Book Review – Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

books, reviews

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve been feeling dreadful all week, so I haven’t been reading much at night. In order to keep on top of my reading, I managed to sneak in an audiobook at work. As I’ve been feeling rotten, I decided it was only right that I treat myself to an Agatha Christie. I’ve not been reading her as regularly lately, so I’m diving back in with 2 Agatha books this month. Starting with this one. It’s one of the ones that I always tend to forget about but not because I dislike it. It’s just not one of those books that I automatically think of when I have an urge to read some Agatha.

I’m not sure what it says about something if I reveal that my favourite thing about it is the final line. Yet, this statement is true not only of Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot but about Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy. It’s both a fabulous way to end the novel and a line that really captures what is so brilliant about her much-loved Belgian detective. It certainly makes up for his absence for the majority of the narrative. For, even though this is one of Christie’s Poirot novels, this is a mystery that only makes use of his little grey cells near the end. It can’t just be me that is disappointed to pick up a Poirot mystery and remember that he’s just a supporting cast member and not the star of the show. It always makes me a little sad.

Instead, we are guided through the investigation by Sir Charles Cartwright, a famous stage actor, and his two acquaintances. One of them being our old friend Mr Satterthwaite and the other Hermione Lytton Gore, a young woman who prefers to go by the name Egg. It all starts when Sir Charles hosts a dinner party and Reverend Babbington dies suddenly after drinking a cocktail. Though the host suspects murder, there was no trace of poison in the glass and it is brushed off as natural. It is only when Sir Charles’ friend Dr Bartholomew Strange in similar circumstances that foul play is really considered. Can the trio come together to find out who murdered the Reverend and Dr Strange? And what does a missing Butler have to do with it?

This is a classic Christie novel and has plenty of twists and turns to keep any reader happy. It’s one of those endings that isn’t completely obvious from the start but I would also say that it is a little lacklustre. The motivation has never really rung true for me. At least not in the same way as some of her other big reveals. It just feels a bit underwhelming after everything that had come before. She uses techniques here that she had already used plenty of times before, so this certainly doesn’t feel fresh or original. They’ve also been used better in other novels. It’s not that this is a weak or badly written novel. It’s just not up there with her best.

I’d also say that her characterisation isn’t quite as strong here. You don’t get enough of a sense of the suspects during the investigation. Whether this is supposed to be because it is not Poirot taking control or whether it’s an oversight, I don’t know. But it does feel as though you don’t really get a sense of who most people are. Really, there is only one character who stands above the rest as the focal point, so it isn’t exactly shocking when the truth finally comes out. Still, there are more than a few fun moments and Sir Charles is certainly quite the presence in the story.

In terms of the Christie canon, this isn’t one of her top novels but it certainly isn’t down with the worst. It’s just a rather forgettable affair. Something that is quite a shame thanks to the interesting premise. The way that Christie works in the theatre aspect and formats the story. It’s all a lot of fun and adds a new dimension to proceedings. The problem is that the story just isn’t at the same level. It’s not bad but it’s not her best.

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