In my opinion, a superior mind counts for nothing unless accompanied by a superior heart. Sophie Hannah
The Monogram Murders is set mostly in Bloxham where we find our Belgian detective working on a set of suspicious murders all occurring in the Bloxham Hotel. There are similarities about the murders that puts Poirot on edge, as well as the fact he met a woman in distress only hours previous who alluded to her own imminent death. We follow the story from Mr Catchpool’s point of view, a new friend of Poirot in Scotland Yard, he lacks confidence in his words and struggles to cope with Poirot’s inability to share his findings when they are crucial to the case which we all know is part of the magic.
If you have read any of my previous reviews you will know I am a keen Poirot fan, and when I learnt there had been further stories released I was sceptical but Agatha Christie’s estate had approved and allowed Sophie Hannah to use the characters Christie had created within her own adaptation of the Poirot mystery so I thought it can’t all be bad. I was not eager at first to find out whether they were going to be worth the read but I found my copy in a charity shop for £2.00 and couldn’t resist opening it up. I tried to be optimistic and read it with an open mind fully expecting this to not be a Christie novel and something new to experience but I struggled to get along with this even with that in mind. There was too much going on for me, too many characters all playing an important part that we raise questions about, questions which are then left out in the open with no seemingly obvious answers.
The story itself was well planned and thought through, all the different aspects of the main plot were joined together nicely but too many intertwining subplots made it difficult to follow in most parts. Most notably from the start of the story we come to realise Catchpool seems to have an unexplained fear of the bodies found, we later have a brief (maybe one and a half page) explanation and it is never brought up again expect one line here and there. I’ve been making notes as I read this week so as to not forget anything and this was one of my first notes, I had hoped that by bringing the fear up it would somehow play a larger part to the story and we would discover something through it, but no, in all honesty I felt it wasted time and gave nothing worthwhile to the story. I appreciate that it was likely to give depth to a new character but I’m not sure this paid off. There were a lot of separate parts I felt the same lack of excitement with, unnecessary characters (in my eyes) and unimportant back stories that lent nothing to the plot, by the end it got quite tedious where I was happy to just put it down as a DNF but I powered through the last few pages.
I did enjoy the main plot, without giving too much away the reason behind the ‘murders’ was something I could understand and comprehend through the pages, the backstory to the current situation we found the characters in was a little far-fetched for me but it still built up the story to the position we found it in. I don’t think we would have found the situation as believable without the backstory being a little bit out there, there would have had to have been a real compelling reason for (what eventually becomes) four murders.
Would I read this again? Probably not, but I glad I read it the first time despite the struggle. I intend to read the next Christie/Hannah book just because I want to at least give Sophie Hannah the chance to redeem her writing skills. I have briefly skimmed over some of her other work in preparation of writing this blog and it is good writing, I think that the pressure of writing not only with a world-renowned character but the pressure of Christie’s name all over it meant there was a lot to live up to and I can’t say this book was up at the Christie level, albeit some of Christie’s Poirot stories are better than others but Hannah just missed the mark on this.