Light Reading I: Two by Christie

DSCN1332 - Version 2Christie, Agatha. Black Coffee. 1930. Adapted by Charles Osborne. 1997.  New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

—. The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories: Featuring Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Mr. Parker Pyne. [1939] New York: William Morrow-Harper Collins, 2012.

DSCN1332 - Version 2I have just about everything that Christie wrote, but I didn’t actually have these two books so felt compelled to add them to my collection. The first book is a recent adaptation of Christie’s first stage play into novel form and the second a republication of a 1939 collection of short stories.

DSCN1332 - Version 2Osborne’s adaptation of Christie’s 1930 play Black Coffee about a missing secret formula and a poisoning is a very quick read indeed relying as heavily as it does on dialogue. The other element of the work that reminds one of its dramatic origin is the minimal number of settings for the action. The layout of Sir Claud Amory’s library is extremely important to how “the deed” was done. There is a diagram at the beginning of the book, which is, of course, helpful to the reader but would also be absolutely necessary for setting a stage.

DSCN1332 - Version 2The usual Christie characters from the Poirot stories are here: Poirot, Hastings, Inspector Japp, the mistrusted foreigner, in this case an Italian doctor; the important scientist, also in this case the victim; the so far not very successful son in need of money, and anxious lovers; in other words, if I dare say it, all the usual suspects.

DSCN1332 - Version 2If you watched Granada’s Poirot series, you’ve probably seen “The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest,” “How Does your Garden Grow?” “The Yellow Iris,” and “Problem at Sea” (all included in The Regatta Mystery) interestingly dramatized with David Suchet as Poirot. The televised versions of the stories are, I would argue, excellent adaptations, but they are not slavishly faithful to their originals and are very much proof of the view that a short story, given the genre’s requirement for tight plotting and focus together with minimal characters, tends to make a better film than a novel. 

DSCN1332 - Version 2All the stories in this collection have been published before and appeared originally in such periodicals as The Strand Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Ladies’ Home Journal, or Liberty. Some of the stories made their first appearance in the English magazine; others debuted originally in the American publications. Unless you are a Christie devotee, you may not be familiar with Mr. Parker Pyne, but he appears in several of Christie’s collections of short stories. If you know Miss Marple only through the Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwen, or Julia McKenzie TV series, you may be surprised by the Miss Marple of “Miss Marple Tells a Story.” You may also find “In a Glass Darkly” with its slightly eerie conclusion not exactly what you normally expect from Christie. As is usual with Christie’s work from this time, the stories reflect the attitudes and language of the thirties, some of which may be somewhat discomforting to contemporary sensibilities. However, the stories fulfil our expectations of Christie’s work. They are tightly plotted with neat twists at the end that are sufficiently believable. Most of all, they are entertaining. 

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