Two things I have problems with: authors writing sequels/homages to famous authors and turning them into something which their original author would have hated and feeling obliged to read the whole of a series. Let’s deal with the second one first – in terms of tv and films I’m definitely a commitment-phobe. I don’t do box sets and while I will happily settle in on an otherwise unoccupied Sunday evening with an episode of Poldark I’m not bothered if I miss one or two. I’m pretty much the same with books – if you have to read all of the books in a series to ‘get it’ then it has to be special. Certainly since my reading habit got quite so bad (or possibly good…) I’ve found very few that I’ve stuck with. Harry Potter. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. The odd trilogy (Wool, for example) but generally I stop at the first book in a series. Nothing wrong with the writing, storytelling or world-building but my motto is ‘so many books, so little time’. I do need something really special in an author before I’ll read anything they write – and I will do it, believe me. I currently have custody of the entire collection of Georgette Heyer Regency romances which Mum and I have amassed over the years. My second problem – tone-deaf sequels – is something else which has made me wary over the years. Talking of Regency romance my Mum does tell of a terrible one where a young lady settles down for tea at White’s – we both hate rubbish historical research – but my personal worst sin is trying to put gratuitous sex into Jane Austen sequels. Unless you are writing for a themed erotica collection, just no.
Sophie Hannah has managed to avoid adding any historical wrongness (that I can see – I don’t claim any expertise on the middle years of the Twentieth century) to her Hercule Poirot novels but, more than that, she continues to create interesting and compelling adventures for Christie’s Belgian detective. Because they are not a series I find myself able to dip in and out without feeling like I’ve made a commitment: because they are so good I have read all three books produced so far!
In The Mystery of Three Quarters Poirot finds himself confronted by the rather formidable Sylvia Rule for sending her a letter accusing her of murder. The problem is that he didn’t send the letter. Or the ones making the same accusation towards three others – John McCrodden, son of a judge who is a firm supporter of the death penalty, Hugo Dockerill, a teacher at a boy’s school, and Miss Annabel Treadway, who is the grand-daughter of the deceased man. Of course the little grey cells are propelled into action and we soon begin to learn of a web of connections between the four. It begins to appear that the dead man, Barnabas Pandy, did have connections to a number of them and that all four are, if only tangentially, linked. Was Pandy murdered? Was one of the accused guilty of his death? Why did the letter-writer want to involve Poirot? These questions all need to be answered and Poirot attempts to find the answers with the help of Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool, the friends and family of all the accused and a small slice of cake…
Another excellent outing for Poirot – deftly plotted, a blend of humour and bloodshed which Christie would have been proud of, and believable characters. The Belgian continues to have a future in Sophie Hannah’s capable hands.