The world’s favourite moustachioed detective is back for a new mystery by Sophie Hannah. I got this book at Christmas time so was well overdue for reading it. (The review will be spoiler free).
Returning home after lunch, Hercule Poirot finds an angry woman waiting outside his front door. She demands to know why Poirot has sent her a letter accusing her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met.
Poirot has also never heard of a Barnabas Pandy and has accused nobody of murder. Shaken, he goes inside only to find that he has a visitor waiting for him – a man who claimes to have received a letter from Poirot that morning accusing him of the murder of the same Barnabas Pandy.
How many more letters have been sent? Who sent them, and why? More importantly, who is Barnabas Pandy, is he dead and, if so, was he murdered? And can Poirot find out the answers without putting more lives in danger?
I’ve enjoyed both of Sophie Hannah’s Poirot novels – The Monogram Murders and The Closed Casket. She pays homage to Agatha Christie with due reverence, but retains enough individuality so that it never feels like the great lady herself has been ripped off. Returning to join Poirot are two of Hannah’s original characters, Inspector Edward Catchpool and Euphemia (Fee) Spring.
It’s an intriguing, clever mystery with the recurring theme of a slice of Battenberg cake, of all things (though its romantically called Church Window cake in the novel), running through its heart. With four people claiming that Poirot has written to them to accuse them of the murder of the same man, it’s up to the Belgian detective to work out why his attention is being drawn to Barnabas Pandy in the first place? What is the mysterious letter writer hoping to achieve? And do these four accused people – like the four quarters of the Battenberg cake – link together? One square seems not to fit…
Everything which made Poirot great in the first place can be found in this book: his amusing conceitedness, his chronic OCD, his flair for the dramatic and his fundamental kindness. Throw in some of the other hallmarks of classic Christie: a sidekick to tell the story (Catchpool makes a worthy replacement for Hastings), a big draughty house, the possibility of a changed will, a faithful old servant and a few plot twists…and you have a recipe for a thoroughly entertaining evening. It’s a light and pacey read – I got through it in a couple of hours.
My one single complaint about the book – and Agatha Christie herself was sometimes guilty of this – was that one of the four letter-receivers was basically a walking stereotype. Hugo Dockerill seemed to exist only to say remarkably stupid things and be bemused, having to be guided by his wife in literally everything. Quite how someone that completely moronic would be allowed to teach at a boarding school, I’m not quite sure!
All in all, it’s a nice, classic whodunnit which gets 4/5 from me. The little grey cells were well rewarded!