I could describe this initially very promising book club read as, well, a fire: it starts off with an explosive bang, burns bright and strong for a while, before slowly dying out. It’s by no means a disaster and I enjoyed many aspects of the novel, but perhaps it simply spread itself too thin, with too many characters, perspectives and story threads competing for space.
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.
I gobbled up this book club read in one go, in about three hours on a lazy Sunday morning. I’m generally a fast reader, but it’s a real testament to Sally Rooney’s clear prose and the irresistible pull of her story about a complicated on-and-off relationship between two young people.
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.