book review: Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

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THREE ACT TRAGEDY by Agatha Christie
★★★★
originally published in 1934

I’ve been on a bit of an Agatha Christie kick lately. After never having read any of her books, Three Act Tragedy marks the fourth that I’ve read so far in 2017 (following And Then There Were NoneMurder on the Orient Express, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). So far, none have disappointed.

What I find so remarkable about Agatha Christie is that when I read her books, I never have the slightest clue whodunnit. With contemporary mysteries, I find that early on in the book I always have a guess. It’s not always right, but usually 20-30% into the book I point to one character and say with a certain amount of authority, ‘you, I think it was you.’ I’ve yet to be able to do that with Agatha Christie. I still try to take a guess for the sake of being able to say ‘ha, I knew it’ if it ends up being right, but so far I’m 0 for 4. And my guesses are always tenuous at best – I always end up second guessing myself, because there are just so many moving pieces to her mysteries, which always come together in the most unexpected ways. She has that rare ability to make the reader go ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ while creating plots that are so complex there’s almost no way the reader is ever going to figure it out. But you still don’t feel tricked, at the end, because it makes too much sense. There’s such a distinct sort of satisfaction that comes from watching Christie work her magic.

Three Act Tragedy starts with a dinner party thrown by Sir Charles Cartwright, where thirteen guests attend and by the end of the night, one ends up dead. It turns out the victim was just the first in a series of murders that are to unfold over the upcoming months, a mystery that the characters attempt to solve, aided by famous detective Hercule Poirot.

Of the Christie novels I’ve read so far, Three Act Tragedy is the most focused on individual psychology, and how that factors into the crime in question. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that I was impressed by the motive that Christie devised for the murders, as well as the the way she examined the biases which prevented each of the characters who were investigating the case from solving it sooner.

This wasn’t quite as good as And Then There Were NoneMurder on the Orient Express, or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – there’s a reason those are three of her most famous works – but still thoroughly enjoyable and shocking.

I also bought this copy in The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, which is worth a visit for all mystery/thriller fans!

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