Publication Date: December 8, 1930
Length: 193 pages
I had already read and reviewed October's Read Christie book, Murder On the Orient Express, and so I went looking for a new one to tackle. This cover and title looked interesting and I read that it was orginally a play that Christie struggled to finish writing. So I thought I'd give it a try and see exactly what "black coffee" meant. It was definitely not one of her books that I'd seen anywhere else. I also thought it was fitting to post a murder mystery review on Halloween. And I am wanting to read every Poirot mystery at some point too.
Our story begins with the scientist Sir Claud Amory realizing a secret formula he has been working on has been stolen from his safe. It is top secret and has the potential to be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands as it is the formula for an atomic explosive. Turning to Poirot for help, he summons the members of his household together and tells them that when the lights go out in the room they are gathered in, there will be a one minute time limit in which the thief can return the stolen documents. If they are returned, nothing will be done to the person who stole them. If they are not returned and Sir Claud finds out who has stolen them, they will be prosecuted.
Gathered in the room are Claud's sister Caroline, his niece Barbara, his son Richard and his wife Lucia, his secretary Edward Raynor, and one Dr. Carelli, a friend of Lucia's. All proclaim their innocence and shock at Sir Claud's accusations and insist they don't know anything about the stolen documents. The lights go out and when they come back on, Sir Claud himself is dead and the envelope he left beside him for the thief to put the documents in is empty. Richard remembers Sir Claud commenting on the bitter taste of his coffee and when Poirot arrives and investigates, he discovers the drink was indeed poisoned.
Poirot begins his careful, trademark interviewing of the members present, sparing no one from suspicion. As he learns more about the family, especially Lucia, he begins to unravel secrets that involve blackmail, spies, and hidden identities. Everyone has motive to want Sir Claud dead and Poirot himself will eventually become the target of the thief, putting his life in jeopardy.
I enjoyed Black Coffee and in fact did guess correctly as to who the murderer and thief were. I did not see the twist concerning Poirot's welfare so that was a fun little side scene in the story. This wasn't a terribly long or complicated case but it did involve a unique backstory for one of the characters and showcased Poirot's compassionate side as he works to clear the name of one he feels strongly to be innocent despite the person's insistence of guilt in some of their life choices.
If you are looking for a quick, engaging mystery to brighten your week this is a good one. Nothing too heavy here, but there is the usual Christie charm and clues to piece together. Happy Halloween everyone!