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The Witness for the Prosecution & Other Stories (Mystery Masters) Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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Special kudos to the voice casting executive at Audio Editions for this project! Horror screen icon Christopher Lee, thrust suddenly into the spotlight again in his 80s, thanks to his stint in LORD OF THE RINGS, steps up to the mike and delivers a vocal masterpiece. Lee embodies blue bloods and cockneys alike with equal aplomb, burnishing Christie's mysteries to a high and satisfying finish. The material is perfectly chosen as well--strong, tight mysteries with three-dimensional characters, particularly the title story with its sophisticated, Sherlock Holmes-ish surprise ending. More lavish packaging would be a nice touch for this audiobook, but that's a niggling concern--this collection of mysteries finds its solution in sterling acting and recording. D.J.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2004, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
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But. Let us return to THE WITNESS FOR PROSECUTION, ORIGINAL SHORT STORY. Wealthy spinster Emily French is found murdered; suspicion falls on Leonard Vole, the man to whom she hastily bequeathed her riches before she died. Leonard assures his lawyers and the investigators that he is innocent; that his wife, Romaine Heilger, can provide him with an alibi. However, at trial, Ms. French’s housekeeper, Janet, gives damning evidence against Vole; as Romaine’s cross-examination begins, her motives come under scrutiny from the courtroom. When questioned, Romaine informs the police that Vole returned home late the night of the murder covered in blood. The question is, will justice be done?
It’s a thriller, a short quick read, and a standalone, not featuring either of the author’s celebrated detectives, Poirot or Miss Marple: it relates to neither canon of work. At 20 pages, it’s rather bare bones, of course, but contains plenty of twists. As written in 1920, a mere two years after the end of one of the most grisly, bloodthirsty war of all time, World War I, it is safe to assume, as the Phelps treatment does, that all the characters have been deeply affected by that cruel war, most especially Vole, who soldiered through it and his wife Romaine, native to the lands that were fought over. The latest treatment by Phelps pays attention to the incalculable damage the war may well have done these two principal characters, particularly in terms of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) they may be suffering. The original short story, after dropping a couple of celebrated bombs, also ends abruptly, in a way that violates the accepted ethical rules of the time, for film, at least. As I’ve never seen the theatrical treatment, it’s not clear to me where Wilder got those couple more celebrated bombs that his film features, which are more in line with the accepted standards of the time: possibly from the play, or his own imagination. Whichever, the Phelps ending seems closer to the Christie original. The story is illuminating, worth a read if you’re curious; certainly not a necessity.
As far as the story, it involves a man, Leonard Vole, who comes to an attorney after being charged with the murder of an elderly woman, Emily French. As the case seems to build against Vole, the lawyer begins to call in alibis and evidence that will clear his defendant. He looks for help in Vole's wife. The story builds up to the trial, but things get a little off the track when an unexpected witness turns up.
Witness for the Prosecution is a fine example of Christie's skill and mastery at mystery in short story form. If you haven't read her works, this is an excellent place to start. The aforementioned 1957 film is also superb.