Meet Sophie Hannah, the British crime writer

Meet Sophie Hannah, the British crime writer thumbnail
That’s one mystery solved, without unduly exerting those “little grey cells”, as the much-loved fictional sleuth Hercule Poirot is wont to advise in Agatha Christie’s 36 novels featuring the famous Belgian with his equally famous moustache.

The puzzle was fairly simple: did the family of the best-selling novelist of all time choose crime writer and poet Sophie Hannah to reprise Poirot? Or, did Hannah decide to write a Poirot murder mystery out of the blue and convince the Christie family to let her take a stab at it?

“I hate the thought that I went around pestering the Christie family!” says Hannah, during a discussion at the recent Bangalore Literature Festival. Nor did the family reach out to her, possibly because they might not have heard of her before, she says with candour. It was her literary agent who, espying a shelf of Agatha Christies at the publisher HarperCollins, proposed that Hannah write a novel with one of Christie’s detectives.

The suggestion was promptly and firmly squashed by a HarperCollins editor. But serendipitously, a couple of days later, Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard told a meeting of publishers that the family had finally decided that they would like to see at least one new Agatha Christie novel. HarperCollins knew they had just the person, waiting in the wings. Enter Sophie Hannah.

The 47-year-old has written three Poirot novels so far, beginning with The Monogram Murders in 2014, which went on to become a bestseller. A fourth Poirot is in the works and scheduled to be published in 2020. This is apart from her 10-book Culver Valley series of psychological crime thrillers featuring detective couple Simon Waterhouse and Charlie (Charlotte) Zailer, two short story collections and five anthologies of poetry.

Crime & Again
Marrying a bestselling author with a bestselling fictional character is a tried-and-tested publishing formula but it’s one that has met with varying degrees of success. For instance, fans did not take too kindly to Sebastian Faulks’ attempt to “pay homage” to literary giant PG Wodehouse with his 2013 novel, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. But that has not stopped the Wodehouse estate from giving its blessings to Ben Schott, whose new novel featuring the irrepressible Bertie Wooster and his ever-correct valet, Jeeves, is being released this month.

Poirot’s literary lineage is no less intimidating. After all, the former officer of the Belgian police, with an egg-shaped head, is the only fictional character to have earned an obituary in The New York Times. And Christie’s title of “Queen of Crime” holds true even today, 42 years after her death. Her books have reportedly sold over 4 billion copies. With such a legacy behind her, did Hannah ever feel weighed down by expectation when she set out to write a Poirot book?

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