By Sophie Hannah
Featuring Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
I have not read THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, Sophie Hannah's first outing as the authorized novelist of new Hercule Poirot mysteries. I have peeked at the reviews, which don't seem very kind. I didn't mind going into CLOSED CASKET without having read it; after all I've read the original Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie in a very hodge-podge fashion. (The order I read them in depended mostly on what the library had in stock.)
After a prologue featuring a meeting between a Lady Playford and her solicitor, the novel is narrated by Inspector Edward Catchpool, a character invented by Hannah. His voice isn't as memorable as many of Christie's narratives. In fact, I struggle to name a defining feature for the character. He's a policeman who is not as smart as Poirot, and that's about it. He felt a touch like a placeholder, a character there merely to narrate.
This impression may be aided by the fact that many of the other characters are strong personalities. The murder victim, Joseph Scotcher, is a charismatic man and compulsive liar who makes an impression before his untimely exit. Lady Playford, Scotcher's employer and the host of the house party all of the characters are at, is an older woman with a mind for intrigue. She's also a novelist of mysteries herself, and I'd be curious on her view of events. The chapter where Catchpool relates her testimony is certainly one of the most compelling, both clear eyed and blinded by optimism.
CLOSED CASKET does suffer some from too little Poirot. He goes off to chase a lead in Oxford and disappears for what felt like half the book. I wanted more scenes with him, because the curmudgeonly Belgian is why I picked up the book in the first place.
Honestly, the narration is a disappointment to me because Christie's prose wasn't flashy, but it never failed to draw me deep into the story. The mystery itself is well constructed, and I enjoyed the simplicity of the solution to what seemed to be a very complex snarl. It's not an Agatha Christie novel, but it is a fine mystery.