The 1934 Agatha Christie novel Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? has always been a favorite of Hugh Laurie. He loved the mysterious name, the sharp writing and the witty banter between the two major sleuths. Laurie first read the novel when he was a youngster.

His love of the novel resulted in Laurie producing, directing and adapting the novel for a three-episode series to launch on the streaming service of Britbox on April 12. For good measure, Laurie also portrays Dr. James Nicholson, the Clinical Director of the sanatorium near Merroway Court.

Laurie admits he always imagined himself in the role of the local Vicar’s son, Bobby Jones (Will Poulter) as he and his whip-smart friend, socialite Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent (Lucy Boynton) go on a crime-solving adventure after they discover the crumpled body of a dying man who, with his last breath, gasps the cryptic question of the title. Armed only with a photograph of a young woman found in the dead man’s pocket, these amateur detectives look to solve the mystery.

Casting himself as the young sleuth would not work. But, Laurie admits he had another deep passion in connection with the book – Frankie Derwent.

“The heroine of ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’ was always my first-ever crush. I wanted to be Bobby Jones, but only to allow me to spend time with Frankie Derwent because I found her absolutely intoxicating because she’s quick and funny and bold and ready to take a chance. I just found her such good company. I was completely knocked over,” Laurie says. “I was a young lad and I became utterly beguiled by Frankie Derwent.”

Even with his love of the characters, Laurie had not done much writing over the past two decades. He has been busy starring in everything from the TV shows “House” and “Veep” to feature films such as “Tomorrowland” and “The Personal History of David Copperfield.”

He wasn’t thinking about taking on a huge Christie project when he had a meeting about playing a role in another of her novels.  In the course of that conversation, Laurie happened to mention “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” and he was told there were hopes of making that into a TV or film project one day. He knew there was not a major role for him if that happened but expressed his desire to be part of the production as the writer.

Laurie talked about how he saw the book as a clever murder mystery with a slight screwball quality. That was what he found so remarkable about the book.

“This I believe is unique for Agatha Christie, it maybe even be unique for murder mysteries,” Laurie says. “The real mystery is not who the killer is.  I mean that is a mystery and we have to track that down and he or she must be apprehended and brought before the law.

“But the real mystery is what does the question of the title mean?  It’s like a 100-dimension Wordle where you’re trying to solve this puzzle and until you solve it, it’s not really satisfying.  You might catch the killer, but until you understand, decipher the question and answer the question, it doesn’t really satisfy.”

Taking on the project gave Laurie a chance to bring to life the literary charter that had beguiled him as a youth. To do that, it meant Laurie would have to adapt the writings of one of the most honored mystery writers in history.

The esteem in which Christie is held caused Laurie a lot of stress. He went into the project knowing he had to be extremely careful and reverent with his adaptation of the legions of fans who love her books would not hesitate to share their wrath.

He knows how adaption of Christie’s work can miss the mark having seen several productions that overlooked the tone and the spirit of the work. Laurie considered it a daunting honor to work on the project.

“You feel like you’re taking a Fabergé egg and you’d better not drop it because plenty of people will point out that you’ve dropped a Fabergé egg,” Laurie says. “And, so, it could be both good and bad in a way.”

As for the tone and spirit of “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”, Laurie has always thought the novel had a comic spirit to it. His theory – that is based on no real evidence – is that Christie published this novel a year after Dashiell Hammett published “The Thin Man.” He is convinced Christie either read “The Thin Man” or she saw the film which came out the same year.

He goes on to suggest that Christie was animated by that story and she wanted to imbue the characters in her book with the same kind of playfulness and spirit.

“Ultimately, it’s a kind of realism because people are funny,” Laurie says. “When I watch a film that has not a whisper of wit to it or humor, it’s not that I’m disappointed by that absence, I just don’t believe it as much because I think the way people respond to all kinds of things – fear, love, anger – (is that) they very often resort to jokes as a way of processing those strong emotions.

“I think that Agatha Christie deliberately set out to do something that had more of a comic spirit to it than perhaps some of her previous novels.”