Internationally acclaimed author, poet and master of psychological crime takes on Agatha Christie’s favourite Belgian detective. . .
This month (January 2016) marks the 50th
anniversary of Agatha Christie’s
death. One of the greatest crime writers of all time, her work lives on in both her books and those TV adaptations such as Marple
and, of course our beloved Poirot
played by the perfectly cast David Suchet.
Enter Sophie Hannah
and her brilliant new Poirot story, The Monogram Murders
. Written with the blessing of Agatha Christie’s family, the novel has become an international bestseller, reaching a top five position in the book charts in more than 15 countries.
Sophie talks to Mary Hogarth about Poirot and her zest for penning psychological thrillers.
How did The Monogram Murders come about?
My literary agent, Peter Straus had a meeting with David Brawn, the editor at HarperCollins who looks after Agatha Christie’s books.
Peter told the editor ‘you should get my author to write another Agatha Christie book as she is a huge fan’. He responded saying that it was unlikely that the family would allow it.
But during David’s monthly meeting with the Christie Estate the family mentioned that now might be the right time to write another novel. So it was a combination of luck and serendipity.
I met the Christie family and we talked over potential ideas with Matthew Pritchard chair of Agatha Christie Limited, who is her grandson.
Recently Matthew has handed over to his son James, Agatha’s great grandson. Both are devoted to maintaining her legacy ensuring her stories reach as wider audience as possible.
The Monogram Murders
have reminded everyone how great she was - sales of Christie’s Poirot novels increasing.
Agatha Christie had a unique voice – how did you capture that?
When the book was commissioned I re-read all the Poirot novels and watched the TV series with David Suchet
. Agatha was my favourite writer so I had read all her books more than once.
I got to know Poirot really well. Then approached the story as though I was writing about a close friend – so much so that he felt like an old friend.
Did you work with trustees of the Agatha Christie estate?
Yes, everything was agreed in advance.
We discussed when the book would be set, whether it would be a prequel to her first Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles
, but opted for 1929 as there was a gap in the series between 1928-32.
I wrote the outline to check everyone one was happy with my ideas. It was very detailed and provided an in-depth plan for the whole novel.
The Christie family were hugely encouraging all the way through.
The hardest aspect?
It was daunting writing a book set in 1929 because I didn’t have grasp of that period. I think of myself as contemporary writer. But when I started writing everything fell into place.
Once I found the setting and the voice of my narrator, Edward Catchpool the words flowed.
Tell us about next Poirot, Closed Casket?
Set in October 1929 it follows on from The Monogram Murders
, which was set in the February.
The plot needed to have the all ingredients of a Christie story – everything had to fit together.
With Closed Casket, I had an idea for a motive/solution for a murder mystery that was incredibly simple but also very unusual - and it could be explained in just four words.
Rather like the solution in Agatha's Murder on the Orient Express
. Even if someone knew no other details of that story, you could say those four words and they would get the concept.
Closed Casket has a similarly detachable, conceptual solution. This was the element that came to me first, and that drove the rest of the book. It felt perfect for Poirot.
What do you think would Agatha make of the books?
I don’t want to speak for her as she’s not around, but I hope she would like and approve of both books and not be able to guess the solution.
Will Poirot be having more adventures?
At the moment it’s on a book-by-book basis. When we agreed The Monogram Murders
, we didn’t know there would be a second one.
Now it’s hard to think beyond the current one – and I don’t know if I am going to have another idea that will be right.
for more details about Sophie’s work including her crime novels, poetry and children’s books visit.
Click here to read an interview with Sophie Hannah about the story behind her novels A Game for all the Family and The Narrow Bed.