11 June 2016

Review: BLACK COFFEE, Agatha Christie (Charles Osborne)

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 305 KB
  • Print Length: 227 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0006511376
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece Ed edition (October 14, 2010)
  • Publication Date: October 14, 2010
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
Synopsis (Amazon)

A full-length Hercule Poirot novel, adapted from Agatha Christie’s stage play by Charles Osborne.

Sir Claud Amory’s revolutionary new formula for a powerful explosive is stolen. Locking his house-guests in the library, Sir Claud switches off the lights to allow the thief to replace the formula, no questions asked. When the lights come on, he is dead, and Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings have to unravel a tangle of family feuds, old flames and suspicious foreigners to find the killer and prevent a global catastrophe.

My Take

The play Black Coffee apparently got a very unenthusiastic reception from Agatha Christie's publishers after she presented it to them in 1928, but it was eventually staged in 1930. In 1931 it was filmed. The play was "novelised" by Charles Osborne as a novel in 1998.

Really what Osborne has done is convert the dialogue and stage directions into a narrative but for me it retained that play script feeling. The setting is May 1934 and Poirot is ostensibly retired. He is contacted by Sir Claud Amory, a famous atomic scientist, who asks Poirot to visit him at his country house as he believes a member of his household is attempting to steal the formula he has created for a new and deadly explosive. He then asks Poirot ot come a day earlier, but by the time Poirot gets there Amory is dead.

The astute reader knows from the moment it happens who is responsible for poisoning Sir Claud. I presume the theatre audience also knew, as they saw it happen. The suspense lies in the idea of whether Hercule Poirot will solve the puzzle.

I don't think that, in creating the 'novelisation' of the play that Charles Osborne would not have strayed very far from the original wording of either the dialogue or the stage directions of the original play. There is a feeling of looking at a stage set. The result is a rather peculiar flatness to the novel, both the plots and the characters lacking depth. It is an authentic Poirot and the plot contains similarities to other novels and stories.

For me perhaps the most useful part of the e-book version is the last 10% of the book which is devoted to a short summary of each of the original Poirot novels.

My rating: 4.0

Agatha Christie novels 


noirencyclopedia said...

Lucky Charles Osborne to get this commission.

Martin Edwards said...

I agree that it's a flat piece of work. A missed opportunity, sadly.

Clothes In Books said...

I was intrigued by your review, and then found a copy on my shelf. You don't make it sound like a must-read, but I do like the idea of the Poirot novel descriptions. Osborne wrote well about the books, I thought.


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