Aug 26 2020

The Monogram Murders (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #1) by Sophie Hannah

I’ve probably already nattered on obnoxiously about the fact that I inhaled every published book in Dame Agatha Christie’s oeuvre the year I was thirteen, but that was a seminal event in my life, solidifying my reading habits and eventual, oddly specialized, career path. Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to review the third of Sophie Hannah’s estate-authorized New Hercule Poirot mysteries, The Mystery Of Three Quarters, for work and found it a pleasant exercise, even as I found myself baffled by the need for a new supporting cast. Reading this first in the series confirmed for me that I should have started here in order to better get to know Fee Spring and “Mister” Edward Catchpool (and I’m sure it’s historically accurate that he’s called a “Mister” throughout but it amuses me nonetheless that he’s never addressed as detective or constable or somesuch.)

The Monogram Murders introduces Catchpool as Hercule Poirot’s latest unwitting, tho certainly not unwilling, assistant. The two meet as fellow lodgers at Mrs Blanche Unsworth’s frilly, feminine boarding house: Catchpool lives there out of necessity, but Poirot’s stay stems from a desire for slightly different surroundings from his own nearby London home. Catchpool is a mediocre Scotland Yard detective with, as the story opens, a passion for cruciverbalism and an aversion to corpses. He’s called in to investigate the discovery of three dead bodies, each found in a separate room of the Bloxham Hotel, all murdered and arranged in the same way, with a monogrammed cuff link placed inside each closed mouth.

Meanwhile, Poirot is on the hunt for a woman named Jennie after a startling interview earlier in the day at his favorite haunt, Pleasant’s Coffee House. Jennie, a middle aged ladies’ maid with a guilty conscience, told him that she feared for her life before abruptly fleeing the premises. Unable to track her down that evening, Poirot returns to his lodgings and learns about the murders at the Bloxham. Immediately seeing a connection, he insinuates himself into Catchpool’s investigations. The two are soon interviewing witnesses and marvelously exercising little grey cells in their pursuit of the truth.

And what a convoluted truth it is! I rather liked the way it was presented, all English mannerisms and critique of same gilding layer upon layer of story like the most delightful intellectual cake, but the overall effect felt a bit fluffy whereas Dame Christie’s writing was usually far more dense. Had I been told Dame Christie wrote this, I would have put it squarely in the entertaining but slight category of her works: that anyone else managed to pull this off at all is a tribute to their talents. Ms Hannah has done well to write an elaborate plot and clothe it convincingly in the trappings of a Poirot mystery (tho I did think our favorite Belgian used far more French phrases than he might have in the canon oeuvre.) TMM certainly isn’t a patch on Dame Christie at her finest but it’s a fun homage for when you don’t want to reread a mystery but do want an excursion back to Poirot’s world. I’ve already requested the next book in this series from my local library and am definitely looking forward to reading some more fresh new adventures with Poirot and co., especially with the latest book coming out in mere weeks!

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