Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

closed-casketLady Athelinda Playford, famous author of a string of mystery novels, is hosting a house party in County Cork. You’d think a mystery novelist would know better, wouldn’t you?

Surrounded by her nearest and dearest, she has also invited, from Scotland Yard, Edward Catchpole and also another famous detective that you might have heard of – that one from Belgium. And to top it all, at dinner she announces that she has changed her will, giving everything to her loyal secretary, despite the fact that he has only weeks to live… As I said, as a mystery novelist, you’d think she’d know better…

Needless to say, before the evening is out, murder has been done, but not to the expected victim. Poirot finds himself facing an impossibility – a witness to the crime that places someone at the scene who couldn’t have been there. As the finger of blame bounces around from suspect to suspect, Poirot has to get to the bottom of things before an innocent person takes the blame…

Never review angry. Well, not angry, but peeved. It’s been a bit of grotty day today, with disagreements with colleagues and ending up in what our US chums call a fender-bender (they weren’t related, btw), so what better way to take out my grumpiness than to review a book. And what better book to be grumpy about than the new Hercule Poirot book?

Well, actually, that’s harder than I expected. Because (and listen carefully, as you won’t be expecting this) I rather enjoyed this one.

Let’s put aside the necessity of continuing the Poirot tales – we went over that with The Monogram Murders – and look at the book for what it is. One of the problems with Monogram was its over-complexity and the fact that it just didn’t feel like an Agatha Christie book. And Catchpole didn’t exactly win many fans in this corner of the internet – the notion of a policeman with a fear of dead bodies was certainly an odd one.

Well, Catchpole is back but his corpse-a-phobia doesn’t get a mention. He seems a bit confused at times, especially early on when he can’t decide if Poirot is an old friend or someone who he only knew since the Monogram Murders and hasn’t spoken to since. Apparently he’s had a lot of stick over Poirot solving the case for him, so goodness knows how Japp copes. But he’s a much more personable character, if a little bland, but as a narrator, he does the job nicely.

Poirot has a few moments where he doesn’t quite feel right – would Poirot really slap someone to wake them up? – but the structure of the plot, hinging around that single clever idea, is much closer to the plotting of Dame Agatha, and the central motive is certainly something that I haven’t seen before.

I’ll be honest, when I read the blurb, I immediately thought that surely it was just going to be a rehash of a certain early book – let’s face it, when someone invites Poirot somewhere because they think a murder is going to happen, you can probably spot the plot very quickly. But (and I won’t spoil things) this is a very different story. The denouement is very much in the Christie vein and it’s at this point that Hannah’s Poirot finally feels spot on.

I could nitpick some points – who really thinks King John was Shakespeare’s best play, for example – but the fact of the matter is, I was carrying around my Kindle stealing a chapter at a time when possible before sitting down to enjoy the final section.

This is a vast improvement over The Monogram Murders, and while I still question why new Poirot novels need to exist, at the end of the day, I really enjoyed this one. Recommended.

But it would have made more sense to call it Open Casket…

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18 comments

  1. I am so very very very very VERY doubtful about this, but I am a little heartened at the idea of not being twice burned by Hannah! Thanks for the entertaining review. All i can say is . . . we’ll see.

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  2. Have yet to try any of those books. Like you I don’t feel there needs to be more Poirot books. Though I do contradict myself by liking the Jill Paton Walsh books which have Lord Peter Wimsey in. I’m glad this one is better than the first but with phrases like ‘low expectations,’ I’m not sure it is tempting enough to try. I think I would have quite high expectations when it comes to Poirot and Christie’s style.

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  3. I don’t mind more Poirot novels, and having a new lead/ sidekick can be interesting. But they need to be good classic-style mysteries, and I’m encouraged that the second effort comes closer to the mark than ‘Monogram Murders’. My local library is taking ages to process my reservation…

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  4. Probably the best way to approach these books is to ignore their claim to be additions to the Poirot canon and just read them as Golden Age style mysteries. Unfortunately it’s just as hard to re-create an authentic GA style as it is to emulate Christie! I probably won’t try these books as I am such a devoted Christie fan but they might appeal to modern readers who have discovered Christie through the various TV series. Oddly, I don’t have any problem with, for example, Sherlock Holmes pastiches or other fan type fiction; but trying to write a Christie feels like the most monumental cheek. I wouldn’t dare!

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  5. I don’t think I’ll ever touch any of these new Hercule Poirot novels. It feels like Christie’s estate is padding down her corpse for some pennies and nickels.

    If they really wanted to make some money, by expending the “Christie Universe,” why not write some Sven Hjerson mysteries and publish them under the name of Ariadne Oliver? Now that’s something fans would appreciate, but it would also give the author more freedom without the burden of having to live up to Christie’s standard.

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  6. I didn’t like The Monogram Murders at all,as it was basically a convoluted mess and just seeing the name Catchpole at the start of the review made me sigh out loud, but I am glad to see you think this one is an improvement. It’s not high on the list, but I might pick it up one day (and not go around it in a big circle)

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    • Disturbing, yes, but a) not as bad as that Young Marple TV proposal and b) depends on who writes it. Len Tyler joked once that he’d have a go and I could think of few others who’d do better than him…

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  7. An interesting take on this book. Like you, I rather enjoyed this one … although I could have done without the fat shaming and a fart joke. Lady Athelinda’s motivations didn’t make the slightest bit of sense to me and I rather felt that Hannah was trading on Christie’s dotty peeress from “The Hollow” in order to get the plot going. The writing is quite lively and fun, it’s just that the structure of the book is not what one would expect from Christie (in that there isn’t really anything that hangs together or is reasonably motivated; everything is tossed in so you get the experience of “see, all your assumptions were wrong!” at the end). I liked it better than “Monogram”, though — maybe five or six books from now she’ll do a really good one, if she finds a plot that will make sense.

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