The Monogram Murders
"You lack the confidence, Catchpool."
"Yes. What does one do about that?"
"I do not know. It is not a problem that I suffer from. I do not worry that I will meet a problem for which I will be unable to find the solution."
Hercule Poirot is back, whether one likes it or not. It was Agatha Christie's family that decided that it was time for the world to know him again. It is through writer Sophie
Hannah's new novel that Poirot returns to solve a mystery and bring justice. This new novel, The Monogram Murders, comes 39 years after Poirot's final (literally) case. I
will review this new novel and judge if Poirot's return is triumphant.
The first US and Canadian edition of The Monogram Murders, the new Poirot novel. A new Poirot story hadn't been published in 39 years.
Did I have some reservations about the new novel? Of course. No one can replace Agatha Christie. I owe it to
myself to read it. Why? There are two reasons: 1) I never bought an Hercule Poirot novel that was truly new to everyone; Agatha Christie passed away when I was just a little one; 2)
I am a fan of Agatha Christie, but I am also a fan of Hercule Poirot, and if there's a new mystery with him, I'm going to read it. Reading the book was like visiting an old
friend. So, here goes my review--with no spoilers:
Story's Plot and Setting
The narrator of the novel is a Scotland Yard policeman of thirty-two, an Edward Catchpool. He tells of the story how he and Poirot investigate the three deaths of people staying at
The Bloxham Hotel, a luxurious hotel in London. Each of the victims are poisoned in a separate room, separate hotel floor, with a monogram cufflink (with the letters "PIJ") placed in
each of their mouths. The investigations take Poirot and Catchpool to various spots in London and to a quiet village called Great Holling. In that small and quiet town they discover
how tragic events from sixteen years ago that transpired there are related to the three murders at the hotel.
Edward Catchpool states the year was 1929 in the month of February. That places our story between
The Mystery of the Blue Train and Peril at End House. The author Sophie Hannah even states that's where she specifically places the story (as explained in her
Google Hangout conversation on her novel). Poirot still has his residence in London, but is lodging with our
narrator elsewhere in London for a respite and to rejuvenate his little gray cells.
I wondered throughout the entire novel if the writer's selection of 1929 as the year for this
novel was smart. The 1930s is Poirot's busiest, and Ms. Hannah probably wanted to avoid that decade. She also probably decided late 1920s because already by then Captain Hastings
was "out of the picture". Personally, I think this novel should've been placed right after The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as Poirot was attempting to retire in that story. He
is essentially resting in the beginning of this one, so why not continue the idea that Poirot is still trying to rest after the Ackroyd book? There is no allusion to the era
that The Monogram Murders is set in. It doesn't reference any detail that tells us the story is set in 1929. The story could've been easily placed in the 1950s. (Side note:
the story itself felt like it belonged in the 50s, along with other Poirot tales such as Mrs. McGinty's Dead or Dead Man's Folly. It just felt that way.)
Throughout the entire novel, we see many famous mannerisms and characteristics that define Poirot. However, there may be too much of this in the story. I hope
the writer didn't feel compelled to add all these traits of Poirot in just one novel. Adding so much of Poirot's persona into the novel makes him
more of a caricature than a character. He feels "fake" and just a representation of the person. Maybe all of this Poirot in the novel is to convince the reader that this is
the same character Agatha Christie created. It forces the reader to say "Ah, yes, this truly is the Poirot I've always known."
Having said that, here are a few examples of typical Poirot behavior that surfaces in Monogram: Poirot thankfully has kept his big ego of himself and still compares his
mind with that of others (especially Catchpool from Scotland Yard). Poirot's eyes still shine exceptionally green when he gets excited or is illuminated (no pun is intended), and he
still falters sometimes with various idioms in English. He still enjoys playing the matchmaker to others as he does in other novels. The one grand thing that's expected (and that I am
very pleased in) is Poirot assembling all the suspects in a room together. Poirot gathering his audience to address them is a huge plus for this novel.
There are specifically two instances where I thought the Poirot in this novel is not Poirot. Poirot normally doesn't hop onto public transportation randomly and without
a plan. This he does in Monogram, and I find that odd as I don't recall he does so in other stories. Certainly, Poirot will utilize public transportation, but with no reason?
Also, the Poirot in this novel doesn't seem to mind being outside on a cold February day. The Poirot we know would assuredly hesitate being out in the cold and would much prefer the indoors
equipped with central heating.
I do appreciate Poirot finding a clue the way he does in the novel. He finds it behind a tile for the fireplace; the tile is a little loose and not aligned right. This clue he
finds because of his fixation on things straight and orderly, which characteristics Ms. Hannah illustrates perfectly. This mirrors a scene in Poirot's first novel, The
Mysterious Affair at Styles when Poirot finds something valuable by straightening the items on a mantelpiece. Just brilliant!
In the course of the novel, Poirot lists questions that he needs answers for. He does this in his novels. He does it here, too, in front of the employees of the hotel. I
think this is a good touch by Ms. Hannah. There are three reasons: 1) Establishes that Poirot propounds questions like he always does; 2) These are questions the reader needs to
answer--this is how Agatha Christie involves the reader; 3) Poirot likes an audience to hear him speak, of course! The disappointing thing about Poirot asking questions is that the
narrator Catchpool doesn't write these down specifically for the reader. I think here this is a mistake on Ms. Hannah's part, unfortunately. Speaking of questions, Poirot is fond of
asking questions to his companions. (Specifically, to his companions who are also narrators!) This is important, because through asking his companions questions, Poirot is asking
us--the readers--to think and to be involved.
Similarities of Christie's Style
There are plenty of times in the novel in which Ms. Hannah evokes a feeling that you're reading an Agatha Christie novel. Hannah's use of red herrings, cover-ups and twists are
similar to those of Christie's. Hannah employs poison as the lethal weapon here in Monogram, Christie's favorite weapon of choice. Edward Catchpool's visit to the quaint
English village of Great Holling is a huge positive for the story. It's a village that fits perfectly in a novel associated with the name of Agatha Christie. It is widely known that
Christie often quoted William Shakespeare in her works. This Ms. Hannah does also, twice, in her novel and shows that she knows Agatha Christie well. The opening chapter or
entire set-up of the story is similar to Christie's style, too. The opening reminds me of the opening chapters of Appointment with Death, After the Funeral,
A Murder is Announced, Murder is Easy, Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, and The Pale Horse (that begins in a coffee shop just like The Monogram
Murders). This novel reminds the reader that in a Christie novel, all the characters lie, and we're also reminded that from time to time, Christie likes a mystery with a dead
body in a locked room.
There is so much evil in this novel. Ms. Hannah depicts evil as a very menacing feeling. The evil in the story is something that is almost tangible. It's a terrifying feeling and
it is such a positive element for The Monogram Murders. The evil represents all the jealousy, religious bigotry, carnal desires, hatred, and gossip in the novel. There are
a few Christie novels that give me this heavy feeling of evil. Some of them would be Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot's Christmas, The Body in the
Library, Nemesis, Sleeping Murder, and The Pale Horse. These strong and fierce emotions mentioned above all come from the true-to-life and fleshed-out
characters. Most of the characters are very real and human and it makes the struggle and story all the more real and intense.
The story reminds me of an old adage that Christie used in her writings: "Old sins cast long shadows". Having said that, the plot reminds me a little of Poirot's Five Little
Pigs. That's only in the sense of Poirot and Catchpool going back to the past--to Great Holling's past. Catchpool's narrative succeeds very well in describing events in retrospect.
In my mind, I played out the scenes that transpired sixteen years ago in Great Holling in the similar way that Dumbledore's Pensieve works in the Harry Potter books.
The plot is so clever and imaginative. The plot and mystery of The Monogram Murders is worthy of the name Agatha Christie. The plot is strengthened by the characteristics
of Christie's writing, as previously mentioned. My one gripe of the plot itself is its "reveal" at the ending. The ending lacks the "a-ha moment" or the "yes, of course!" reaction
from the reader. Yet, still, the plot is reminiscent of Agatha Christie's. I think Christie would've been proud of the story and of the return of her beloved character Hercule Poirot.
Appropriately, Sophie Hannah dedicated her novel to Christie herself.
HPC rates this book:
Out of 5 mustaches