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Author who is NOT Agatha Christie Writes a Hercule Poirot Novel

September 9, 2013
Agatha Christie plaque -Torre Abbey portret

Fans of Agatha Christie swear she’s turning in her grave right now. I hope that’s not true because turning in a grave is probably tough and really uncomfortable. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I almost feel sorry for Sophie Hannah.  Now that Agatha Christie’s estate has given its approval for her to write a brand new Hercule Poirot novel, she may become one of the most vilified authors since James Frey.  To Agatha Christie fans, anybody other than Agatha Christie writing a Hercule Poirot novel is worse than (or almost as bad as) Ben Affleck playing Batman.  I guess we’ll have to see the finished products before we decide which was worse (or better). 

I don’t quite feel sorry for her though.  Sophie Hannah will get paid (probably really well) for writing a Hercule Poirot novel, which is more than a lot of authors can say.  At least she has a book deal.  I can’t feel sorry for her for that.  But I hope she has a thick skin because she’s going to need it. 

I’ve never heard of Sophie Hannah (author novels like The Carrier, Kind of Cruel, two books that I’ve never heard of).  From what I’ve read about her (not much), she has a decent reputation as an author.  Writing a Hercule Poirot novel is probably a good gig, as long as you know ahead of time some readers/critics are going to hate you no matter what.  She could write an outstanding whodunnit, the best in decades, and it still wouldn’t matter to Agatha Christie fans.  Since it’s not Agatha Christie, it will automatically suck.  If it’s any consolation, at least Ben Affleck probably won’t portray Hercule Poirot. 

I’m not going to buy the non-Agatha Christie Agatha Christie novel.  But I don’t blame Agatha Christie’s estate for letting another author to write a Hercule Poirot book.  From their point of view, this is an opportunity to increase book sales and make lots of money.  Even if the new Hercule Poirot book isn’t very good, it will probably sell a few copies and maybe even lead to more sales of old books that Agatha Christie actually wrote. 

This isn’t the only time that a beloved character has been written by somebody other than the original author, but it doesn’t always work.  A James Bond novel written by somebody other than Ian Fleming is just a book about a spy who happens to be named James Bond.  A Godfather book written by anybody other than Mario Puzo is just a book about a bunch of gangsters who happen to have the last name Corleone.  And a Hercule Poirot mystery written by anybody other than Agatha Christie is just a book about a detective who happens to be named Poirot. 

When I was a teenager, I read most of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.  I remember some as being great (From Russia with Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and I remember a couple as boring (Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker).  Since I read these books more than three decades ago, my opinion of them doesn’t mean much, but I’d guess that Agatha Christie wrote her own share of mediocre books.  Authors like Agatha Christie (and maybe even Ian Fleming) are judged by the quality of their finest novels, not by their most mediocre. 

A book written by Sophie Hannah isn’t going to be automatically worse than a novel written by Agatha Christie, but her book will probably be compared to Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile.  Her book probably won’t be compared to Agatha Christie’s worst book, (whatever it is); it will be compared to her best, and some people will hate Sophie Hannah’s version, no matter what. 

I don’t have a problem with this “hate it before I read it” attitude.  I’m not one of those people who think everybody should be open to everything.  When it comes to literature, readers should be closed minded at times.  There are too many books out there to keep up with, and being closed minded brings an order to a chaotic publishing industry. 

I’m not going to read a Hercule Poirot novel that’s not written by Agatha Christie, but I don’t have a problem with it.  I’ve read James Bond books not written by Ian Fleming.  I’ve Conan books not written by Robert E. Howard.  How about you?  Would you read a book about your favorite character if it wasn’t written by the original author?

12 Comments
  1. When I wrote about this topic I had one commenter (and Agatha Christie fan) vehemently defend the idea of another Poirot novel. In fact, she attacked just about everything I said and he comment was almost as long, if not longer than, my post.

    As far as I’m concerned, I’m not crazy about the idea of one author recycling another’s characters or even universe. At one point I read a couple or the Star Wars spin-off novels but I’m not really one for fan-fiction, whether endorsed or not. I cannot see myself, for example, reading a Discworld novel written by someone else than Pratchett (apparently his daughter is set to continue the series when he dies) and if GRRM were to die before the last Ice & Fire novel (for which there’s apparently already contingencies in place), I’d learn to live with it, and count myself lucky that I’m not one of his characters as they all were probably going to die in the last novel anyway.

  2. Interesting. I’ll read it, just to see … I read every Agatha Christie book when I was a teenager, and have a soft spot for all things Christie.

    I happen to be a huge Sherlockian … I’ve read all the original Conan Doyle stories (and the four Holmes novels) a bazillion times. And, I’ve read lots and lots of the Holmes “pastiches” … that’s what they’re called… and, some are good, some aren’t. Some are just fun — the Sherlock Holmes sci-fi stories, and the Steampunk Holmes stories can be fun — different, but fun.

    I can’t think of her name, and I’m too lazy to Google it, but, there’s an author who wrote two or three Peter Wimsey novels (from the Dorothy L. Sayers series), and, I own the first one, though I’ve not ever gotten around to reading it.

    Mostly, I suspect it’s more about my mood at the time, than about any particular feeling for or against reading a book about a favorite character, written by a different author.

  3. I tend to agree with you. I don’t think I could read a Shardlake novel if it wasn’t written by C J Sansom.

  4. I have never been able to read Agatha Christie without dropping off to sleep. Her characters are so one dimensional I just don’t care what happens to them and so many other people do ‘who dun its’ much more excitingly. She was of her era and times have moved on.

    So I guess Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot isn’t going to mean much to me. Good luck to her, she’ll make a lot of money and we’ve all got to eat. But I would love to know how she really feels about using another person’s fictional character rather than writing another original work that is entirely her own?

  5. I would possibly read a Narnia or Middle Earth book written by another author, although I would be automatically massively biased against it. Most other authors though I couldn’t be bothered to read something not by the original author. So I guess it’s a catch-22.

  6. I read Gone with the Wind and then the ‘sequel’, “Scarlett” which was written years later by a different author. It obviously wasn’t the same but I read it because I wanted more of the characters. GWTW ends without giving the reader closure so you are left making up what happens on your own. The sequel gave many readers what they wanted, a happy ending. It really depends if you are a purist or you just like to read for reading sake. I agree there are so many books out there that it’s fine to decide not to read one without some kind of reasoning. Too many great books out there to waste time on mediocre work.

  7. If it is like the Bourne books I will pass, but if she captures the essence of the character, why not?

  8. A messy freeway collision between the coupe cults of fandom and nostalgia and the semi-trailer of commerce. It’s awful but you can’t slowing down for a look.

  9. I’ve tried, like Dune’s author’s son taking over but they do not read the same. I see franchise authors as so disrespectful and unimaginative. When a author dies, there should be a legacy not the commodification of copyrighted characters/plots – & etcetera. The writers who step in quite puzzle me. Like this used to be called ghost writing. Anyhooot…great post.

  10. Reblogged this on imitationisflattering and commented:
    imitation can be so controversial…

  11. people become so against an idea like this because it is spelled out in front of them that an author is physically taking Christie’s work and recreating another version…yet in any other instance where a great novel (artwork, music etc) only came to existence by imitation (in some form) not an eyelash is batted. instead of automatically going to the negative space in your mind that tells you “stealing is bad” try to see all the beauty that can come from imitation…

    it truly is flattering, and some of the most beautiful things were only possible with imitation…

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