As her new Poirot novel Closed Cas­ket is pub­lished, au­thor So­phie Han­nah writes ex­clu­sively for Crime Scene (below) on cre­at­ing a con­vinc­ing side­kick for Agatha Christie’s Bel­gian de­tec­tive. And star of the ITV se­ries Hugh Fraser (op­po­site) shares his Cap


“Are you go­ing to write an­other Poirot novel?” a man asked me re­cently at a party.

“Yes, I al­ready have,” I told him. “It’s called Closed Cas­ket. It’s pub­lished on 6 Sep­tem­ber this year.”

“No, I mean an­other one af­ter that,” he said. “Be­cause I’ve got an idea – why don’t you kill off Catch­pool half­way through? That would be bold! And un­ex­pected!”

In­spec­tor Edward Catch­pool of Scot­land Yard is the side­kick I in­vented for Poirot when I wrote my first Christie con­tin­u­a­tion novel, The Mono­gram Mur­ders. Though I love Christie’s Hast­ings, I de­cided I couldn’t have him in my story. Hast­ings is the nar­ra­tor – the voice and tone – of the nov­els in which he ap­pears, and I didn’t want to risk try­ing to nar­rate in his voice. I don’t be­lieve any writer should copy or im­i­tate an­other’s style, and so my Hast­ings, had I at­tempted him, would in­evitably have been quite dif­fer­ent from Christie’s, which wouldn’t have made sense. Hast­ings needs to speak like Hast­ings, or not at all.

I got around the prob­lem of who should both nar­rate my Poirot nov­els and be Poirot’s helper within them by in­vent­ing Edward Catch­pool. Un­like most side­kicks in de­tec­tive fic­tion, Catch­pool is not en­tirely dense and lack­ing in co­nun­drum-solv­ing abil­ity; he doesn’t only help Poirot by un­wit­tingly say­ing some­thing to­tally ir­rel­e­vant that causes Poirot to make the vi­tal con­nec­tion that has eluded him so far. On the con­trary, he’s a clever and promis­ing de­tec­tive, just not quite as bril­liant as Poirot (but then who is?). In con­trast to Poirot’s supreme con­fi­dence, Catch­pool is end­lessly un­sure of him­self and suf­fers from what we would now call Im­poster Syn­drome. Some read­ers of The Mono­gram Mur­ders found Catch­pool to be en­dear­ingly fal­li­ble and full of self doubt; others thought him unin­spir­ing and in­de­ci­sive. This dis­agree­ment pleased me no end and con­vinced me that he was the in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter I wanted him to be.

I think of Poirot as oc­cu­py­ing a sort of men­tor role in re­la­tion to Catch­pool. He sees po­ten­tial in him and wants to im­prove him and turn him into a bet­ter de­tec­tive. In Closed Cas­ket, it’s clear that Catch­pool has ben­e­fited from work­ing with Poirot once. He is less neu­rotic and spine­less, takes more ini­tia­tive, and is gen­er­ally more im­pres­sive. Poirot crit­i­cises him far less than he did in The Mono­gram Mur­ders. If I write a third book with the same char­ac­ters, Catch­pool will de­velop still fur­ther. The con­ven­tions of tra­di­tional crime fic­tion seem to dic­tate that both the star de­tec­tive and the less tal­ented side­kick must be carved in stone as char­ac­ters and never change. Per­son­ally, I think this is too much tra­di­tion, even for some­thing la­belled “tra­di­tional”. I firmly be­lieve that Poirot should re­main the same, ex­actly as Christie cre­ated him – time­less and leg­endary – but these as­pects of him stand out more, I think, if his right-hand man is, like most of us or­di­nary peo­ple, changed and af­fected by his ex­pe­ri­ences and the world around him. So if I were to write a third Poirot novel, I cer­tainly would not mur­der Catch­pool. He still has so much to learn from his mus­ta­chioed men­tor!

Closed Cas­ket (Harpercollins) is out now.

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