Returning home after lunch one day, Hercule Poirot finds an angry woman waiting outside his front door. She demands to know why Poirot has sent her a letter accusing her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met.
Poirot has also never heard of a Barnabas Pandy, and has accused nobody of murder. Shaken, he goes inside, only to find that he has a visitor waiting for him — a man who also claims also to have received a letter from Poirot that morning, accusing him of the murder of Barnabas Pandy.
Poirot wonders how many more letters of this sort have been sent in his name. Who sent them, and why? More importantly, who is Barnabas Pandy, is he dead, and, if so, was he murdered? And can Poirot find out the answers without putting more lives in danger?
Taking on the mantle of the most well known of the greatest golden age crime authors and resurrecting one of her most beloved characters is no small feat. But Sophie Hannah has, to date, managed it ably and her first two ‘New Hercule Poirot’ mysteries, The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket, have gone down a treat with readers – including myself! So I was delighted to be given an opportunity via Netgalley to read Hannah’s latest outing, The Mystery of Three Quarters, which sees everyone’s favourite Belgian detective confronted with a most peculiar mystery indeed.
With an opening that rivals the intrigue of ‘Murder is Announced’, Hercule Poirot is confronted by a four different people all of whom claim he has sent them a letter accusing them of the murder of Barnabas Pandy – a man who Poirot has never heard of and, it transpires, drowned in his bathtub at a ripe old age without the apparent intervention of anyone else. Why have these letters been sent in Poirot’s name? Was Barnabas Pandy really murdered? And what connects the people who have received the accusatory letter? It’s a puzzle that Christie herself would have been proud of and one that will take all of Poirot’s little grey cells to solve.
As with her previous two Poirot books, Hannah absolutely nails Christie’s tone but, in reacquainting us once again with her own ‘eyes’ on the famous detective – long-suffering Scotland Yard Inspector Edward Catchpool – rather than one of Christie’s own preferred sidekicks, she manages to pay homage rather than attempt a full resurrection. It’s a trick which allows the jaunty briskness of Christie to come across without ever crossing over into pastiche.
That said, all of the golden age tropes are present and correct – there’s a suitably grand country house, a private boy’s boarding school, an aged retainer, an eclectic array of apparently well-to-do suspects, and a typewriter with a dodgy letter ‘e’. There’s also a cake – specifically a church window cake (think Battenberg) made up of four little pink and yellow squares – that might just provide the answer to the whole thing. Throw in a handful of well-placed red-herrings and you’ve got a plot that rattles along nicely until the classic ‘everyone gathered in the drawing room’ denouement in which Poirot explains all.
Thoroughly enjoyable and with just the right level of homage to the genre, this is another excellent addition to the ‘New Poirot’ series and one that is sure to appeal to fans of the previous two books, as well as lovers of Christie’s originals. Hannah’s Poirot has a little glint of mischief in his eye at times but he still feels like Poirot – and his little grey cells are still firmly in working order. Perfect for curling up with as the nights draw in, The Mystery of Three Quarters is a fun and entertaining read, written with finesse and confidence.
The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah and published by HarperCollins, is published 23 August 2017 and available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an ecopy in return for an honest and unbiased review.