Book review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

Thursday, September 15, 2016 Permalink

I need to confess that I had no idea Sophie Hannah had revitalised Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective and his little grey cells until this book appeared on a listing. It was only then I discovered Hannah had previously released The Monogram Murders, featuring Hercule Poirot, in 2014 – almost 40 years after the passing of Dame Agatha.

I adore Agatha Christie. I’ve read all of her books a million times. At least. Once upon a time I used to call them my bath books as I could read a novel in the bath in an hour. (Which was before I sat in the bath for hours on end reading!)

Book review: Closed Casket by Sophie HannahClosed Casket
by Sophie Hannah
Series: New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #2
Published by Harper Collins
on September 6th 2016
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 9780008134112
Pages: 384

Lady Athelinda Playford has planned a house party at her mansion in Clonakilty Co Cork, but it is no ordinary gathering.

As guests arrive, Lady Playford summons her lawyer to make an urgent change to her will - one she intends to announce at dinner that night. She has decided to cut off her two children without a penny and leave her fortune to someone who only has weeks to live, and she refuses to explain why...

Among Lady Playford's guests are two men she has never met - the famous Belgian dectective, Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard.

Neither knows why he has been invited...until Poirot starts to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murderer to strike.

But why does she seem so determined to provoke, in the the presence of a possible killer? And why, when the crime is committed in spite of Poirot's best efforts to stop it, does the identity of the victim make no sense at all?

It needs to be said that there are some significant differences between Christie’s Poirot and Hannah’s Poirot.

Hannah’s books are far longer for a start. And Poirot – for me – was a little less impressive. Though less arrogant, he was also less larger-than-life (if that makes sense).

Our narrator this time around was the off-duty Inspector Catchpool and it felt weird to be privy to Poirot’s investigations through someone else’s eyes. I wasn’t actually a Hastings devotee but realised I missed their witty banter. Hannah obviously also featured Catchpool in The Monogram Murders as he was still smarting from being bested by Poirot on that outing.

The cast of characters themselves were far more distasteful than I remember Christie’s being. Hers were often eccentric and unlikeable, but not necessarily evil.

The crime itself and references to it were also far more vivid and gory than the original series… but I assume some of that relates to the fact that we’ve become inured to ‘simple’ deaths in our reading, television and big screen fodder.

In essence, Christie’s books were what people nowadays call cozies (singular: ‘the cosy/cozy’). There was the odd serial killer or two, but they weren’t dismembering people or raping and pillaging because of mummy issues. Despite Poirot’s fascination with the psychology of the crime, the original series was very much centred around a – usually well-hidden – motive and required the methodical piecing together of clues.

In a letter to readers Hannah explains…. Although she’s predisposed to “complex, labyrinthine plots” an idea landed in her head for this book.

A motive for murder. It was incredibly simple – so simple, it almost seemed too obvious – and yet I didn’t think it had been done before.

There were also a lot of positives.

Hannah did mostly keep to the style of Christie: in her overly-wordy language and prose. The mystery itself was suitably twisty; and investigation offered up a myriad of suspects.

So this was an enjoyable outing with my old friend and his little grey cells. His star shone a little less bright than it once did, but I most-certainly welcome his return.

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.

Have you read Hannah’s Poirot? How do you feel about his resurrection?

  • Sue
    September 15, 2016

    I don’t think I’ve ever read Agatha Christie…I’ve watched a few Poirot movies and TV shows, but now I’ve realised my education is lacking. I love Sophie Hannah, though, and I’ll be on the look out for this.

    • Debbish
      September 16, 2016

      Hi Sue, yes… the new series is a good place to start if you haven’t read any Poirot before… at least you’re familiar with his character and mannerisms though! 🙂

  • Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
    September 16, 2016

    I love that you called Agatha Christies your bath books! They are so perfect for bath reading! I have read this one and The Monogram Murders and I definitely agree with your assessment about the increase in blood and the diminished Poirot. He definitely isn’t as much of a presence as he is in the Christie books but for all that I did enjoy this one quite a bit. I liked it much better than The Monogram Murders partly because I’ve gotten a little more used to Hannah’s version of Poirot and partly because I just didn’t think the mystery was nearly as well done.

    • Debbish
      September 16, 2016

      I must try to check out The Monogram Murders Katherine…. I’m glad you find them slightly different as well, but yes, this was enjoyable.

  • Emma
    September 16, 2016

    I feel I know Christie from TV and haven’t read anything by her bar The Mousetrap. I do love Sophie Hannah but think will avoid these a) because I haven’t read Christie and will on day and b) because loved authors being revisited make me nervous…I work on the principle they will never be as good as the original.

    • Debbish
      September 18, 2016

      I suspect that’s the case.

      Interestingly I was a huge fan of Robert B Parker’s Spenser series and after his death another writer was employed to continue the series. (I think it was Ace Atkins but not sure it’s still him.)

      I will a little surprised at how well he nailed the voice because that series was ALL about Spenser’s voice.

  • Tea Time with Marce
    September 17, 2016

    I read and loved And Then There Were None and maybe another but that one was so amazing I’m unsure what to read next for Agatha. I have read one Sophie Hannah and thought it was ok but haven’t picked up another.

    • Debbish
      September 18, 2016

      I think the best thing about Agatha Christie Marce is that she was really consistent. I don’t know if I could choose a favourite book of hers. Some stayed with me more than others and some are more familiar cos I’ve seen movies on TV a million times (Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun for eg).

I'd love to hear your thoughts