Osborne’s third novelization of a Christie play—this one based on a 1954 original that ran for two years alongside the West End perennials Witness for the Prosecution and The Mousetrap—takes place in still another country house that, except for the impending hush-hush visit of the Prime Minister and the Soviet premier, could be frozen back in the ’20s. As Copplestone Court’s latest tenant, rising Foreign Office star Henry Hailsham-Brown, orders his wife Clarissa to get the place ready for his big event, she’s already in deeper waters. Minutes earlier, she’d faced off with Oliver Costello, current husband and rumored drug supplier to Henry’s ex. Unsavory Oliver threatened to launch a custody battle for Henry’s beloved daughter Pippa. And on returning secretly to Copplestone soon after, Costello is promptly murdered, and Clarissa, frantically attempting to preserve the peace Henry needs for his all-important meeting, enlists the aid of three houseguests to hide the body from Inspector Lord, who despite his blandness has much too sharp an eye to be fooled by such rank amateurs. Both the dramaturgy and most of the characters, as usual, are stock—you can almost hear the swish of the curtain falling on the first two acts—but Clarissa, a charming liar, supplies some much-needed humor and pep to the tired proceedings.
Better than Christie/Osborne’s Black Coffee (1998), not as good as The Unexpected Guest (1999). If this adaptation repeats the sales of those two, expect an Osborne version of Verdict, Christie’s last original mystery play, in time for next Christmas.