Book Review: Black Coffee

When ITV announced the final series of Poirot episode, I was surprised that ITV opted to film the Labours of Hercules, a collection of short stories, rather than the Hercule Poirot play, Black Coffee. I remain skeptical of their ability to adapt a series of adventure into a single two hour movie. I was also curious why they passed on Black Coffee, as a play would seem ideal for a TV adaptation.

When I learned of the decision, I decided to get hold of the audiobook copy of Black Coffee. The play was adapted to a novel by Australia Author Charles Osborne and this book was read by John Moffatt who has played Poirot in BBC Radio 4’s adaptations of Christie’s novels.

In Black Coffee, Poirot is summoned to collect a top secret formula by Sir Claud Amory. Poirot and Captain Hastings arrive to find Amory murdered, the formula missing,  and a room full of suspects.

Listening to the book, it became apparent that Black Coffee was the type of play that’s easily performed by community playhouses. The plot is relatively simple with most of the action, so to speak, consigned to one room. It featured typical stage dialogue and action, even within the confinds of the novel.

The audiobook was entertaining, thanks  to the performance of Moffat, who brought each character to life with a solid performance that made the audiobook practically a one man play. The book itself was okay. Osborne stuck very closely to Christie’s play adding next to nothing other than transcribing the stage directions and adding a somewhat unnecessary scene that introduces Poirot. 

Reading Black Coffee makes apparent why ITV chose not to adapt the play. ITV’s Poirot is famous not only for David Suchet’s definitive portrayal as the great detective but for the fantastic cinematography. While Black Coffee may make more for an entertaining night at the playhouse, it’d be downright claustraphobic compared to the rest of the Poirot series.

The novel is good mainly if you want to enjoy a Poirot mystery and can’t get to the playhouse to see it. It’s a servicable if not inspired adaptation.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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