Review: The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah

Review: The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie HannahThe Killings at Kingfisher Hill: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: New Hercule Poirot #4
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow on September 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“I was thrilled to see Poirot in such very, very good hands.”— Gillian Flynn, New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl
The world’s most beloved detective, Hercule Poirot—the legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile—returns in a delectably twisty mystery.
Hercule Poirot is travelling by luxury passenger coach from London to the exclusive Kingfisher Hill estate. Richard Devonport has summoned him to prove that his fiancée, Helen, is innocent of the murder of his brother, Frank. There is one strange condition attached to this request: Poirot must conceal his true reason for being there from the rest of the Devonport family.
On the coach, a distressed woman leaps up, demanding to disembark. She insists that if she stays in her seat, she will be murdered. A seat-swap is arranged, and the rest of the journey passes without incident. But Poirot has a bad feeling about it, and his fears are later confirmed when a body is discovered in the Devonports' home with a note that refers to ‘the seat that you shouldn’t have sat in’.
Could this new murder and the peculiar incident on the coach be clues to solving the mystery of who killed Frank Devonport? And can Poirot find the real murderer in time to save an innocent woman from the gallows?

My Review:

This is the 4th book in the New Hercule Poirot mystery series, and I have to say that the longer this new Poirot series goes on, the more I sympathize with Inspector Edward Catchpool.

Not that there were many sympathetic characters in this particular entry in the series. Not even Poirot. And that’s not a good thing for a story where he is the main character.

Not that a book can’t have a frustrating or unappealing central character, but that’s not who or what Poirot is supposed to be. His quirks – his many, many quirks – are supposed to be familiar and endearing. And they usually are.

I say this as someone whose enduring memories of Poirot are from the portrayal by David Suchet and not from Christie’s original work, of which I’ve read a few but not exhaustively. It’s Suchet’s portrait of the little Belgian detective as a quirky genius that sticks in the mind. Not just for the stories and the settings, which were marvelous, but for the twinkle in the eye that his Poirot seemed to have, particularly when his idiosyncrasies were otherwise at their most annoying.

It’s something I’ve seen in the previous books in this series, and I certainly heard Suchet’s voice uttering many of Poirot’s lines in the earlier books. But this time the illusion fell apart.

The device for these new stories is that Poirot has taken on the role of mentor to a young Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Edward Catchpool. It’s very different from the role he occupied in regards to his original partners in either the books or the TV series, Captain Hastings, Miss Lemon, and Inspector Japp. While none of those mentioned had nearly Poirot’s genius, they all seemed to be his contemporaries in age, giving those relationships some level of equality that the young Catchpool cannot aspire to.

And this is a case where Poirot is at his most mysterious and impenetrable, deriding Catchpool at every turn while withholding the information that the man needs to even begin to figure out what is going on. The scene where Catchpool is freezing in a swimming pool while Poirot insists that he make his report before permitting him to get out of the pool and dry off, meanwhile telling Catchpool how stupid he is to be swimming in the first place seemed a bridge too far for even Poirot’s insensitivity to anything but the processes of his “little grey cells”.

It does not help that in this particular mystery, none of the potential murderers are remotely sympathetic – and most of their motives and actions don’t make nearly enough sense. They’re not quite as terrible as the Thrombey family in Knives Out, but they’re not far off that mark, either.

And the Thrombey family, as hateful as they were, generally had motives that were both clear and comprehendible. Reprehensible, but understandable. That didn’t feel true in this story. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like the suspects, as that the reasons they acted as they did just did not ring true.

The rich may be different than you and me, and the past may be another country where they do things differently, but human beings are just not this different.

Escape Rating C: This may be a “fair play” mystery, where the reader has all of the same clues as the detective, but it felt like neither fair nor play. The only character I felt for, or who felt like a plausible human being, was the much-put-upon Catchpool, who is all too aware of the situation that he has been placed in, caught between his superintendent’s belief in Poirot’s detective genius and Poirot’s need to expound that genius at someone he believes needs his expert guidance. Not that Catchpool doesn’t need seasoning and experience, but all I did in this outing was feel sorry for him.

Obviously, this was not my favorite in this series. I found the others charming and comforting, reading like continuations of the TV series. I enjoyed them enough that I’ll be back for the next in the series in the hopes that it returns to its original form.

Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie HannahThe Mystery of Three Quarters (The New Hercule Poirot Mystery #3) by Sophie Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: New Hercule Poirot #3
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The world's most beloved detective, Hercule Poirot--the legendary star of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and most recently The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket--returns in a stylish, diabolically clever mystery set in the London of 1930.

Returning home from a luncheon, Hercule Poirot is met at his door by an imperious woman who introduces herself as Sylvia Rule. "How dare you? How dare you send me such a letter?" Ignoring his denials, Mrs. Rule insists that she received a missive claiming he had proof she murdered a man named Barnabas Pandy and advising her to confess her crime to the police. Threatening the perplexed Poirot with a lawsuit, she leaves in a huff.

Minutes later, a rather disheveled man named John McCrodden appears. "I got your letter accusing me of the murder of Barnabas Pandy." Calmly, Poirot again rebuts the charge. Each insisting they are victims of a conspiracy, Mrs. Rule and Mr. McCrodden deny knowing who Pandy is.

The next day, two more strangers proclaim their innocence and provide illuminating details. Miss Annabel Treadway tells Poirot that Barnabas Pandy was her grandfather. But he was not murdered; his death was an accident. Hugo Dockerill also knows of Pandy, and he heard the old man fell asleep in his bath and drowned.

Why did someone send letters in Poirot's name accusing people of murder? If Pandy's death was an accident, why charge foul play? It is precisely because he is the great Hercule Poirot that he would never knowingly accuse an innocent person of a crime. Someone is trying to make mischief, and the instigator wants Poirot involved.

Engaging the help of Edward Catchpool, his Scotland Yard policeman friend, Poirot begins to dig into the investigation, exerting his little grey cells to solve an elaborate puzzle involving a tangled web of relationships, scandalous secrets, and past misdeeds.

My Review:

This is now the third of Sophie Hannah’s New Hercule Poirot mysteries (after The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket), and there is one thing they all have in common. Actually there are several things they have in common, but the one that strikes this reader first is the sheer, compulsive readability of this series. Whether one considers them continuations of the original, homages to it, or a combination of the two, they are all absolutely brimming with can’t-put-it-down-ness. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. All day.

Another factor that is common to all three books is the new author’s invented “Watson” for Poirot, Inspector Edward Catchpool. Unlike poor Japp in the original series, Catchpool is a young detective, early in his career. While he sometimes (often!) chafes at being caught between his Super’s orders and Poirot’s “requests”, he is aware that he needs Poirot.

One of the gratifying parts of their relationship is the way that Poirot also seems to be aware that he needs Catchpool, and not just to provide official sanction. Poirot is always the lead partner, but there is a partnership developing.

The case in The Mystery of Three Quarters feels very Poirot in that it is convoluted in the extreme. Someone has sent letters, signed by Poirot, accusing the recipients of murder. The four recipients of those letters are various shades of indignant and perplexed. Poirot is incensed, because he did not send the letters – and their grammar and writing style is absolutely appalling. Instead he discovers that the supposed murder victim surely died by accident, and that his purported murderers don’t seem to have much relationship to each other – or even to the late, more-or-less lamented Barnabas Pandy.

It’s up to Poirot, with the able assistance of Inspector Catchpool, to figure out, not so much whodunit, but whydunit, before somebody else gets done.

Escape Rating B: It’s the must-keep-reading-ness aspect of this book that sticks with me. The case, as bizarre as it is (and Poirot’s cases were often a bit “out there”) pulls the reader along from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph and doesn’t let go until the end.

In other words, The Mystery of Three Quarters is a whole lot of fun to read.

Three books into this “new” series, I still feel as if it is more of a continuation of the TV portrayal of Poirot than the original books – or perhaps it’s just that Poirot’s extreme quirks feel even more quirky when one visualizes David Suchet’s performance than they must have when originally published. I always hear Suchet’s voice while reading this new series. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

One thing that stands out from The Mystery of Three Quarters is the utter wackiness of the entire case. As a device to get Poirot involved, the fraudulent letters are a stroke of both absurdity and genius. No one could resist getting to the bottom of the whole mess, and certainly Poirot is incapable of letting someone else take his name in vain. He can’t resist, which was the whole point.

Also the killer’s mistake, but of course that’s all part of the big reveal at the end.

One of the things that surprised me about the entire farrago was just how much of Poirot’s resolution turned out to be based on slightly far-fetched assumptions about motives and emotions. There’s not a whole lot of forensic evidence in this case until the very end. Instead it’s all about what people thought and how they felt and why they subsequently acted the way they did.

It all gallops along brilliantly as its going on, but looking back I’m not quite sure it all hangs together. But still, it was a terrific ride while it was happening, and I enjoyed every page of it.

I’m very happy that the author is continuing this “collaboration” with the late Dame Agatha Christie, and I look forward to more installments of Hercule Poirot’s “new” mysteries!

But I still like the UK covers better for this series. It’s Poirot. It’s the 1930s. Art deco is the right look and feel. Just run with it!

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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.

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