Let me begin by saying I imply no disrespect to Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. They’re the lure, there’s a motive they get high billing. (And whereas I’ve by no means fantasized about being Poirot, I’ve greater than as soon as wished I used to be Miss Marple.)
The Killings at Kingfisher Hill is the most recent within the Poirot franchise — and it does deserve the identify of franchise in the most effective sense of the phrase. Crime author Sophie Hannah has taken over Agatha Christie’s pen; that is her fourth Poirot novel. Poirot is as nice, if not higher than different superheroes who get franchises — Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker. Fishlegs Ingerman.
However it’s the sidekick in Kingfisher Hill — Scotland Yard’s Inspector Edward Catchpool — who deserves your consideration. Catchpool is Hannah’s creation, and at first look he’s made within the mildew of an earlier Poirot sidekick, Captain Hastings. Each are youngish, bland, easy-going; as strong and welcoming as a superb piece of toast.
Like Christie’s Hastings, Catchpool is a stand in for these of us of subpar mind — i.e. anybody who is not Poirot — as we journey alongside the detective by the varied phases of the thriller. However I’ve excellent news. You’re nearer than you suppose. Poirot is gaslighting you.
The guide opens with Catchpool and Poirot about to board an alleged luxurious touring bus that may ship them to a famed 900-acre property within the nation (actually a gated neighborhood) referred to as Kingfisher Hill. Poirot has not but advised Catchpool the aim behind the journey, and our sidekick is getting tetchy.
Proper earlier than they board, Poirot palms him a bit of paper that’s ostensibly the rationale for his or her journey. It’s directions to a board sport; Poirot has been invited to the home of the sport’s inventor and they’re to masquerade as fanatics and potential buyers. Catchpool will get much more irritated. He hates board video games — and this one’s referred to as Peepers.
Oh, how Poirot likes to toy with Catchpool! This infuriating speak of Peepers unfolds whereas Catchpool is making an attempt to unravel a disturbing drama taking place among the many different passengers. A younger lady with “an unfinished face” — her pores and skin is boring and cold and her eyes and lips are recessive, retreating — seems to have simply suffered a horrible and inexplicable shock. She begins strolling round in little circles, speaking to herself. One other passenger — seemingly a stranger — loudly berates her for her odd conduct. Catchpool’s instincts go on excessive alert — there’s extra right here than meets the attention, however Poirot ignores him and shoos him to his seat.
If solely Poirot had listened, as an alternative of treating Catchpool like a bagged lunch. Would no less than one a part of the tragedy at Kingfisher Hill have been averted? What Catchpool sees; what he cannot pull his consideration from is on the coronary heart of the true motive for his or her journey to Kingfisher Hill.
It seems Richard Devonport, son of Peepers‘ inventor, has requested Poirot to clear his fiancée Helen of homicide; a homicide to which she has confessed and for which she’s going to quickly be hanged.
Ah, however Poirot doesn’t curl his mustaches for this. The sufferer is Richard Devonport’s older, taller, handsomer and braver brother, to whom Helen was engaged — up till the second she claims she pushed him over the balcony of the household house. Her acknowledged motive for the homicide, dedicated within the entrance corridor crammed with household and associates — was in order that she might marry Richard, whom she willingly describes as wanting like “suet pudding.” And whom she’d by no means met till the day of the homicide. Devonport then throws down this final little bit of catnip: If Poirot accepts the case, he should not point out the homicide to any of the household.
Catchpool realizes straight away that what he witnessed between the bus passengers should be related — homicide begets homicide. And what does he get for this astute remark? Dismissals and insults. Poirot calls him illogical, unreasoning, contrarian, closed-minded. A sloppy-thinking, excitable, slow-witted simpleton who’s preoccupied with all of the flawed particulars.
“I do take pleasure in the best way you assemble these yarns of yours,” Poirot tells him. Catchpool protests, and Poirot replies “I didn’t intend the phrase in a derogatory sense.” A bully’s protection!
And on it goes. We in fact imagine Poirot — nobody is allowed to doubt his thoughts — and are left believing that Catchpool’s theories are flawed; that he’s no match for Poirot. And due to this fact neither are you, as a result of you will see that your self sniffing about the identical clues, the identical path as Catchpool. By the center of the guide, our younger inspector is deflated, annoyed. He desires to go house to a pleasant dinner — leg of lamb slathered in mint sauce — and we need to go together with him.
If solely Catchpool had extra confidence! That is what you get upon the second studying. Hannah’s intelligent development of the thriller turns into clear — the true clues breaking out from the purple herrings — and so does Catchpool’s actual flaw: Not an inferior mind, however an inferiority complicated, given to him courtesy of a fussy, impatient and maybe not very sort Belgian.
As soon as you understand the top and begin once more at the start you will note that Catchpool is fast, intelligent — a superb detective. He’s proper, typically and early. He can spot a liar a mile off. And you will note the horrible, pointless crime perpetuated in opposition to him by Poirot; his instincts and perception eroded by doubt.
It is a revelation to find that Catchpool is greater than a tool, a surrogate for the reader. His perceptions — which Poirot so typically dismisses, solely to just accept later — are an integral a part of the masterful and multi-layered puzzle Hannah has created, including a brand new dimension to a much-loved sequence.
Catchpool shouldn’t be a part of the fog, however as a lot a beacon as Poirot, if no more so, as a result of he shares his ideas with us as they arrive to him. There is no rounding up everybody right into a room with a assassin to make patronizing pronouncements. As a result of actually, is not that the very last thing an individual would need? To be in the identical room as a assassin for the time being they’ve lastly been caught?