Well, “Mille Tonnerres!” As Hercule Poirot is wont to say, “Sacre Bleu!” but Madame Sophie Hannah has worked her sly magic once again in the continuation novel “The Mystery of Three Quarters,” out and at bookstores on August 28th.
Of course, reviewing mystery novels is always a problem for the reviewer because you can not give any of the plot away. “You CAN NOT!” I am again using Hercule Poirot’s unique voice and intonation here.
But I can say that is the literary legerdemain that Ms. Hannah practices so well. And the Christie Estate was so astute in choosing HER as the inheritor and author of now THREE delicious Christie continuation novels. “The Monogram Murders,” “Closed Casket” and now “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”
The first quarter of “Three Quarters” is undiluted joy for Christie fans because it is all Poirot, all the time. He is front and center as his usually adept self in handling the perplexing question of who is sending these poison pen letters to various random people and signing his name, accusing them all of the murder of Barnabus Pandy. (LOVE that name!) Hannah is wicked good with her choice of her characters’ names.
The first character to accuse Poirot of this outrageous slander by snail mail (It is set in 1929. No emails here. Can you imagine Poirot sending an email? Or even going online! ) is the aptly named Sylvia Rule. And a more vivid, angry introduct-ress to a murder mystery you cannot imagine. And Poirot cannot imagine it either!! He, Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective of all time (he calls himself, modestly) accusing others of a crime and signing his name to letters he did not write.”It is an outrage!” he tells the implacable Sylvia Rule, and the other characters who turn up, in rapid succession, with identical letters. In various stages of discomfiture with Poirot..
This all happens in front of and inside his historic flat in Whitehaven Mansions. Hannah has preserved that from the Christie originals. New is the favorite place of Poirot’s to retire to, and figure out what to do with this perplexing situation with his “little grey cells”(Yes, they are here, too.)And that place is a pleasant café called Pleasant Café and run by Euphemia Spring. Who everyone calls “Fee.” (Once again Hannah’s marvelous choice of character names.) And Fee Spring has a large part to play.
She has graduated from “the waitress with the fly-away hair” in “Monogram Murders” to a full-blown character, the proprietress of the Pleasant Café,now also returning as Poirot’s favorite Hannah-named haunt. George, his always perfect valet is on hand here, too. And of course, Poirot, the ultimate foodie, is always eating. And it is Fee Spring, who first raises the title of “Three Quarters,” through one of her delectable dishes, a cake that is shaped like a stained glass church window. The church window pane cake plays a major, major role in solving the mystery and the fact that Poirot keeps devouring all of its quarters so quickly made me think of how sweet and delicious this tasty treat must be. Just like this book.
This novel will make you hungry, I’m telling you. That I can reveal. And not just Window Pane Cake.
And I also can tell you that you will not be able to PUT IT DOWN! It will possess you like you’re on a runaway train, maybe The Orient Express. Or a cake you can’t stop eating late at night. The train metaphors and the food metaphors continue to abound in Hannah’s delicious tale of malice and murder. She’s so expert at this, the seemingly impossible task of recreating Agatha Christie’s unique, rotund Belgian detective with the great moustaches. Poirot is the only fictional character to ever get an Obit on the front page of the New York Times when he passed away in “Curtain.”
I never realized how deeply in love with this character I was until he rose from the dead so brilliantly at Sophie Hannah’s command in “Monogram Murders.” It was like encountering a long-lost friend! And you’ll feel the same way and be able to continue your own rapturous re-union with Hercule Poirot in “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”