No one bamboozles quite like crime writer Agatha Christie. The 'Queen of Crime' was renowned for her fiendishly intricate plots and surprise endings, which always managed to play fair by the reader and leave them breathless in the process.
This week, Kenneth Branagh returns to Christie territory with A Haunting in Venice, his loose adaptation of the author's Hercule Poirot mystery Hallowe'en Party. Branagh both directs the movie and stars as Poirot himself, as he has done with previous Christie adaptations Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.
For the latest Poirot puzzler, Branagh taps into the Gothic instincts that earmarked his 1990s thrillers Dead Again and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The famous Belgian sleuth is now pulled into a diabolical crime that strikes while he's visiting atmospheric Venice. One seance and one murder later, and Poirot appears to be tormented by evil from beyond the grave.
Of course, there's likely to be an Earthbound explanation to everything, but getting to that point is all part of the fun. Branagh evidently relishes the shadowy corners of every Venetian palazzo and murky canal path, upping the horror ante above and beyond what we've seen in the previous two Poirot films.
Here are three memorable Christie mysteries that we'd like to see Branagh adapt next...
1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Even though Branagh's existing Poirot adaptations take place, chronologically speaking, after this story, there's great dramatic potential for Branagh to dramatise the character's earlier years as he's confronted by a particularly fiendish conundrum.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is Christie's third book to feature Hercule Poirot, and it's an absolute doozy. Regularly voted one of the greatest crime novels of all time, it throws Poirot in a country house murder mystery, the victim being "a man who knew too much".
Even though Poirot is retired in Christie's original story, Branagh could always re-contextualise things. In his take on Death on the Nile for instance, he imagined the origins of Poirot's celebrated mustache, an event that's absent from the novel, so stringent fidelity to the source shouldn't hold Branagh back from re-interpreting this one.
The cinematic qualities of Christie's infamous twist ending are plain to see for those who have read the book.
2. And Then There Were None
Christie's most famous novel doesn't feature Hercule Poirot, but as a standalone blast of twisty mayhem, it's hard to beat. And Then There Were None has been adapted several times before, for film and TV, and it's high time that someone of Branagh's calibre came along to give it a fresh lick of dramatic impetus.
Those who've read the book will surely remember their jaw falling open by increments as Christie's seemingly impossible narrative takes hold. Several strangers are lured to a remote, off-shore Devonshire island by an unknown benefactor, only to be greeted by the message that they're all going to die as per a haunting nursery rhyme.
Pretty soon, the individuals are dropping like flies. Cut off from the mainland, they realise that the killer must be among them. A future movie adaptation boasts rich potential for claustrophobic terror and fraught ensemble dynamics from an A-list cast. And Branagh's skill with intricate storytelling should do that final remarkable revelation justice.
3. Endless Night
This is one of Christie's lesser-known mysteries and is therefore loaded with potential for a new adaptation. Endless Night, its title clipped from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence, starts benignly enough, as these things often do, with low-born chauffeur Michael Rogers.
When Michael meets and falls in love with an heiress, he imagines a new life for himself on a local country estate that is rumoured to be cursed. What happens next is a bear trap of misdirection and surprise, the story loaded with a Gothic atmosphere that should be catnip to a filmmaker as skilled as Branagh.
Endless Night was reportedly one of Christie's favourites of her own novels, and yet a new cinematic take on the material could more than catch an audience member off-guard given that the book has been overshadowed by its Christie brethren.
Have you got the old grey cells ready to crack Poirot's next case? Click the link below to book your tickets for A Haunting in Venice, opening on September 15th