Sophie Hannah, The Mystery of Three Quarters; a Poirot mystery

The Mystery of Three Quarters is Sophie Hannah’s third Poirot mystery following the Monogram Murders and the Closed Casket. As with any ‘revisiting’ of such characters, the first thing to note is the tone and how believable the new Poirot is; it is unfortunate that the storyline only comes second in these cases.

There are a few stories out there about why Hannah started writing Poirot stories and I heard a couple of them, one from Hannah and one from her agent, at the Cheltenham Literary Festival where she introduced the first book in 2014. The stories didn’t quite gel but the most realistic explanation is that the copyright is about to expire on Agatha Christie books but if a character is kept alive then it cannot do so. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd comes out of copyright next year. That one has no character to keep alive, unfortunately for the Christie Estate.

The other issue with Christie’s stories — she is still the best sold writer after the Bible’s writers — as I was told at the festival, was her weak characterisations. Her characters are no more than two-dimensional and that’s at times part of the pleasure of it all. She stages different scenarios in different ways as a means of exploring plots and structures. At times her books were weak, that’s hard to disguise, but they were usually sparse in a good way. If someone is about to be killed off or pointed out as a murderer, you don’t want to get too close to them.

However, Hannah, tried to get us a bit too close to the characters in Monogram Murders with our sidekick and narrative device having his own personal issues about his sexual preferences. I’m not sure how far that continued or will continue but it was certainly a very un-Christie thing to do.

I’m a little cynical at this attempt to reanimate one of the best-loved creations of that Golden Age of detective novels for the sake the pockets of the Christie foundation but I do love a good mystery. Christie herself had her own issues, which see many of the beloved writer’s books interspersed with blatant racism and anti-Semitism. Hannah, thank goodness, speaks with the morality of our times and now that she has the tone down pat — although she was pretty good in the last two books too — she can really focus on the story.

The Mystery of Three Quarters was to me the most enjoyable one yet. The Poirot voice was there with his quirkiness and familiarity. The mystery is set in 1930s London and features a coffee shop again.

What the publisher says:

Returning home after lunch one day, Hercule Poirot finds an angry woman waiting outside his front door. She demands to know why Poirot has sent her a letter accusing her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met.

Poirot has also never heard of a Barnabas Pandy, and has accused nobody of murder. Shaken, he goes inside, only to find that he has a visitor waiting for him — a man who also claims also to have received a letter from Poirot that morning, accusing him of the murder of Barnabas Pandy…

Poirot wonders how many more letters of this sort have been sent in his name. Who sent them, and why? More importantly, who is Barnabas Pandy, is he dead, and, if so, was he murdered? And can Poirot find out the answers without putting more lives in danger?

The Mystery of Three Quarters was published 23 August 2018.

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