The Killings at Kingfisher Hill, by Sophie Hannah
This isn’t the first of Sophie Hannah’s homages to Agatha Christie’s Poirot canon [it is actually the fourth], with full permission & endorsement from the Christie estate, but it is the first I have reviewed. In view of that, it must be said that any of my comments about the similarity between Hannah’s & Christie’s writing & plotting styles, aside from the relative merits of this book’s plot, should be considered within the context of my knowledge of Christie’s writing in general, and the Poirot stories specifically, which isn’t encyclopaedic: I have read several of both, but by no means all. After reading the first few chapters of this one, I was initially minded to observe that the setup seemed rather laborious, but by the time I reached the end, it was obvious that the slow pace was essential to provide the details necessary to the complex plot: entirely appropriate for one of Christie’s characters, and I am happy to admit that Point is one of my favourites.
Kingfisher Hill is a private estate, near Haslemere in Surrey, to which Poirot and his by-now [early 1931] regular Scotland Yard associate, Inspector Edward Catchpool [Chief Inspector Japp presumably having retired] have been invited; specifically to one of the substantial homes on the estate, Little Key, by one of the sons, Richard, of the owner, Sidney Devonport, to ascertain whether Richard’s fiancée, Helen Acton did, indeed, murder his brother, Frank, who also happened to be Helen’s fiancé at the time. The invitation is necessarily surreptitious, because the paterfamilias Sidney, who is notoriously brusque & controlling, and his wife, Lilian, both see no reason to disbelieve Helen’s admission of guilt, made immediately after Frank’s fatal fall from an upstairs landing, and are perfectly happy and, indeed, willing, to see Helen hanged in retribution for the crime. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Helen doesn’t actually love Richard, despite claiming that she fell in love with him at first sight, while she was still affianced with Frank, whom she really did love.
On the way to the Devonports’ home, at which the two guests are invited to stay, on the pretext of being sufficiently interested in, enough to potentially facilitate an investment, a board game [claimed to be better than the recently extremely popular new game Monopoly, or The Landlord’s Game] called Peepers, developed by Sidney Devonport and his friend & business partner, the American Godfrey Laviolette, a very strange incident occurs. A female passenger on the motor coach, on which Poirot & Catchpool are scheduled to travel, makes a scene in which she claims that she has been told she will die if she sits in a certain seat on the coach; needless to say, by the time she boards the coach, the sole remaining seat is the doom-laden one; Poirot manages to persuade her that she will be safe, by the expedient of changing seats, so that he occupies the threatening one, and the woman travels adjacent Catchpool. This is the setup which, at first, I felt was unnecessarily long-winded, but as the narrative progresses, the connections to the main plot are revealed, which is why it had to be related so carefully.
Hannah has certainly captured Poirot’s character & mannerisms quite well: there is rather more to a good homage to a very well-known & -loved character in fiction than merely describing him as being self-satisfied, and possessing extravagant moustaches & an egg-shaped head. Notwithstanding the complexity of the plot, I was slightly concerned, at least two-thirds of the way into the narrative, when Poirot gives Catchpool a list of seven tasks which he should achieve to advance their investigation, when Poirot has previously declared on at least one occasion that he has virtually solved the case! Aside from that, the plot is very cleverly worked out, and the investigation exposes secrets, lies, deliberate misdirection & character flaws, which would distract and inhibit any other investigator of a lesser intellect from arriving at a motive and exposing the perpetrator. The book was first published by HarperCollinsPublishers, London, in 2020; the paperback version which I read was published in 2021 ISBN, 978-0-00-826455-0.