Picks and Pans Review: Black Coffee

UPDATED 11/02/1998 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/02/1998 at 01:00 AM EST

by Agatha Christie

Page-turner of the week

Just when it seems almost every mystery you open features a serial killer or a designer virus, along comes this bracing throwback to a time when even crime—at least the fictional kind—was considerably more genteel.

Coffee's retro flavor is the real deal. Penned for the stage in 1929 by the British suspense doyenne, the vintage tale—about a prominent physicist who summons detective nonpareil Hercule Poirot to his Surrey estate because he suspects a plot to purloin his latest discovery—was adapted into a novel by author Charles Osborne (The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie). Fanciers of the English chintz-and-crumpet caper will savor all the deliriously old-fashioned conventions here, from the locked-room crime scene to the viperous family circle of suspects. Like antique china, you wouldn't want to trot out Coffee every day—but for a gracious pick-me-up, it's just what the butler ordered. (St. Martin's, $22.95)

Bottom Line: Classic conundrum

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