Current Christie

A crime-writing friend mentioned to me recently that she'd been to a talk in which the author, Sophie Hannah, was speaking about her latest addition to the Poirot oeuvre. Now I knew Sophie Hannah from her previously reviewed short stories, The fantastic book of everybody's secrets, but hadn't realised that she was well known for her crime novels. Neither had I realised, until Clare told me, that she had been selected by the Christie estate to carry on the Poirot line. (She has already written one Poirot, The Monogram Murders). 

These are not the same as, for example, the early Jill Paton-Walsh continuations of Dorothy L. Sayers, where Sayers had left some skeleton story-lines ready to be fleshed out. In the case of the Poirots, Sophie Hannah was starting completely from scratch. What is important though is that it is with the blessing of the Christie estate, who have been notoriously unwilling until of late for any continuations of the series.

I haven't read Monogram Murders, but the second in the series, Closed Casket, is a decent read. Hannah's very good on character, and her Poirot is a pretty convincing clone of the original. The novel is set in typical Christie style too. A country house murder mystery (unusually set in inter-war Ireland), a closed cast of characters any of whom could have done the deed. A mysterious death, with plenty of people to benefit from it, a slightly bumbling policeman, and a foil for Poirot. In fact it was, at least superficially, Christie to a T. And as a crime novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, as a Christie substitute, it doesn't quite work. To be honest it's been bugging me what didn't work - Country house murder - tick, Poirot - tick, Complex death - tick, Unreliable witness - tick. It was Christie, but it felt a bit like an impersonation of Christie; and then it suddenly became clear. It's just too clever-clever. Where Hannah fails to live up to Christie is in the simplicity of the mystery. Christie was excellent at throwing red herrings all across the reader's path, but in essence her writing was simple. Part of Christie's beauty, and the reason her books continue to be popular, is that they are easy to read. The language isn't complicated, often even the crime isn't that complex, but out of such simplicity, where there is nowhere to hide, she weaves an intricate tale that is compulsive, and never fails to ensnare the reader. That she can make it look so easy, when it is clearly anything but, is a sign of what a superb writer Christie actually was. Hannah is probably technically a much better writer, but the over-complexity of the crime just spoiled the whole novel, at least as a follow-up to the undoubted Queen of Crime.

Forget that this is a wannabe Christie, and you're left with a decent, if over-egged, tale. Fans of Christie will, I think to at least a certain extent, be disappointed, but as a period crime story in itself it's a fun read to while away a damp afternoon.  


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