The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery
Arguably the biggest literary event of 2014 is the release of a new Agatha Christie novel. No, this is not a found treasure unearthed decades after her death. Rather, the Christie Foundation --- a group known for being extremely guarded and protective of her work --- personally selected British author Sophie Hannah to write as Dame Agatha herself.
THE MONOGRAM MURDERS stars Christie's most prolific creation and one of the world's most recognizable detectives in all of literature, Inspector Hercule Poirot. The Belgian sleuth has become renowned from the pages of Christie's novels, as well as on film, where he has been portrayed most notably by Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov, and on television by actor David Suchet in the long-running PBS mystery series “Poirot.”
For years, Christie labored with Poirot, and during the 1960s had become tired of him and his gruff antics. An attempt to kill him off was greeted by resounding rebuttal from fans. She kept him alive until her final novel, CURTAIN, where Poirot died due to placing his own amyl nitrite prescription out of reach and eventually bringing on the heart attack that took his life. During her career, Christie expanded the scope of the traditional mystery novel and achieved global success that continues to this day. Her stage adaptations of several of her own novels have also been world-renowned, and her play, The Mousetrap, is the longest running production in theater history and still performed daily in London.
"Sophie Hannah has achieved greatness with this effort, and I am sure I speak for Christie fans everywhere when I say that I hope this is not the last we see of the new Poirot adventures."
Now, in the able hands of Sophie Hannah, Poirot has been resurrected in a terrific mystery set in the 1920s. Hannah herself has been a highly successful author of psychological thrillers, some of which also have found their way to the small screen in the TV series “Case Sensitive,” featuring actress Olivia Williams. Her twisty and intelligent novels set her apart from others in the same genre, and her selection as the writer to take over for Christie was a sound one.
THE MONOGRAM MURDERS pits Poirot, who is visiting London, with his British colleague, Inspector Catchpool of Scotland Yard, in the middle of a triple murder that involves three seemingly unrelated individuals being poisoned to death at a local hotel called the Bloxham. Ironically, each body is found in their own individual rooms. The corpses all bear a common signature --- the placement of a monogrammed cufflink bearing the same initials, PJI, found in each of the victims' mouths.
It all begins when a strange and harried woman accosts Poirot while he is enjoying coffee in a local coffee/tea shop. She fears for her life, but begs Poirot and the authorities not to investigate her murder --- which she is confident is coming soon --- as she insists she deserves whatever she gets. When the triple murders at the hotel follow shortly thereafter, Poirot believes this strange lady named Jennie must be involved. If only he could find her.
The trail leads Poirot and Catchpool to the small town of Great Holling. It is here where the victims --- Ida Gransbury, Harriet Sippel and Richard Negus --- all lived. It turns out they very much knew each other and even allegedly jointly planned their stay at the Bloxham. Further digging turns up the trio's involvement in the defaming of a local parish priest named Patrick Ive. Their allegations against Ive eventually resulted in the suicide of him and his wife. Could the deaths of the three be a case of revenge taken years after the scandal?
Things get dicey when Poirot's strange woman, now known to be Jennie Hobbs, is apparently also murdered in the Bloxham. However, there is no body found --- just a huge spot of blood on the carpet and Jennie's hat. Has she indeed become the fourth victim, or could this be a ruse on the part of her and/or the nameless killer or killers to confuse the investigation? Be prepared for a wild ride as nothing is what it seems in this novel.
THE MONOGRAM MURDERS features all of the classic elements fans of Dame Agatha Christie have come to love --- a myriad of suspects, a bevy of red herrings, unpredictable plot twists and unique prose that fits perfectly with her beloved protagonist. The denouement, which features a Poirot unveiling of the crime via the unique use of his “grey cells,” is reminiscent of the great MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and will have readers riveted to their chairs. Sophie Hannah has achieved greatness with this effort, and I am sure I speak for Christie fans everywhere when I say that I hope this is not the last we see of the new Poirot adventures.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 12, 2014