The Mistress of Mystery has done it again! Raise your hand if you're surprised.
I thought not.
a deserted, foggy stretch of road one night in southern Wales, a man runs
his car into a ditch. Fortunately, a nearby manor house offers the prospect
of assistance. The driver traverses the grounds to the French doors of
a ground-floor study. After knocking fails to rouse a response from within,
he tries the doors. Finding them unlocked, he cautiously lets himself
in -- and comes face-to-face with an invalid man slumped in his wheelchair,
sporting a bullet hole in his head. The corpse's attractive young widow
stands in a corner holding a revolver and readily confesses to the deed.
End of story? Not
by a long shot (pun intended). The unexpected guest, moved by the woman's
tale of emotional abuse at her husband's hands, decides to manufacture
evidence to point the police to a different suspect. But even that doesn't
play out in an expected manner as other members of the household take
the stage. Several harbor their own reasons to see their cruel master
is this unexpected guest and how did he happen to strand himself near
that particular house shortly after the murder? Why did he knock at the
study rather than the front door? And why, against all logic, did he choose
to help the widow, risking implication as an accessory after the fact?
The answers to those
questions and many more, dear reader, I leave for you to discover.
Guest began life as an original play at the Duchess Theatre in
London, where it opened in August 1958 and enjoyed a respectable 18-month
run. This novelization, the second by world-renowned theatre and opera
critic Charles Osborne, continues the series he began in 1998 with Black
Coffee. With 19 original plays to Christie's credit, ample opportunity
exists for extending the series beyond Osborne's third installment (Spider's
first the book's artless prose, curious dearth of descriptive passages
and detached viewpoint annoyed me. However, I came to realize this is
the best approach for adapting a stage play. It allows a reader who saw
a live dramatization to relive the experience. For those like myself who
missed the show, it allows us to cast our own actors and mentally supply
the props. Most importantly, the style allows Ms. Christie's brilliance
-- especially with respect to dialogue -- to shine through.
I knock off half a
point because, in spite of a couple of twists as unexpected as the guest
himself, the plot unfolds in a simplistic manner. The book's 258 pages
of relatively large type hardly provide a meaty read. Unless I were a
collector, I wouldn't bother purchasing the hardcover edition.
However, if you seek
a quick diversion into Christie's fascinating world of murder and mayhem,
where appearances are guaranteed to deceive, this paperback well rewards
the investment of your pence.
(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)