Three Act Tragedy (Hercule Poirot #11), by Agatha Christie

Seven stars

Another Agatha Christie mystery is sure to bring out my sleuthing side. The Hercule Poirot series serves to challenge me on a regular basis, forcing me to think outside the box and use my “little grey cells” repeatedly. While not the best of Christie’s pieces in this series, the story is strong and flows well, making it an entertaining piece to pass the time.

The town is abuzz when Sir Charles Cartwright assembles a small dinner party at his home. The one-time leading start of London’s theatre community, Cartwright is sure to make all the effort to entertain his guests in Cornwell. Especially with the guest list he has in mind.

The assembled thirteen are from a number of professions, making the gathering all the more exciting. While some would presume the number of guests will prove unlucky, it is not until Reverend Stephen Babbington chokes on his cocktail and dies that things take a true turn. After a fit of convulsions, Babbington toppled over and questions arose as to whether one of the group could be a murderer. However, laboratory analysis proved that there was no poison, leaving the official cause of death as being natural, at least for a time.

With one of the guests being the famed retired Belgian police detective, Hercule Poirot, clues are sought and relationships unveiled. Trouble is, Poirot cannot find a motive for anything and is left baffled. It is only later that pure nicotine is fingered as the untraceable poison used, and another body turns up dead at a similar party. Might the killer have struck again, perhaps to silence someone, or even readjust the target?

When Poirot returns to compare the two murders to one another, he begins to find subtle clues as to what they could both mean and how a motive could soon emerge. It will take Poirot’s intuition and dedication to the truth to learn everything there is to know and catch a killer before it’s too late. Christie uses many of her skills to plot this piece out and entertain her reading public.

I always enjoy challenging myself when Agatha Christie has another Poirot novel for me to read. I find myself learning a great deal, not only about England at the time, but the nuances of detecting, while I read through these books. Christie is sharp with her delivery, succinct in her storytelling, and poignant with the characters she uses. I’ll eagerly continue the series to see what other mysteries I can uncover and how Poirot grows on me.

As I have said in past reviews, Hercule Poirot is quite the character, though he prefers to live in the present. His detective work is second to none, though the subtleties can sometimes be a little too slow going, as I want answers in short order. His impact in this book was the presence and discovering the murderer, rather than offering added backstory or development of his own character. I’m hoping for something more in the coming novels, as I do like my characters to have depth and no remain static for long periods.

This novel was divided into three acts, a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that one of the main characters is a popular London stage actor. While the book’s division seemed intriguing, it did not properly separate things as I would have liked. I hoped for something more symbolic throughout. All the same, the narrative did flow nicely and moves from one scene to the next, offering up a handful of strong characters who did their jobs effectively. Mid-length chapters served to keep the reader engaged with the piece and did not deter me from reading larger chunks at a time. I’m ready for more Poirot and whatever adventures he discovers.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for proving that you are the Queen of Mystery. I hope there is more action to come soon and Poirot can make a great impact.