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BOOK REVIEW: SPIDER’S WEB … Agatha Christie

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     Spider’s Web was written by none other, than the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie.  It is a novelization by Charles Osborne of the 1954 play of the same name by crime fiction writer Agatha Christie and was first published in the UK by Harper Collins in September 2000 and by St. Martin’s Press in the US on November 11, 2000.

    The book was written, following, the successful novelizations and publication of the 1930 play Black Coffee in 1998, and the 1958 play titled The Unexpected Guest in 1999, of Agatha Christie. Like those books, the novelization of Spider’s Web is also, a straightforward transfer of the stage lines and directions of Christie’s script into a written narrative. This was done by Charles Osborne who chose not to add characters, lines or scenes that would alter in any substantial way, what had been presented on the stage, although, minor amendments were made to produce suitable chapter endings. Osborne contributed a section to the book, on the history of Christie’s plays. ‘Spider’s Web’ is a very intriguing work of Agatha Christie where one can say that her imagination is at her best. Now without beating around the bush let me take you through the plot of this particular novel.

    The story opens in a mansion where a few guests while partying are playing a very peculiar game—a kind of Blind man’s buff. One out of them is blindfolded. He is tasting wine and port from a few bottles, and is attempting to name the brand of the liquor. If he pronounces the correct name he wins the bet. The party is happening at Clarissa Hailsham-Brown’s home. Clarissa Hailsham-Brown is the wife of a foreign diplomat Henry Hailsham-Brown. There are three guests in the house. Clarissa’s godfather Sir Rowland … better known as “Roly” Delahaye, Hugo Birch and a young man named Jeremy Warrender. When Jeremy is given the opportunity of being alone with Clarissa, he confesses his love for her. But Clarissa, sticking to her values of being a faithful wife to Henry and a step mother to Pippa, rejects his proposal. Later when Pippa returns from school she indulges herself in exploring parts of the manor house with Jeremy and in the process she reveals a secret passage inside the house.

    After the brief party, Roly, Hugo Birch and Jeremy all the three guests proceed to the local golf club. Meanwhile, Clarissa is confronted by a visitor in the house. His name is Oliver Costello, who happens to be Pippa’s mother’s second husband as well as a drug addict. He confirms to Clarissa that in future Pippa will have to stay with her mother. Soon, he leaves the house and is escorted out by Miss Peake, the gardener of the manor house. A few minutes later Henry Hailsham-Brown arrives home and innocently reveals about the intended secret arrival of the Soviet Premier in London. He tells Clarissa he has to go and meet him at the local airport and will return later.

    The room empties out when Costello returns for some mysterious reasons and is seen sneaking around the living room. Clarissa soon discovers his body in the drawing-room. It is believed that Pippa has killed him with a golf club in desperation and dilemma. Clarissa gets nervous, she calls the golf club and requests the three guests to return. She devises a plan with the three returning guests (Roly, Hugo Birch and Jeremy) to dispose of the body. But unfortunately, before they can even dispose of the body, the police arrives and they say that they have had an anonymous phone call, suggesting that a murder has taken place at the house. When questioned, Clarissa and the guests all lie about the facts, hoping to cover up the murder that is thought to have been committed by Pippa. Clarissa on being asked to tell the truth, changes her story a number of times and gets herself entangled in a ‘spider’s web’. The police soon find that Costello’s body is missing. It was taken away by Miss Peake to an upper bedroom so that the police wouldn’t come across it while they searched the house, and interviewed the individuals.

    Later, when Jeremy is alone, in an attempt in pretending to comfort Pippa, he tries to smother her with a pillow, but stops short when Clarissa suddenly approaches him. Clarissa, who is shrewd, keen and acute at understanding things, discovers that it is Jeremy who had murdered Charles Sellon, an antique shop owner and the previous owner of the manor house in which she was staying as a tenant, because Charles Sellon had something valuable in his possession that was lying hidden somewhere in this house. The item which Jeremy has been looking for, is somewhere in the house and not at the antique shop. That was why Costello approached Clarissa, thinking that she was Mrs Brown, the owner of the manor house and the partner in his antique shop business.  It is then revealed that Miss Peake is actually Mrs Brown (Clarissa is Mrs Hailsham-Brown). Since Jeremy was on the same mission as Costello, Costello had to be eliminated. The item which the rogues had been looking for was an error postage stamp, which would have fetched a sum of £14,000 which was big money. Jeremy tries to kill Clarissa as she is the only one remaining, who knows about his secret. However, the police are eavesdropping on them and they finally arrest Jeremy. The three guests then leave for their respective homes and Henry too returns home. Clarissa learns that the Premier was not at the airport as part of a security set up, but is still expected to visit the house. The play closes as Clarissa and Henry get ready for the visit of the Premier.

    It is an extremely interesting novel. The language and sentences are Agatha Christies’ typical style that are most enjoyable to read and easy to understand. She conveys the intricacy of a murder mystery with so much easy. Her sentences are loaded with the choicest of words and precise action descriptions. She expresses each expression so diligently and each discussion so precisely. I would give the book seven out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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