Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.
This book was a wonderful surprise. As I am listening my way through all the Agatha Christie books that I read 35-40 years ago, they have so far all been narrated by the great Hugh Fraser. I mean no disloyalty to him when I say that just having listened to "Black Coffee," narrated by the late John Moffatt (one of the actors who played Hercules Poirot over the years) all I can say is, "Wow"!
Agatha Christie originally wrote this as a play, rather than a novel, somewhat of a departure from her usual style, and Charles Osborne has put it into book form. Many years ago I actually saw the play. (Can you tell I have been a life-long Christie devotee?) As well as I recall it, I think this book is quite faithful to the play--I believe it has kept the same plot/characters/development. This is a "classic Poirot" where he actually does line all the family members up at the end to do his wonderful thing of announcing how the murder was committed, and by whom. Very pleasing to old mystery readers like myself.
The premise of the book is that Sir Claud Amory, a scientist who has been working on a secret formula for something that has the potential to become a more powerful weapon than any currently available, has reason to believe that someone in his own household wants to steal it. So he hires Poirot to come to the house and help detect who that is. Unfortunately he arrives just in time for Amory's murder.
This book lays out the plot well, has very good character development, neatly suggests (or leaves the reader guessing) the various possible reasons any person could have killed Sir Claud, and it all flows as well (if not better than) any Christie herself could have written. I think he was largely faithful to Christie's own language and style. My only regret is that I believe he made Poirot a *tiny* bit more pompous and narcissistic than Christie portrayed him, and left me feeling sad with the way Poirot made fun of poor Hastings. I know there was a slight suggestion of that in Christie, but I don't recall it being as strong as Osborne has made it.
But if you listen to this book for no other reason--I would recommend that you do so just to hear the extraordinarily talented John Moffatt read the whole book, but especially the role of Poirot. It was just stupendous! There were opportunities throughout the book to speak English (mostly), French and Italian. And as far as I could tell, he spoke all three with perfection. But mostly he was able to capture the nuances of tone that left no doubt that is was, indeed, Poirot who was the main feature of the book. I'm not planning to abandon listening to Fraser, for whom I have great fondness, but I certainly am planning to listen to more of the Christies read by Moffatt. His narration was the true gem of this book.
Nothing makes me happier than discovering a vintage mystery series I didn't know about, unless it is also discovering that it turns out to be a great read! I gather that this book, starring Miss Withers and Inspector Piper was made into a movie at the time, and I hope to find it.
Miss Withers, a teacher who has brought her young class to the aquarium, is there when a murder occurs at the penguin pool. She demonstrates very quickly that she has a good, grounded sort of common sense, and is able to point out things to the inspector to keep him on track during the inspection. She tends to be immediately accepted by the inspector, who realizes that as she offers good ideas and takes conversations down in shorthand, she is indispensable to solving the crime. Even though she is not officially part of the case, one quickly realizes that the author intends her to be the brains behind the process of solving it.
This book is written with a bit of comedic touch, but I doubt the author could have possibly anticipated how much more enjoyable it would become 80 years later to a completely different audience. In these days, we have authors who create female sleuths, trying to insert them into this same time period (just around the timeout of the stock market crash), and they are are fun to read. But this is the "Real McCoy," a woman who was developed into a clever and observant detective (of sorts), even though she is not really acknowledged that way around 1930 or so.
I love this book, and cannot wait for the next ones. The narrator does a very good job, getting the accents just right! This has been a total treat! Thanks, Audible, for bringing this one on board!
Hugh Fraser (who played Hastings, the sidekick of Hercules Poirot on the well-loved tv series) narrates this book, as he has done with several other Christie books.
He did the best he could with this book I think. While I doubt there are actually any "bad" mysteries by Agatha, I would not place this among her best works. It is tedious, and Poirot goes back and forth among the possible candidates for the murderer just interviewing them.
There is very little action otherwise, and I found myself actually becoming a little bored (almost a first for anything by AC). Don't know whether a different narrator might have spiced it up a bit--Fraser wasn't terribly animated in his reading--though perfectly ok in other respects.
I'd say, if you love Agatha Christie, this should be on your listening/reading list so you can complete the works. It is not bad--it just is not up to the usual quality of her writing.