One of my new tasks in my recent move to the UK is to help organise an event in which some crime fiction writers are involved (more information on the event soon!). As the crime fiction family is such a big and diverse one, I was not surprised to realise that I had never read anything about one of the women authors participating, but I was certainly curious about her work. In an effort to solve that gap in my reading history I have decided to do some research about the author and read at least one of her novels. Here’s Sophie Hannah:
British novelist and poet Sophie Hannah was born in Manchester (England) in 1971 to an academic father and a writer mother. She went to study at the University of Manchester and saw her first book of poems published at the age of 24. She continued writing with critical acclaim, with her work usually compared to Wendy Cope’s and Lewis Carroll’s. Currently her poems are studied at A-Level in the UK.
Despite her skills as a poet, Hannah is more well-known for her novels, especially her crime novels. Her first psychological thriller Little Face was released in 2006, and since then she has written more than 12 crime fiction novels. These works feature detective Sam Waterhouse that the British press has already catalogued as a household name. However, I am currently reading book #5 in the series and although I feel I am missing out something regarding Sam and the police department the plot is easy to follow and I am really enjoying the story.
She has also worked prominently in the fight for crime fiction to be considered ‘serious’ literature, and she takes pride on being known as a crime writer. She has stated that Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell were some of her favourite writers growing up, and that they have inspired the writing she has been doing since she was a 6-year old. In a 2015 interview for The Guardian she openly discussed the necessity to reevaluate crime fiction:
There is still a great deal of snobbery about crime and thriller writing. There are people who think a crime novel can’t be proper literature, mainly because they are prejudiced against genre fiction and writing that is plot-based. Whether one ought to care about this, I’m not sure. Personally, I’ve always thought crime fiction is the best kind of literature. Done well and properly, there is no better kind of fiction. If other people can’t see that, then I think that’s a shame for them but I am not going to get angry about it.
Despite her success as a crime fiction writer Sophie Hannah success skyrocketed when she became the heir to Agatha Christie’s literary legacy. In 2014 she famously earned the blessing of Agatha Christie’s family and State to publish a new Poirot novel The Monogram Murders. The book received mainly positive reviews, with Laura Thompson from The Guardian highlighting that: “The first posthumous Hercule Poirot mystery impresses with its intricacy” and Alexander McCall Smith writing for the New York Times answering the general public’s fear: “Does Sophie Hannah’s Poirot live up to our expectations? Yes, he does, and markedly so”.
The Monogram Murders is based on a plot that Hannah had in mind but had not managed to include in any of her modern thrillers. However, when her agent approached her with the Christie State’s proposal to write a new Poirot novel, she realised that it was time to develop said plot. During an interview with Harper Collins Hannah addressed the controversy of bringing such a beloved character back to life. However, she stresses that Agatha Christie still is the best-selling writer of all time and the new Poirot novel is a way to let new generations discover Christie’s work. The novel was such a success that a second installment Closed Casket was published in September 2016.
Sophie Hannah is without a doubt one of the big names in contemporary crime fiction in the UK. Her works show a diverse range of skills, as well as a passion for literature. So much so, that Hannah was a fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford between 1997 and 1999. Currently she is a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College, and she lives in Cambridge with her husband, children and dog.