Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot have been the main reasons for my love affair with murder mysteries. A large part of my childhood was spent devouring her books. So when I heard that Sophie Hannah has attempted to re-create one of the greatest detectives of all time, I was over the moon with excitement.However, when I finally got the chance to pick it up, a bit of nervousness blended in with the excitement. I couldn’t help but set my expectations really high for this book, which ultimately proved to be its downfall.
The setting of the novel will appeal to any Christie fan. The 1920s. A huge bungalow. A countess who writes books for children. The eccentric son and the spoilt daughter. A contentious will. The elements are all there. The story begins with the countess summoning
her lawyer to re-write her will. Instead of leaving everything to her children, she decides to make her private secretary the sole beneficiary – a secretary who is terminally ill and has very little chance of outliving the countess. Expecting trouble post her announcement of the will, the countess decides to invite Hercule Poirot and Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool to stay at her mansion. So there you have it. The recipe for a perfect murder mystery. Except, it is anything but.
To be honest, the first few chapters are really good. The events leading up to the murder, and the murder itself, were really well done. The writing is crisp and builds the sense of impending doom nicely. It sucks you right in with the promise of more to come. But it fails to maintain the tempo. The primary issue, I felt, was the depiction of Hercule Poirot. Yes, the ego and the pompousness are all there; but it lacks the charm. Moreover, Poirot plays a really small part in the novel. He hardly does any interrogation, and he is absent for too long during crucial scenes. It is definitely not the Poirot who sits in his armchair and lets his ‘little grey cells’ do all the work. And that, was disappointing.
Secondly, the narrative involves characters rambling on endlessly about their past. This slows down the pace of the novel and it just trudges along sluggishly. Instead of Poirot using his astute skills of observation of unearth clues, it is these long ramblings that ultimately provide insights into the mystery. To be fair, the plot is fairly complex and manages to keep you guessing till the end. The conclusion does fill in all the gaps, but it borders on incredulity. All the pieces of the puzzle fit in, but the motive seems to be too far-fetched and it lacks the deceptive simplicity of a Christie novel.
I really wanted this book to blow me away. As I mentioned before, perhaps I had set my expectations too high. As a standalone novel, it is quite a decent murder mystery. But the comparison with Christie is inevitable, and that is where I was let down. I am going with 3/5 for Closed Casket. It is a meal that promises to be hearty and delicious, but ultimately leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Abhilash Sanyal is a network security engineer with ITC Ltd. Apart from being a certified bookworm, he also loves writing short stories. Mystery/Suspense is his favourite genre. He also likes playing the guitar and is an avid traveler. You can follow his blogs here and here.