The Mystery Of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Hercule Poirot had never heard of Sylvia Rule, until she accosted him in the street and demanded why he had sent her a letter accusing her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy. He certainly had sent no such letter. He hadn’t sent the other three letters either, each addressed to a person that Poirot had never met before, each accusing them of murder – the murder of the same man, Barnabas Pandy, an old man who had apparently accidentally drowned in his bathtub.

Why would someone do such a thing – why not simply ask Poirot to investigate a suspicious death? It seems that someone has a plan – a plan that seemingly extends beyond simple murder.

Do appreciate that I go into a book like this unlike many readers. Some have simply heard of that Poirot chap and see his name on the cover – after all, the major UK booksellers these days seem to be supermarkets and they don’t stock classic Christie. Others are fans of Christie having read them when they were young. And then there’s people like me who know the classic Christie canon inside out and back to front.

Putting aside the question of the need for a continuation of Poirot’s adventures – it seems to be the thing these days, with both Albert Campion and Nero Wolfe enjoying new sales adventures as well – the other question concerns how accurate this tale is a recreation of Poirot and Christie’s style herself. Indeed, should Hannah be creating a tale that could seamlessly insert itself into the canon or should she write in a more modern style? After all, Christie’s style changed over the years – compare, say, Five Little Pigs with Peril At End House.

At the end of the day, let’s take a look at how it stands up as a piece of detective fiction. And it stands up very well. The plot is complex, but not as convoluted as The Monogram Murders, and the revelations are all fairly clued – Hannah seems to make a point of justifying every one of Poirot’s deductions in the finale. And yes, you could make a point about the villain’s plan being very unlikely to work, but to be fair, you could make a case for that in, say, Death On The Nile, too.

My primary niggle – and Hannah is by no means the only writer guilty of this – is the notion that the book is narrated/written by a character (Inspector Catchpool) despite him being present for only a portion of the events depicted. There is little need for narration here – indeed, little need to persist with Catchpool (is Japp copyrighted or something?). There’s nothing wrong with the third person…

But as I said, it’s a fairly clued mystery, hiding a familiar (to this over-read mystery fanatic) plot idea well. Definitely the strongest of the three Poirot continuations, but I would prefer a more conscious aping of Christie’s style.

Many thanks to Harper Collins for the review copy.

14 comments

  1. I have not read any but they do exert an appeal. Trap time in a bottle I suppose.

    I did read one of Goldsborough’s Wolfe novels long long ago. He modernized. Archie was entering germination records into a spreadsheet on the PC. Much as I love Wolfe’s brownstone, I decided I did not want to visit it if it was host to Lotus 1-2-3 …

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      • I love the first dozen or so Wolfe books dearly, but I have to admit that as fair play puzzles they leave something to be desired. There is some good logic in them sometimes, but rarely a well presented puzzle per se.

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    • Thanks for the post. Interesting to read that Catchpool is supposed to develop through the books as he’s barely in this one. Plot wise, this is the closest to something Agatha would have put together, but it’s still too complex and doesn’t really make any sense In hindsight. Christie’s mysteries generally hinge around a single misunderstanding, but putting everything together (despite the clear clueing) would take a lot of doing. And I think anyone describing The Hunting Party as Christie-esque hasn’t read much Christie… it’s not a bad book, but simply putting a few people in an isolated location for a murder doesn’t make it automatically Christie.

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      • Possibly. If you read the article, it sounds like Hannah wanted to make her own stamp on the world of Poirot, hence Catchpool. At least his corpse phobia doesn’t come up this time…

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      • and so?

        you know there are a myriad of nouns, names, words that MIGHT sound like a slur in SOME language out there. are we really going to sanitize everything that MIGHT make a parallel to SOME event or community out there

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      • I’ve removed the last sentence and a half from the comment above as it consisted of a personal criticism of the comment-writer (or possibly me) which I don’t allow on this blog. The initial comment was speculating if this was a choice made by someone involved in producing this novel, as I was pushed to find a reason to replace the established Poirot character. That is a world away from saying the name should be changed.

        Can I just remind people that this is a friendly blog? No attacks on individuals, thanks.

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  2. Replacing minor characters like Japp would allow Hannah a bit more “elbow room” for invention without the need to muck with Poirot. We have seen where that leads!

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