Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th August 2020 from Harper Collins
Length: 8hrs 54’
The world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot – legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile – returns to solve a fiendish new mystery.
Hercule Poirot is travelling by luxury passenger coach from London to the exclusive Kingfisher Hill estate. Richard Devonport has summoned him to prove that his fiancée, Helen, is innocent of the murder of his brother, Frank. There is one strange condition attached to this request: Poirot must conceal his true reason for being there from the rest of the Devonport family.
On the coach, a distressed woman leaps up, demanding to disembark. She insists that if she stays in her seat, she will be murdered. A seat-swap is arranged and the rest of the journey passes without incident. But Poirot has a bad feeling about it, and his fears are later confirmed when a body is discovered in the Devonports’ home with a note that refers to ‘the seat that you shouldn’t have sat in’.
Could this new murder and the peculiar incident on the coach be clues to solving mystery of who killed Frank Devonport? And can Poirot find the real murderer in time to save an innocent woman from the gallows?
I’ve not read any of Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot books before, though I do have another audiobook in my library to try, so I was intrigued to see what it might be like, as Poirot novels are among my favourite Christies.
Poirot and his Scotland Yard companion Inspector Edward Catchpool, who, like Captain Hastings before him, is our narrator, are on their way to Sussex. It’s quite difficult to imagine Poirot on a coach, but we must suppose he had no other means of getting to his destination.
The coach is full and of course there are a number of occurrences which pique Poirot’s curiosity, not least of which is a woman who boards the bus and who claims she has been warned she will be murdered if she sits in a specific seat.
Poirot and Catchpoole are on a mission and an undercover one at that. Poirot has been asked by Richard Devonport to investigate the murder of his brother, Frank, a murder for which Davenport’s fiancée Helen Acton is currently in Holloway Prison, having confessed to his murder.
Devonport is convinced of Helen’s innocence. The Devenports live in a large mansion in an exclusive Sussex estate. Patriarch Stanley is a bull-headed man and his wife, Lilian is seriously ill. Poirot and CatchPoole endeavour to maintain their disguised personae – that of board-game enthusiasts – but it is not long before that pretence has to be cast aside as events somewhat overtake them. When another murder takes place the pair are then in a position to mount an official investigation. So now we have the large affluent country house, the cast of characters many of whom are related to each other and a potentially innocent woman languishing in prison having confessed to a murder her fiancée believed she could not possibly have committed. So far, so very Christie.
Hannah builds a complex, twisted and labyrinthine plot with many red herrings and lots of clues dropped and partners swapped. It’s enough to make the little grey cells swim. Catchpoole doesn’t seem all that much brighter than Hastings, which is a tad worrying given that he is a Police Inspector; however that gives Poirot the opportunity to show off his skills in a teacher to pupil fashion.
It is, I think, a decent homage to Christie and faithful to the spirit. What really makes this audiobook work though, above all, is the fantastic narration of Julian Rhind-Tutt who is a master at voices and inflexions and really brings the whole book alive. It’s worth it just for his narration alone. I’m in awe of his skills – as I was when he played Rumpole in the BBC dramatisations – and he’s a terrific actor.
Verdict: Though perhaps a little overly convoluted, plot-wise, Sophie Hannah does a decent job of re-creating all the classic elements of a Christie novel and building in the types of character we have come to know and love. It is clear that she knows her Christie novels well and this is reflected in what we read and hear. I enjoyed the audiobook a great deal and will certainly be back to listen to more Poirot’s in this form.
Sophie Hannah is a Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling writer of crime fiction, published in forty-nine languages and fifty-one territories. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide. In 2014, with the blessing of Agatha Christie’s family and estate, Sophie published a new Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders, which was a bestseller in more than fifteen countries. She has since published two more Poirot novels, Closed Casket and The Mystery of Three Quarters, both of which were instant Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers.
In 2013, Sophie’s novel The Carrier won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards. She has also published two short story collections and five collections of poetry – the fifth of which, Pessimism for Beginners, was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Award. Her poetry is studied at GCSE, A Level and degree level across the UK. Most recently, she has published a self-help book called How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment – The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life.Sophie has recently helped to create a Master’s Degree in Crime and Thriller Writing at the University of Cambridge, for which she is the main teacher and Course Director. She is also the founder of the DREAM AUTHOR coaching programme for writers. She lives with her husband, children and dog in Cambridge, where she is an Honorary Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College.