Meet the author: Sophie Hannah - Closed Casket
100 years after he was first imagined, Poirot is back, with a brand new mystery to puzzle over. Find out more about Closed Casket and the author who has taken on the curly-moustached murder-solving maestro.
About the book
Lady Athelinda Playford has planned a house party at her mansion in Clonakilty, County Cork, but it is no ordinary gathering. As guests arrive, Lady Playford summons her lawyer to make an urgent change to her will – one she intends to announce at dinner that night. She has decided to cut off her two children without a penny and leave her fortune to someone who has only weeks to live…
Among Lady Playford's guests are two men she has never met – the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited, until Poirot starts to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murderer to strike. But why does she seem so determined to provoke, in the presence of a possible killer?
When the crime is committed in spite of Poirot's best efforts to stop it, and the victim is not who he expected it to be, will he be able to find the culprit and solve the mystery?
Following the phenomenal success of The Monogram Murders, international bestselling crime writer Sophie Hannah has written another brilliant Poirot mystery. Closed Casket marks the centenary of the world-famous detective's first outing in Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
About the author
Sophie Hannah is an internationally bestselling writer of psychological crime fiction. In 2014, with the blessing of Agatha Christie's family and estate, Sophie published a new Hercule Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders, which was a huge success. Her second Poirot novel, Closed Casket, became an instant Sunday Times top ten bestseller.
Sophie is forty-five and lives with her husband, children and dog in Cambridge.
Meet Sophie Hannah
How did you feel about re-creating Poirot?
Well, I haven't re-created him – he never went away! He is wholly Agatha's creation, and he is perennially popular. The Poirot in my novels is Agatha's Poirot in every detail – I'd have viewed it as sacrilege to change him. I saw my job as simply to invent new and intriguing cases for him to solve.
However, I knew that my tone/style would inevitably be somewhat different from Agatha's – one writer can't and shouldn't mimic the style of another – so I created a new sidekick for Poirot who is the narrator of The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket. His name is Edward Catchpool – and he's the narrator in both my books, so Poirot is seen through his eyes throughout. I thought this was the best way to approach the old-but-new, same-but-different challenge of writing continuation novels.
Can you tell us about your book?The Poirot in my novels is Agatha's Poirot in every detail – I'd have viewed it as sacrilege to change him. I saw my job as simply to invent new and intriguing cases for him to solve.
At the beginning of Closed Casket, Lady Athelinda Playford gathers friends and family at her country mansion to announce a change to her will – she's decided to disinherit her children and leave everything she owns to her terminally ill secretary, Joseph Scotcher, who is guaranteed to die long before her – in a few weeks, in fact. Why would anyone do such a thing? This is what Poirot has to work out when a murder is committed at the house soon after the announcement is made – but the victim is the last person he expects it to be…
Could you describe the room that you write in?
It changes for each book. I have a sort of theoretical writing room in my converted attic, which is a big and lovely room with an amazing roof terrace and views of the church spires of Cambridge, where I live, so I should write up there more often. But I regularly find myself writing in bed, in the lounge, on trains, in the spare bedroom on the lower ground floor. One day, I hope to decide where I like writing best and have a proper and official writing room! I also often write in a lovely room at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge, where I am a Fellow Commoner (which basically means Writer in Residence, sort of).
Do you have any peculiar writing rituals or habits?
I am obsessed with planning, and regard it as a crucial stage of the creative process – the 'story architecture' phase. I never start writing Chapter 1 until I've written and perfected my plan for the book.
What are you reading now?
I'm re-reading 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie. It's one of my favourites. Through the window of the train she's on, Mrs McGillicuddy witnesses a man strangling a woman on another train that passes hers. No body is found on the train in question, though, nor on the tracks, and so no one believes her – except her friend Miss Marple, who sets out to investigate, having declared the alleged crime to be 'very extraordinary – but not at all impossible.' I adore Agatha's plots, and that phrase perfectly encapsulates her literary manifesto! It's true of almost all her stories – they are very extraordinary, but not at all impossible.
What's your favourite Agatha Christie novel and why?
I think Murder on the Orient Express has the cleverest solution. And probably the very best all-round novel is And Then There Were None. But my personal favourites (I can't pick only one, I'm afraid!) are: After the Funeral, The Body in the Library, Towards Zero and Appointment With Death – but it changes all the time!
What is the last book you bought someone as a gift?
For Christmas I bought my mother The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, and for my sister Dear Mr M by Herman Koch. I'm just about to buy my mum Graham Swift's Mothering Sunday for Mother's Day (she knows, so you don't need to worry about spoiling the secret!).
What advice would you offer to aspiring crime writers?
Not everyone is equally intelligent or trustworthy – be careful who you take advice from. Just because someone's a published/respected member of the book trade, that doesn't mean their ideas or advice will be great. Trust your instincts. If you think someone's talking nonsense – encouraging you to make your main character fall in love with a hedgehog or some such silliness – feel free to ignore them.
The giveaway is now closed.
We ask all winners to share their thoughts about the book on the discussion thread. If you're not a lucky winner, you can pick up a paperback copy. Everyone who posts their detailed feedback on Closed Casket by midday 15 May will be entered into a draw to win a £100 Love2shop voucher.
This giveaway is sponsored by Harper Collins