Last night I finished reading Agatha Christie's 1935 mystery, Three Act Tragedy. I've had it on my shelves for years, but never actually read it before. Christie makes a wonderful jubilee from some of the heavier reading I seem to have been doing of late, and this book not only has a neat plot, it keeps you guessing even while Poirot is doing his usual summing-up at the end. You start to realise who the murderer is, but hope, for the sake of one of the other characters, that it isn't.
It features an actor, Sir Charles Cartwright, and the book is full of references to acting, the stage and the theatricality of normal behaviour - Poirot's included - and the way in which people play at being someone they're not. It also has some of Christie's allusions to the art of writing murder mysteries: the three main characters, who do most of the leg-work for Poirot, continually compare what is happening in their 'real life' to what happens in books. And it has some of Christie's delightful humour (she occasionally compares with P G Wodehouse in her wit), the same sort of humour I noted when I performed in a production of The Mousetrap a couple of years ago. The world of the novel is one that's mostly gone, I suspect - people who live without any obvious means of support, 'penniless' upper class people, and an assortment of servants. And people with names like Mary Lytton Gore, known as 'Egg'. Christie is quite good at names - certainly they're memorable, unlike those in many modern thrillers. Occasionally she goes a little too close to absurdity; is anyone likely to be attracted to a girl with the nickname of 'Egg?'
Christie published some fifty novels in her career, along with 150 short stories, half a dozen romances under a pseudonym, and around twenty plays, so she can forgiven for the occasional dull entry in the canon. This book isn't one of those. The plot is tight, the structure is clever and the clues she lays along the trail are all there - even if we miss them - as well as a good number of red herrings.
On one of my other blogs I've posted a few extracts from the book as well.