Coffee and Christie
Five Little Pigs, And Then There Were None, One Two Buckle My Shoe, Three Blind Mice, Hickory Dickory Dock….
Though these are name of nursery rhymes, they are also the titles of mystery novels penned by the 'Grande Dame of Mystery' - Agatha Christie. She has written 87 mystery novels and collection of short stories not counting her work under the name Mary Westmacott. Her books have sold roughly 2 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world's most-widely published books, behind Shakespeare's works and the Bible. The Guinness Book of World records' lists her as the 'best-selling author of all times'.
Decades after having been published, the novels and stories by Christie still continue to enthrall the reader. Among her characters' Poirot and Miss Marple were hugely popular and well-loved by readers spanning different generations. Hercule Poirot is a retired refugee Belgian Policeman with an egg-shaped head and luxuriant mustache with a penchant for cleanliness for whom a tiny speck of dust would have caused more pain than a bullet wound; he was the detective in most of her mystery novels.
Miss Marple is portrayed by Christie as an inquisitive old lady who is not a trained detective but is shrewd and her long life gives her the advantage of observing the negative side of human nature which helps her solve seemingly difficult problems.
Chritie's plot have kept readers guessing till the last page and sometimes the shock of discovering an unlikely perpetrator of the crime has staggered many a fan of the Christie mystery. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - to name one has the narrator himself the architect of the crime.
Christie's plots employed every way of crime from horrific shootings to stabbings and the subtle poisoning. Coffee was featured in many of her novels and several of her characters poison their victims with coffee.
Her novels were adapted as plays and many of which was written by her including the famous and longest running play 'Mousetrap' as well as 'Witness for Prosecution', 'Spider's Web' and Then There were None'. 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' was the one of the first novels to be adapted for the stage and Christie, dissatisfied with the way the characters were rendered, started writing her own plays - something which she had not previously attempted, thus penning her first play 'Black Coffee'.
Though before the launch, Christie was negatively advised about the staging of the play, despite this she went ahead and staged it for the first time in April 1930 at Embassy Theatre. Black Coffee was special for many reasons – it was the first play written by Agatha Christie, the only play in which she featured the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, the success of the play launched the second career of Christie as a playwright and was known for its espionage plot.
The plot of the play revolves around a famous physicist, his secret formula which is stolen, a number of his guests, one of whom could be the murderer and method of the crime is through the victim's coffee which is not laced with the usual cream or sugar but with a lethal dose of poison! The play has the usual climatic denouement concluding with a thrilling end.
'Black Coffee' was well received by the public and was given favourable reviews by many publications at the time. It was also produced as a motion picture after some months of being staged. Nearly 40 years after its first production as a play, Charles Osbourne - an Australian born writer and opera expert novelized it into a crime novel which reads like an authentic vintage Christie; something about which Agatha Christie herself; would have been proud of.
Black Coffee is indeed a novel to be enjoyed while savouring a cup of coffee – black, white, brown or otherwise!
Tribute to Agatha Christie
By Dr. Aarti Dewan Gupta
Director Finance, Coffee Board of India