Published 23rd August 2018 by HarperCollins / 400 pages
Opening sentence: “Hercule Poirot smiled to himself as his driver brought the motorcar to a stop with satisfying symmetry.”
Sophie Hannah is a successful crime writer who, since 2014 (with permission from the Christie estate), has been writing new Hercule Poirot stories in the voice of Agatha Christie. The Mystery of Three-Quarters is Hannah’s third Poirot tale and perfectly captures not only the iconic character, but the tone of Christie’s original books.
Lots of classic Poirot conventions are used here. It almost feels little Poirot-by-numbers, but it does work to give a healthy dose of nostalgia to the read. For example, we see the list making technique, (Poirot literally makes a list of questions he still has about the situation.) Another thing that we’ve seen frequently in previous books is nicely explained by the man himself, ‘One never knows what is of vital importance, or where the connections lie, until the solution is apparent. The most inconsequential-seeming detail can be the one that matters most.’ Seeing the details no one else does is a Poirot trait and small details do matter very much in this plot. Plus there is, of course, a reference to the little grey cells. I would have disappointed if there hadn’t been.
Now, onto said plot: ‘Everything that has happened is peculiar in the extreme.’ Narrated by Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard, the story begins when four different people question why Poirot has written a letter accusing them of murdering Barnabus Pandy. The thing is, Poirot did not write those letters… so who did? And who is Barnabus Pandy? This is an intriguing case for Poirot as not only has he been personally drawn into it, but he must work out who wrote the letters and what exactly did happen to Barnabus Pandy… Plot-wise – it ticks all the Christie boxes.
I thought the cast of characters was also strong and really liked how the book explores relationships as much as anything else. ”Human relationships are extremely complicated’, said Poirot.’ And he’s not wrong, especially the ones here – from Annabel Treadway with her constant air of misery to John McCrodden and his battle of wills with his father – but that’s what makes it so interesting – everyone seems guilty and not guilty at the same time. Ultimately though, it comes down to this: ‘no man can act in a way that is contrary to his own nature,’ and seeing into someone’s core is, of course, what Poirot does better than anybody.
Throughout, Hannah builds up brilliant layers of suspense, narrative turns and character crossovers, and although it’s very cleverly done, it doesn’t necessarily throw up any great surprises and did feel a little strung out at – ironically – around three-quarters of the way through. Is it a great detective story? Yes. Does it rank up there with Christie’s best? No. But then the bar is set so high, that was always going to be a tough challenge. I don’t want to end on a negative though, overall this was a great mystery read and it was a joy to be back in Poirot’s company for a new story.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Published 23rd August 2018.