book review: Three Act Tragedy, by Agatha Christie

a novel conceit but not among the better Poirot outings

A retired (but still youngish and handsome) actor holds a dinner party and – surprise! – a guest is murdered! (One thing I enjoyed about Christie’s book of short stories, Poirot Investigates, was that occasionally Poirot investigated something besides a murder. So much murder, quite exhausting.) The actor, his young and attractive admirer, and another friend play the detective. Although the famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is present at the first murder, he does not get involved in the case until more than halfway through the book. I found it a pity, as his special charm (and pleasant arrogance) always warms the page.

The ending of this case felt less resolved than many. We learn who the murderer is, and something of the reason, but it feels less tidily wrapped up; and Poirot seems to rely on that old method: Accuse the murder a few times until he confesses, even in the absence of very solid evidence. (We often see this in courtroom dramas: Bad guys always explode and say unwise things if righteous prosecutors badger them enough.)

Yet I still stayed up late finishing it. It’s not The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd, but then again, it’s also not The Big Four (horrible).  [The other month I was in Brazil and saw a copy of The Big Four translated into Portuguese, and I thought, Of all the Poirot novels to translate, not THAT one!]

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