Review: The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie

monogram murders by sophie hannah and agatha christieFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Hercule Poirot #43
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: September 9, 2014
Purchasing Info: Sophie Hannah’s Website, Agatha Christie’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Hercule Poirot’s quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered. She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim…

My Review:

I enjoyed reading The Monogram Murders quite a bit. Enough to finish it in a single day.

However, for all the purists out there, my primary introduction to the works of Dame Agatha is through the TV series; I have read a very few of the actual books, but mostly, I have enjoyed the various performances of her work.

David Suchet as Poirot
David Suchet as Poirot

I could hear David Suchet as Poirot in many of his lines in The Monogram Murders. Which does not make the book the epitome of Dame Agatha’s, work, but does make it seem in keeping with his TV portrayal of Poirot. So perhaps a good adaptation of an adaptation?

The entree to The Monogram Murders certainly seemed to fit Poirot; he takes a vacation to rest his “little grey cells” by pretending to leave London. Instead he takes a room at a boarding house within sight of his apartments.

He also finds a mystery where at first there doesn’t seem to be one; the mysterious and seemingly frightened “Jennie” who interrupts his dinner to announce that someone is trying to murder her and that she deserves it. The scenario is guaranteed to garner Poirot’s interest. As it was intended both by the author and by Jennie herself.

All of Poirot’s mysteries are complicated and convoluted, and this one proves to be no exception.

Meanwhile, Poirot’s erstwhile friend, the police detective Edward Catchpool, has left the scene of not one, but three murders in an upscale hotel. Although the victims initially seem to have nothing in common, all their bodies were formally laid out in the same ceremonial manner, leading to the inevitable conclusion that they were all murdered by the same person.

When Poirot and Catchpool relate their evening activities to each other back at the rooming house, Poirot immediately jumps to the conclusion that his mysterious Jennie is somehow involved with Catchpool’s three murders.

Catchpool is a reasonably good detective; his version of Occam’s Razor tells him that while the three murder victims must have something to do with each other, Poirot’s Jennie, while possibly in trouble, couldn’t possibly have anything to do with his case.

Of course Catchpool is wrong, or this wouldn’t be a case for Hercule Poirot.

Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp
Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp

Poirot takes it upon himself (doesn’t he always?) to insert himself into his friend’s case. Catchpool is savvy enough to know that while he will get the official credit (or official blame if it goes wrong) it is really Poirot’s case and Catchpool is just there to give Poirot official standing. He’s also aware that he isn’t senior enough to be left a case this big on his own without Poirot. He feels slightly trapped a good chunk of the time. (I wonder how Inspector Japp used to feel?)

The murders seem like the kind of overdone melodrama that is also designed to get Poirot’s attention. The three victims not only knew each other, but were involved in a long-ago scandal that resulted in two suicides. It’s no wonder that someone killed them, it’s just a question of who.

And whether or not there will be another victim before Poirot figures things out.

Escape Rating B-: As I said at the top, I could practically hear David Suchet reading Poirot’s dialog, so the story felt like it captured his “voice” pretty well.

On the other hand, and while this seems off-topic it wasn’t for me; Edward Catchpool’s name reminded me all too much of Eric Catchpole, the assistant on Lovejoy. Eric is not the brightest bulb in the pack, so that resemblance was not a good thing. (I digress)

I did wonder why the author created an entirely new sidekick for Poirot instead of using any of the familiar faces. Where was Japp? Has he retired by the time of this story? (I miss the original crew of Japp, Hastings and Lemon.)

One of the things that struck me in the book, that is often swept along by the action in the TV series, is just how convoluted the mystery turns out to be. Naturally, the perpetrator is never the obvious person, or Poirot’s help would not be needed, but still, the way that this particular crime reached back into the distant past felt a bit contrived.

Also, the originating scandal was one that may have been reasonable at the point where Christie was writing, but the behavior of the people in that small village 16 years previous to this story just didn’t feel true-to-life. Or it may be that times have changed just too much. Your mileage may vary.

monogram murders by sophie hannah international edAlthough speaking of the times changing, the international cover of The Monogram Murders captures the art deco feeling that one associates with Poirot much better than the US cover. Again, mileage definitely varies.

None of these quibbles change the fact that I had an absolutely marvelous time reading The Monogram Murders. It reminds me more than a bit of Jill Paton Walsh’s re-creations of Lord Peter Wimsey; it may not be the original, but it is the best we’ve got. If it’s an echo of Christie’s genius, it is still a lovely echo to hear.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

And they say no one reads the classics anymore

They say no one reads the classics anymore. But they’d be wrong. At least as it applies to ebooks. Or so say the checkout statistics for the Project Gutenberg titles available from OverDrive.

In a recent blog post, OverDrive listed their top 25 circulating titles from Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg digitizes books and other media that are out of copyright in the United States and makes them available for free download.

It’s the list of the “biggest hits” that fascinates.

Obviously, sex still sells. Always and forever. Even when no one actually has to buy anything. The number one book on the list is the Kama Sutra. An ereader or a tablet computer is even better than a brown paper wrapper for hiding what a person is reading. The Kama Sutra is referred to so often, in literature and elsewhere, as the original sex manual, that curiousity alone would prompt many people to idly search for it. And if they could borrow it without anyone else being the wiser, many would be tempted to delve into a copy.

Love still makes the world go ’round. Two classic love stories made the list: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. And just to show that all is fair in love and war, The Art of War by Sun Tzu is also part of the top 25.

The titles that make up this list represent every genre of fiction. Inspector Poirot’s first case, otherwise known as The Mysterious Affair at Styles, barely makes the list at number 23. But The Secret Adversary, Dame Agatha Christie’s first work starring Tommy and Tuppence, weighed in at number 10. And, one of my personal favorites, the world’s first consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is the second most popular book on the list. Considering that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes includes the case of A Scandal in Bohemia, where Holmes was bested by “The Woman”, otherwise known as Irene Adler, perhaps we are still on the topics of love and war after all.

For any folks wondering about science fiction, fantasy and/or horror, the answer is yes, they are well represented, not just in numbers, but also by some of the greats. H.G. Wells’ journey in The Time Machine, Bram Stoker’s discovery of the nosferatu in Dracula, and Edgar Rice Burroughs sword and planet fantasy of The Princess of Mars.

Yes, the usual suspects are also on the list. The titles that we all know are assigned for classes like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and the Count of Monte Cristo. But people are also taking advantage of the ability to have the entire works of Shakespeare or the Bible (Old and New Testaments) or War and Peace available on their ereader of choice, without having to lug the totality around.

The point is that these aren’t classics because of some esoteric quality they have. They are classics because they are still read.  There is one book on the list I personally wouldn’t touch with someone else’s barge-pole, because it’s not my taste–someone take James Joyce’s Ulysses, please! But most of the books on the list wear their years well.

I’ve never read any of the Tommy and Tuppence books by Agatha Christie. Maybe it’s time to start.