The Unexpected Guest
Author: ( A Play by Agatha Christie)
Adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne
Screened Year: 1958
To put readers on tenterhooks from the first page to the last needs a skill. It's not a prerequisite that every mysteries or thriller should possess that salient feature. Out of the 13 Agatha books, I have read ' The Unexpected Guest' had that quality.
See how the story opens.
It was a chilly November evening. The tree-lined country road in South Wales coast was shrouded in dense fog, the foghorn giving warning signals every now and then. Though there were a few houses, they were half a miles apart, giving the area a forlorn look.
Nearby a three storeyed mansion his car got stuck in a ditch. Sheer inability to take his vehicle out of it made him walk towards the bungalow.
As his knocks were unanswered, he tried the lock and entered the mansion just to see a man dead in his wheel chair. He was shot and nearby stood a woman with a pistol in her hand.
Without any compulsion, she said she killed the man who was her husband. The suspense started building up when the unexpected guest promised to help her by manipulating the surroundings.
This reminded me of Linwood Barclay's ' No time to say Goodbye'. One day, Cynthia Bigge, a 14-year-old girl woke up to the dreadful fact that her father, mother and brother had vanished without a trace. Before going to bed, the other night she had seen them in flesh and blood and perfectly fine. She had to wait for 25 years to finally know what happened to them.
These kind of beginnings are capable enough to make the reader not to put down such books until they know what had really happened.
The Unexpected Guest is, in fact, a play by Agatha Christie later adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne, an acclaimed journalist, theatre and opera critic, poet and a novelist.
Coming back to our story, I was curious to know how would they manipulate the time of death. It was sure to be revealed during the autopsy. Starkwedder ( the unexpected guest) concocted a story to save Laura Warwick that he had heard a shot and a man came running from the mansion bumped into him dropping a gun and disappeared into the thick fog. It was certain that after the autopsy, the time of death would not match with the time when they said to have heard the shot. But as the story proceeded, I got my answer as it was happening in a night and a day.
Christie had scattered a lot of cues here and there to confuse the reader. Though at the outset, we tend to think that Laura might have committed the crime, we would soon come across many characters who could be possible suspects.
Unlike her other works, this book came across as one with a simple plot but loaded with suspense.
Throwing an unexpected climax is not unusual as far as a Christie book is concerned. But what is always unusal is the sheer climax. 'The Unexpected Guest' is no exception.
Without revealing much, I would like to say that she had easily established one fact through this book that SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING.
Though she had high hopes for her Play Verdict like Mousetrap which gave about 2239 performances, the former failed to repeat the same success. Undeterred by the failure, she immediately came up with The Unexpected Guest which played for a week at the Bristol Hippodrame and then moved on to the Duchess Theatre in the West End of London where it gave about 604 performances in 18 months.
- by Shalet Jimmy