Reviewing Sophie Hannah’s The Monogram Murders

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Sophie Hannah has taken one of Agatha Christie’s best loved creations, Hercule Poirot – he of the little grey cells and exquisite moustache – and penned a new mystery for the sleuth. I was both excited and wary about this because can an imitation of a much loved author ever be as good, even if the imitation is done by someone who can write very well? Or with the imitation be nothing but a pale reflection of the original? When the book was released I bought it and I read it.

First I want to say just how beautiful the design of the book is. The whole package is stunning and you all know I love my well designed book covers. This is definitely up there as one of the best in 2014. In the immortal words of that singer who has long vanished but whose lyrics will never suffer the same fate, black and gold, black and gold *dance music*.

The story itself follows Poirot and his policemen friend Catchpool as they try to discover exactly how, why, and by whom three people were murdered in The Bloxom Hotel. All three bodies were positioned after their death and all three had monogrammed cufflinks in their mouth.

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When I started reading the book I knew it wasn’t Agatha Christie and while this was a sad fact it also was very, very good. Sophie Hannah isn’t Agatha Christie and so the writing styles are different. This I willing accepted and embraced. What I didn’t really understand was just how different Hannah’s Poirot was to Christie’s Poirot. I couldn’t embrace this as wholeheartedly. I can understand it, after all Hannah wants to put her mark on Poirot, but it’s Poirot. There is only one Poirot and he wasn’t in this book all that much.

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This Poirot moved out of his home and into lodgings because he wants anonymity (since when did Poirot covet that?), this Poirot loves coffee and coffee shops, and most strangely this Poirot loves mud. Seriously, when has Poirot ever willingly drawn in mud? I couldn’t even picture that happening until I read this book and even then it was a freakish image in my head. This Poirot is also obsessed with the correct way of using ‘his and hers’ in a sentence but more of that later.

I thoroughly enjoyed the murder aspect of this book. I liked the complexity of having three people in three different rooms die on the same day and in the same way. I liked using my own grey cells to try and figure out what had happened but before long I just let Poirot and Catchpool do all the hard work because my brain was lost. I have looked at other reviews and have seen that many people felt the same way.

Some of the intuitive leaps Poirot made were just too farfetched – how in the world was he able to know that a terrified woman in the coffee shop was linked to the three murders in the hotel? It was too tenuous especially when the reasoning and logic behind this boiled down to how she used ‘his and hers’ in a sentence. The woman was a domestic servant who imitated the accent and mannerisms of academics in Oxford – this also included how to structure a sentence with ‘his and hers’ in it. I didn’t buy it. Sure Poirot can spot people dropping hints accidently but she planted this ‘hint’ and I’m pretty sure people wouldn’t rely on grammatical rules to entice a detective into connecting them with three murders.

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I have to admit that this part of the book went in one metaphorical ear and out the other. And while nothing like this happened again, Poirot did leap to some amazing conclusions with what appeared to be no previous knowledge whatsoever. His solution was…intense. But before I go to that, let me talk about Cathapool. He was created by Hannah to be the narrator very much the same way Christie created Hastings. (Talking about Hastings I missed him). He is one of those policemen who can’t stand dead bodies and one of those policemen who is happy to let Poirot do all the work. I quite liked the fact that there wasn’t the usual tussle between the official arm of the law and the private dick but it wasn’t believable.

A large chunk of the novel was used for the traditional denouement but with a very small number of suspects I didn’t expect it to be so lengthy or quite so convoluted. Some of the things Poirot knows left me wondering exactly how he knows. There seemed to be no clues and lot of his conclusions were based on the changing colour of a bowl in a painting, and the fact that coffee in the coffee house tasted suspiciously like coffee in a character’s house (I couldn’t get over this because this was a ridiculous link based on an assumption which of course turned out right). Also the solution wasn’t all that satisfying – I wanted it to be meatier.

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I know I have spent most of this review complaining about the things I didn’t like. But this isn’t my overall impression of the book. Yes there were issues and things I didn’t like but when I think of the book I smile. I loved being in this world again, loved reading about Poirot (even if it was a different Poirot), and loved trying to solve the mystery. I hope the estate does licence other official sequels because I would love to know how other author’s would create a Poirot mystery.

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