The book is the first in a series. I have a few Agatha Christie books and saw some movie adaptations. So, I bought this book, sat down, and dived in.
The story starts intriguing enough but two-thirds in, it loses steam. Oh, Poirot is still talking and making points but I was numb with the convoluted plot knowing that more versions of the plot would follow. When the end came, not all my questions were answered.
This book came out almost ten years ago. You can read about the plot online. But I must get off my chest what bugs me so: spoiler alerts!
Let us start with recreating Hercule Poirot. I shudder every time I hear about a sequel or a remake. Not just from our Belgium detective. Across the board. Very few remakes are as good as or better than the original unless you add something endearing to an existing character. I did not feel that here.
I have never seen the TV series with David Suchet, it is on my to-do list. In this book I did see some characteristics of Peter Ustinov as Poirot. Think back to ‘Evil Under the Sun’ where, before the all-will-be-revealed moment, Sir Horace Blatt and Daphne Castle ask Poirot “give us a clue.” Poirot then lists a few clues from which they can arrive at the conclusion themselves. They then both say that he is quite arrogant. That is what I read in this book.
However, the Poirot in Evil has a humanity that the Poirot in Monogram lacks. Examples: he (unsuccessfully) tries to cheer Linda up, he can laugh at a joke made by the suspect (Patrick Redfern), he showcases his own weaknesses (mal-de-mer, sea sickness) and jokes that it took all his courage to come to Sir Horace Blatt’s boat. He lies when he can boast about his fitness by claiming he swam in the bay while in the movie he just air swims to the fantastic tunes of Cole Porter. In short, say what you will about Ustinov as Poirot, he gave him a personality. Hannah gives us none. Poirot is one-dimensional. His reactions and thoughts do not give us insight in his train of thought, his deductions, or how he sees the mind of the killer. I always thought that mattered most.
Here in the book, he has Edward Catchpool as a sidekick. Poor Edward Catchpool has so many psychological issues that you wonder how he graduated from the police academy. We learn nothing about his law enforcement career. But a man who cannot stand dead bodies or blood is going to have a hell of a time as a detective. And not just a detective constable in a village, no. He is a Scotland Yard detective.
He leaves the three crime scenes alone overnight potentially compromising them and making it more difficult to get a time-of-death window. He does not seem to have sufficient back-up or scenes of crime (CSI) officers exploring the other hotel rooms, the hallways, etc. and no officers canvassing the area. If he had, the homeless man eating out of a suitcase should have caught any police officer’s attention.
Call me a stickler for detail but a police officer in a book, even in fiction, should know procedure regardless of how much a childhood death bothered them. I do get it. Seeing dead people is never easy, especially not if their sickbed was long and you were a child. However, Catchpool is a trained police officer so I expect more.
My biggest beef is that he seems unprepared to oversee the case. He allows the biggest clues to slip by or makes excuses for them. Examples?
The three crime scenes are clearly staged. It does not occur to him that one is different from the other two. I am talking about cufflinks. Two are placed between the lips, the other is inside the throat. So, two cufflinks were placed between the lips after the persons died and their bodies did no longer move. One person moved (voluntarily or not) which made the cufflink fall into their mouth, close to the throat, as Poirot observes. That means these deaths cannot be treated the same. Catchpool says it all does not matter. And why is nobody fingerprinting these cufflinks?
Edward Catchpool arrives in the village where the three dead people all came from, Great Holling. It is small, yes, so it may not have its own police department. The reader does not know as we learn nothing about the local cops. However, the village is part of a county and as such there is a police force responsible for that village. Why do we not get to read that Catchpool teams up with the local police?
He arrives at Margaret Ernst without pen and paper and hopes that he can remember everything. He is so happy that she gives him part of the backstory he is looking for that he does not question why he cannot get the full story until the next day. She refuses and tells him to come back tomorrow. He accepts it without pressuring her on the importance. Obviously, Margaret is going to check some facts or talk to someone. I would have followed her but he went on his way.
In many online reviews people complain about the partial sentences in French that Hannah used but it did not feel overused to me. I would have been suspicious of the author if she had not used them in the way she did.
Maybe it is me, but if someone lied to me and that lie caused the deaths of two people, I would not trust that person. Not with a plan, not with my own life or anyone else’s. That is what bothers me in Richard Negus’ character. He is intelligent and knew what became of Jennie’s lies yet…
Last, my biggest critique is that in this book, I did not find one major character to root for. Margaret Ernst and Dr. Ambrose Flowerday, yes. But the others, no.
Now, this is the first in a series so there is every chance that all my misgivings will go away in the other books. I have not seen/read those other books but when I do, I hope to learn more about Edward Catchpool and his police career, how he met Poirot, why Poirot is without Captain Arthur J. M. Hastings or Inspector Japp, and why Poirot is not retiring in Belgium.
The book is beautifully written, has a good pace, and it does make a tremendous effort to live up to Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Despite my critique, I do not regret buying and reading the book. After I wrote this review, it made me appreciate Christie as a writer even more. It also showed me how difficult it is to continue the life of one of her characters in your own words. I have never read any of Sophie Hannah’s books but will check them out.
Last, if you read this review and have read this book, please help me. There is a scene I do not understand and it bugs me.
On page 179, Edward Catchpool looks out the window of the Bloxham Hotel. He cannot stand to see more of the blood on the hotel room floor. He looks out from the fourth floor down into the hotel garden.
He sees hotel assistant clerk Thomas Brignell embracing a woman who seems to stumble and is unstable on her feet. I thought that Brignell was holding up a dead body as he was standing next to a wheelbarrow.
Brignell sees Catchpool who then ducks. And here it comes. Catchpool thinks he caught a man in a compromising embrace. It does not occur to this police officer that there might be anything else going on there.
Now combine this with page 247 where Brignell is attending the all-will-be-revealed moment.
He is sitting next to a woman. They squeeze each other’s hands, do not break their hold, look each other lovingly in the eyes, and Catchpool notices that this is NOT the same woman from the garden.
Who are these two women? Was the first one dead? If so, is there a murder about which I do not know? If she is not dead, and is not the woman from the reveal, who is she? Does she play a role at all in the plot? If she is not playing a role in the plot, why give me a detail that will keep spinning in my head? Please help!
My other book reviews are here.