I have never made a secret of the fact I’ve always been an Agatha Christie fan. So I was chuffed to learn the guardians of her estate authorised a new Hercule Poirot release, The Monogram Murders by author Sophie Hannah. We hear of Hercule Poirot’s exploits through Catchpool, a sort of substitute narrator for Hastings devised by the writer. Once I used to think Hastings was foolish but Catchpool takes the cake. It is baffling he is privy to details of what happened when he was not present. The lack of explanation into Poirot’s insights makes The Monogram Murders less interesting as well. Poirot also tries to play the absurd role of a matchmaker in this novel in trying to set up Catchpool with a lady which was just not on. I for one cannot imagine Christie’s Belgian detective doing anything like that.
The Monogram Murders jarred me from the beginning because Hercule Poirot was dining at a coffee house upon introduction and being finicky about the cutlery. He is interrupted by a woman who comes in quite terrified and when Poirot reassures her stating that he is a detective, he is given the news that she is about to be murdered. Strangely she asks Poirot to refrain from finding out who committed the murderer, admitting justice will be served with her death.
Poirot later finds out three guests staying at a posh London hotel have been murdered through Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard detective so self-deprecating that you wonder why he took on this job. Each body had been found with a cufflink placed in the mouth. So Poirot wonders if the murders have any connection to the distressed woman he met at Pleasant’s Coffee House. How? These are unconnected events to the ordinary brain but obviously not to Poirot’s advanced grey cells.
The dreadfully inept and squeamish Catchpool who is in need of guidance is grateful when Hercule Poirot offers his assistance for the case. While Poirot tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle, the murderer is intent on targeting a fourth victim. Can Poirot prevent a another murder? This ends up requiring a journey into the past and into a village that has been keeping all its secrets under wraps to eventually solve the mystery.
Poirot visits a Cornish seaside resort and meets Nick, a young girl attached to a crumbling and dilapidated house by the seaside with a mortgage. So when she informs Poirot that she had several near escapes, his detective streak comes into play. There are a few potential suspects but it seems unlikely any of them would profit from the paltry inheritance Nick would leave in her will after her death. The suspects are Freddie Rice, a habitual cocaine user; Commander Challenger, who seems to be in love with Nick; Jim Lazarus, an art dealer in love with Freddie and also Freddie’s husband who refuses to grant her a divorce. Then there is also Charles Wyse, Nick’s appointed solicitor. In addition, there are two lodgers using the garden cottage at End House, Mr. and Mrs. Croft, who say they are Australians.
So Poirot suggests Nick call her cousin, Maggie Buckley, for protection. But an unfortunate incident involving the exchanging of coats leads to Maggie’s death because she was wearing a black dress. This baffles Poirot until he assumes the murder was due to the coat exchange. When he goes to interview Nick – whose true name is Magdala – she says to his puzzlement after a telephone call, that she has nothing to live for left. He then puts two and two together to figure out she had been secretly engaged to Arthur Streeton, a pilot who has been missing for some time and she had received news of his death. He sends her to a nursing home for protection while he investigates End House.
The Crofts arouse his suspicion and so does the love letters written to Magdala. But he is then informed that Nick has almost died of poisoning by chocolates, purported to have been sent by him. He calls in Miss Lemon for assistance. Using the help of Nick to stage a séance to talk with the dead through a medium during an arranged early reading of the will, something very odd comes to light. Her will leaves her inheritance to an unexpected party. But the fun doesn’t end there. Hercule Poirot reveals a charade has been going on under his nose the whole time and points out the true murderer of the Magdala Buckley that was engaged to Arthur Streeton who had a considerable fortune left to him by his uncle. He says he was inspired by the conversation on nicknames between Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings to reverse his original thought process.
The TV episode of Poirot doesn’t change the plot much because there was only one major change: the attempted assassination in front of Poirot did not happen in a lonely garden in the back of the hotel but a crowded spot near the swimming pool.
Colin Lamb, who walks around in the guise of a marine biologist, is paying a visit to Wilbraham Crescent when Miss Sheila Webb runs screaming out of a house straight into his arms. She tells him there is a corpse inside the house. When he goes in to check, her hysteric tale is confirmed. There is a dead body in the house and what is more mysterious is that four clocks in the room are frozen at 4:13 even though the actual time is 3:13. The house turns out be the residence of an elderly blind lady, Mrs. Pebmarsh. To the astonishment and consternation of everyone involved, she states she did not call the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau to specifically inquire for the typing services of Sheila Webb. Is Miss Webb the target of a conspiracy or is she actually hiding something?
When Colin Lamb gets Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective concocted by the queen of crime writing, involved in the case from his armchair no less, he enquires as to why Colin was found at Wilberham Crescent. Apparently he was investigating another case that pointed him towards this address. Unfortunately here the main role doesn’t fall to the detective but when murder rate spikes higher, Poirot uses his grey cells to figure out this case doesn’t follow the one plot but two which intertwine with each other.
As the mystery unravels, you finally figure out the motive for the murder of that unidentified man, why the girl with broken high heel was prevented from giving evidence, the significance of 4:13 and who is committing treason by passing information to the enemy. This one is littered with red herrings so it is almost impossible to figure the case out by reasoning.
Below is the television adaptation based on the novel. Please note the story is mostly true to type but there are some modifications made such as the time in which it was set.
This week I’m going to honour the author who produced the longest running play in the history of mankind. Fan of Agatha Christie? You’re in luck because I’m going to make a post each day this week featuring her mysteries.
She always awes me with the amount of crime stories she’s written, never mind her crime unrelated writing on the side. Besides they make for a great rereading experience. Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile does not need an introduction to most people so I’ll introduce you to one of her less well-known tales. This one is called The Tragedy at Marsden Manor which is available in the Poirot Investigates collection.
Famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is sent on an errant journey to the town of Marsden Leigh by a hotel owner who informs him a spate of murders have occurred. When Poirot gets there, he finds out to his dismay the hotel owner fancies himself as a mystery novelist and needed ideas on whom to blame as the culprit in his book. Nevertheless the trip takes an interesting turn for him when the owner of the local manor house dies and his pretty young wife is convinced that ghosts are responsible for scaring her husband to death because of his weak heart condition. When Poirot makes a deeper investigation into the death of Mr. Mantravers, he unearths all is not quite as clear-cut as it seems.
Here is the TV episode starring David Suchet who rarely disappoints me with any of his performances: