Hallowe’en Party is the latest instalment of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, due to be shown in the UK at 8 p.m. tonight, and as I’ll be away, I’ll be setting my recorder with a view to doing a review soon. For although the original book is one of Agatha’s least impressive, in my opinion, I am told by John Curran that the TV adaptation is excellent. And John, as the author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, is a very good judge of these matters.
This brings me to the question of whether TV adaptations can actually improve on the original book. The acting is crucial, of course, and David Suchet is always good value as Poirot. Much also depends on the quality of the screenplay, and Hallowe’en Party is written by Mark Gatiss, whose many credits include Sherlock and Doctor Who, as well as previous Christie stories. He’s a talented writer, to put it mildly, and more respectful, I think, of the source material than some other TV writers. But with Hallowe’en Party, the challenge unquestionably is to improve on the original, since Christie was nearing the end of her life when she wrote it, and I recall my disappointment as a teenager when I read the first edition. It simply wasn’t a good mystery.
Of course, only a major writer is ever likely to have his or her unsuccessful books adapted for TV. With Christie, the name is a brand, an assurance of enjoyable mystification, and such a strong brand that the quality of the original isn’t the key issue. Several of her masterpieces have been butchered by others over the years (The Sittaford Mystery was one of the most dismal recent examples) and so it will be a pleasing irony if Hallowe’en Party proves to be a triumph.
Good as Colin Dexter’s books were, I think the TV versions did improve upon them, and the same is true of some of the later and weaker Sherlock Holmes stories. On the other hand, the consensus seems to be that the first DCI Banks show did not live up to the standard of the books, while Tim Heald, Liza Cody, Marjorie Eccles and Frances Fyfield were not especially well served by the TV versions of their books. It’s all the luck of draw, I guess.