Copyright 1934, reprinted by
The Berkley Publishing Group, 2005
Three Act Tragedy is the 16th mystery novel by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie and the 9th to include Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. As was common with several of Christie's mystery novels, Three Act Tragedy was published under two different titles. First in the UK in 1934 as Three Act Tragedy and then in the United States in early 1935 as Murder in Three Acts.
Three Act Tragedy is divided into three Acts like in a play, though the story reads as a novel.
Act 1: "Thirteen guests arrive for a feast at Sir Cartwright's estate overlooking the sea. Among them, the estimable sleuth Hercule Poirot. One sip of a pre-dinner cocktail -- an excellent and very dry martini -- and the local rector drops dead."
Act 2: Another dinner party, another drink, another death.
Act 3: "Who's turning an intimate dinner party into a ghastly crime scene? And who's next? Leave it to Poirot to bring down the final curtain."
What's interesting about this novel is the fact that although it's a mystery solved by Hercule Poirot it takes a while before he makes a regular appearance in the story. While Poirot is present in the first Act he doesn't make another appearance until a few chapters into the second Act. In the meantime the deaths are investigated by Mr. Satterthwaite, Sir Cartwright and Lady "Egg" Lytton Gore.
This was indeed a clever mystery by the Queen of Crime and as is often the case with her novels some things weren't as they seemed and others were just as they seemed. Up could be down and down could be up. It was a fast and thrilling story, but not (in my opinion) one of her best works. It was good, but not great.
While I had my suspicions of "who dun it" throughout the novel I ended up being surprised both by who had committed the crimes and by their motives. In the past I've attempted to solve the crime before the detective and once I was successful, but for the most part I fail to take enough time considering the facts and thus end up missing something. I didn't seriously attempt to solve Three Act Tragedy, but instead read it for its entertainment value rather than taking the story plot seriously and puzzling my way through to the end. Perhaps that makes me a lazy mystery reader... but oh well.
I found the dialog in Three Act Tragedy to be particularly witty, with various sections I ended up quoting in my Book of Books. It was also, in a way, a romance, though this angle wasn't played up nearly as well as in some of Christie's earlier works, i.e. Murder on the Links (sorry no review) and The Man in the Brown Suit (reviewed).
In the end I enjoyed Three Act Tragedy while it lasted, but it doesn't rank as one of my top favorites by Agatha Christie. I'm glad I read it, but there are others I've read that I would recommend first before this novel. On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate Three Act Tragedy a 3 to 3.5. It is well-written, has clever dialog and an unusual plot, but it was good, not great.
Stay tuned for my next mystery review: Death in the Clouds. To see my other Agatha Christie reviews click on the Agatha Christie label.