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Black Coffee (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) Hardcover – August 15, 1998
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Subtitled A Hercule Poirot Novel, Black Coffee is actually an Agatha Christie play recrafted as a book meant to be read rather than seen on the stage. The story was first produced in 1930, and Charles Osborne has done little to it except string the dialogue and stage directions together in paragraph form. Christie loyalists will welcome and applaud his dedication to the original, but it does seem as though he could have given it a bit more flair. Still, Poirot himself, bumbling Captain Hastings, and obsequious George are all in good form and it is amusing to find them engaged in another adventure, with an interesting assortment of possible murderers, blackmailers, and innocent (if suspicious) bystanders.
The novel opens as Poirot receives a summons at his breakfast table from England's premier physicist, Sir Claud Amory. Busy working on a new formula necessary for England's defense in the Second World War, Amory suspects a member of his household of espionage. Of course, by the time Poirot and sidekick Hastings arrive at the scientist's country house, he is suddenly and mysteriously dead. Amory himself turns out to have been not quite nice, and his family, regardless of his scientific efforts, is pretty pleased with the new state of affairs. Still, Poirot manages both to save the more amiable members of the household from themselves and to protect the secrets of the British Empire. The novel is warmly evocative of another time and place and a welcome reminder of vintage Christie. --K.A. Crouch
From Publishers Weekly
Christie biographer Osborne's adaptation of the grande dame's 1930 play has been blessed by the Christie estate and heartily endorsed by her grandson Michael Prichard. It's a classic "someone in this room is the murderer" tale set in 1934. Scientist Sir Claud Amory invites Hercule Poirot to his estate to collect a formula for a new atomic explosive. Prior to Poirot's arrival, Sir Claud discovers the formula is missing from his safe. He offers the thief one minute of darkness to return it but, when the lights come on again, Sir Claud is dead. That's when Poirot arrives on the scene and takes matters in hand. An empty vial of sleeping pills is discovered, and someone in the room at the time of Sir Claud's death was seen with the tablets. Was Sir Claud murdered by his son Richard, who is in deep debt? Or was it espionage involving Lucia, Richard's Italian wife with a mysterious past and a connection to guest Dr. Carelli? Perhaps Sir Claud's secretary, Edward Raynor, or the spinster sister Caroline is guilty. Poirot, with "methods very much his own," aided by Captain Hastings, is lively and stimulating, like a fine black coffee, in this welcome addition to the Christie canon.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
A famous scientist has what he deems a very valuable formula, and believes someone in his household is trying to steal it. He calls upon our hero Hercule Poirot to assist him in getting the formula out of the house and to safety. Before that can be accomplished, the scientist dies. Is it a heart attack or murder? Poirot arrives and will no doubt solve the mystery. The finger of guilt seems to point to an Italian house guest. But wait, there are others with motives also.....aren't there? Clues are scattered throughout the book, and they aren't too difficult to decipher. Entertaining, but not one of those reread...reread..reread kind of books.
I have always enjoyed reading about the exploits of the little Belgian detective with his egg shaped head and absurd mustache. His quirky mannerisms and unusual methods of crime solving always add a bit of spice to the stories. I found him portrayed as rather mellow and not quite as quirky as I remember him from other writings. His sidekick Captain Hastings came across as a bit dense and played a rather unimportant role....not the intelligent "partner" found in other Poirot stories. Some of the actions by the characters were so bold; but apparently not noticed by a roomful of other people. Not a very observant bunch of characters, but maybe that is how it was in the 1930s, and this is after all a work of fiction. The book is entertaining and an easy read.
If you love Agatha Christie, stay away from "Black Coffee" and stick to the stories that haven't been completed by someone else.
I won't read The Unexpected Guest, just as I didn't continue to read Robert Goldsborough's game imitation of the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout. Rex's voice, too, is gone forever.
Whether or not you'll enjoy this book depends on what you read a book for. If you find yourself reading phrases over a second time, savoring the way the author used precisely the right words to speak right to you, you won't like this book. If you like a neat little puzzle, especially in the lightweight style of the drawing-room mysteries of the '30s and '40s, Black Coffee will satisfy you, though like others, I did wonder why the author chose to focus in on the murderer's hand at that crucial moment. Mrs. Christie would be appalled.