I recently interviewed Sophie Hannah at an event in the Old Hall hotel in Buxton. It’s a old-style hotel and perfect for speaking to an author who has taken on the mantle of continuing one of our greatest fictional detectives, Hercule Poirot. I’d already listened to The Monogram Murders on audio book but hadn’t reviewed it on Crimepieces as I was waiting to read the book. When the hardback of the next Poirot novel, Closed Casket, arrived on my doormat it was the perfect opportunity to read both books back-to-back.
The Monogram Murders begins with a young woman rushing in to a coffee house and revealing to Poirot that she is already dead, or at least will be soon. Later that night three guests in the Bloxham Hotel are murdered and a cufflink placed in each of their mouths, mystifying Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool.
What follows is a murder mystery using Poirot, Christie’s famous detective but written in Sophie Hannah’s style. The decision to do this is very wise as I think few writers of Hannah’s pedigree would want to imitate the style of another author. The first third of book is slowly paced as we get used to the unusual Catchpool and his morbid fear of the dead. However, when we get to the untangling of the deaths, I found myself mesmerised by the narrative. It’s a devious plot and the extended revelation at the end is pure Poirot.
Closed Casket, the second Poirot book by Hannah is interesting in that in some respects it’s clearly a continuation of the style of book we see in The Monogram Murders and, at the same time, the author has subtly changed tack. Lady Athelinda Playford has a gathering at her country house in Ireland and over dinner announces that she has changed her will and cut off her children in favour of a man with only weeks to live. When a murder is committed, both Catchpool and Poirot pursue their own paths to catch the killer.
Those who have read Hannah’s psychological crime novels will recognise the complex plotting and it’s interesting to see how Catchpool’s character has developed. There’s more of Hannah’s humour in this book and an ingenious solution.
These were interesting books to review. I’ve deliberately not looked at any other commentary on the novels because there are legion of Christie fans each with their own take on the books. I think I read my first Poirot novel at twelve and have enjoyed the numerous film and TV adaptations over the years. Poirot is in safe hands with Hannah and I’ll definitely continue reading the series,
I was talking about this crime fiction blog to someone recently and they asked me what I though of Sophie Hannah’s books. I then shuffled my feet and admitted that I hadn’t read anything by this writer for no other reason than I’d never got around to it. This week I rectified this omission and read Hannah’s latest book Kind of Cruel.
Amber Hewerdine visits a hypnotherapist in an attempt to cure her insomnia brought on my the death of her best friend, Sharon, in a fire. Amber and her husband Luke are now looking after Sharon’s two daughters but Amber is beset by anxieties that affect her sleep. She also obsessively revisits a fateful Christmas in 2003 when she stayed with her extended family in a house called Little Orchard. On Christmas morning four members of the family disappeared for 24 hours and have refused to speak about it ever since.
Not long after her visit to the psychotherapist, Amber is questioned over the murder of a woman she has never met before. The murder appears to be motiveless and the only clue police can find is the imprint of the words ‘kind, cruel, kind of cruel’ on a notepad in the victim’s house. When Amber mutters these words in front of policewoman connected to the case she immediately falls under suspicion.
Clearly I’ve made a mistake not trying Sophie Hannah’s books before because I found this book a compelling read. The novel is written predominantly from the point of view of Amber who is presented as a slightly unreliable narrator who is keeping a secret from her husband that we as readers are also not party to. Over the course of the book we become aware that she has suspicions about the true nature of her saintly sister-in-law Jo, who seems to hold the answer to the Christmas disappearance. But no link can be found between Amber and the murder of both her friend Sharon and the primary school teacher Kat Allen.
About a third of the way through the book, there were so many strands to this narrative I couldn’t work out how Hannah could possible bring them all together. Although the story unfolds gradually the whole picture is only revealed in the last twenty pages or so. I had to go back and reread this section as I was so overloaded with information but it didn’t spoil for me what had been a fascinating story.
The book reminded me in many ways of the novels of Barbara Vine and the psychological unravelling of the characters was helped in this book by the insertions of the hypnotherapist’s observations. These sections too were very well written and gave the book a slightly eerie feel. I liked the characters of the police, especially the clearly damaged Simon Waterhouse. My only criticism would be these characters have clearly appeared in previous books and it took me a while to work out who was who.
I thought Kind of Cruel was an excellent read and I’m definitely going to be reading more of Sophie Hannah. I think she’s a good example of how a compelling story can be combined with high quality writing.
I received copy of this book from the publisher. Other reviews can be found at Eurocrime, Petrona and Shots.
The author’s website is here.