Book Review – The Monogram Murders

Any fan of Agatha Christie’s, would have heard about the new Poirot book in town written by  Sophie Hannah. I was curious to see the treatment that Poirot would receive outside the hands of the Immortal original author. I would have to admit that the book exceeded my expectations though it fell well short of the Gold Standard. This by no means is to belittle the new work, but should be understood to be a testament to the genius that is Christie. 

Plot

When one lays down the book, one gets the impression that the plot which could have been a very straightforward one was needlessly complicated to create a mystery out of it.

The murder itself is opportunistic in nature. Christie herself has used the type in her legendary Cards on the Table, but only as a sub plot. It is less likely to leave a chill in minds of the reader than the predominantly premeditated ones that are immaculately planned, executed and narrated in most of Christie’s works. That brings me naturally to the second aspect of the book. Narration. 

Narration

The book like a good magic trick (according to Cutter in The Prestigehas three parts to it: The PledgeThe Turn and The Prestige. I personally found The Pledge to be devoid of anything remarkable, The Turn arresting and The Prestige disappointing.

In most of Christie’s books, The Pledge portrays an ordinary routine which turns extraordinary either by the murder or by something that one of the character does or says (Cora in After the Funeral). The order of events are natural. The ones in the new work seem to be taken out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely sequence of events than the ones in the new book, though the plot tries to account for them without great success. The opening sequence aims for theatricality rather than logical consistency.

The opening sequence ends with the discovery of the murders. This leads logically into the routine of detection. Here, I cannot imagine a MO more different than Christie’s. No matter how sensational the crime, the routine is Contained. In the new book, the Poirot decided to start the questioning with a hundred people in the room. This is lacks the famous Order and Method that we have come to associate with Poirot.

The sequence which brings out the history behind the crimes on the other hand, is quite good. Here the author is in her element. I especially liked the characterization of Margaret Ernst  who evokes memories of Mrs Lorrimer from The cards on the Table by the virtue of her intellect.

The Prestige – the sequence where Hercule Poirot unravels the mystery is the most disappointing. The narration is drawn out and lacks coherence. One cannot but wonder if it was hurried to get the book to the stands come Christmas.

Hercule Poirot

Truth be told, everything considered, I think the author has done a decent job of bringing Poirot back to life. Yes the new Poirot, lacks the Order and Method, he is more willing to admit mistakes, is more ready to speak out his interpretations of the clues where the original was taciturn, but the author has managed to preserve the mannerisms, the proud, boastful and tasteful personality. Full marks to her in this regard.

One of the little things that I enjoy every much in Chirstie’s works, is Poirot’s French influenced English sentence construction. I really like quantified adjectives that I think somehow suites Poirot’s precise nature (It would be most valuable. An idea of the first excellence – Hercule  Poirot in The five little pigs). This is something that I find less of in the new book, but it does not come across as a criminal omission.

In summary, The Monogram Murders is an ordinary detective fiction, made less ordinary due to the presence of a character recognizable as Hercule Poirot.

Quote for the day

“Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions.” – Hercule Poirot in The ABC Murders

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