Defying Conventions: Reading Agatha Christie’s Third Act Tragedy

pg-29-christie-1-getty (1)Needless to say, Agatha Christie is one of the world’s most loved detective-fiction writers. It is no small job to have created two iconic sleuths who stand out as perfect epitomes of shrewdness, cunning, wit and exceptional observation power. The world reveres Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple even today, three decades after her death. Though her fourth Poirot book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, has been unanimously declared as her masterpiece, every book written by the undisputed Queen of Crime is worthy of admiration and acclaim.


Three Act Tragedy, published in 1934, is the eleventh novel in the Poirot series. It was originally titled Murder in Three Acts. It follows two friends, Mr.Satterthwaite and Mr. Charles Cartwright, a stage actor, as they try to investigate three mysterious murders that had taken place in succession and in the same manner. Astoundingly, there is no apparent link between the murders and no common suspects and predictably, it is only when Hercule Poirot intervenes, that the murder is solved. The murderer (in an unexpected and unanticipated climax that is Christie’s forte) is revealed to be Mr. Charles himself.

This is a pretty unconventional mystery, where only one murder out of the three is actually motive-driven, the first murder being a mere ‘dress rehearsal’, and the last one a ‘cover-up’. Though not the same, the literary technique used here is pretty similar to the ‘unreliable narrator’ technique that Christie used so adroitly in Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Endless Night. Here too, one of the principal characters (Mr. Charles appeared to be a kind of pseudo-detective throughout the narrative), whose investigations chronicle the mystery for the readers, is proclaimed the murderer in the end. Also, another high-point of the novel is the presence of a non-existent character (the absconding butler, Ellis, who is eventually revealed to be Sir Charles in disguise), whose propagated throughout as the primary suspect. Like most of Christie’s books, this one too leaves you with a sense of having been deceived, which makes it all the more easier to exalt Hercule Poirot as the ‘perfect detective’, and to label this novel a perfect murder mystery.

To carry the hyperboles further, Agatha Christie’s novels (especially Poirot ones), for readers galore, form the face of Popular Literature. Christie’s genius in the domain of murder mysteries is unprecedented. And being the most published author after the Bible and Shakespeare, she and her stories are not going to be erased from our minds anytime soon.

Swara Shukla

About For a book lover, writer, interestingness hunter and a curious mind at large. We are blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

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