5* (out of 5*)

“Am I being a complete fanciful ass, or does this business remind you of—of—?’ ‘Of that business at Loomouth? Yes, it does. But of course we may be mistaken. The resemblance may be only superficial. After all, sudden deaths occur the whole time from a variety of causes.’ “

 Really, the whole time? Of course they do … but only if you are a protagonist in an Agatha Christie mystery. And after re-reading Three Act Tragedy very, very slowly this time so I wouldn’t miss anything, I was so drawn into the story I felt like a member of the sleuthing party. And what a party it was!

Seriously, this – in my book – is one of Christie’s best stories. Partly because this is the first one of hers I ever read, and because it is one of the stories where all the clues are there and it is just so much fun piecing them all together.

I should have spelled “fun” in capital letters just there: FUN because the characters are brilliantly intricate and engage in some quite flippant and down-to earth (well, compared to some of Christie’s other characters the cast of Three Act Tragedy is surprisingly and ironically unpretentious) dialogue –

some progressing the line of investigation

“Where’s the body? There’s twelve stone or so of solid butler to be accounted for.”

much more than others:

“Mr Satterthwaite glanced over at Mrs Babbington, who was talking earnestly to Sir Charles on the subject of manure.”

And of course it is “FUN” because not only do we get to enjoy the superb performance(s) of Sir Charles Cartwright, but we also get to catch up with another fellow.

“The fellow is the most conceited little devil I ever met.’ Mr Satterthwaite’s eyes twinkled. He had always been of the opinion that the vainest men in creation were actors. He did not exempt Sir Charles Cartwright. This instance of the pot calling the kettle black amused him. ‘Who is the egoist?’ he asked.”

Yes, you guessed it – Hercule Poirot of whom we learn that:

” ‘That events come to people—not people to events. Why do some people have exciting lives and other people dull ones? Because of their surroundings? Not at all. One man may travel to the ends of the earth and nothing will happen to him. There will be a massacre a week before he arrives, and an earthquake the day after he leaves, and the boat that he nearly took will be shipwrecked. And another man may live at Balham and travel to the City every day, and things will happen to him. He will be mixed up with blackmailing gangs and beautiful girls and motor bandits. There are people with a tendency to shipwrecks—even if they go on a boat on an ornamental lake something will happen to it. In the same way men like your Hercule Poirot don’t have to look for crime—it comes to them.’ “

I must confess I first found the idea of re-reading Three Act Tragedy a little unsettling. What if I didn’t like the book the same as when I first read it? What if my nostalgia for the story tainted my impression of how good a read it was?

Well, it turned out the re-read did not take away any of my appreciation of the story.

And even if it had, the worst that could be said about it is that if a reader

“was fond of mysteries, and he liked observing human nature, and he had a soft spot for lovers. All three tastes seemed likely to be gratified in this affair.”*

*Obviously for “he” read “he or she”.