RogerBW's Blog

Ordeal By Innocence 13 December 2021

2014 audio adaptation by Joy Wilkinson of Christie's 1958 mystery, in three 30-minute episodes. Dr Arthur Calgary has been in the Antarctic – during which the man to whom he gave a lift one rainy night, for whom Calgary might have given an alibi, has been convicted of the murder of his mother and died in prison. But the family is oddly ungrateful for the news…

This is much more psychological than most of Christie's work, and while it's one of the several books that she claimed at various times were her favourite, it's not at all typical. Interesting, then, to give it to Joy Wilkinson (after she'd done quite loose adaptations of Towards Zero and Murder Is Easy), who feels free to change things around in order to improve the radio story. (There's none of the business about Calgary forgetting about the maybe-murderer Jacko until he's reminded by a photograph; but replacing it means giving him a year and more of coma. After that he's visited by the lawyer when he wakes up so that he, and the reader, are briefed on the situation before he goes to the house.)

Also of course using Tina's "half-caste" heritage as the explanation for why she's so wild and immature doesn't really stand up very well now. In fact there's quite a bit in the book about how if only Dead Rachel had had her own children rather than adopting orphans then none of this horribleness would have happened… "Everything that environment could do was done for them. It could do a great deal, but it could not do everything. There had been those seeds of weakness which had brought them to the nursery in the first place, and under stress those seeds might bear flower." Yes, all right, it's somewhat subverted even in the book, but it's a style of biology-is-destiny which was creaking even as a distraction in the 1950s. The problem is that taking it out for the adaptation and not replacing it with anything else leaves a bunch of people who are just randomly nasty, and that's not much more satisfying.

The cast do their jobs; nobody particularly stands out, except alas for Wanda Opalinska as Kirsten, whose accent is partly Polish and partly something else but not even slightly Swedish. ("Her English was excellent but a faint foreign intonation remained", in the book, so there was no need to do much.)

The ending is tweaked, to make an almost farcical scene with Calgary and the murderer on their own in a car, and an appropriate death for the killer. It's rather a shift towards the conventional from a book that had more sympathy for the murderer and a probable off-stage capture by the police – but this is a mystery book more than it's about the mechanics of justice being done.

As with the other Wilkinson adaptations I've heard this starts to get away from being just a plain translation and approaches being interesting in its own right.

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