Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah is the newest Hercule Poirot novel, continuing the legacy of Agatha Christie's legendary sleuth and commemorating his 100th anniversary in print.
After resurrecting Dame Agatha Christie’s iconic detective, Hercule Poirot, in the global bestseller The Monogram Murders (2014), Sophie Hannah revisits the famously finicky Belgian in Closed Casket to commemorate his 100th anniversary in print.
As Closed Casket opens, readers bear witness to an act that will have dire repercussions: the changing of Lady Athelinda Playford’s will. Lady Playford, a beloved mystery author who makes her home at Lillieoak in Clonakilty, County Cork—an homage to Christie and her famed Greenway estate—has decided to make the announcement at a dinner party attended by her two children and their significant others (as well as her lawyers and various house staff). Perhaps sensing the furor that their disinheritance might cause, she has also invited Hercule Poirot to be present—but in the hopes of preventing a murder or in solving one? Regardless of her intent, a murder does occur—albeit a seemingly unexpected one, complete with an eyewitness—and Poirot must engage his little grey cells.
As with The Monogram Murders, the story is set in the late 1920s and narrated by Edward Catchpool, a detective with London’s Scotland Yard. Catchpool is the calm and congenial to Poirot’s brash and bold; he is of particular use to Poirot when Inspector Arthur Conree and Sergeant Daniel O’Dwyer, a junior officer, are summoned to investigate the crime. A celebrated sleuth himself, Conree wastes no time in claiming jurisdictional turf and attempting to strip Poirot of autonomy by putting him in a subordinate position. (“I must insist that the arrangements are as follows: I will be in charge of this investigation. I am the one who will assign duties and tasks—the only one.”) Catchpool, though often exasperated by Poirot’s contradictory treatment of him, takes umbrage at Conree’s remarks.
“Nothing will happen that I am not informed about,” Conree went on. “Nothing will happen without my express permission. No one will go off to pursue any investigation without my say-so, based upon little bright ideas of their own.” As he said “bright ideas,” he made a most bizarre gesture with his hands near his head—as if he were trying to sprinkle imaginary confetti into his ears. “Your reputation goes before you, Mr. Poirot, and I will be glad of your cooperation in this matter, but you must follow my instructions to the letter. Is that clear?”
Poirot presents “his most charming and compliant façade in the face of Conree’s provocation” while doing much of his bidding through Catchpool. Myriad motives emerge as past and present collide, and it’s often the combination of Catchpool’s observations and Poirot’s interpretations (and occasional manipulations) that move the investigation forward.
To provide specifics would spoil the intricacies of Hannah’s plot, but what can be said is that she honors some of Christie’s very favorite elements—poisons, time confusion, and concealment among them—while offering a resolution that’s both ingenious and deceptively simple. Further, Poirot has his moment of redemption during an extended denouement that ranks among his finest:
Sergeant O’Dwyer and I had managed to shepherd everybody into the drawing room. It was a tense and terse gathering even before Poirot opened the proceedings. Inspector Conree was furious to have been ousted as leading man. He had abandoned his ongoing chin-erosion project and allowed his head to hang at an angle that would have suggested a broken neck to those unfamiliar with his habits.
With Closed Casket, Sophie Hannah has proven, once again, why she was chosen by the Christie estate to continue Hercule Poirot’s longstanding literary legacy. While the narrative contains all the complexities of the author’s contemporary crime novels, it also has the unmistakable essence of a book written during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. That’s an admirable achievement, and one can’t help but think that Dame Agatha herself would be proud.
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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and will be featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, due out from Books & Boos Press in the fall of 2016.