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The Mystery of Three Quarters: A Hercule Poirot Mystery


The Mystery of Three Quarters: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

In June 2015, mystery fans all over the world were given a gift from above with the release of Sophie Hannah’s THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, which marked the reappearance of Dame Agatha Christie's legendary detective, Hercule Poirot. Hannah already had been a favorite of mine for creating top-notch psychological crime thrillers that were never predictable. In fact, some of the novels in her Zailer and Waterhouse series were made into an above-average BBC series starring Olivia Williams. Hannah was selected by the Agatha Christie estate to revive Poirot, and she was more than up to the task. THE MYSTERY OF THREE QUARTERS, the third installment in the new series (following CLOSED CASKET), may be the finest of the bunch.

Never before have I seen Hercule Poirot made a part of a mystery like we see in the opening pages. As he is being innocently dropped off at his residence, he is accosted by an irate woman named Sylvia Rule, who demands to know why he sent her a letter that accused her of murdering Barnabas Pandy. Poirot insists he did no such thing and doesn’t even know who this man is. It doesn't end there, though, as three more individuals --- all strangers to Poirot --- claim to have received similar letters from him with the same accusation.

The exceedingly curious Poirot is impelled to do some immediate fact-finding. First, he must learn more about Barnabas Pandy and if he is really deceased. Next, he needs to delve into the background of the four recipients of the accusatory letters to see if they had any ties to either Pandy or each other. This is no easy task, but Poirot is quite game for it. He immediately recognizes the possible diversion that was cast his way with the existence of these letters. Someone wants him to get involved to potentially solve a murder while at the same time implicating one or more of the letter bearers as the guilty party or parties. If it sounds like a puzzle at this point, buckle up for an adventure that crackles with stories, lies, deceit and a murder that may not have happened.

"What Hannah skillfully devises is a Hercule Poirot reveal that runs for over 40 pages and is so absolutely riveting that readers almost will be able to hear the air escaping from the room that has become his stage for the final act."

The other letters were received by John McCrodden, son of a well-known prosecutor with a reputation for sending countless people to the gallows; Hugo Dockerill, housemaster of an exclusive school for boys; and Annabel Treadway, Pandy’s granddaughter. It turns out that the elderly Pandy drowned in his own bathtub with no indication of foul play. To assist in this perplexing situation, Poirot is joined by Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard; similar to Dr. Watson’s role in the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Catchpool serves as the narrator of the story.

Poirot and Catchpool travel together to meet up with the players involved in this baffling case. One of the first people they talk to is the infamous father of John McCrodden, Rowland "The Rope" McCrodden. Hannah, like Dame Agatha herself, likes to pull quotes from ancient literature or works of philosophy. Rowland speaks to Plato's Ring of Gyges, which ponders whether or not an intelligent person would be moral if he did not have to fear punishment. As with Christie's work, there is never a throwaway reference, and this one provides food for thought for shrewd readers once the last page is turned and the time for reflection has commenced.

It turns out that only four people were present at Combingham Hall the night of Pandy's death --- family members Annabel, Lenore and Ivy, as well as his faithful manservant, Kingsbury. In fact, not only is there no evidence of foul play, all four letter bearers have solid alibis. Why then does a second instance of intentional misdirection take place, this time by an unknown female who is calling around to various people claiming to be from Inspector Catchpool's office? Another bizarre bit of planted evidence turns up in the form of a sopping wet dress taped to the bottom of a bed frame. The dress allegedly belongs to Annabel Treadway, and the young man whose bed was used is Timothy Lavington, the son of Annabel's sister, Lenore, and resident of Hugo Dockerill’s school. Oh, what a tangled web is being woven here.

Poirot fans know that he is rarely, if ever, fooled. It also takes an extremely presumptuous individual to believe that he or she could ever pull one over on him. In the midst of all of these games, an actual murder does take place when the body of Kingsbury turns up, his head bludgeoned by a blunt object.

In a scene that nearly rivals possibly the greatest reveal of all time from MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, Poirot invites every person now involved in the case, and a few extended relatives, to a room at Combingham Hall where he promises to resolve everything. It's much more than merely typewriters with a faulty letter “e” or phony letters at this point. What Hannah skillfully devises is a Hercule Poirot reveal that runs for over 40 pages and is so absolutely riveting that readers almost will be able to hear the air escaping from the room that has become his stage for the final act.

If it wasn't for the fact that the word “denouement” is French in origin, I would like to think it was created exclusively for our famous Belgian Inspector because no one commands the final resolution to a complex crime like he does. I have said enough, and now must leave things in the hands of the masterful Poirot. Only after reading and absorbing every word Hannah lays out on the pages of THE MURDER OF THREE QUARTERS will you understand how cunningly the actors in this mystery are compared to a multi-colored and layered coffee cake. Sometimes, it only takes an item as simple as that to get Poirot's little gray cells firing. Read on, and prepare to be among the amazed.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 7, 2018

The Mystery of Three Quarters: A Hercule Poirot Mystery
by Sophie Hannah