When The Monogram Murders arrived back in 2014, there was a collective sense of relief at Waterstones Towers. Not only had the ever-brilliant Sophie Hannah risen to the challenge of picking up where Agatha Christie left off, in many ways (and we know for some this is heresy itself) she had bettered it. Now Sophie Hannah returns with her follow-up outing for Hercule Poirot, the fiendishly brilliant Closed Casket.
A year ago, I had an idea for a crime novel and immediately gasped, swore a lot (in a happy way) and started to wave my hands around like a deranged person. Why? You might wonder. Haven't I written lots of crime novels already? Yes, I have. Then haven't I, presumably, had many ideas that have excited me? Yes. Many. So why should this one be so startling that it caused me to fall off the sofa?
Let me explain: in April last year, I knew I might fairly soon be asked if I fancied writing another Poirot novel (after my first The Monogram Murders, which had been published the previous September). I knew that I did fancy it very much, but that in order to say yes, I would need to have an idea that was clever and compelling enough to make me think, 'This feels very Agatha-ish. Poirot MUST solve this case.'
And then, as if by magic (that really is how it felt!) an idea landed in my head. A motive for murder. It was incredibly simple - so simple, it almost seemed too obvious - and yet I didn't think it had been done before. I was also confident that, however diligently I brandished the many clues throughout the story, no one would ever guess this solution to a murder mystery puzzle. Even better, my idea - my high-concept concept - was daring, ambitious, tricky yet straightforward, and could be summarised in no more than four words. All of this felt spectacularly Agatha-ish! The devoted Christie fans among you will know that in some of her very best books (Orient Express, Roger Ackroyd), the solution can be conveyed in four words. As a writer who tends towards complex, labyrinthine plots, I never dreamed that I would be capable of having a brilliant, simple-yet-unguessable four-word idea. (I will probably never have one again, but I'm trying not to get depressed about that.)
As you will hopefully by now have guessed, this four-word idea ended up forming the basis of my second Poirot novel, Closed Casket, which I am delighted to be sending you now. Since I was first commissioned to write Poirot continuation novels, I have been asked endlessly, 'What would Agatha have thought about all this?' I have perfected many different ways of saying, 'I hope she'd be chuffed, but I honestly have no idea.' If anyone asks me what Agatha would think about Closed Casket in particular, I will say (because it's true) that I'm absolutely convinced that she too would have found this four-word concept irresistible, and that she too would have used it as the basis for a mystery novel. If you read it, I really hope you will see what I mean, and that you will be as surprised and delighted by the solution as I was when it first occurred to me.