Agatha Christie wrote thirteen plays throughout her career, often turning those plays into novels, but her first play remained in play form until 1998, when Charles Osborne adapted Black Coffee into the form of a novel. The first play Osborne turned into a book, Black Coffee does tend to read like a play, but overall, Osborne has done a good job of making the readers see the action without taking away from the work of Agatha Christie.
Sir Claud Amory, a respected scientist of the British Empire, has finally completed his formula for splitting the atom. He has had warnings that someone is trying to steal this formula, so he calls Hercule Poirot. When Amory discovers the theft of his highly valuable formula, he locks his household into the living room and awaits the arrival of Poirot, “the rat catcher,” and gives everyone one minute in the dark to return the stolen envelope, only for people to discover a blank envelope deposited on the table and Sir Claud dead of hyoscine poisoning as Poirot and Captain Hastings enter the room.
The rest of the book’s action involves Poirot’s investigation of the murder. Each member of the household comes under suspicion in turn: Sir Claud’s son Richard, Richard’s Italian-born wife Lucia, Sir Claud’s prudish sister Caroline, Sir Claud’s modern-young-thing daughter Barbara, the secretary Edward Raynor, and the target suspicious Italian friend (?) of Lucia, Dr. Carelli.
John Moffett does a very good job of reading this book, especially with the addition of the Italian accents to Poirot’s Belgian French accent. Moffett makes me see the book move along.
For people new to Hercule Poirot, Black Coffee is not a good introduction. The mystery plot is not as strong as the Christie novels and the solution is somewhat trite. But for those who have read and love all the Poirot novels, it is fun to get to “see” Poirot in play form. Such readers will recognize some of Christie’s tricks of the trade in the process of the mystery’s being solved. So I give this book 1 star for new readers and 3 for existing lovers of Poirot.
Black Coffee is widely available. To order from Amazon, black coffee by agatha christie. You may also find it in your local library or bookstore.