Sunday, October 23, 2011

Three-Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

66. Three-Act Tragedy - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1934
Kindle book, 42
finished, 10/11/11

Three Act Tragedy is one of my favorite Agatha books so far. Mr. Satterthwaite is one of the main characters, and I learned from my Who's Who that he makes an appearance in a few other stories and books:

The Mysterious Mr. Quin, Dead Man's Mirror, The Love Detectives, and The Harlequin Tea Set. He is attending a party given by a retired actor who has moved to the seaside. A beloved local rector suffers a seizure and dies after drinking his cocktail. Though everyone is terribly upset, it is declared an accident. He was in his sixties and had been having some health problems. But the host of the party, Sir Charles Cartwright meets with his doctor friend Bartholomew Strange and Mr. Satterthwaite, and expresses his concern that it might be murder. He is upset because he is the one who mixed the cocktails. When another death occurs in the same manner some time later, with many of the same people present, it begins to look like he had reason to wonder.

The book is set up like a three act play.
First Act: Suspicion, with five chapters
Second Act: Certainty, with seven chapters
Third Act: Discovery, with fifteen chapters
Yet another new way of presenting a mystery. There was no moss growing under Agatha Christie's feet. She is adventurous in her writing, not sticking to a formula, always coming up with something new. People often refer to a 'typical' Christie book where all the suspects are brought into a room and the detective presents the story of what happened and whodunnit. Yes, this does often happen, but before the denouement each book is different in presentation, characters, and plot. I've written it before, but I do proclaim this woman was a genius.

Apparently this book isn't viewed as one of her best, but I do not agree. I found the characters very interesting, particularly Mr. S. I liked 'listening' to the conversations between these men. The book also features one of my favorite Agatha Christie 'types' - the plucky, strong-minded, energetic young woman. In this book she is Miss Lytton Gore who has the nickname 'Egg.'

I've seen the title hyphenated, and presented without the hyphen. As too often happens in publishing, the book has another title in England, Murder in Three Acts, which I actually like better. But in this case, not only is the name different but the two editions differ in the motive of the killer. I read an explanation online but I won't offer it here because it gives away too much of the story.


  1. It's been a long time since I read this book. It was one of the ones filmed this year, with Poirot substituted for Mr. Satterthwaite. Did not know that about the British and American versions being different in motive. How odd.

    Have you read any of her plays? I read a book years ago that contained a bunch of her plays. There were many that were books and also plays. Some of them had different motives, different murderers, different all around. I like reading plays occasionally and enjoyed them. It's how I first read THE MOUSETRAP, which is wonderful. Wish I could see that one acted sometime.

  2. As soon as I can spot some Christie mysteries at an estate sale I'll bring them home. Alas our local library in my suburb is James Patterson all the time. I did get about ten Nero Wolfe mysteries yesterday for 20 cents apiece at a moving sale. Also a set of Dorothy Sayers. And 3 Donna Leon books! I have seven days off coming up. My plan is deep housecleaning, walking , and reading-

  3. As the chicken is roasting with the Russet potatoes for our Sunday dinner, I'm reading Murder in The Vicarage on my nook. It's a Miss Marple mystery; there's nothing like a bit of Agatha Christie on a cool autumn day! How similar we are, Nan. Now I'm off to look up your post about the 'blogging compulsions'...or however you expressed them.

  4. I like the idea of a who's who book. She definitely had a very creative mind for making up mysteries.

  5. Oh for sure, MURDER IN THREE ACTS is a much better title. I haven't read this in a long time, Nan.

    But I remember 'Egg'. Christie always thought up the best names for her young plucky girls.

    They recently did this on Mystery and used Hercule Poirot in place of Satterthwaite. Typical.

    Also, in the filmed version, you can easily tell who the killer is by the casting.

  6. I wish that Christie's books didn't have so many alternative titles. In a case like "And Then They Were None," where the original title would be considered very offensive by today's audience, I understand and approve of the title change. But I really don't know why the American editions have to have different titles. It's frustrating because I'll see a title and say, "Oh, yay! I haven't read that one yet!" But then I look at the description and realize that I have already read it, or worse yet, I don't realize until I've read the first few chapters. If Christie hadn't been such a prolific author, perhaps it wouldn't be so hard to keep all the titles straight. I guess that's the bright side--she left us with so many books to enjoy!


  7. I never heard of this A.C. book, I'll have to check it out! Thanks for the review!

  8. I envy your reading through Agatha Christy for the first time. I read and reread them for years. I knew when you spoke lovingle of her and Gladys Taber I would like many of your choices. On your recommendation, I whipped through the Deborah Crombie books. Thanks! Pam

  9. I haven't read them, Kay, but back when Tom and I first went to England in the 1970s we saw The Mousetrap, simply because we read it had played for so long. I think it still is playing. Amazing. I barely knew who AC was then - just her name. I am a late bloomer when it comes to reading her work, though I enjoyed the Joan H. Miss Marples a long while ago. I wonder why I never picked them up to read back then?

    Lucky you, Betsy, on the Nero Wolfe purchases! I do love those books. Does your library participate in the Inter Library Loan system? If so, you might be able to get older mysteries that way.

    Lovely picture you painted, Bellezza. (other than the meat, of course!) This is the first book I read on my kindle:

    Ann, it is a very helpful reference. She had SO many characters.

    Yvette, as much as I adore the actors who play Poirot and Hastings, I've had such a hard time with the stories on tv, that I've given up watching them. They rarely live up to what I 'saw' in the books. Makes me sad because I do like the visuals, but that's the way it is.

    Karen, it's the same with P.G. Wodehouse. He wrote like a zillion books and stories, and they often change names as they travel 'across the pond.'

    Sherri, it's a good story.

    Val, they are really good characters, as is the doctor. Such a good book.

    Pam, that is really wonderful. Makes me glad that I write about the authors I love. Thanks for telling me this.

  10. Nan, I agree with you about the latest batch of Poirot and Miss Marple stories. Simply AWFUL.

    Anyone who doesn't know the books will be dumbfounded if they go from the show to the books. They are SO different. And not in a good way.

    I dislike the casting of the recent two Miss Marples. Saw one, and that was it for me.

    I love Suchet, but the stories are a botch.

    I say: read the books and watch the very early PBS mysteries which were faithful to the books.

    When I'm in a mood to watch any Christie, I watch Joan Hickson as Miss Marple - those early shows were wonderful. She was the perfect Miss Marple.

    David Suchet is wonderful, the stories - not so much.

  11. Nan: I agree with you and with Yvette. I also liked Three-Act Tragedy and especially Mr. Saterthwaite. He is such an unstated character but so observant and filled with common sense. Only an idiot would erase him out of the story. (Sorry, that was a little harsh.)

  12. Margot, I ordered an old used copy of The Mysterious Mr. Quin so I'll be spending some more time with Mr. S!

  13. Mr Satterthwaite and Egg are both great characters, aren't they? That's one of the things I like most about her - although Poirot and Miss Marple are regulars, each book tends to have one or two characters that stand out and become the main characters just for that book. It keeps them feeling fresh.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read, and comment! I completely agree.


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