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Book Review: The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie
Drew Payne posted a blog entry in Words, Words and WordsThis play opens with a startling image. In a sitting room, at night, a man lies dead in his wheelchair while standing over him is his wife holding the gun that killed him. Onto this scene stumbles a man, a stranger to this household. But instead of calling for the police, or even calling for help, the man, the unexpected guest of the play's title, starts to coach the woman in how to get away with the murder of her husband. Agatha Christie had an equally successful career as a playwright as well as a novelist. She is Britain’s most successful woman playwright, her play The Mousetrap is the world's longest running play. But we often forget about this. The Unexpected Guest is a fine example of her murder mystery plays. This one opens with a corpse stage left, but she doesn't treat her plot like a typical detective story. Here the plot comes out of the characters' actions, their reactions to the murder. There is a police inspector and his sidekick sergeant, but these two are much more plot devices so we, the audience, can be told the physical facts of this murder and have the backstory of the dead man explained to us, and this corpse was asking for someone to shoot him. But the real crime solving comes from the interactions of the characters themselves. There are some of her stock characters here. The elderly woman who knows her son too well, the servant who wants to supplement their low wages with a bit of blackmail, and an abused wife who is far from a victim. She does handle these characters well, making the plot flow from them. She makes an interesting comment with the reactions of two of her characters. When a woman thinks a man committed murder for her, she becomes protective over him, standing by him and trying to defend him. When a man thinks a woman has killed for him, he wants to distance himself from her as quickly as possible, leaving her to her fate on her own. However, her treatment of the disabled characters is very of its time and creeks uncomfortably. The victim is a wheelchair-bound man who is so bitter and angry that he could drive anyone to kill him. There's a young man with learning difficulties who is overly excitable and easily manipulated. What is so enjoyable here is the twisting plot. At first we are given a thriller where the question is will this woman get away with murder; then the first twist turns it into a mystery were we don't know who the killer is. After that the plot delivers several twists ending with the last twist where one character is left alone on the stage as the final curtain falls. A play script, even the best play script ever written, is only the third of a great play, the other two-thirds being the acting, direction and staging. As good a read as this play script is, I would still much prefer to see a well-acted and staged production of this play. But plays are written to be acted and not just read. Find it here on Amazon