Self improvement books usually don’t work for me, but Sophie Hannah’s How to Hold a Grudge or The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life gave me some good laughs. Despite her organized approach to changing “resentment to contentment,” with quizzes to identify the grudge and a “grudge-fold path” to control them, Hannah clearly forgives but doesn’t forget.
Hannah uses incidents in her own life as examples, and her humorous approach may offer some consolation to those of us who recognize similar incidents in our own lives. Her stories are funny but still poignant and sometimes worthy of revenge – which Hannah does not condone. Everybody needs a safe place and Hannah believes grading her grudges, and storing them in her grudge cabinet after she has dissected them with her grudge meter is a better way – most of the time. Writing them down and letting them simmer overnight does help, but I wonder if Hannah would consider good advice someone gave me once – destroy your incriminating diaries like Jane Austen.
Grudges appear in my life everyday, and my grudge cabinet is like my bookshelves – brimming over with always room for more. I should probably reread Hannah’s book to rate them and laugh – or privately scream at them as she suggests – but now I have a grudge against her for reminding me of all those incidents I thought I had forgotten.
Sophie Hannah was chosen to continue the legacy of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in two novels following the grand Dame’s style, and when you finish Keep Her Safe, you will understand why. Murder, kidnapping, a distraught pregnant British mum, an arrogant American former prosecutor/talk show host, and a few policemen – set in a posh Arizona spa – come together to offer an entertaining mystery, Agatha Christie style.
Several plot lines intersect to keep the reader off balance but the main focus targets the murder of a young girl whose body has never been found. The girl is spotted at the luxury spa after a flustered hotel clerk hands out the wrong room key to a jet-lagged British customer who not only becomes the instigator for the search of the girl but also becomes a victim. As the story goes in and out of the possibilities, Hannah has the characters dancing in a complicated and sometimes confusing maze. I lost patience with long pages of letters, interview transcripts, and descriptions of towels and pools at the luxury spa worthy of a marketing ad. When the action finally picks up, the flashbacks, journals and court documents come together in a clever reveal of the true villain.
Just as Agatha Christie neatly summed up the action, laying bare the motivations of all the characters in her last chapter, so does Hannah. Just in case the reader lost the thread of who did what to whom, she clearly explains it all in the end, exposing the villains and restoring faith in the system. Except – there is an added surprise – leaving the ending with an uncomfortable and shocking revelation.
Although mystery books are not the best focus for a book club discussion, Sophie Hannah’s twists and surprise ending in Keep Her Safe might make the exception. The ending would be worth discussing. If you’ve read it, let me know how you feel about the ending.
Review of The Monogram Murders
If you are missing Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Sophie Hannah’s reincarnation of the famous Belgian sleuth in The Monogram Murders will not disappoint. In an interview, Hannah, famous for police procedural crime thrillers, noted:
“Try as I might, Agatha Christie is unique. The actual writing style can’t be exactly the same, so instead of trying to replicate it exactly, the way I got around it was by inventing a new narrator… a Scotland Yard detective called Edward Catchpool. He’s a bit unsure of himself, and worries people are going to see through him all the time. He’s the sidekick who’s quite good but he’s nowhere near as good as Poirot. I think readers will like him and identify with him. I did.”
“Nobody has ever written as many enjoyable, fun-to-read crime novels as Agatha Christie. It’s all about the storytelling and the pleasure of the reader. She doesn’t want to be deep or highbrow. So many writers want you to know their world view. Christie doesn’t, she just wants you to enjoy her books. You can be exhausted, have flu, a hangover, you always want to read Agatha Christie.”
I was easily ensconced in the solving of these three murders – dead bodies discovered in different rooms of the same London hotel, each with a monogrammed cufflink placed in their mouths. The murders take place in 1929, although the motive proceeds from events 16 years earlier. Poirot is in good form – and a comforting element – as he slowly unravels each clue, commenting in French phrases. The plot is as intricate and as puzzling as a Christie mystery, and Hannah manages to replicate the old-fashioned style and Poirot’s egotistical manner. And yet, the story seems to go longer than I remember Christie doing, and the aha element seems a little lacking at the end. Christie always managed to tie up all the loose ends in a final chapter, succinctly and quickly, but Hannah’s resolution meanders until you are wondering if Poirot will ever explain. Still a good detective story, The Monogram Murders may be more Hannah than Christie, with a visiting Poirot as a bonus.
After exhaustive searches of trip advisor and downloaded tips from Fodor, Frommer, and Rick Steves, I needed a little fiction to sustain me on my trip. Since Scotland is on my itinerary, Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander series and a friend’s suggestion – Mary Stewart’s The Stormy Petrel – will be good starts. I may bring my trainers and mimic The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry across Hadrian’s Wall and through the Cotswolds, and the new Maggie Hope mystery will be a great companion in London.
I hope to find a Peter May mystery in a bookstore, and maybe Sophie Hannah’s new resurrection of Agatha Christie’s Poirot in The Monogram Murders, but I have an old Jane Gardam paperback with me just in case.
And, of course, I have all the back issues of New Yorkers to catch up on…