APING AGATHA, or The Insincerest Form of Flattery

I will never lay claim that Agatha Christie, my favorite mystery author, is the best mystery author of all time, but she certainly is the most successful one. I offer three pieces of evidence, to wit:

Her sales numbers. Selling between two to four billion copies of her books has landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records where she shares the top spaced with William Shakespeare. The next highest-selling mystery writer on the list is Georges Simenon, with an estimated sale of only 500 to 700 million copies, poor shmuck!

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Adaptations. No other mystery writer has had their work adapted so many times in so many ways. Films, plays, TV shows, Japanese comic books and cartoons, electronic games. Sherlock Holmes certainly comes close, but he has not had the power of Mathew Pritchard behind him as far as marketing goes. Even when writers and producers take her stories in the wrong direction in plot or tone –like putting Miss Marple in a Superintendent Battle mystery or changing the murderer in a standalone because the world needs more incest stories – the sheer force of Christie’s name gets ratings – and fills coffers – as surely as it angers her true fans.

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The third piece of evidence is what I want to discuss today, and it has to do with the fact that Christie’s fame is so widespread that it constitutes a name brand. E.D. Hirsch placed Christie on his cultural literacy list, meaning that in his eyes knowledge of Christie is essential “to the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture.” I think that Hirsch’s list is pretty much hogwash, but Christie is such a cultural phenomenon all over the world that even people who have never read her have not only heard of her but have a sense of what to expect from her.

Nowhere is this brand more abused than in the books published with blurbs that state, “in the style of Agatha Christie.” I began the New Year by reading not one, but two, of them. Sophie Hannah’s Closed Casket , approved by the Christie estate, purports to be a continuation of the exploits of Hercule Poirot. And after the great success of The Monogram Murders, why shouldn’t she? (Bear with me, and I’ll tell you!)

The second book is The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. My mom read it and recommended it to me. Here’s the first paragraph of the inside cover description:

“In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea.”

The casual reader reads this and thinks, “Oh, that’s the famous crime writer that Grandma used to like. Well, I can’t be bothered by reading an actual Christie novel, they’re so old! But what’s good for Grandma . . . “ The long-time Christie fan is a trickier proposition. I will use myself as an example:

Sleeping Murder was published in 1976, which means that I had read all of my favorite author’s novels by the time I turned twenty-one. Now here I am forty years later – at thirty-nine – and I am desperately hungry for more Christie. I’ve re-read almost all of them more than once. I’ve collected the adaptations, even the bad French ones. If somebody dangles a novel with the bait, “Just like Agatha Christie,” there is a possibility that I could bite. The question then becomes: can I chew and swallow?

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In The Woman in Cabin 10, Lo Blacklock, (short for Laura – now why is that?) has just been traumatized by both a break-in to her apartment and a possible break-up with her fine boyfriend Judah when she embarks on a three-hour tour . . . no, sorry, couldn’t resist! It’s a week-long trip to promote a new luxury cruise ship owned by Lord Richard Bullmer, a British businessman married to a wealthy yet reclusive Norwegian beauty. The guests consist of either Bullmer’s associates or travel journalists, eager to take Bullmer on as a client. Already on shaky ground, Lo’s stress is compounded when she forgets her mascara and borrows some from the punk-style girl in the cabin next door. After drinking more at dinner than I have put away in my entire lifetime, Lo crashes but wakes up to the sound of something falling into the sea. On the glass partition separating the verandas of cabins nine and ten is a smear of blood! Yet, when she calls security and they investigate, the blood is gone and so is the woman in Cabin 10!!! And of course, in true Cabin B13 fashion, (now there’s a great mystery!), there evidently never was a passenger fitting Lo’s description aboard ship nor was anyone expected to occupy Cabin 10. As she investigates, Lo receives threats, and her life is put in peril, but she must discover the truth! And discover it she does at the climax!

There are so many things wrong with this novel that I don’t know where to begin. Before I get to the main argument – what nerve do these people have associating this with Christie’s work? – let me point out a few problems.

The first is the protagonist herself. Lo tells us (first person narrative) that she is a seasoned travel journalist, although she wishes she could return to investigative journalism. Believe me, from the way she behaves, Lo is no journalist of any sort. In fact, she seems incapable of gathering the most innocuous pieces of information because she’s terrible with people. Frankly, I cannot understand why her boss allowed Lo to go on this assignment or why the other characters treat her like she is somebody important.

I thought maybe the publicists had gotten their signals crossed when early on, Lo is established to be an alcoholic. This put me in mind of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. I mean, come on, the titles are almost the same, as is the jacket design. I assumed I was dealing with one of the millions of “unreliable narrator” thrillers that have saturated the market. Yet the blurb doesn’t say, “trying to capitalize on Gillian Flynn’s success” – it says “reminiscent of Agatha Christie!”

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So let’s get right to it: if I open a book supposedly modeled after the Queen of Crime, I expect a few things: a closed circle of interesting characters, a murder victim, some good clues and twists, – and yes, an intrepid heroine-detective who unmasks the true killer in surprising fashion.

That doesn’t happen here at all. This is a modern “woman in jeopardy” novel in the vein of Mary Higgins Clark (what, is her name not big enough to stick in a blurb?) calling itself something else. We barely get to know half the people on the boat, and most of them are all but cleared of suspicion right away. Lo doesn’t sniff out information so much as she either stumbles into it or has it handed to her by the convenient ex-boyfriend who is also on the cruise. Several times in the story she says something to the effect of, “I now had all the clues before me; I just had to figure out what they meant!” Except there are no clues, there isn’t even a body, and most of the “suspects” aren’t even aware that something is going on for the entirety of the book.

Lo has the truth essentially handed to her way too early in the novel . . . unless Ware has it in her to create a truly clever twist! I’ll tell you who had the cleverness to do that – Agatha Christie did, that’s who! This staunch Christie fan came up with six different twists as ninety pages staggered by, hoping against hope that this book would turn out to be more than the sum of its parts. Alas, my efforts were of no avail: Lo literally stumbled toward a conclusion as banal as the “mystery” she had confronted. Along the way, she is in a near-permanent state of hangover. There’s a lot of vomiting. I don’t drink, but I will think twice before booking my first sea voyage.

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Sophie Hannah is after something altogether different. She has stated that she is not trying to blatantly copy Dame Agatha’s style, but offers an homage to the Queen with a bit of Hannah’s own literary magic thrown in.

I ask you: what’s the point of that? Maybe Sherlock Holmes has enough malleability to be re-imagined as a modern-day gent or battling Martians or a closeted homosexual. Poirot is a different kettle of Belgian endive. One of Christie’s biggest complaints was that, by endowing him with a finite list of quirks and virtually no inner life, she had essentially written herself into a corner. Poirot barely even got older – until his final appearance when he was aged into decrepitude –and his character never varied from one book to the next. And that served his fans just fine, thank you very much, for what we wanted was the case – and for Poirot to solve it with his customary aplomb.

Short of someone to find a hidden cache of Christie manuscripts she lost while gardening and publishing them one at a time at Christmas for the rest of my days, I don’t want to read a “re-imagining” of the Belgian as “Young Hercule” or anything else. I’ll admit that I thought I would be willing to read an homage that gets it right. I have The Monogram Murders sitting on my shelf for my troubles. As a result, I decided to check Closed Casket out of the library. Frankly, the first two chapters left me so cold that I returned the book. Two months later, I decided to listen to the audiobook in my car, and I’m sad, but not surprised, to report that Hannah’s version of Christie-world hasn’t gotten any better the second time around.

Let’s start with the hook. Christie always had a hook. It could be ominous, like a letter sent to Poirot from a serial killer, or amusing, like the morning Poirot’s secretary makes her first mistake ever typing a letter! Whatever it was, it succeeds at hooking you in. A good mystery novel establishes questions that must be answered, but you have to suffer deliciously before the answer comes.

Sophie Hannah knows how to write a hook. In her novel Little Face, a woman comes home, goes to check on the baby, and insists that the little girl in the crib is not her child! That’s a great hook. But Hannah does not know how to write an Agatha Christie hook. In The Monogram Murders, three people are found in three different rooms of the same hotel, all dead, all with a cuff link lodged in their mouths. What the heck? Why would anyone do that? It’s not curious, it’s not ominous, it’s silly. And the truth, when we finally get to it, is not worth the effort.

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One hopes Hannah will be on firmer ground with Closed Casket, which purports to be a true country home mystery. The hook? Lady Athelinda Playford, noted writer of children’s mysteries, invites her family down for the weekend to announce that she is disinheriting her children in favor of her devoted secretary, a man with only a few weeks left to live. Why, in heaven’s name, is she doing this or, to put it better, why is she doing it in this way? Does she want a murder to happen? The action veers toward lunacy, so it better have a decent explanation to warrant the interminable action that follows.

For reasons that I still find unclear after finishing the book, Poirot is invited down for the weekend along with Detective-Inspector Edward Catchpool, Hannah’s substitute for Hastings. Catchpool is a man with emotional problems, much more in keeping with the characters you find in the author’s psychological thrillers. He’s also fairly annoying, though less so here than in Monogram. They are on hand when murder eventually rears its ugly head, but there is no reason anyone would have had to expect what happens to happen, nor are Poirot or Catchpool availed upon in their professional capacities. They solve this crime on their own.

No doubt Casket intends to follow the conventions of a Golden Age mystery, but it does so unconvincingly. Conversations go on for far too long, and frankly they’re weird. Much is made of Athelinda’s book series, and I don’t understand why children would read them. Items get dropped in discussion with such awkward clumsiness that you know they must be clues. Most of the characters are very unpleasant people who are not anywhere near as clever or amusing as they make themselves out to be. One character is very obese, and so much unpleasantness is made of his appearance, including an extended sequence of flatulence, that I began to feel sorry for him and hoped he would gas the inhabitants.

Eventually, lengthy dialogue gives way to endless monologues as several characters are called upon to talk and talk and talk in order to reveal information that brings us out of the murk into the light. Here’s where listening to the book rather than reading it paid off: I know it goes on for far too long because the average audiobook of a Christie novel is five to six discs, and Closed Casket took up nine. Poirot gathers the suspects together in the library at the top of disc eight and doesn’t let up with his explications for the entire disc. The killer is then revealed . . . with one full disc left to go!! That means that the killer pontificates about the murder for another full disc, including a lot of talk about what is perhaps the dumbest motive for murder I’ve ever “read” in my history of reading mysteries. Worst of all, when somebody asks Poirot to explain what gave the killer away, Hannah reveals a really clumsy hand with clues that would never satisfy a true Christie fan. Being a fan of Dame Agatha – which I know Hannah is – does not imbue an author with the ability to write like her. I’m honestly not sure that this traditional sort of mystery is something Hannah can pull off convincingly.

Okay, I’ve raged against the light. I’ve given away too much. I’ve been mean. I apologize. But I’d like an apology for this cavalier treatment of Christie’s image and reputation. Perhaps since she has been gone for forty years, the powers that be assume that most of us won’t care how her brand gets shoved around.

But I do care. Very much.

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28 thoughts on “APING AGATHA, or The Insincerest Form of Flattery

  1. What you’ve highlighted here — aside from your Wolverine-esque aging, of course — is a great deal of the reasons why I’ve all but given up on modern crime and detective fiction. Part of me wonders if the insufficiency in clewing has come about purely because forensics are so damn good these days that most fictional investigations are tied up in that regard, and then whatever hearsay and superstition points towards the person who’s identified just gets in line behind the forensics to similarly point and scream J’accuse!.

    That Christie’s name is hijacked to these ends is perhaps the one downside of her continued fame and success because, well, it’s possible that someone might write something that legitimately earns that honorific, and as you point out a lot of people probably aren’t going to care or know otherwise. It’s entirely possible that someone who enjoys Cabin 10 will find another book which is favourably compared to Christie and think “Hmmm, that Cabin 10 book was compared to Agatha Christie and I enjoyed that, so maybe I’ll enjoy this…” and so the cycle of recommendation ends up being a parody of itself because it’s not actually a Nu Christie they’re looking for. But, well, she’s insanely famous, so it’s going to happen no mater what.

    And as for the Hannahs. Well. The mismanagement of Chritsie’s property that allows those bastardised Marple and Poirot episodes changing characters and plots and killers and motives is a slap in the fact to the woman and her work. And, fine, people will disagree, but Matthew Prichard seems quite happy to poison rather than repsect the brand so long as the money keeps coming in. And there’s really nothing to be done about it, so we’ve either got to ignore it or stage some kind of putsch…

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    1. You’re probably not going to read Closed Casket, but what you say about forensics – which is a finely made point and probably a major reason you can’t toss off GAD style mysteries by the dozen anymore – what you say is soooooo ironic because the actual motive for the murder here is PURELY forensic!

      In Cabin 10, there are no forensics. There are no clues. There are no nuthin’!

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  2. I love the Golden Age style mysteries and though I like to write in that tradition, I never want to “mimic” or “imitate” them. I want it to be in that tradition but I want my own writing voice and style to come through in the story, not Christie’s or Sayer’s or any other writer of that period even I though I love and devour their stories. I certainly don’t want my stories to be pastiches — I want them to be taken seriously, but I don’t want them to be merely homage losing touch with my own originality. I respect and adore Golden Age mysteries but I never want to forsake Brian the writer and originator and outright copy those writers before me. There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by other writers and borrowing from them and Agatha Christie certainly did this in her books, including her very first Poirot book The Mysterious Affair At Styles BUT she took what she borrowed, put her own spin on it and remained original. That’s what I want to do. I don’t believe that the Golden Age style formula should stop being written; some writers don’t want to write the kind of modern/psychological thrillers that are coming out today but as I said before, if a writer wants to write in the Golden Age tradition, they need to be themselves and write in their own voice while still maintaining the quality of the original Golden Age books. I don’t want my stories to be a continuation or a tribute to Christie. But I do want my stories to have the impeccable brilliance of her and other writers of that period. I want my stories to hold their own. And I guess it’s why P.D. James never wanted to be compared to Christie as she often was but she went to the extreme and brutally criticized her, and I’m certainly not in that camp.

    As someone who writes, I’m worried that someone might read a story of mine and say that I’m copying Christie and I never want to do that because Christie was her own writer and I want to be my own as well. I like to write mysteries set in period and I worry that anything I write would be compared to Christie instead of looking at my work on its own merit. But as I mentioned before it again returns to originality — that’s the key.

    I worry that my stories will have those ridiculous hooks that Sophie Hannah’s supposed Poirot books have. And I certainly don’t want them to end up ridiculous or nonsensical, but intriguing and pulls the reader right in.

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    1. Well, one of the reasons that I don’t have a half dozen novels to my credit is that I worry: will they read it, will they like it, is that sentence good. Drafting is all about throwing those fears away; there’s time in rewrites to get neurotic.

      You should read Anthony Horowitz’ Magpie Murders, Brian. It’s really two mysteries in one: a period GAD mystery in a great approximation of that style and a modern-day mystery that is still fairly clued but FEELS modern. The first one made me think of Christie-how could it not? – but I give credit to Horowitz for his control over the varying styles.

      You could do worse than be compared favorably to Christie!

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      1. I’m actually working on a draft mystery short story right now so I’m trying to throw away those fears and thoughts that constantly plague me whenever I write. I just don’t want to clumsily make clues so obvious as Sophie Hannah did in her Poirot continuations or have dialogue boil over until it becomes boring and tiring. When I finish the story, edit it and all that I definitely need people who are big fans of and devoted to mysteries to be honest and tell me that the mystery could be better, characters are too shallow, etc.

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  3. Brad, I’ve heard of “The Woman In Cabin 10” but never read it. I’m not a fan of many modern crime and detective fiction books because of the tepid writing style, plots, and excessive profanity.

    This review from Amazon.com caught my eyes and it relates to the reader BARELY knowing half of the people on the boat:

    “Once we ride over the hump of someone being murdered, the story DOES become somewhat readable. I remember thinking, here we go! But the story never produces anything more than a snore. For the remainder of the book we are led to believe that anyone on the cruise could have murdered someone that we don’t even know other than the woman in cabin 10.The characters are flat. Each one of the characters kind of mesh together as the same. There is no emotional attachment to any of them.There is little show and all tell. Lo explains throughout the book who did what and why, but we as a reader are never really shown the characters because they are too busy getting a massage or taking a tour of the bridge. On a small boat, there is little to no interaction with any of the passengers. The little interaction we have is down below with the crew when Lo checks to see if she can recognize any of them as the woman in cabin 10.”

    How many people do we actually get to know? How many does the author introduce to us? It certainly doesn’t make sense to clear people of suspicion when the reader hasn’t had the chance to. But if the author is clearing people of suspicion when the reader doesn’t have a good grasp of who they are, she rids them of actively participating along with the protagonist. What Ruth Ware should have done it seems was to have the readers well acquainted with the people onboard and then as this mysterious situation ensues the author should have had Lo sniff out the people onboard taking the readers on a journey THEN clear them of suspicion if needs be. The story concept striking but it’s in its EXECUTION where the magic happens. It sounds as if it would have been a great story in the RIGHT hands.

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  4. You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

    The Amazon review is accurate and eminently fair. There are, I think, ten passengers and about as many crew on this tiny cruiser. One of them is the narrator’s ex-boyfriend, and they interact quite a bit, but it’s all talk, no action and almost no backstory provided to get us to care about their relationship. Some of the “suspects” literally don’t appear or speak for more than a page or two, and some of those don’t talk until after the halfway mark, as if the author realized she had forgotten about everyone but her heroine and was making a half-hearted attempt to inject some mystery here. This is most egregiously true about the murderer, who is barely in the book at all! The climax of the novel takes up ninety pages, and the killer is NOT IN THEM!!!!!!

    It is one of the most static action thrillers I think I’ve ever read! The boat rolls around on the waves far more than the characters, who engage in little scenes to show off that the boat has a spa and a jacuzzi and a library, etc. It’s boring filler between long scenes of the narrator coming down from an alcoholic binge or a panic attack. It’s made beaucoup bucks, and it will show you NOTHING about good writing.

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    1. I bet if Agatha Christie wrote “The Woman In Cabin 10” you’d get the ride of your life! If she wrote this story it would be in capable hands and executed brilliantly.

      It baffles me how in Ware’s book, how she could easily clear the suspects of any suspicion when the reader doesn’t even know enough about them to have a REASON to rule them out! That’s why you have the boring filler and the barely mentioned murderer who gets exposed resulting in a disappointing solution. Whatever happened to taking the reader along on the journey? What happened to reader participation? How can the reader have a chance to guess the murderer when he/she is barely mentioned in the book?!?!?! A more competent writer would have had a character engage in a scene that not only shows off that the boat has a spa, jacuzzi, library, etc BUT also have that character show more aspects of their character and/or have them act suspiciously or what have you that could possibly trigger Lo’s mind later at some point that this person could be involved in these mysterious circumstances that followed. A GOOD writer can kill two birds with one stone.

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      1. Christie DID write The Woman in Cabin 10. Hers was called Death on the Nile, and it’s exactly what a classic mystery ought to be. Ware’s book is simply nothing like a classic mystery. Lo’s cabin 9 and cabin 10 are on the far end of the boat. Nobody shows up there. Since there’s no body, what are people going to be suspected of doing? There’s nothing for Lo to talk to them about. She just . . . wanders and wonders. It’s dumb.

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      2. Brad, I just want you to know I wrote my DOTN comment before I read your reply to sbrnseay1. Either great minds think alike or I was channeling you.

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  5. “Lo’s cabin 9 and cabin 10 are on the far end of the boat. Nobody shows up there. Since there’s nobody what are people going to be suspected of doing? There’s nothing for Lo to talk to them about.”

    Well, that’s what a competent, talented writer has to figure out. And I think a writer of great caliber can make it work. I think many modern mystery writers need to read the GA traditional mysteries so they can have a better idea on how to CONSTRUCT a plot. It’s hard work! You have to build a plot that not only stands but holds the reader’s attention to the very end. These days, the genre is focused on character and penning dark undertones that the puzzle falls short. I don’t mind psychological thrillers and they have their place but what encompasses a mystery –the crux of it– is that “whodunit” aspect and I think in order to write a good one you have to write a strong one. In an interview with director Billy Wilder who directed the 1957 classic mystery Witness For the Prosecution, he praised Agatha Christie for her ability to construct a plot which is a director’s dream when he adapts a book onto film. Wilder said, “For every 500 great dialogue writers, there are 5 great constructionists (plotters). That’s the TOUGHEST job in the world.” SO TRUE! To be a great plotter is rare. There are many plots but how many are exceptional? How many are a class act? How many are tightly and neatly constructed, clean and symmetrically written? I like the concept of “The Woman In Cabin 10” but that concept has to pan out into an actual narrative. Like I said earlier, it depends wholly on the way its EXECUTED. The reason why many modern-day mystery solutions are a big let down from the one within the GA, it’s because of the plot’s construction and it starts way before the writer gets to the end of his story. If the end doesn’t have that payoff it’s because of what happened prior. What makes “The Woman In Cabin 10” probably unsatisfying is mainly its construction, not the story idea itself. The way Ruth Ware builds this plot is unsatisfying, leading to a barely mentioned murderer who doesn’t receive much “page time”. If Ware was a good constructionist she would look at that payoff and ask herself, “Gee, I need to give the murderer more page time so that by the time the readers get to the end of this book, even if they don’t get the culprit right, they can say that I not only played fair with them but I pulled the rug from under their feet. And if I need to give my murderer more page time I may need to change other parts of my story . . . . perhaps give my other characters more page time too and have them stand out instead of merely displaying them against the props of the boat. I don’t think the reader cares about seeing the spa, the jacuzzi, etc. It wouldn’t hurt to show them, but the characters matter more.”

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  6. Agree totally.
    For best Poirot short story pastiche I’ve read, try ‘Contract for Murder’ after ‘Cards on the Table’; in
    “Contract Killers” by Phillip & Robert King, containing 4 novellas about playing bridge. 1p on Amazon!

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  7. I love this post. So much that I don’t know where to start with this comment.

    Perhaps at the end. I never read books that follow on from some other (usually dead) author’s work. I know it can’t be the same. I was sorely tempted when Eoin Colfer was selected to write a Douglas Adams book (I still shake my fist at the fates who took Adams from me too early) but resisted. However I have been even more tempted by some glowing reviews of the Sophie Hannah books. Not tempted enough to actually buy/borrow one but I was wavering. I shall waver no longer and am very grateful to you for that. You took one for the team so to speak.

    As for the endless comparisons to Dame Christie…I know this won’t make you feel better but it’s here to stay. The folks who do branding and book blurbs and all the rest cannot stop this kind of nonsense…I have found it best to ignore their lies all together. Just about every book hailing from anywhere in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland or Denmark since 2008 (When Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the dragon tattoo took the world by storm) is compared to Larsson or TGWTDT. It doesn’t matter if they bare any other similarity and 99.9% of them do not. But, I am reliably informed by someone in the business, it’s the simplest sales technique there is and, let’s face it, the people who write that kind of nonsense blurb don’t care if you like the book or not, they care that you buy it. They are not speaking to you (or me) – people who buy/read many books a year – they are speaking to the people who buy an occasional book (at an airport, as a present etc) because there are many more of them and they are much less picky.

    But thanks also for the fine review of the woman in cabin 10 – I had that one on my wishlist but your comments – and your comparison to the odious girl on the train – have convinced me to remove it. So that’s two purchases your pain has saved me. Thanks 🙂

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    1. @bernadetteinoz, if you do check out The Woman In Cabin 10 I suggest you check it out from the library or something but to buy it. . . . nah! But there are so many other good mysteries out there it would feel like reading Cabin 10 would be a waste of time. But I guess if someone wants to dip their finger in reading more modern crime/detective stories . . . . .

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    2. You make me feel positively valorous, Bernadette! Girl on the Train was Tolstoy compared to Cabin. I liked the voices of the three different women, even if the ending felt almost tacked on, and the main character’s drunken misery became unendurable.

      I agree with all your points and acknowledge that branding of the deserving, like Christie, is a marketing ploy that’s here to stay. My post was too long to get into it, but there are also the authors who steal Christie plots outright and call them homages. Don’t get me started on a young adult novel called Ten, which I foolishly bought on my Kindle a few years ago. Ten teenagers on an island get killed off one by one. Every time the perky heroine finds the mangled body of one of her friends, she literally wonders if the cute football player she has a crush on thinks she looks cute screaming. Horrible!

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  8. There is only ONE Agatha Christie. She sadly, is dead. Hear that Sophie? Let me state unequivocally, this practice of ghost writing dead authors for profit sickens me (Christie, Jordan, Larsson).

    In Sophie’s case, not only can’t she write like AC, she can’t write, period. Her “work” in Christie’s name is HACKERY and possibly the single greatest insult to the great Dame I could imagine — even worse, possibly, than the sickening rewrites for television palmed off on unsuspecting viewers as “Christie’s” stories.

    I feel that if young and coming writers want to write, they should. They should write their own damn stories and not stand on the back of the giant that is Christie, sullying her name with their every paragraph. The new “Poirot” exploits are not only a thin shell, weak gruel, as it were, but the “author’s” writing style bears no reasonable resemblance to the master. One wonders if these ghost writers have ever actually read the material. Some leave no doubt — they have not.

    For example, I just finished “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” a simply awful attempt to continue the Millennium series posthumously (Stieg Larsson). It is evident that the author (David Lagercranz) never read the original material. He attributes Lisbeth’s handle “Wasp” to *gasp* *choke* Marvel comics when in fact, any reader of the series knows she got her nick from Paulo Roberto because of her boxing agility/ability. This horrendous error then forms the basis for Lisbeth’s archrival, fraternal twin Camilla’s handle, purportedly based on Marvel Comics Wasp’s enemy, Thanaton. Kill me now.

    This type of continuity error, carelessness, disregard for original material, evident in the Sophie Hannah’s two beastly efforts to mimic Christie, makes me wish that publishers and the world would let dead authors STAY dead. I find it offensive beyond all offense. There, I’ve said it.

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  9. Hello Brad —

    I just finished the audiobook of CLOSED CASKET and needed to turn to someone whose opinion I trusted on Agatha Christie (i.e., you) to see if my frustration and dissatisfaction with the book was shared. Based on the fact that characterization, clueing, tone, and even story length all irked me, I figured I was probably not alone.

    You raise several justified objections here, but didn’t comment on the (in my opinion) greatest violation of fair-play plotting that would have sent the print version skittering across the room if I hadn’t been listening to the CD in the car. Yes, the motive was nonsensical (for both methods) and yes, the characters blather on and on well after the killer is identified, but what about the eventual explanation for the witness who gives us not one, but two misleading statements about the timeframe of the murder? Not sure whether you remember the eventual explanation in question, or whether you blocked it from memory the way a trauma victim would have, but it genuinely angered me on an artistic and structural level. I can take most slightly unfair turns in stride with murder mysteries, but the use here was unsatisfying and absurd. If you present a timeframe with an impossibility — a suspect could not have had time to be in one place and then another — then you had best deliver it in a way that doesn’t rely on everybody merely misremembering. What an irritating story to experience.

    Anyway, I would welcome any additional thoughts, either here or using my email address, to further beat this dead horse of a novel, should you so choose. Best wishes, and thanks for all of your blogwork!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jason,

      It is with a sense of blessed relief that I tell you I have so completely forgotten the plot details of this travesty that I couldn’t give you a serious and well-informed answer. The good news, then, is that this too will pass, my friend. The more bothersome ramifications of all this mess is that here we have the most successful mystery writer of all time (I’m not arguing about the best – that’s a matter of taste – but the details of her success are incontrovertible!). It makes financial sense, at least, to hire somebody to “continue the legacy.” And yet this is the best they could do? I want no excuses that Sophie Hannah is taking Christie into the modern era; these books are doing anything but that! We have here a writer of psychological mysteries who may be as big a fan of Christie as I am but is no more qualified than me to emulate her abilities for profit. There must be somebody better to handle this assignment . . . or simply give up the project entirely!

      Sorry you had to go through this one, Jason. Again, this too shall pass!!!!!

      Like

  10. Hi Brad,

    Yes, upon more sober examination, you are right. It is better to leave this particular casket closed and move on to more rewarding pursuits. And you are spot-on: why is THIS product the one selected to continue Christie’s literary legacy and add to her formidable accomplishments? It’s so shabby and off-tune in so many ways. Never mind meeting the high standards of a master; this isn’t even satisfying as a standalone.

    Have a fantastic rest of December, and I look forward to catching up on reading both books and blogs over the break (and contributing some new text to my own neglected site). Best wishes — Jason

    Like

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