Christie biographer Osborne's second novelization of a Christie play (Black Coffee, 1998) opens with a wonderfully arresting scene: engineer Michael Starkwedder, having run his car into a ditch while poking around the Welsh countryside looking at houses, enters Richard Warwick's house looking for help, only to find the man himself, a big-game hunter now confined to a wheelchair, shot to death. When Richard's wife Laura confesses to the killing, Starkwedder, struck by sympathy for her sufferings at the hands of this brute, encourages her to fake evidence against a fictitious intruder for Inspector Thomas and his quotation-spouting sergeant to find. Veteran readers of the author's work will watch in fascination, secure in the knowledge that Starkwedder and Laura aren't the only ones in the household playing fast and loose, and untroubled by the certainty that the other intimates—Richard's mother, his retarded half-brother, his housekeeper and valet, a neighbor standing for Parliament—have no more moving parts than necessary to keep the twists coming. It's not clear what Christie, who got into playwriting in mid-career because she thought other writers' stage adaptations of her novels too slavish and unsimplified, would have thought of Osborne's close, stingy reworking of her 1958 play. Here, though, Osborne, working with much less creaky material than Black Coffee, manages a few surprises worthy of his master.
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