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.
Thanks for the review, and I confess feeling a little surprised that you decided to review it. Then again, perhaps I’m being unfair, given that you reviewed the previous three entries too? I confess I didn’t find the previous titles too bad – I liked your comment about Sophie Hannah’s approach and style, and I suspect alot depends on what expectations and what frame of mind one engages with these continuations.
I do find it uncharacteristic of Poirot to take a coach; I’m not sure I am especially persuaded by Poirot simply toe-ing the line if and when his ‘client’ insists on him hiding his reason for being at a scene of crime. I’d have thought the green eyes would have flashed and the client asked to leave the flat…
In part, I feel that I’m performing a service reviewing a book that, in theory, fits the aim of the blog. Also, I’m fed up with reviews that just shovel praise on new releases that claim to be great mystery novels echoing the classics when they simply aren’t, such as Eight Detectives, hence the desire to try and give a fair review. And while I really didn’t like Monogram, the other two had their merits.
And Poirot being undercover lasts about two chapters before someone calls him on it…
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So glad to read your comment about performing a service, because that’s exactly what i feel you have done. I probably won’t read it, but I AM interested, and most reviews will be useless, whereas I know I can trust you to be fair and reasoned and knowledgeable. Have any of the MSM reviewers claimed they are ‘better than Christie’ yet?
I am posting this to make a point. I hate the output of people who have so little creativity that they have to try to copy other author’s successful work.
It’s not funny and it’s not clever ! and of course almost invariably unsuccessful. Just look at the cohort of fools trying to emulate Robert B Parker’s Spenser stories, only one of them comes close and he failed.
I would also like to add to my fecal roster, those misbegotten wretches who will keep trying to write Golden Age detective stories, when they are far too young to remember the faintest trace of the era. And of course too lazy to research the genre properly, and who would not recognise an anachronism if it bit them. And another thing ! You cannot write a book in the style of another era, while maintaining the mores and politically correct attitudes of today.
Poirot (and Hastings) travelled by coach in the short story Double Sin, so there’s at least one precedent!
None of her books feel like Poirot novels. The cover has a bigger Agatha Christie symbol than the author’s name. Yet, the books are noway close to Christie. Lets not talk about plots, as she was a genius. But even the atmosphere and writing style is different. I believe, these books should have been written with a separate detective without involving Poirot or Christie.
Thank you very much for this review. I agree with you that Hannah’s work is often more about why than whodunit. There’s an excellent Irish Times article* collecting various crime writers’ opinions on Christie, in which Hannah says the following about her favourite Christie novel:
“… After the Funeral … has a brilliant plot, meticulously planted clues, a memorably dysfunctional family at its centre, and a truly ingenious solution, but it also has something else that I prize highly: the non-transferable motive. Poirot is forever telling Hastings that motive is the most important feature of a crime, and I agree with him. A non-transferable motive is something that no other murderer in no other crime novel has ever had or would ever have – a motive that is unique to this character in this particular fictional situation. …
With a non-transferable motive, the reader should ideally think, ‘Well, although I would never commit murder for this reason, I can absolutely understand why this character did – it makes perfect sense because of their unique personality/predicament combination.’ On this score, After the Funeral works in the most superb way. It also does something else very clever on the motive front – it offers us a two-layer motive of the following sort: ‘X committed the murder(s) for reason Y. Ah, but why did X have reason Y as a motivation? Because of reason Z.’
I’ll be reviewing Kingfisher Hill myself once I’ve finished it, so thank you as well for your discretion as per the plot!
Discretion is my middle name.