What’s it about?
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?
This is the third Sophie Hannah Poirot novel, and I was initially hesitant about picking it up. I listened to her first, The Monogram Murders, as an audiobook and absolutely loathed it. I stopped and started so many times that my Audible app asked if I was having technical difficulties. But given that I did eventually finish it, and wanted to know whodunnit, I half-concluded that it was Julian Rhind-Tutt’s narration I mainly objected too. So when I was offered an advance copy of the third in the series, I thought I’d give it a go.
I’m going to write this review in two parts. The first will be about how this works as a crime novel, my likes and dislikes, and so on. The second part will be about how this works as an Agatha Christie novel. It’s how I thought about the novel as I was reading, so it’s how I’m going to write this.
As a crime novel, it’s fine. The solution fits the problem and most of the loose ends are tied up. I liked the original premise – anonymous letters accusing strangers of a murder that wasn’t a murder – and I thought it was neatly tied up. The clues and red herrings were well-placed and very Christie-esque in their use. If you like classic crime, you won’t be disappointed by this. However, I would’ve liked more character development. There is a big supporting cast in this, and some of them were arbitrarily thrown in. It’s clear who we’re meant to be focusing our sleuthing powers on, so the other letter recipients’ backstories get a bit lost. It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation; Hannah needs the multiple recipients for the plot, but doesn’t have the space to capitalise on the drama.
Now we come to how it works as an Agatha Christie. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I am a big Christie fan, from borrowing her books from Ripon library as an 11 year old, to collecting every edition I can as a 30 year old. So I think that when reading this book, I am almost on edge, waiting for Hannah to trip up. Indeed, when glancing through the reviews for this (and her other Poirot novels), there are always “Poirot would never do that!” comments. Frankly, Poirot is a fictional character, and Hannah has clearly done her research into him. To that end, I’m willing to relax (or at least try to) and just accept this as a continuation with unavoidable shifts in style. Equally, what is a TV adaptation but another interpretation of character, and there have been plenty of those.
Would I recommend it?
Yes, I think I would. As long as you leave your expectations at the title page.
The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah is published by HarperCollins on 23rd August 2018 priced £18.99.
I received an advance copy to review thanks to NetGalley.