the narrator Catchpool is possibly even more annoying and unintelligent than Hastings. Even dear Inspector Japp is a superior detective, which is really saying something. Despite working as a policeman, Catchpool has a strange aversion to dead bodies, to the point of being unable to perform his job and examine a murder scene. Hannah also keeps dropping vague hints about some trauma in his past that I felt was never fully fleshed out.
The murder mystery also didn’t appeal to me. It felt very staged and repetitive, as if you were watching a play rehearsal of the same scene over and over again. The twist (which I won’t reveal!) was somewhat predictable, though she did throw in one mildly shocking element, but the motive of the perpetrator was uninspired. You’d have to be as idiotic as Catchpool to not at least somewhat catch on.
Though the writing style mimicked Christie fairly well, for me it had an oddly modern vibe. My favorite part of Christie is the mid-1900s setting, often in rural villages with eccentric, old-school characters. This book was partially set in the village of Great Holling, but the place and its people were pretty much slandered across the board. Unlike Christie, Hannah seemed to glorify city life to the expense of the country. I could forgive that, except that the idea of Poirot giving up his beloved clean-lined deco apartment in London for a staycation at a boarding house across the street borders on the absurd.
As glad as I am that Poirot lives on, this is not one of his finest cases. While I didn’t hate it and was mildly entertained throughout, I probably would have liked the mystery better without him because Poirot made me hold it to higher standards. This is certainly below par of all Poirots and many of Dame Agatha’s other works. I would direct readers to the original Christie-written mysteries, such as Elephants Can Remember or Dead Man’s Folly, over this revival any day.