|In Agatha Christie's Poison Garden|
Torre Abbey, Torquay, England
In Agatha Christie's play Black Coffee, the Amory family finds a selection of drugs previously kept by Edna, one of Sir Claud Amory's daughters. Like the author, Edna worked in a dispensary during World War I, during which she accumulated this cache. Since the war, Edna has settled in India, while her father Sir Claud, the famed scientist, has worked on a formula to split the atom.
Among "the spoils of war," as the family members term the collection, they find Iodine, Castor Oil, Morphine, and a drug called Hyoscine. Dr. Carelli, a houseguest, states that an overdose of Hyoscine would bring no pain, but merely a dreamless sleep from which one would never awaken. Lucia, the daughter-in-law of Sir Claud, is seen taking some of the Hyoscine pills.
After Sir Claud dies, the doctor pronounces that the scientist was poisoned. Naturally, the only thing that stands between Lucia and a murder charge is Hercule Poirot.
|Deadly Nightshade, from which Hyoscine is made,|
Torre Abbey, Torquay, England
According to Matthew Pritchard, Agatha Christie's grandson, the author wrote Black Coffee in 1929 after a stage adaptation of her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd disappointed her. The play, adapted to novel form by Charles Osborne, offers a unique and interesting insight to the author's views on life, as well as the consciousness of the age. Most of us think of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s as the beginning and end of the development of the atomic bomb. Yet a decade-and-a-half before the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan during World War II, Christie's character Sir Claud is working on a formula for splitting the atom.
While his family view him as stern, stingy, reclusive figure, the world cherishes the scientist as a benefactor, despite the destructive nature of his research. Sir Claud dubs his finished formula Amorite, which seems odd, as most people know that the Spanish word "amor" is translated as love. The world loves Sir Claud Amory, and in return, he will share the fruits of his labor, Amorite, with the world? While making social commentary on human nature, Christie is unknowingly foretelling how the fruits of military researchers will blossom in the future.
As in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Hercule Poirot visits the grand country house. There, he cannot help rearranging unsymmetrical items on a mantlepiece. Again, the item that concerns him most is a spill vase. Every time he enters the room, he sees the spill vase has been moved. At the novel's climax, he connects one of the witnesses' comments with the rolled up scrap paper used to transfer fire from fireplace to fireplace. "What is it I have in this vase?" he asks his friend and companion Hastings.
"Why, spills, of course," Captain Hastings replies.
"No, mon ami, it is cheese," Poirot replies. "You use it to bait a mousetrap."
In the early 1950s, Christie wrote her most famous play. The Mousetrap would go on to become the longest-running play in world history. I've never scene it performed, or read an adaptation. I don't know if it contains Hyoscine, Amorite, or even spills kept in a spill vase above a fireplace. But twenty years earlier, Christie seems to be sowing creative seeds she will reap two decades later when she likens the spills to cheese for a mousetrap.
And as for those paper spills, which people used to save money over the more expensive matches? After Hercule Poirot saves Lucia from a charge of murder, the famous scientist's daughter-in-law lights a match, uses it to burn the spill, and then tosses the burning paper into the fireplace. How's that for taking family story elements, and presenting them in a new and interesting way?