In preparation for clearing this book from my TBR pile, I have been re-reading Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series across the last couple of weeks. Although Black Coffee was originally published in 1998, I had never heard of it nor seen it listed in any Poirot bibliography until I found it in a second hand bookshop a couple of years back, as it is an adaptation — by Australian novelist Charles Osborne — of a 1930 play, the first penned by Christie.
Some cursory online research suggests that she wrote this play because she was unhappy with the stage version of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, adapted by Michael Morton in 1928 and renamed Alibi for some reason. Or perhaps the reason was that the stunning denouement of Ackroyd might have kept playgoers at home, because they already knew it, whereas with a new title, they might have mistaken it for a different tale entirely.
Incidentally, I just reread Ackroyd last week, and even knowing how it all plays out, it is still an incredible read and a truly remarkable achievement in mystery writing.
Anyway, displeased with how her Hercule was portrayed in Alibi, Christie decided to write her own stage version of his adventures–which led to her second career as a successful playwright. Arguably the most successful modern day playwright, given that The Mousetrap is the world’s longest-running play, with in excess of 26 000 performances given since its opening in 1952.
The plot of Black Coffee is a simple one. There is a secret formula for some kind of nuclear reaction, an austere physicist who rules his weary family with an iron fist, and a cast of dubious characters, both foreign and domestic, who may or may not have means, motive and opportunity to steal the science and kill he scientist. Most notable about the book is that its stage genesis is apparent, since most of the action takes place in pretty much the same room. Really, aside from a short (and somewhat out of character) rumination from Poirot as the book opens, in his London apartment, pretty much everything occurs at the scene of the crime. The very room that is the scene of the crime!
And you know what? It works.
Aside from the early weirdness, Osborne captures both Christie and Poirot admirably. Captain Hastings is also familiar and well-done, and the mystery unfolds with great style and purpose. The final gotcha scene is particularly well-rendered, and in all, it is a very successful Poirot novel very well told.
I like to read books in publication order, and giving it a 1930 pub date, this one comes right after 1928’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, and is the seventh Poirot novel overall. Next is 1932’s Peril at End House, which I don’t think I have read for at least fifteen years, and can’t quite recall what happens. I’m looking forward to tackling it — though, as it isn’t technically on my TBR pile, the remainder of my Poirot reread (which I am enjoying the hell out of) will have to be in addition to clearing out my many shelves as yet unread.
Oh, how ever will I cope?
TBR DAY 1: Black Coffee by Agatha Christie and Charles Osborne.
GENRE: Cozy Mystery
PUBLISHED: 1998 (based on a 1930 play)
TIME ON THE TBR: Approx. 2 years.
PURCHASED FROM: Grub Street Bookshop, Fitzroy.
KEEP: Yes! And the Poirot reread continues…