Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Unexpected Guest

The Unexpected Guest (1999) by Agatha Christie (1954; play version) and Charles Osborne (novel adaptation)

The unexpected guest is Michael Starkwedder who has come to Wales to visit the country of his mother's youth and perhaps buy a house. The night is foggy and he runs his car into a muddy ditch. When he goes for help at the nearest house, he finds that he's not the only unexpected guest there--death has visited the home of Richard and Laura Warwick. The master of the house, Richard, lies dead of a gunshot wound and Laura stands nearby with the gun in her hand. She swears that she has killed her husband because he was cruel to her and others in the house, but Michael doesn't believe her. He thinks she's covering for someone else and he decides to help her fool the police. They manufacture evidence pointing towards a man who swore vengeance on Richard after he ran over the man's son. (Richard was exonerated of guilt because the nurse who was with him swore he was sober and driving under the speed limit.) But when the police try to track the vengeful MacGregor down, they find that he died some time ago in Canada. 

So who did it? Did Laura really kill her husband after all. Maybe it was her lover--the man Michael thinks Laura is covering for. As the story goes on, everyone from Richard's mother to his half-brother to his secretary/housekeeper to his valet/male nurse seems to have a motive to do away with the unpleasant man--or at least to shield someone they think did it. So they all look suspicious. The police decide they've found their man/woman in the end...but did they?

I'm very tempted to count this for 1954 (for a couple of challenges)--while the novelization was published in 1999, Osborne has, according to Wikipedia, not added one jot or iota to the Christie play. "The novelisation is a straightforward transfer of the stage lines and directions of Christie's script into a written narrative." The book's play roots are pretty apparent, especially when stage directions are worked into the narrative. For example, "He crossed to the french window, held back a curtain, and peered out as though seeking inspiration." But the story itself is worthy of Dame Agatha and the fact that I spotted the killer doesn't detract from that--especially since I just latched onto the person as soon as they came on the scene and didn't really worry about whether clues were pointing that way or not. It would be nice to see the play (or read the script) and see exactly how Christie intended it. ★★ and 1/2.

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