3 November 2014

Sixes and Sevens: A Review of The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

Upon occasion I dabble in the odd mystery or ten. The random sprinkling of murder insulates me from sci-fi burn-out from which I experienced only a few years back. Indeed, the first year of Thank the Maker was one of over-extension, reading far too much SF for the sole purpose of having on-hand a pool of resources for review purposes.  Not surprisingly, I experienced an epic mental explosion resulting in a three month reading black-out. Eventually I nursed  myself back to health with heavy dosages of good ole' Agatha's and PD James plot twisters. 

This past month has been quite epic simply for the amount of books I managed to get through. Because my library-only policy is still in effect I am completely dependent on what books are in. Gleefully this October saw all my holds arriving at the same time, resulting in a towering stack to work through. And so having learned from my past, I ensured that midway I had something a lot less 'spacey' and a lot more 'detectively' to pull my attention from my tower of SF power.  Really more for research, I put on hold the much discussed new Hercule Poirot mystery even though I have never been a fan of authors reviving a series or much-loved character once the author has died.  With my skepticism firmly in my pocket I read The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah.  Because this blog is mine, I am going to break my self-enforced SF rules kinda like I did here and here, and finally here  to review the art of murder. 

Years ago I realized that while I spent most of my teens reading Agatha Christie books I really had not explored her books beyond Hercule Poirot. With this awesome mission I started to collect omnibuses conveniently published by decade. Agatha Christie had a wonderfully long writing career that spanned over six decades. Christie beyond being a brilliant story-teller, created entertaining suspenseful adventures soaked in atmosphere indicative of the times. Her books are time capsules; archeologically preserved nuances of how people spoke and maintained a sense of self from the 20s up into the 1970's.

For the record, The Monogram Murders is not an Agatha Christie novel, it is Sophie Hannah's and therefore is doomed from inception.   While I give Hannah some credit for convincing the Christie estate for the rights to use Hercule Poirot, this should not be considered part of the official cannon. It rather irks me that Agatha Christie is more prominently displayed on the jacket cover, giving a very distinct impression that we are to assume that it should be classified as a novel by Dame Christie herself or at least sanctioned by her. 

I found quite a bit at fault with this book. The plot twisted so much that by three quarters through I found myself skimming paragraphs just to locate the denouement. Hercule Poirot is one of the best known detectives in literature, readers feel as if we know him and know him well. If this was my first introduction to Poirot I would never read him again, as the portrayal found in The Monogram Murders is not in the least flattering. Finally the great flaw is the lack of atmosphere. The book unsuccessfully painted a clear picture of space and time. I could not discern what decade I was in nor believed it when sprinkles of idiomatic language were drawn on. Using "sixes and seven's" does not make for a period piece, it takes much more technique to capture a time from which an author has not lived through.  

The question is, should you read it? Frankly, if curiosity is driving you batty as it did with me, go for it but if you want to read a real mystery pick up The Mysterious Affair at Styles and see how it all began.