Friday, September 26, 2014
Sophie Hannah writes a Golden Age Hercule Poirot for today's avid fans
HALLIE EPHRON: Okay, here's a test. I give you a bit of internal dialogue. You give me the sleuth.
Ready? Okay: WHO THOUGHT IT?
1. When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it.
2. There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.
3. I should have counted to eleven before I squeezed the trigger.
4. He saw no reason why a warped shelf could not easily be replaced with a straight one, in the same way that he could not comprehend why anybody would place a fork on a square table and not ensure that it lay parallel to the straight line of the table's edge.
1.The character who is honor-bound to avenge his partner's murder, even though he disliked and distrusted the man, is Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade.
2. The man-crazy sleuth is the Jersey girl, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum.
3. The character who counted to ten and then blam is the off-the-grid, ex-military cop, Lee Childs's Jack Reacher.
4. If you guessed that the character who is obsessed with the symmetry of his cutlery is Hercule Poirot, you are right. The sleuth Agatha Christie conjured. So many of us gobbled up the Poirot novels right after we powered through Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. But this is M. Poirot in brilliant new hands. Sophie Hannah is the author, and the quote is from her delightful Poirot mystery, The Monogram Murders.
Today we are thrilled -- sacré bleu we are tickled pink -- to have Sophie Hannah as a guest on Jungle Red.
Sophie, your books, from Little Face with its new mother living with the family from hell, convinced that her baby has been replaced by a doppleganger, wade deep into dark psychological suspense and twisted family drama. The Monogram Murders is fun, frothy, exactly the kind of clue-driven puzzle mystery that Poirot readers adore.
How did you make the switch?
SOPHIE HANNAH: I don't see it as a massive switch - my psychological thrillers also contain lighter moments (often in the banter between the police characters!) and The Monogram Murders also has much darkness in it, and many warped psyches!
The main switch is in terms of narrative style.
In Golden Age detective novels, the storytelling aspect is overt. Golden Age mysteries are easier to write than contemporary mysteries because you don't have to be ashamed of storytelling in an upfront way. They can literally begin with something like, 'Let me tell you about the baffling mystery I solved last summer. It all began when...' Whereas contemporary crime novels go to great lengths to create the illusion that no one is telling anyone a story, but, rather, that the reader just happens to be observing these events.
HALLIE: Did you plot the story out out in advance the way Christie did?
SOPHIE: I always do. It's crucial for getting the story architecture right. Once that's in place, I can write the novel, and focus all my energy on writing it well, without worrying about the plot. Planning is huge fun - almost my favourite part of the process!
HALLIE: In Monogram, Poirot feels utterly recognizable. Did you have to immerse yourself in the Poirot novels to achieve this, and how is he different now that he's in retirement?
SOPHIE: I read all the Poirot novels again - that was my homework, and very enjoyable it was too! The Monogram Murders is set in 1929, so relatively early in Poirot's timeline, which means he's no more retired here than in Roger Ackroyd and Orient Express.
HALLIE: Poirot has been played by tons of actors -- Tony Randall, Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, David Suchet to name a few. Which one do you think best captured the essence of Poirot, and what do you think it is about the character that has made him such a mystery icon?
SOPHIE: I think it has to be David Suchet, for sure. He plays a real man with depth and wisdom, but Poirot is also, in some ways, a superhero and therefore larger than life - instantly memorable with his elaborate moustaches and egg-shaped head! - and so in this sense he is a caricature. He is so popular with readers for all kinds of reasons, I think: his compassion, his fairness, his wisdom, his loyalty - and of course all his strange little obsessive-compulsive ways!
HALLIE: Are you working on another Poirot? Another suspense novel? What can we look forward to?
SOPHIE : I'm writing a book called A Game For All The Family at the moment. This is a standalone psychological thriller and will be published next year. It's set in Devon, and inspired by Greenway, which was Agatha Christie's holiday home!
But I'm massively looking forward to the release of my next Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer novel in America next summer. In England it's called The Telling Error, but in the US it will be called Woman With A Secret.
As for whether or not I'll ever write another Poirot...the official answer is wait and see!
HALLIE: I hope we don't have to wait too long!
Sophie has promised to drop by today to answer questions... so ask them early (it's a lot later in the UK.)
And please, share: What is your favorite thing about Poirot?
I'll start. His little gray cells: "It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within--not without." And I confess, I hear David Suchet delivering the lines.