O what a tangled web we weave...

O what a tangled web we weave…

“Copplestone Court, the elegant, eighteenth-century country home of Henry and Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, set in gently undulating hills country in Kent, looked handsome even at the close of a rainy March afternoon.”

A couple of months ago, a new Poirot book was released, penned by Sophie Hannah. Called The Monogram Murders, it became the first new tale about Agatha Christie’s famous detective released by a different author. I haven’t read it, and the reviews have shown the very definition of a “mixed reception“. Many feel that Hannah has been unable to capture the original charm, wit and pacing of the Queen of Crime. However, she isn’t the first to adapt another of Christie’s projects for a novel.

Spider’s Web was originally a play, but around the turn of the millennium it and two others of her plays, Black Coffee and The Unexpected Guest, were turned into novels by Charles Osborne. An adaptation from book-to-play hasn’t occured since 1981, but Osborne got the permission to turn things the other way around and give more people access to the stories that had originally been penned for the stage.

In this one, we once again find ourselves in a fancy mansion full of well-to-do people. Clarissa Hailsham-Brown has friends staying and while she’s playing the perfect host, Oliver Costello, the new husband of Mr Hailsham-Brown’s ex-wife turns up, somewhat shocked to see Clarissa, but demanding that Pippa, his now stepdaughter, come with him to be with her real mother. Clarissa refuses and Costello is escorted from the premises. However, just a short while later, Clarissa returns to the drawing room to find Costello’s dead body sprawled out behind the sofa. Convinced that Pippa is responsible for the murder, she calls her friends back from the golf club and insists that they help her in hiding the body, taking it out to the woods where it can be found later with no connexion to herself.

But then the police arrive, and as the web of lies becomes more and more entangled, who will be the first to blow their cover?

I’ve read another of Osborne’s adaptations, Black Coffee, and while I liked both that one and this, they do have the same primary issue. Because they were originally written as scripts, they still read rather like that. The story takes place in one room, characters actions are described almost like they’re just the stage directions put into prose instead of script form, giving the whole thing a smidge of a wooden feeling. It’s very easy to picture it as a play. These may not necessarily be bad things, because I enjoy the plays as much as I do the books, but it can make you feel a little like you’re reading the original script instead of a novel.

Osborne has, however, done a good job of keeping the same sense of atmosphere as Christie originally did, and it’s clearly her. It’s all very typically Christie: rather funny, peppered with red herrings and packed with twists and lies that become more and more harder to break out of as the novel progresses. Clarissa is established early on as a woman who enjoys making up stories and her natural affinity for lying comes in incredibly useful when the police show up and she has to recreate a fictional evening so as not to incriminate her family or friends.

There’s a satisfying conclusion and, as usual with Christie, the answers are all there if you know what you’re looking for.