Home > Book, Book Review, Mystery, Reviews > Book Review – Black Coffee: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie (Adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne)

Book Review – Black Coffee: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie (Adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne)

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Book Description:

Nearly a quarter-century after her death, Agatha Christie remains the most popular mystery writer of all time. Now, in a celebrated publishing event, fans and newcomers alike are treated to another Christie novel. Created in 1930 as a stage play and faithfully adapted by Charles Osborne, Black Coffee brings back beloved detective Hercule Poirot to exercise his “little grey cells” one more deliciously deductive time…

An urgent call from physicist Sir Claud Amory sends famed detective Hercule Poirot rushing from London to a sprawling country estate. Sir Claud fears a member of his own household wants to steal a secret formula destined for the Ministry of Defense. But Poirot arrives too late. The formula is missing. Worse, Sir Claud has been poisoned by his after-dinner coffee. Poirot soon identifies a potent brew of despair, treachery, and deception amid the mansion’s occupants. Now he must find the formula and the killer…while letting no poison slip ‘twix his low lips.

BLACK COFFEE was Agatha Christie’s first playscript, originally performed in 1930 and made into a now rarely-seen film the following year. Combining her typically beguiling plot and sparkling dialogue with his own faithful narrative, Charles Osborne’s novelisation is ‘A worthy addition to the Christie canon’ (The Spectator)


I was very surprised to find a copy of Black Coffee: A Hercule Poirot Mystery since I wasn’t aware that this posthumous Christie novel even existed. Turns out that Christie biographer Charles Osborne (with the blessing of the Agatha Christie Limited) wrote novelized adaptations for three original Christie plays – Black Coffee, The Unexpected Guest and Spider’s Web.

I was really excited to get started with Black Coffee, especially after reading the enthusiastic foreword by Christie grandson Michael Prichard (endorsing the book as “…this Hercule Poirot murder mystery, which to me reads like authentic, vintage Christie…) BUT… after actually reading through this (very short) book, my reaction is mostly a big MEH (plus Did that grandson really read his grandma’s books?) This really isn’t something that I can recommend (unless you’re a huge completest Christie fan who needs to read anything / everything connected with Christie). I mean, on the one hand, it’s cool that people who’ve never had the chance to see one of these plays can now enjoy them. But on the other hand, it’s a pretty weak and disappointing work.

The plot is vintage Christie, yes (the classic English ‘locked room’ mystery), but it’s written so dryly and bare-bones that I never felt like I was reading an actual novel (according to the Amazon.Com review, apparently, Charles Osborne was so faithful in his adaptation that what he did was simply “string the dialogue and stage directions together in paragraph form”) I can understand wanting to be ‘respectful’ to Christie, but maybe someone else with more imagination and literary flair should’ve taken a stab at adapting this? How about developing the characters beyond what they were supposed to do via the stage direction?

It also really threw me that the identity of the murderer is practically revealed before the victim even falls dead (maybe that trick worked in the actual play, with other actors distracting the audience, but reading it on paper did NOT). Talk about killing all the suspense. I mean, isn’t the point of a murder-mystery to keep the identity of the killer a secret and have the big reveal as a surprise?

The only thing I liked about Black Coffee is that Poirot  at least acts and sounds like himself, and there’s a considerable nostalgic pull to that.

Black Coffee: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie, adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne (William Morrow Paperbacks) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Paperback edition, and Mass Market Paperback edition. *Also available at Amazon UK.

The eBook is also available at B&N.

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  1. February 25, 2012 at 6:49 am

    I saw this on stage a couple of years ago and thought it was all right but no classic; the actor who played Poirot was very good, so that helped.

    i can understand that it might be rather dry set down on paper with “he said” and “she said” in front of each line.

    • February 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing! Well, I thought that written Poirot was the best thing about the book adaptation too 🙂

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