I’ve now plowed through about one third of Agatha Christie’s detective oeuvre (only three more years to go before I finish them all, going by the current pace… wheee), but I’ve only now stumbled on a novel that features and is narrated by Hercule Poirot’s own faithful Watson, Arthur Hastings. I say stumbled because, while the details of the story gradually floated back into my memory the longer I read, especially the undeniably clever ending, this novel had kinda faded from my brain. Though maybe not the most memorable Poirot mystery ever, it’s not without its charms, not the least of which is the friendship between Poirot and Hastings. Everyone likes a bickering couple!
Hercule Poirot takes a midday flight from Paris to London, but thanks to acute motion sickness, can’t take time to observe the ten fellow passengers in his section of the plane. The diverse bunch includes a crime novel writer, a countess with a secret cocaine habit, father and son archaeologists, a Harley Street doctor, a young hairdresser back from a holiday and an attractive dentist in the opposite seat who she’s crushing on. As the plane nears its destination, the stewards make a shocking discovery: one of the passengers, an elderly French lady, is found slumped and dead in her seat.
One of the best things about my Agatha Christie challenge has been learning all sorts of trivia about the books I’ve loved for many many years. I never realised that Dead Man’s Folly was actually written around a real, specific location, namely Greenway House in South Devon. Once the beloved holiday home of Agatha Christie, the estate is now apparently open to the visitors, and if I’m ever in that part of the UK I’ll be sure to look it up.
This enjoyable Poirot novel is one of those Christie books that, despite having a good solid murder mystery at its core, is mostly enjoyable for the aspects other than the actual crime investigation. It’s unusually playful and self-referential at times, with Dame Agatha taking the opportunity to poke fun at her most popular creation.
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.
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.