THE MONOGRAM MURDERS: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery, by Sophie Hannah. William Morrow, 302 pp., $25.99.
The death of one of the world's most famous fictional detectives was so momentous an occasion that it made the front page of The New York Times: "Hercule Poirot Is Dead," the headline read.
The dapper, spats-wearing sleuth with waxed "moustaches" and Homburg hat solved his final case and then died in Agatha Christie's "Curtain: Poirot's Last Case," published in 1975. By then, the reigning Queen of Crime Fiction had written more than 100 books and plays, including dozens of novels and short stories featuring Poirot. She died a year after "Curtain" came out and remains one of the world's most published authors.
Now the Belgian detective is on the case once more in "The Monogram Murders" by Sophie Hannah, a bestselling British novelist known for her psychological thrillers, including "Little Face" and "Kind of Cruel." Poirot joins the growing number of iconic characters (Peter Wimsey, James Bond, Spenser) whose careers continue long after their creators have died.
"The Monogram Murders" is set in 1929, and the sickly, aged Poirot depicted in Christie's "Curtain" is a little younger and fit as a fiddle. The story begins in a coffee shop in London, where Poirot offers assistance to a distraught woman. "It's too late," Jennie tells Poirot. "I am already dead." As she runs off into the night, she pleads that if she's found murdered, no one should search for her killer.
Quicker than a twitch of his moustache, the detective suspects a link between the mysterious Jennie and a series of bizarre murders at London's Bloxham Hotel. Three bodies are found in three rooms, each victim with a monogrammed cuff link in his or her mouth.
"The Monogram Murders" is mainly told by Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. His youth and blossoming detective skills make an amusing contrast to Poirot, who says to Catchpool, "The oxygen, it takes much time to make its way to the gray cells! Never mind; it will arrive eventually where it is most needed, in that pincushion of a brain of yours." As Poirot and Catchpool gather clues, Hannah, in textbook Christie style, throws in enough twists, turns, revelations and suspects to cook up a most satisfying red-herring stew.
I'd challenge any Christie-phile to find differences between her distinctive writing style and Hannah's mirroring of it. She keeps readers guessing until the unexpected and most satisfying conclusion. It's great to have Poirot back on the case.