It’s Advent again, with all the festive trimmings that we romanticise about two months prior… a cosy fire, a steaming mug of hot chocolate, gentle carols playing in the background and, most importantly, curling up with a great book. In this case, that book simply has to be the fantastic Poirot murder mystery, The Monogram Murders, by Sophie Hannah.
Authorised by the estate of Agatha Christie, the novel sees the reappearance of the iconic Belgian detective, replete with moustache. Poirot’s evening meal is interrupted by the arrival of a desperate woman, terrified for her life but adamant that her death will be an act of justice. After pleading with him not to go after her murderer, she vanishes into the night… only for Poirot to learn that three guests at Bloxham Hotel had, that same evening, been murdered in a hideously ceremonial fashion, with a monogrammed cufflink placed in each victim’s mouth.
If I’m going to be honest, that last paragraph was basically the blurb paraphrased – because I’m keen not to spoil any details that an attentive and savvy reader may spot a reveal in! But speaking of spoilers, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m one of those people who likes to guess the ending… or at least try. The great thing about this book, however, is that it has a series of revelations throughout, so that even if you manage to pick up several twists, there’s always another one around the corner to shock you. Case in point, I thought I’d nailed the ending because I’d come up with a crazy theory that had every indication of being true… until the real ultima came out of nowhere and sideswiped me!
That being said, it’s well paced so it doesn’t feel like a constant soap opera and the hidden clues that can be used to guess the ending are neither too obvious nor too subtle, just substantial enough to support the final conclusion. Murder mysteries revolve around the matter of balance and The Monogram Murders nails it.
But let’s get to the point – Poirot’s back!! From his ‘little grey cells’ to his shining green eyes, Hannah has recreated the beloved investigator and his most striking features. She has deliberately elected not to bring back Poirot’s supporting cast of characters though and instead Catchpool, not Hastings, rises to the task of narrating policeman, occasionally supplying a particular joke or random phrase that inadvertently stumbles onto the truth. He’s a tremendously loveable substitution nevertheless, with low self-esteem but a huge heart, and a great contrast to the famously more boastful and teasing Poirot, who often causes him annoyance and distress in withholding details.
I have my own theories about future reveals with Catchpool’s character and it’s a sign of how multidimensional and complex the novel is when the reader can hypothesise about the protagonists themselves, but there is an inordinate amount of attention paid to the fine details, which I personally appreciate. Even from the beginning pages, a sense of realism is established; when Poirot covers up the top of his coffee to keep it warm after the door is opened, for example. In the meantime, to see what I mean about Catchpool and also to see whether I’m right, you’ll have to read the book yourself and its future sequels… for The Monogram Murders is the wonderful debut of Hannah’s modern Poirot series and it continues with Closed Casket and The Mystery of Three Quarters – thus far…
It’s a gripping murder mystery and every character contributes to the desire to find out whodunnit, whether because you hope they are not the killer or because you are suspicious of them ‘to the 1920’s and back’. I would thoroughly recommend it and can vouchsafe that it successfully helps to fill the wintry months when it’s dark and cold outside, but warm and literary by the fireplace…! Clearly Poirot is back to entertain once again and delight readers anew in all of his fastidious yet genius charm.
Sophie Hannah, queen of psychological crime, joins us on the publication date of her latest standalone thriller Haven't They Grown. 19:45 Thursday 23 January 2020 at Chipping Norton Theatre. Tickets on sale now, more information here.