The Mystery of Three Quarters
It’s a wonderful world we live in, where you never have to accept that you’ve reached the end of a favorite series. If you have enough friends with similar tastes, there’s always more money to be made from a franchise extension. Even if swapping creators or eras means something isn’t as good as it once was.
The latest example is the third new mystery starring Agatha Christie‘s Hercule Poirot, as written by Sophie Hannah. The Mystery of Three Quarters, out next month, follows The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket.
That this is the third in the series suggests that the continuations are successful, by someone’s definition. I’m afraid I don’t agree. I have been rereading the original Poirot novels, though, so I am perhaps more attuned to the discrepancies.
The biggest issue is that someone writing today has to work to understand the class distinctions and social structures of the 1930s. The plot here is interesting, but it’s handled in a modern way, not period-appropriate fashion. Someone is sending people letters, purporting to be from Poirot, calling them murderers. When they show up to yell at him about it, he discovers they were all accused of the same person’s death, a 94-year-old man who drowned in his bath. The detective is drawn into investigating whether it was really an accident.
I didn’t believe that people would believe an anonymous letter writer over an internationally famous detective. Or if they did, it would involve more statements demonstrating the bias against foreigners held by the upper crust. (I enjoy Christie’s mysteries, but they demonstrate the period of their creation in both good and bad ways.) In my opinion, an upper-class character, as written by Christie, would be amused by someone accusing them of murder and mention it as an oddity, not turn into a whirlwind of fury, as Hannah has them do. I’m not sure all of the recipients would feel the need to confront Poirot, either, but that prevents him having to track them down.
Also a problem is the sidekick. It’s smart of Hannah to create her own character, but I wish Inspector Edward Catchpool had more personality. He exists solely to collect facts of the mystery for the reader. I have no sense of him as a person. And she uses him to create an unpleasant structure, where instead of following Poirot and seeing what he does, we hear what he did when he tells Catchpool, which adds to the feeling of disconnection from the story I felt. There’s actually not very much Poirot in this book.
There is, however, some anti-abortion sentiment, which also stuck out as not suiting the period or original author intent.
Yet I read this, instead of many other mysteries put out this year, because of the brand name, so the Christie company got what they wanted. It takes something to stand out in a crowded publishing market, and continuing a beloved series is one of the most reliable ways to do so. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)