Review: The Killings at Kingfisher Hill
Updated: Jul 9
The Killings at Kingfisher Hill, by Sophie Hannah (2020)
Another of Hannah's Hercule Poirot mysteries!
I also read The Mystery of Three Quarters last year, and as I mentioned in that review, Hannah has permission from Christie's estate and publishing house to write new crime novels featuring some of Christie's original characters.
My mom and I listened to this on our drive downstate (and back) for the July 4 holiday, and it definitely kept our attention. It wasn't as well told as the last one I read, but she lays out a good mystery, and stays pretty true to Poirot's personality and eccentricities. And the reader was great.
I won't go too far into the weeds of the plot, because there's a lot of it, but we begin with Poirot and his doddering sidekick, Inspector Catchpool, boarding a coach bound for Kingfisher Hill. There's been a murder in the Devenport family, and one of the Devenports wants Poirot to come investigate - but to allow no one to know the true purpose in being there. While aboard the coach they witness the very strange behavior of a fellow passenger. Then another passenger disappears. And when they arrive at Kingfisher Hill they begin to slowly put the pieces together that will eventually involve the entire Devonport family - bombastic father Sydney, decrepit mother Lillian, and their children, cowardly Richard and overbearing Daisy - as well as fiancés and friends - Daisy's fiancé Oliver, and family friends from America, Godfrey and Vera. All of them have something to hide, and the plot unfolds in the usual twisty-turny way that mysteries do... and of course Poirot always figures everything out at least 30 pages before he sees fit to share the knowledge, even with a fellow member of Scotland Yard.
I think the story is overly complicated, with too many characters, and too many weak, outlandish motives. The narrative is told from Inspector Catchpool's POV, which I think was a mistake. He's not the smartest. Kind of always 9 cents short of a dime. So, as the reader, it's hard to ever feel like you have a handle on things when the person narrating the story is constantly befuddled. I also found Poirot distinctly unlikeable in this book. In The Mystery of Three Quarters, Poirot comes across as exasperating but lovable. In this one, he was downright mean a lot of the time - mostly to Catchpool. It didn't feel as in tune with the original Christie character.
So why, you may ask, did I give it 3 stars, which I generally save for books I enjoyed more than this?! Because of Hannah's incredible descriptions of people, which are some of the best I've ever read! A few examples:
"An unfinished face," I muttered... She was not entirely unattractive, but her skin looked dull and bloodless, and her features all had the same look to them: as if someone had stopped short of adding the final touches that would have given her a more conventional visual appeal... In general, her face seemed to yearn to have more detail and shape added; elements needed to be brought out that were sunken in.
He had skin as if it had been gone over with a steamer, and thick white hair that jutted out at all angles. It made me think of a hedgehog.
A barrel-shaped man with a broad smile on his face was striding towards us... his smile took on an increasingly intimidating air the more one saw of it. It had a mask-like quality, mouth half open, corners upturned - frozen in a past moment of guffawing joviality that was no longer applicable... I would find it difficult to look at his fossilized face for much longer.
He resembled a sand-colored and reasonably handsome giraffe... I decided that he was overwhelmingly unlikely to be of any use to us.
UP NEXT: Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia