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!]

book review: Buckingham Palace Gardens, by Anne Perry

murder AND class rivalry: oh my!

A friend gave me this on my last trip, and I just finished it on the bus from NYC to Washington DC. A century or so ago, four men with their wives are gathered at Buckingham Palace to discuss a massive infrastructure investment with the Prince. One morning, a prostitute is found murdered in a closet. Thomas Pitt, working class detective now risen to Special Services (or something of that sort), is called in.

Ups: The mystery is interesting, and every time I thought it was solved, I was wrong. Overlaying the mystery is a massive amount of class insecurity and reflection from the servants to the working class individuals like Pitt.

Downs: Elsa, one of the wives, spends a lot of time ruminating about love in a not very interesting way. I daresay Perry could have left some of that in Elsa’s unobserved mind.

I enjoyed it, but I doubt I’ll rush out to read more Anne Perry. I admit that I enjoy the simplicity of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, very focused on the mystery itself and less on the people. Perhaps that makes them lesser “literature,” but it allows them to fill one purpose very well, which is what I seek from them.

Note on content: No sexually explicit scenes, but there was a party in the palace the night before the prostitute was murdered, and – despite Pitt’s disapproval – he must ask some carefully phrased questions. A bit of gore at the crime scenes. Grotesque classism on display.