Hercule Poirot and his friend Inspector Catchpool are on their way to the Kingfisher Hill estate, to pose as enthusiasts of a board game, the unfortunately named Peepers. The reason for this is that they have been asked by Richard Devonport to prove the innocence of his fiancée, Helen, in the murder of his brother, Frank (who was her fiancé at the time). There are two problems – Poirot must hide his reasons for being there, hence the pretence at interest in the creation of Devonport’s father, and the fact that Helen confessed to pushing Frank off of the balcony seconds after he hit the ground, has been found guilty and faces the death penalty.
The coach journey to Kingfisher Hill is hardly uneventful. One woman runs from the coach as she has been warned that if she sits in a certain seat, then she is bound to die. And a second woman confesses to Poirot that she has killed a man – a confession, it soon transpires, that she also murdered Frank…
The fourth continuation Hercule Poirot novel, an idea that is unpopular amongst some areas of Golden Age fandom and clearly, if sales are anything to go by, popular amongst others. The thing to bear in mind going into these novels is that Sophie Hannah has deliberately chosen her own style of novel, deliberately not mimicking directly Dame Agatha’s style, while maintaining the draw of the character of Poirot. I mean, it’s not exactly Poirot vs King Kong, but the simplicity of plot that Christie was a genius at is not on display in these books – that’s to be expected as it’s hardly on display anywhere else in the Golden Age either. There’s a reason why Christie was a genius.
With a multitude of puzzles to be solved by the reader, this is a good exercise in deduction. For the most part, the many mysteries are fairly clued. There’s one aspect that I think could have done with a nod or two, as it does seem to come out of nowhere – it’s the link between two characters that’s revealed late on – but most of the deductions come from what is presented to the reader.
In many ways, this is as much about whydunit as whodunit, as much of the deduction is directed towards why certain events happen, and how those events collide to form the big picture here, and I can admire a lot of the construction here. Poirot feels like Poirot (for the most part, although I don’t think he’d have been seen dead on a coach) and I was entertained for the majority of the book. Hannah’s writing brings the characters to life, and I particularly enjoyed Poirot’s “delight” at the attention received by two dogs accompanying one suspect as he talks to them. But the choice of killer, even though it makes perfect sense where nothing else would, it just felt a bit disappointing. There’s also an element that a lot of events occur due to one character’s choices, choices that never felt convincing to me, despite the reasons for such behaviour being given.
So, not a perfect book, but if you enjoyed the other continuations, you’ll probably enjoy this one too.
Many thanks to HarperCollins for the e-review copy via Netgalley. The Killings At Kingfisher Hill is out now in hardback and as an ebook.