Hercule Poirot's soldiers in 4th resurrection marking Agatha Christie's 130th birth anniversary
Hercule Poirot, the portly curly-moustachioed Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie who has appeared in 33 novels, two plays and more than 50 short stories, had been "killed off" in 1975. He was revived in 2013 and now makes his fourth resurrection in Sophie Hannah’s novel "The Killings At Kingfisher Hill" to mark the 130 birth anniversary of the Queen of Crime.
"The continuation series came about through coincidence really," Hannah told IANS in an e-mail interview.
Her agent -- knowing she was a huge Christie fan and seeing a pile of her books on a shelf -- including the "Miss Marple" series -- during a meeting at HarperCollins -- made an off-the-cuff suggestion that she could write a continuation novel but this was dismissed "because as far as anybody knew at the time, the Christie family had no plans for any continuation novels".
"But just a couple of weeks later the family approached HarperCollins with their idea of doing just that and of course I came straight to mind! I'd had a plot in mind for a while which I was desperate to write but just wasn't right for my contemporary crime novels, I realised it would be perfect for Poirot," Hannah, an internationally bestselling author of nine psychological thrillers, which have been published in more than 20 countries and adapted for television, explained of the fourth book of the revived series.
A considerable amount to research to get the nuances right has gone into the writing of the books.
"As I'd only written contemporary fiction before, it was a new challenge to create a 1930s setting and in practical terms this involved a lot of Googling as to whether certain things existed in the 30s and, if not, what would serve my purposes while being historically accurate.
"The best research though has been my dedication as an Agatha Christie reader - immersing myself in that world through her books - even though I didn't realise that's what I was doing at the time of course," Hannah said.
The novel unfolds with Poirot travelling by luxury passenger coach from London to the exclusive Kingfisher Hill estate, where Richard Devonport has summoned him to prove that his fiancee, Helen, is innocent of the murder of his brother, Frank. But there is a strange condition attached to this request: Poirot must conceal his true reason for being there.
The coach is forced to stop when a distressed woman demands to get off, insisting that if she stays in her seat, she will be murdered. Although the rest of the journey passes without anyone being harmed, Poirot's curiosity is aroused, and his fears are later confirmed when a body is discovered with a macabre note attached...
Could this new murder and the peculiar incident on the coach be clues to solving the mystery of who killed Frank Devonport? And if Helen is innocent, can Poirot find the true culprit in time to save her from the gallows?
Interestingly, the remake of Christie's "Murder on the Nile", featuring Poirot, is due for release later this year. The other movie featuring the detective, "Murder on the Orient Express" has also been made twice, the first time in 1974 and then in 2016.
Altogether, Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote the world's longest-running play, "The Mousetrap" that was performed at London's West End from 1952 to 2020, as also six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.
Over the years, there have been some three dozen film, TV, stage and radio adaptations of Christie's works, featuring mainly Poirot and Miss Marple.
How does Hannah explain the vibrancy about the author even today, 46 years after his death - an adulation of the kind very few authors enjoy.
"I think there are many reasons the appeal of Agatha Christie's books is enduring: obviously, people's love of a mystery remains as strong today as ever but her books are so much more than just great puzzles. Each of her novels demonstrates a profound understanding of people - how they think, feel and behave - all delivered in her crisp, elegant, addictively readable style.
"There's a simplicity which makes the books accessible to a 12-year-old-child, as well as incredibly sophisticated explorations of the human psyche: something for every reader," Hannah said.
Is there also any move to revive Miss Marple? (As an aside, does she have a Christian name?)
"I'm not involved in any plans to bring Miss Marple back, I do love her as a character and it's an exciting thought but I feel like Poirot is enough! Miss Marple's first name is Jane; I think she has just become known as Miss Marple as that's mainly how her fellow characters respectfully address her in the books," Hannah said.
How would she list the top three Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple books?
"My favourites change all the time but, at the moment, I'm going to say for Poirot: 'The Hollow', 'Murder on the Orient Express' and 'After the Funeral' and for Miss Marple: 'The Body in the Library', 'A Murder is Announced' and 'The Moving Finger'. All are superb in their own ways, Hannah said.
Any more Poirot adventures on the cards?
"As for future Poirot adventures, I'm busy with other projects at the moment, but I would love to work with him again.
"As for future books, I'm working on Book 11 of my Culver Valley Crime Series at the moment which should be coming out next year, it’s been quite a wait for fans of Charlie and Simon so I'm very excited about that! Also my second self-help book 'Happiness, a Mystery: and 66 Attempts to Solve It' will be out later this year; I'd love to write more self-help in the future," Hannah concluded.