During her prolific career, Agatha Christie penned a few spy thrillers, or at least novels with strong elements of international intrigue and espionage, which for me were never on the same level with her best work (I keep putting off re-reading any of the Tommy and Tuppence novels, easily my least favourite Christie series). This book is not a fully fledged espionage novel, more like a strange hybrid of spy thriller and boarding school murder mystery, with Hercule Poirot cameo thrown in the last third for reasons that, one suspects, have nothing to do with story needs. Though flawed and uneven, it’s still quite enjoyable.
Memory is a funny thing; I could remember the setting, the victim and the narrator of this Poirot mystery, but as it turned out my memory of the killer’s identity was completely off. I pinned the deed on the wrong person the whole time I was re-reading the book and naturally, the ending had me gobsmacked.
Oh my god, an Agatha Christie novel I’ve never read before! I can’t claim to have equally strong recollections of all the Christie books I read as a teenager, but Ordeal by Innocence was a genuine blank spot, since somehow it avoided my collecting zeal. Of course, I couldn’t resist trying to figure out the mystery; while I did guess the identity of the murderer before the final reveal, it was probably too late into the book to feel smug about.
While not the most watertight or plausible Christie mystery, Three Act Tragedy is a fun Poirot outing, though it’s also one of the novels where Poirot himself is absent for most of the story. What makes the book memorable is the murderer’s motive, not only unique for Christie but also unlike anything I’ve encountered in crime fiction. When it’s revealed, it’s both outrageous and true to the psychology of the character.
In the foreword she wrote for this novel, Christie names Cards on the Table one of Hercule Poirot’s favourite cases. I guess there’s no arguing with the author who is basically God of her fictional universe, but even so it’s a plausible claim. This case depends almost entirely on psychological sleuthing, and there’s nothing that our favourite Belgian detective enjoys more.
In this novel, Poirot goes on a holiday in Egypt to escape dreadful British winter and has a nice relaxing cruise down the Nile, enjoying sunshine, tranquil balmy evenings and the ancient Egyptian temples. At least, that was the idea before he ends up investigating a murder onboard the river ship. Don’t you hate it when your job keeps following you around?
“Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?”
This Poirot novel was written as Christie’s response to her brother-in-law James, who had complained that her murders were getting too refined and anaemic. You’d hope that James’ craving for a ‘good violent murder’ was satisfied with this locked room murder mystery: its chief victim, a cantankerous wealthy patriarch, is found in a pool of his own blood, his throat cut, after making a noise described by witnesses as “a soul in hell” or “a stuck pig”.