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Publisher's Summary

Sir Claud Amory's formula for a powerful new explosive has been stolen, presumably by a member of his large household. Sir Claud assembles his suspects in the library and locks the door, instructing them that the when the lights go out, the formula must be replaced on the table - and no questions will be asked. But when the lights come on, Sir Claud is dead. Now Hercule Poirot, assisted by Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp, must unravel a tangle of family feuds, old flames, and suspicious foreigners to find the killer and prevent a global catastrophe.

©1998 Agatha Christie Limited (P)1998 HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

What listeners say about Black Coffee

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A REAL TREAT for Poirot fans!

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.

37 people found this helpful

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Moffat's Performance Makes It Better

John Moffatt, perhaps best known for portraying Poirot in BBC Radio adaptations of Christie's original work, makes this mediocre plot come alive with a terrific reading.

5 people found this helpful

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the bitter taste

What an excellent narrative with a lot of twist and turns. The attitude of the rich and the time is on full display.

2 people found this helpful

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A bit tepid

I adore Agatha Christie, so much so that it is difficult for me to read other mystery writers. This one was a bit of a rehash of previous plots and characters and the psychology is scripted. It's not the same level as Sad Cyprus, Murder on the Orient Express, Five Little Pigs, or Death on the Nile. However, having said this, it is still Agatha Christie who cannot write a bad mystery, with perhaps the exception of The Big Four.

5 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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This is a novelized Christie play

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

No, it just did not have the feel of an Agatha Christie novel. You could absolutely tell that someone else had written the book.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

I would have preferred to read or see the original play.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

Yes.

Any additional comments?

Overall, ok. But I wish I had known before I purchased this that it was a novelization of Agatha Chrisite's play.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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This is a play novelized

I felt a lot better about the writing when I realized this story is a novelized play. Otherwise, the style and pace was off. The treatment of Poirot, Hastings and especially Japp was superficial, which might be due to the original play format. The narrator was a bit flat, with long, strange pauses. The mystery was good though. I am not sure it was worth a credit.

5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Good whodunit drama

This was a wonderful mystery. It was clear to me from the beginning that there were multiple secrets and false suspects, and it was an entertaining cast of characters in that country house. I was especially amused by Barbara. I had figured out the gist of Lucia's troubles early on, prior to the murder, and I was very glad of how Poirot handled them. It took me a little longer to reach my conclusion about the true thief/killer, but I did get it based on the same clue Poirot credits Hastings with pointing out. In this case, I feel like I really was given just the right information, and this time I actually caught on to which bits hidden among some extraneous facts were key to fitting the puzzle pieces together. (I don't always feel that I've been given enough to go on to beat Poirot to the punch, as it were, but perhaps because this was originally a play, it unfolded differently than traditional Christie mysteries?) The reveal however was still a good drama. Classic Poirot. Very dramatic snare.

The odd thing is, I really wasn't a fan of Hastings in this story - usually I like him just fine, as a sounding board and a benchmark to beat, but he really disappointed me in this one; he was thicker than usual, and even abandoned his post at a key juncture... Not sure what was up with him.

Not the usual narrator for the series that I'm accustomed to, but a good one. His Poirot voice was good, as were his multiple female characters, which to me is impressive for a male voice.

Great whodunit, made for an enjoyable evening.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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This was quite boring

I could not understand why I did not like this book. I have tried to listen to it on two occasions, and it just did not interest me. First I thought it was because of the narrator because I am used to Hugh Frazer narrating Poirot, but then I saw that this book had been adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne, and maybe that is my problem. I will be more careful in future.

2 people found this helpful

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Superb Mystery!

The little gray cells of Agatha Christie were especially working well when she thought up of this story. Just when you thought all was been given away a whole new branch was opened that made you second guess everything you thought you knew. Great detective fun!

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I like my Coffee Black, Like my Soul

Very good as always. Shorter than her usual books clocking in at 4 and half hours, but it no loser for it. I think because the book is shorter than her typical stories, is more succinct. The real joy is Poirot and Hastings interactions. By this time they had seen dozens and dozens of cases, it's funny to see how non nonchalant Hasting is about death when he arrives at the scene. Just a well done quick fun novel.