The Monogram Murders (Hercule Poirot) by Sophie Hannah

Poirot just knows

😡

the monogram murdersA terrified woman bursts into the coffee house where Hercule Poirot is partaking of the best coffee in London. When Poirot tells her he is a detective, she seems tempted to share her worries but in the end tells him only that she is about to be murdered and that, once she is dead, justice will have been done. Pausing only to beg him to prevent the police from investigating, she pleads cryptically ‘Oh, please let no one open their mouths’ and flees back into the night. Meantime Mr Catchpool of Scotland Yard, who lives in the same lodging house as Poirot, has been called to the Bloxham Hotel where three guests have been found murdered. Poirot (psychically) suspects there may be a link…

In fact, I hadn’t ever before realised just how psychic Poirot was. How remiss of Ms Christie never to reveal this fact! All these years she led us to believe he came to his conclusions based on his reading of the clues, his ability to see through the red herrings to the facts, the superior power of his little grey cells. Ms Hannah kindly lets us in on the true secret though. Clues are unnecessary. Poirot just knows what has happened. At each stage, as other people flounder to make sense of the plot (well, I certainly did!), Poirot sees straight through to the truth without the need for any pesky evidence or suchlike nonsense. What a gift! Unfortunately not one that makes a detective novel work very well though…

If this book had been written about a detective called Smith, it might have rated maybe three stars. The plot is convoluted, psychologically unconvincing and over-padded. The list of suspects is far too small, meaning that there are no big surprises come the reveal. But the writing style is quite good, some of the characterisation is fine and the descriptions of the places involved in the plot are done reasonably well.

The real Agatha Christie
The real Agatha Christie

BUT…there is a great big ‘Agatha Christie’ on the front of the book, so this should really read like one of hers, shouldn’t it? It doesn’t. From the very beginning Poirot is not right. For a start, he has moved into a lodging house because he wants to escape from his fame for a while and be anonymous. Doesn’t sound like the Poirot I know! Secondly we hear almost nothing about his little foibles – his vanity, his moustaches, his rotundity, his endearingly egg-shaped head, his patent leather shoes. We do get to hear a little about his passion for order but just as a sop. Thirdly he goes about searching rooms and seeking out physical clues like Holmes on an eager day. The real Poirot, as we know, is actually much more interested in the psychology of the crime. Fourthly, when the real Poirot speaks French, he kindly only uses words we’re all going to get without resorting to a French-English dictionary – mais pas ce prétendant. Fifthly, at the end he actually participates in a formal police interview in a police station – but I was past the stage of caring long before then anyway. So I’ll be kind and spare you sixthly, seventhly…etc.

Sophie Hannah
Sophie Hannah

I saw Sophie Hannah being interviewed about the book on the BBC News channel, and she said that she had decided not to try to recreate Christie’s style. So she created a new character, Catchpool, to be the narrator so that he could bring a new voice to the story. I was willing to go along with this idea, though it seemed a shame not to have Hastings along for the ride. But firstly (sorry), Catchpool is extremely annoying. He can’t stand dead bodies, keeps walking away from the investigation, is as thick as a brick and basically hands the entire investigation over to Poirot (mind you, with Poirot’s amazing supernatural abilities, who wouldn’t?). Secondly, he’s struggling not to reveal that he’s gay – that’s never spelled out, but it’s quite clear from the unsubtle hints that are dropped all over the place. Now I know it’s obligatory that every police officer in detective fiction is either gay or drunk these days, or both, (I suppose I should be glad that at least he was sober), but this is supposed to be a Christie-style book. I’m certainly not arguing that all gay men should be portrayed like Mr Pye in The Moving Finger, but the idea of Ms Christie having a gay policeman is frankly ridiculous. And Poirot’s psychic powers let him down on that one, since he seems determined to pair Catchpool off with a nice woman. Thirdly, Catchpool tells the story in the first-person (past tense, thankfully), and yet knows every detail of what happens when he’s not there. So he can describe all of Poirot’s conversations verbatim, tells us when people stand up, sit down, blush, etc. – clearly Poirot’s psychic abilities are catching.

hercule-poirot

The last fifth of the book is taken up with the traditional get-together where Poirot reveals what happened, but it goes on for ever and is mainly just Poirot telling us the whole story, with no reference as to how he came by all these amazing insights. As I said before, he just knows! And considering how silly and unlikely the plot is, that seems beyond miraculous.

I can only say that I sincerely hope there won’t be another of these. If there is, even I will be able to resist the temptation next time. Because now (cue spooky music), FictionFan just knows too

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

95 thoughts on “The Monogram Murders (Hercule Poirot) by Sophie Hannah

  1. I was also really disappointed by this. Poirot acted out of character again and again – fresh air and Poirot?! The ending seemed to ramble on forever, with endless twists and turns. It was OK as a general read, but it was NOT a Poirot novel. I am currently re-reading Sad Cyrpress to detox!!!

    • I know – I’d forgotten about the ‘going’ for a walk’ bit when I was writing my review – not to mention the going on a bus! I can’t understand why she wrote it without paying any attention to the originals, and more than that I can’t understand why Christie’s estate sanctioned it! Except of course…money! I haven’t read any of her other stuff (Hannah’s I mean) and I must say this has rather put me off.

  2. When I saw that a new Poirot mystery had been printed, I really wasn’t even that tempted. ‘Curtain’ was such a definite finale (and I realize that Christie wrote it and then didn’t print it and then went on to write lots of other Poirot mysteries, but still). It just felt like Christie had written everything she wanted to write about Poirot, and his character was completed. (For instance, I didn’t feel that way when I saw a new Bertie/Jeeves book had been written, because I felt like Wodehouse would have gladly written fifty new books about that duo if he had had the time.) I don’t know. Just going back and inserting another random episode of Poirot somewhere back in his timeline, in the midst of the stories Christie wrote, seemed like poor taste, so I already had a feeling (psychic????) that Hannah did not really respect and cherish Christie’s work. It’s so obvious when reading a book of this kind – from’Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’ to virtually pornographic ‘Pride & Prejudice’ “retellings” who is doing it from a real love and affection for the original and who is doing it to make a buck.

    All that to say, I didn’t put this one on the TBR when I heard about it, and I’m glad (in a sad sort of way) that my gut feeling was justified. I wish people would just write their own stories instead of trying to make a new cake from someone else’s crumbs.

    • Haha! Don’t you become psychic too – please!! Yes, I really don’t understand why these authors’ estates don’t exercise more quality control. I’m not 100% against follow-ons (obviously, since I read them all!) but it’s really getting to the stage where the links to the originals are so tenuous as to be well-nigh non-existent. I swear if Poirot hadn’t been named in this one, it would have been possible to read the book without recognising him. I must say if I was a dead author whose estate was selling my legacy for money I’d come back and haunt them…

  3. Stellar Review! I must say, I love how you ended it. *laughs* When I first saw this in my mail, I saw the mad face, and that was a real interest.

    Yes, I think that would take away from Mr. Hercule. In fact, it would take away a lot. She should have just created her own detective, don’t you think? I don’t know why authors today have to do this sort of thing.

    Now, Agatha looks great.

  4. FictionFan – So…how did you really feel about this novel? You can tell us. 😉 Seriously, though, I must say I’m not surprised. All respect to Ms. Hannah (I think she is a talented writer), I had no real interest in reading this. Call me a cranky purist (*waiting as you do so*), but Poirot was Christie’s creation. And your post has reinforced my choice not to read this.

    • Haha! The thing is that Margot just knew this one shouldn’t be read! I’d never be so rude as to call you a ‘cranky purist’ just in case you called me it right back! 😉

      I wish I had your willpower – I just can’t resist reading them, even though I know it’s a rare follow-on that does any kind of justice to the original.

      • 😆 Let’s just say….we’re devoted to the original work. Sounds much nicer don’t you think?
         
        I’m honestly probably missing out on some very good things by not reading those follow-ons. I admit it limits me. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

        • 😀 Much!

          I reckon there’s only about one good one for every five bad ones, so I really don’t think you’re missing much. But I always get enjoyment out of the comparisons even if the book itself isn’t great…

  5. Great review, I really enjoyed reading it! I have to say, I’m not tempted by this novel at all – there’s something about a writer continuing a story/series that another writer began that I don’t quite like and I always seem to shy away from novels like that. I’ve enjoyed Sophie Hannah’s novels in the past but this one isn’t going on the TBR list – I’d prefer to read the original Agatha Christie novels 🙂

    • Thanks, Gemma! I will confess I quite enjoyed writing it! 😉 I always get sucked into reading these even though I know they’ll usually be awful – it’s like turning to look at a car crash…you know you shouldn’t, it doesn’t feel good and yet you do it anyway! So I envy your ability to resist. I haven’t read anything else by Hannah, and unfortunately I feel this one has put me off, for a while anyway…

  6. How disappointing. I like Hannah’s detective fiction, but I do wonder why people (publishers etc) feel the need to reinvent old favourites rather than come up with something new. I’ll give this one a miss I think!

  7. To be fair to Hannah, I can’t imagine anyone making a good job of a new Poirot novel. The attraction of Agatha Christie’s books is not just the fiendishly clever plots. She also creates a whole world. The reader desperately wants to sit with Poirot in his office, or have one of those extraordinary breakfasts with her characters in a country house. A perfect day is a quiet murder on the links, a spot of pruning with Inspector Japp and then an afternoon sipping tea while Hastings gushes over whichever of the suspects has that hint of auburn hair that he likes so much.

    • Yes, it’s like PG Wodehouse – Christie’s world only really existed in her books, but despite the high body count it’s always a lovely place to visit. Haha! I reckon you’d do a much better job than Ms Hannah though – that’s exactly what a Christie novel should be…

  8. Oh FF twice in short succession your wonderful reviews have put the kibosh on my TBR… I suppose I should be grateful that you are actually decreasing my pile rather than adding to it but I so wanted to enjoy this one, and I know from your review I won’t. Like you I can’t bear the ‘just knowing’ in crime fiction and paired with Poirot that is a crime too far! For all of that, I loved the review especially where you state “..Ms Christie having a gay policeman is frankly ridiculous. And Poirot’s psychic powers let him down on that one, since he seems determined to pair Catchpool off with a nice woman”

    • Haha! Maybe I should specialise in TBR reduction – think how popular I’d be! Thanks, Cleo – I’m sorry I’ve put you off, but I really doubt if you’d enjoy this one any more than I did. I must make a really determined effort to stop reading these follow-ons…

  9. Nooooo! I was half expecting this, to be honest. But you would think the easiest thing to get right would be the accurate portrayal of Poirot, especially the bit about him wanting to ‘escape his fame’. In the later books he would get quite perturbed when the younger characters didn’t know who he was. I can live with the gay policeman, but there is no way Poirot would not have realised – especially with these new found psychic powers (haha!). He is so very perceptive of people and personalities. I could go on forever on this. I think I will have to buy the book and inflict my rantings on social media or something. But before I go – seriously, no Hastings? Pah!

    • I know! Poirot is such an easy character to do, you’d think, with all his quirks and foibles – and no story arc to fit in with or anything. But I just couldn’t imagine him trying to avoid his fame – has he had a bump on his egg-shaped head? Nom d’un nom d’un nom! I also just couldn’t see the point of Catchpool beingst angst-ridden about being gay – no Christie policeman was anything other than stolid and staid – no angst there! And though they weren’t as clever as Poirot they weren’t totally brainless like Catchpool. And they weren’t cowards who couldn’t handle the job…

      If you do read it, do come back and rant here too – I’ll probably miss it on social media! Of course, maybe you’ll like it… 😯

      • I will definitely come back for a rant on here. or, like you say, maybe I will love it! I will go at it with an open mind but it doesn’t sound too promising, to me.

        Imagine a policeman who doesn’t like dead bodies! Why would he have joined up, and stayed in the job, if he was obviously unsuited? Japp would have kicked him out after about five minutes! The gay thing just sounds like a device for making the story appeal to the ‘modern’ reader. I can’t wait to read it, now, even if I don’t like it. The rant alone will be worth it! 😀

        • For once, mine isn’t the only 1-star review on Amazon – sometimes I think it’s just me, but not this time. However there are a few 5-stars too…

          It was Catchpool more than Poirot who bothered me – he just wasn’t a Christie character at all. And, as you say, I spent most of the time wondering why his bosses hadn’t booted him out. But I always love the opportunity for a good rant myself, as you can probably tell! 😀

  10. Great review! Now I know I don’t have to worry about ever adding this one to my TBR list… It definitely sounds like reading The Monogram Murders would only frustrate me. 😀

  11. Dame Agatha (who was by all accounts a character in her own right) may have to come back from the grave to settle this one. What is it that this author doesn’t understand about the little gray cells?

    • Haha! I’m probably being too brutal on this one, but why have Agatha Christie’s name splattered all over it and then not even try to make it seem like one of her books…?

  12. Thank you Fiction Fan for your brilliant laugh out loud review- just the tonic after a difficult day! I will certainly avoid this one. And eigthly…. it sounds horrendous. Thanks for the heads-up 🙂

  13. Oh, dear, that bad, is it? Shame – I like Sophie Hannah’s novels in general, and this edition of the book looks sumptuous, all gold and drawings and slip-cover. I’m not a big fan of ‘continuation’ fiction (Death Comes to Pemberley I really couldn’t get on with, much as I admire P.D. James otherwise), so this is perhaps not the right one for me. And yet, like you, I can’t help being just a little curious…

    • I just can’t resist them – and I’m afraid they’re so seldom really good that I don’t know why I can’t. Still, a good old rant does wonders for the system, now and again… 😉

      But I do think I’m maybe being a bit too brutal on this one – her writing was pretty good and probably the plotting difficulties were because she was trying to use a different style to her own. And the characterisation would have been fine if it wasn’t so un-Christie-ish…

  14. Oh dear. I suspected Sophie Hannah would be weak or character, but I’m disappointed that she fails on plot and logic – usually her strengths too. I’d gladly see the back of sequels like this, but I suspect that the Christie estate wants to make money before the books fall out of copyright. it can’t be long ….

    • I suspect the plotting problems might have been because she was trying to write in a style that wasn’t her own, but it just seemed like a convoluted mess really. Yes, I wish they’d stop writing these too, even though I can never resist reading them, and it can only be because they make money. But most of these authors have the talent to be creating something original…

    • Hannah is big on complexity and convolution, but she misses Christie superb clarity of narrative. Hannah loves plot, clarity and credibility not so much. Christie also was much better at misdirection.

  15. Ah well, even not being a Christie fan (can we still be friends?) I am struggling hard to resist pulling the smug face and saying ‘I told you so’

    The possibility of rewriting/updating/ downdating/ prequelling/sequelleing on something which obviously worked well according to its own lights and doing it in any way which might be reasonable (at worst) would seem to be about as likely as a herd of flying pigs

    Now I reckon you put yourself through this because you enjoy the rips, so that the experience of reading, which sounds remarkably like toothache, if you love the original writer, is the delicious pleasure of rip/having that aching tooth pulled and the pain then stopping

    But you are clearly doing very well at preventing a rising TBR count on this one, from anyone!

    PS After mulling it over a bit, I’ve decided (ta) to give McEwan a miss too – I might pick it up from the library at some point, as abandoning a book I haven’t bought if its that bad, would be better than struggling grimly on – and if by some strange chance I DO like it, its win win, so your rip has lost Mr McEwan my hard-earneds. More to spend on chocolate.

    • Ah, but you know me too well – the pain of the book is nearly always outweighed by the pleasure of the rip! But in this one I didn’t even really feel that Hannah made much effort to make it feel like a Christie book – at least Sebastian Faulks got the tone of Wodehouse right, and I’m sort of looking forward to Andrew Motion’s second follow up to Treasure Island…sort of. The idea of Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma on the other hand… But of course it’s on pre-order! 😆

      Opinions are definitely divided on The Children Act, but they seem to be dividing pretty much on whether people agree with his central premise that religion is a bad thing. And since I know you feel very much as I do on that question, I suspect the book might affect you the way it did me. But I admit, the prose is of his usual very high quality… We’re doing quite well at keeping each other’s TBRs down at the moment though…

      • Its interesting, isn’t it – I was listening to a R$ programme about agnosticism, and one of the contributors talked about militant atheism (I know this has been said before) as being a kind of faith – in terms of (I was only half listening as other things were happening) the world is full of both what we certainly know and of ambiguities and uncertainties, and that there is (now this I think is definitely me, and may not have been said at all!) a certain danger in fundamental positions of absolute certainty .

        But then, perhaps ‘we live in an ambiguous, nuanced world, where even individual certainties can change, as unpredictable experience, and individual responses to these, change the nature of individual certainty’ is itself a fundamentalist belief system!

        Perhaps there are people of individual fixed, unswerving certainties, and then those who sway and shift and find new points of balance, whose fulcrums are not immutable. And I guess both these positions are needed, though I must say I am most at ease with those without the glitter of unswerving certainties of here is the absolute ism of rightness.

        I’ve gone off McEwan topic, but I continue moved by the fact that (by all accounts) voters have and are shifting between yes and no, as continuing to challenge and be challenged, reflecting the complexities of the issues, and the seriousness of the decisions. A lot of nuance, subtlety and awareness of ambiguity is around. It’s never as comfortable as certainties, but for sure it is evidence of high engagement going on, rather than the ‘whoever gets in power its the same old same old Dum and Dee, so there’s no point in even bothering!

        • I don’t object to people who have fixed beliefs so long as they’re willing to accept that other people might have different, but equally sincerely held, views. It was McEwan’s rubbishing of the sincerity of their beliefs rather than the beliefs themselves that got up my nose. Such an arrogant outlook…

          Yes, it’s odd that we’re two days away and yet genuinely no-one is really sure what the outcome will be – it’s getting too tense for me now, and I’m seriously hoping that tempers don’t break out into some kind of ugliness so close to the end. Did you see Cameron’s speech? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an odd combination of heartfelt passion and patronising idiocy before. At the point where he told us all that if we vote Yes it’s for ever, I really had to wonder if he seriously thinks any single one of us doesn’t know that? It shows how remote he is from what’s been going on on the ground…

            • Yes, it’s funny – the No campaign up here is claiming that it’s being silenced by the Yes campaigners. I was thinking it looks like the reverse is happening down south – for weeks we’ve been bombarded with ‘please don’t go’ speeches and demos, but as we know there’s a substantial number of English people who’d be quite happy to get rid of us. I reckon they’ve been silenced too…or perhaps it’s just the BBC coverage, which has been so biased towards the Union throughout the whole campaign (job worries, perhaps?).

            • Well as you know you opened my eyes to the fact that in our ‘United’ Kingdom there exists a vocal group who really are Englanders of such utterly miniscule thinking that they probably regard people who live next door but one with deep suspicion and dislike.

              Unfortunately the people who go round venting weird prejudices are always much more offensively in your face vocal than those of more thoughtful demeanour. So I don’t know how ‘substantial’ they are compared to the others, just that inevitably we notice unpleasant behaviour, attitudes, etc more than the reverse

            • Oh yes, but of course there are some Scots who like nothing more than to abuse the English too – and unfortunately they’re also the most vocal. Maybe one of the best things to come out of this is that hopefully both nationalities have heard more from the reasonable majority for once.

              Well, I was charmed when I went to vote to see the Yes and No campaigners standing together outside the polling station having a bit of a chat and a laugh. I just don’t recognise this bitterly divided nation the BBC seems to be determined to portray. I suppose it makes a better story though than ‘Scots disagree over politics but get along just fine otherwise’…

  16. This is so disappointing… though I honestly was never tempted. Even when I love characters, these new reboots just seem like fanfiction. I’ve heard the new Jeeves and Wooster novels are good, may try that…

    • Yes, they’re usually terrible but I still can’t resist them – partly because I enjoy the opportunity for an occasional rant… 😉

      I enjoyed the Jeeves book that Sebastian Faulks did – I was expecting to hate it but I really thought that for the most part he got the tone just about right. If he does another one, I’d definitely read it…

  17. It’s very hard to recreate something that someone so accomplished like Agatha Christie has already made!
    Though I’ve only read 1-2 Hercule books, I can understand what you’re pointing at.
    Thanks for the review. I’ll very well stay away from this one 😉

    • Thanks, Curtis! The reason I think he’s gay is that he keeps maundering on about how he’ll never marry even though people keep trying to pair him off with ‘nice’ women, plus he’d say things like ”Most men, I knew, would have thought her startlingly beautiful.” The implication being, I felt, that Catchpool was untouched by feminine beauty…but perhaps I’m wrong.

      Thanks for the link to your own review – I agree totally with your criticisms. 🙂

  18. I cannot understand anyone in their right mind taking on this. I met Sophie at a local library and she seemed a nice lady and full of excitement – prior to writing Poirot – and, having heard some of her own work which she read to us, I seriously wondered how she ever thought she could do it and why set herself up in this way. I have not read any of her work, I was not inspired on the night, and I certainly shan’t ruin my memories and love of Christie’s books by reading The Monogram Murders. Let sleeping dogs lie I say. 🙂

    • I know – I don’t understand why established authors take these risks either, and yet so many of them seem to jump at the chance. The unfortunate thing is that this has actually put me off reading her other books, it was so badly done. I must admit to being one of the ones who’s guilty of encouraging them though, since I can never resist reading them, but really most of them are pretty bad. It’s only an occasional author who can get the tone of the original right.

  19. I suspected I wouldn’t like this at all – and your lovely review has saved me the need to bother with it!

    • Haha! My job is done then! For once, I seem to be going with the majority view on this one, though, going by its ratings on Amazon. I hope she doesn’t write another one…

  20. […] Rant first:  I stumbled again across a copy of The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah, and felt myself again being filled with rage that she would dare – DARE – to put Agatha Christie’s name in huge letters across the top of the cover.  Just because you’ve stolen someone’s main character doesn’t give you the right to act as though one of the greatest mystery writers of all time wrote YOUR book!  Honestly.  The nerve!  I was also pretty confident that I remembered FictionFan ranting about this book when she reviewed it – and I was right! […]

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