Le Retour d’Hercule Poirot*

When I first heard that author Sophie Hannah (of whom I admittedly knew nothing) was reviving Agatha Christie’s inimitable Hercule Poirot, I shook an angry fist at the sky and shouted many impolite phrases heavenward.

As pigeons scattered, parents shielded their children and two dozen people filmed me with their phones for You Tube, I vowed never to read this unwanted, unwarranted addition to the literary world.

But then I found out that Christie’s estate had given its blessing. I started to think about how  I’ve read possibly all of the original HP mysteries and wouldn’t it be great if this new one somehow turned out to be OK. Then I read a review of it in the Telegraph that was actually positive. And that thing I swore I’d never do, I did.

Reader, I didn’t hate it.

The Monogram Murders is the mystery of three people killed on the same day in three different rooms of a rather upscale hotel. All three bodies are identically positioned, with a monogrammed cufflink in each of their mouths. Poirot and his sidekick – not a Hastings or a Japp this time, but a Catchpool of Scotland Yard – set off to follow a winding path of clues and red herrings, before Poirot masterfully pulls it all together and solves the whodunnit.

I was relieved to find our Belgian hero appears much the same (and – minor spoiler alert – no worse for wear after Christie killed him off in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case). Sure, he refers to his moustaches in the singular now and is maybe slightly more loquacious than I recall, but Hannah ultimately succeeds in ensuring he remains the fussy, self-assured, but endearing, sleuth that Christie originally created.

The book is also true to the Christie trope of having numerous potential murders who are all assembled together at the end for Poirot’s final unraveling of the mystery – and what an unraveling. Because, again similar to many of Christie’s stories, this ending has so many moving parts that I would have welcomed a schematic diagram to help me through it.

But that was always half the fun of Christie – figuring out who was the real criminal and how she was going to wrap up all those loose ends in one final chapter. Hannah does a good job of giving the reader a satisfying ending and a thoroughly enjoyable read. While I thought I’d never say it, I’m happy to admit how hopeful I now am that she’ll give us another Poirot page-turner soon.

Up next: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty, which I started last night and is so far entertaining and informative while making me hyperventilate slightly with its unblinking perspective on our ultimate, shared end.

*translation courtesy of Google because it’s been a long time since high school French

Cold Feet, Warm Pages

As I put away my sandals and bid a sad goodbye to my super-sexy farmer’s tan, my thoughts turn to the long, dreary, cold, miserable winter ahead. What are my coping tactics for surviving such a cruel month? Well…booze, primarily. But also books – lots and lots of books.

My Kindle pre-order list has grown excitingly unwieldy and is full of the publishing equivalent of Vitamin D. Here’s what literary nourishment will be sustaining me during the upcoming hibernation months.

Oh the sweary swear words that tumbled from my mouth when I heard someone was going to try to write a new Hercule Poirot story. There aren’t many Poirots I haven’t read: his fussy egotism is always entertaining and I’m constantly in awe of Agatha Christie’s clever crimes, twisty plots, red herrings and neat as a pin resolutions. I secretly wanted a new Poirot, but I dared not get my hopes up that this would come even close to the original.
And then I read this review and wondered if it could possibly happen: could a new Poirot be – maybe not as good – but almost as good as the original? So I let myself dream. And I let myself pre-order. And at approximately 12.10am this morning, Sophie Hannah’s brave and stupid and potentially fabulous attempt at reviving the Belgian sleuth downloaded onto my Kindle.
I’m currently on week three of struggling through the alternately brilliant and boring (so. many. union stories.) City of Nets and, while I hate to put it to one side for a spell (because I’ll probably never go back and finish it), Hercule and his ‘little grey cells’ are too tempting to resist much longer. Publication date: Out now!
This is described as a coming-of-age story in a crematory. There’s no way I could pass that up. Doughty was in her twenties with a degree in medieval history when she took a job in a crematory. Now she’s a licensed mortician with her own funeral practice. This sounds like an honest, funny and thoughtful look at her experiences in between and how we, as a society, deal with our inevitable end. I also hope it talks about zombies. Publication date: September 15, 2014.
Waters’ The Little Stranger was wonderfully creepy and atmospheric and this sounds like it has the potential to match that. It’s another book set in post-war, genteel England, where a widow and her daughter live a pleasant, if mundane, life until they take in a pair of lodgers who change everything. This should be a great book to curl up with under a fuzzy blanket with a nice cuppa tea. Publication date: September 16, 2014.
Jacobson’s new novel made the shortlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize (his novel The Finkler Question won in 2010) and seems to revolve around a love story, a topic I normally wouldn’t touch even with someone else’s fingers. But this is a love story in a dystopian, post-catastrophe world full of danger and secrets and bayonet-wielding killer bees (I probably made that last part up), so count me in.  Publication date: October 14, 2014.
I have a thing for old Hollywood (and a blog too) and this book details the murky 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor, an actor and director in the very earliest days of the movie industry.  There were a number of suspects in Taylor’s death, including actress Mabel Normand, but no one was ever arrested. His death, along with a plague of other Hollywood scandals at the time (including the rape trials of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle), led to film studios including morals clauses in the contracts of their stars.
The Amazon description calls this an ‘untold’ story, which isn’t quite true – there’s been lots written about it. But it will be interesting to see if Mann has uncovered any new evidence or theories. Publication date: October 14, 2014.
If I had children, I would not hesitate to sell my favorite one to get advanced copies of these books. I was lucky enough to see Poehler interviewed by Short at this year’s Book Con in New York City and it was every bit as perfect as you would imagine. Poehler is funny, sharp and full of actual real-life good advice, which should translate great into a book she describes as a “missive from the middle of my life,” and what it’s like to feel “young and old at the same time.” Publication date: October 28, 2014.
Martin Short is never not funny and his book promises to be chock full o’ amazing showbiz anecdotes as he charts his progress from Canada to Hollywood, including his time on Saturday Night Live (which chapter I shall read in the voice of Ed Grimley) and hit movies Father of the Bride and Three Amigos. It will also apparently detail some of the sadder parts of that journey, including the loss of his wife to cancer. Publication date: November 4, 2014.
Leave a comment and let us know what you’ve got planned for cold weather reads!