For our final installment of the Agatha Christie Read-Along, we have a surprise guest post by Sophie Hannah, the New York Times bestselling author of The Monogram Murders, the new Hercule Poirot mystery. Sophie discusses the perils of selecting a title.
In his New York Times review, bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith said, “Does Sophie Hannah’s Poirot live up to our expectations? Yes, he does, and markedly so. The plot is as tricky as anything written by Agatha Christie. The Monogram Murders has a life and freshness of its own. Poirot is still Poirot. Poirot is back."
We hope everyone enjoyed reading Agatha Christie with us this summer. And for the new converts, there are many more mysteries by the Queen of Crime out there to discover!
By Sophie Hannah
At one time, there were several potential titles for my Hercule Poirot novel, all gathered together in a drawing room, tensely waiting to see which one would be chosen. It would have been useful if Poirot himself - or indeed Agatha Christie - could have magically appeared and declared, with a dramatic flourish and a pointed finger, 'That's the one. That's the title!'
(What about The Dramatic Flourish? Is that a good title? What about The Pointed Finger? Is that any good?)
Sitting in a wing-backed chair by the fire (in which many longlists and shortlists of titles had been reduced to ashes), was my original title for the novel: If Murder Began With a D. Everything suggested this title might be the one, until my 9-year-old son and several other people (because there are people in this room as well as titles, okay?) said, 'Eh? But that would be Durder.' If Murder Began With a D sprang out of its chair and said, 'Don't be ridiculous! Only a fool would hear me and think of Durder. Durder is nonsensical. It's an abomination! No, all intelligent people will hear me and be intrigued. If murder began with a D... Hmm, what can it possibly mean? they will ask themselves.' At this point, all the Americans in the room said, 'Even so, we've got another problem: Sue Grafton. She's pretty famous in the US, and she owns the entire alphabet.' 'G is for GRRR' said If Murder Began With a D, before sitting down grumpily.
A slim, elegant title by the window cleared its throat. 'How about me, then? Mr Catchpool's Murder.' But no one was very keen on Somebody's Something titles. One by one, several other candidates drew themselves to the attention of the people gathered in the room: All Fall Down, The Poison Tongue, Liar's Poison, The Flock, Jack Fell Down, The Good Shepherd, Murder in Three Rooms, Murder Takes a Room, Murder at the Bloxham Hotel... Nobody could agree about any of them.
Then, in the distance, a title was seen skiing towards the window of the drawing room - yes, actually skiing, on skis - and waving with great urgency. We opened the window and the new arrival climbed in. 'I beg you to consider me, because I am truly brilliant,' it said. 'I am Slander's Mark. Not only am I a quote from a Shakespeare sonnet, and we all know there's precedent there, but the novel is all about slander and the dangers and horrors of vilification! Not to mention moral over-simplification! I am the most thematically relevant title by far. Depth, you see - depth. Furthermore, I have been sent by no less illustrious a person than the Director of Norwich Writers Centre, Mr Chris Gribble!'
(What about Norwich Writers Centre? Oh, all right, then, I'll stop.)
All over the room, heads were shaking. 'No, no - you're no good at all,' many people said. 'I can see you're hoping to team up with Taken At The Flood and all those quotesy titles - the more literary ones - but you're not very commercial, are you?' Slander's Mark sneered, and did the Evil Voice from the famous Mitchell & Webb sketch that can easily be found on YouTube: 'Not very commercial? Not very commercial? Has it really come to this? I mean, by that reasoning, you'd better call the novel iPhone 5 or Cheeseburger and Fries.'
'What about me, then?' said a ruddy-cheeked pleasant looking title that was sitting on the sofa. 'The Monogram Murders.' The room fell silent. 'Ooh,' said quite a few people. 'I like that. Yes, that could work!' There was some rumbling about whether everyone would know what a monogram was. Did it matter? Would people mistake it for mammogram, or monograph?
'NOT SO FAST!' said a title with a scarf draped across its face. 'Let me first make my case, before you all agree to anything. I am a brand new title suggestion that you've never heard before: Murder Begins With a D. I am, quite simply, brilliant!' Everyone in the room eyed this newcomer suspiciously, and then someone said, 'Wait a minute! You're not brand new at all - you're If Murder Began With a D in disguise - take off that scarf!' 'I shall not,' said the title indignantly. 'I've already abandoned my conditional "If" that you were all so worried about, and I've got down with the kids and moved myself into the present tense. I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT SUE GRAFTON! A is for Agatha wrote The ABC Murders first!'
'Oh, dear,' people whispered to one another. 'This title is Welsh-Terrier-like in its tenacity. How on earth can we persuade it to give up? If only there were a devastatingly handsome and incredibly charming person who could talk it out of its stubbornness. At that moment, as luck would have it, a devastatingly handsome and incredibly charming man stepped forward and said, 'I think you are beyond wonderful, If Murder Began With a D...and if we lived in a perfect world I would think you were absolutely the right choice, and I'm so sorry, but...' He didn't get much further than that. 'Oh, I quite understand!' said If Murder Began With a D with deliberate winsomeness and much batting of eyelashes. 'You must of course call the book whatever you think best!'
(What about A Devastatingly Handsome and Incredibly Charming Man? What about Whatever You Think Best?)
The Monogram Murders, meanwhile, was sitting patiently on the sofa, wondering what would transpire. It was quietly confident. It knew it was alliterative. And short. And classic in its flavour. Very relevant to the story of the novel, and not as intellectually tricksy as If Murder Began With a D. There were a lot of people gathering round to sit on the sofa next to it. And eventually.... (insert long, suspiciously-unaccounted-for time period, a bit like in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd here)...all the people in the room agreed that The Monogram Murders would be the one.