Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Black Coffee

Plot: Can you pastische Christie? What happens when you novelise a stageplay of hers...

And we're back with a journey into different territory with Black Coffee - a faithful adaptation of Christie's Poirot play by Charles Osborne.

Where this suceeds briliantly is that is delivers exactly what you think a Christie novel is - remote country house, locked room, murder by poison, brilliant solution by detective etc etc. It's an archetype, and it's strange to realise with a bump "oh, no, hang on, it's nothing of the sort - the other novels aren't like this".

So, Black Coffee delivers what you expect of Christie rather than what she so often dishes up. There are plenty of stock characters - brilliant scientist, noble secretary, troubled son, foreign wife, dodgy visiting stranger, bright young gal etc etc, but it is marvellous to see them gathered together literally all in the same place.

It's hard to review this, as such. Charles Osborne makes himself almost invisible as an author - allowing himself the occasional bit of scene setting (including baldly setting the story in 1934 and directly after The blessed Big Four). The dialogue feels lifted straight from the play, along with a lot of stage directions, and as such there are no real alarm bells ringing. It's a genuinely self-effacing bit of work.

I suppose the big annoyance is that Christie lifts a key plot point from Mysterious Affair At Styles and plonks it down at the end of Black Coffee. As soon as you see the offending object in the drawing of the room you think "oh no", and so it proves.

What is blissful about this as a novel is that it doesn't outstay its welcome - it contains just enough plot for its 200 pages and rattles through as a couple of hours reading, with plenty of jokes and joys.

Osborne really succeeds in conjuring up the feeling of this being a performed stage play - which is odd. I think it's the lifted stage directions that do it, but you get a real feeling less of this being a real drawing room and more that this is a set with actors dotted around it, making exits and dramatic entrances.

There are various other joys. There's more of Christie's hospital dispensing experience trotted out for our entertainment, and Poirot is a great character here - slightly enhanced for the stage and so ringing out clearly through the book. I think it's nice that there's at least one book in the canon that proudly does what you expect it to - although it's interesting that, when asked about his desire to star as Poirot on the stage, Suchet has indicated that he'd rather not be in Black Coffee.

No comments:

Post a Comment