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Sophie Hannah

I love English cosy mysteries. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, I've read almost all of their books. I've also read most of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books.

There have been lots of people writing 'Sherlock Holmes' style stories since Conan Doyle ceased writing them. I've read of few of them and haven't enjoyed any of them. No matter how hard they try, the ones I read just couldn't get the right feeling. Something always jarred, like references to current events, or the choice of language, things that made it seem like the writer was just a little too conscious that they were writing a 'Holmes story'

In contrast, I've read two books by Jill Paton Walsh which continue the story the story of Lord Peter Wimsey and his wife Harriet. The first of these (Thrones, Dominations) apparently had the first few chapters written by Sayers. These chapters and some notes about character relationships and who was the murder were found amongst her papers after her death, and her literary executors commissioned Paton Walsh to complete the book. I really enjoyed this one, it had the feel of a real Sayers book. Nothing about it jarred with me, and I couldn't pick which parts of the book were written by each author. I bought its sequel a few years later and enjoyed it just as much. I looked up the name of the writer for this review, and have discovered that she has since written several other Wimsey stories which I shall now look out for.

So when I heard that someone had written a new Hercule Poirot novel, with the backing of the Christie Foundation, my initial thoughts were that it would be bad. I had forgotten about the new Wimsey stories, and only thinking about the new Holmes. I didn't have a high expectation that I would like the book. But I found the first few chapters weren't too bad. I wasn't grabbed by the story, but it wasn't too bad either. I remembered the new Wimsey's I had enjoyed and started thinking this one would be okay. I discovered that this was actually Sophie Hannah's second Poirot book, and thought I might look out for the first one.

But the more I read, the less interested I was in the story. While there was nothing which out and out jarred with the writing style, it just didn't have any charm or appeal. The characters weren't sympathetic in any way, the background didn't set up any interest in the murder, it was all just bland. Poirot was nowhere near as flamboyant and egotistical as he should be, and there wasn't much interest in the relationship between him and Inspector Edward Catchpool (the narrator of the story and apparently meant to be a substitute for the wonderful Arthur Hastings who narrated many of the original Poirot stories). I ultimately didn't care what happened. I was in the final chapters, Poirot was in the middle of his reveal of the murderer, and I was so uninterested that I kept putting the book down to play a pointless game on my iPad.

In contrast, a few weeks earlier I read The Mistletoe Murder by P. D. James, a collection of short stories with a Christmas theme. The last story in the collection is loaded with typical Christie elements, and it's obvious James is having fun with her mock-Christie murder tale. James' story had the elements you expect in an Agatha Christie, and despite mocking the style, was overall a much better Christie style story than this new version of Poirot.

If this story had been written without Poirot as the detective, and had just been published as a normal mystery, I don't think anyone would have any interest in reading it. Hopefully Poirot will now be left to rest in peace, not regurgitated in further tedious offerings.

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