>> Wednesday, November 11, 2015
"I'm a dead woman, or I shall be soon..."
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. Though terrified, she 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 London Hotel have been murdered, and a monogrammed 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.
The Monogram Murders is a new Hercule Poirot book. Almost 40 years after Agatha Christie's death, her estate has followed the example of so many other literary estates and commissioned a new book featuring her famous detective. The author chosen is Sophie Hannah, who's written a number of very successful psychological mysteries. I read one a couple of years ago and enjoyed it ok. I therefore entered this with a pretty open mind.
The book is set in the 1920s. Poirot is giving his little grey cells a bit of a holiday and has moved out of his house into a nearby guesthouse. He's also avoiding his usual haunts, and it's at a very good coffeehouse he has recently discovered that he meets a terrified woman called Jennie. He manages to coax out of her that she's afraid she will be murdered, but she asks him not to find the killer and let justice be done. With that, she runs out.
When Poirot comes home that evening, he hears about a strange case from one of his fellow residents at the guesthouse, Mr. Catchpool, from Scotland Yard. Three people have been found dead, each in a different room in a nearby hotel, each poisoned and posed in an almost ritualistic position, each with a monogrammed cufflink in his or her mouth. Poirot immediately remembers one of the things Jennie said: "Let no one open their mouths", and is convinced her fear and this crime are related. His little grey cells are no longer on holiday!
There are two ways to judge this book: as an Hercule Poirot mystery or as a mystery with a lead character whose name happens to be Hercule Poirot. It fails utterly as either. It was probably the worst book I've read in several years, and this includes Fifty Shades of Grey. It's that bad.
Hannah shows absolutely no understanding of what made Christie's books so enjoyable. The only thing that rang true was the one thing that tends to bother me in Christie's books and I would happily have lost: the offensively stereotypical Italian character. The rest did not feel right at all.
The plot is preposterous and overly complicated and makes absolutely no psychological sense. No one in this book behaves as a real human being. And Poirot is absolutely not Poirot. The real Poirot operates on deduction and a fine understanding of human psychology. This guy makes what I can only describe as supernatural guesses and Hannah's justifications are laughable. This Poirot is also a terrible judge of character. Right at the start of the book he describes Catchpool as a young policeman who will go far. He won't. Unlike the policemen the real Poirot often works alongside, the problem with Catchpool isn't that he's solid, but a bit plodding and unimaginative. He's just plain stupid.
Really, I can't even begin to describe how stupid Catchpool is, and since he's the main POV character, that is a huge problem. He's terrible at his job. He misses everything. There's a thing right at the start where he and Poirot are discussing how the murders might have been done. We're talking 3 people poisoned, each in different hotel rooms, during a window of 45 minutes. As far as Catchpool is concerned, all he needs to take from that is that the murderer went in each of the rooms and killed them. Done. No consideration of how the murderer might have gained access, how he might have got each of them to take the poison, why he laid them out in a specific position. The man is thick. And he's negligent, as well. He gets upset at seeing the dead bodies (a homicide detective!), so he runs away and leaves the bodies, neglecting to even make arrangements for the morgue to collect them. Seriously? And when we find out why he was so upset it's the silliest of things. And this is only the beginning of the book. It gets worse, much worse.
I hated every minute I was reading this, and if I hadn't been reading this for book club, I would have tossed it. The Christie estate should be ashamed of themselves for approving this rubbish.
MY GRADE: You know when I just said that I only finished this because it was for book club? Well, I lied. I also finished it because I don't give grades to DNFs, and it gives me great satisfaction to give this putrid pile of poo an F.