Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cool Down with AC - Three Act Tragedy Discussion

Summary: Sir Charles Cartwright should have known better than to allow thirteen guests to sit down for dinner. For at the end of the evening one of them is dead—choked by a cocktail that contained no trace of poison. 

Predictable, says Hercule Poirot, the great detective. But entirely unpredictable is that he can find absolutely no motive for murder... -- Harper

As part of the Cool Down with Agatha Christie that's taking place this summer, I am hosting a few readalongs of Hercule Poirot books. The first one is THREE ACT TRAGEDY by Agatha Christie. Before I jump in with the discussion, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about this novel.

THREE ACT TRAGEDY is the first Hercule Poirot book that I've read in many, many years -- probably 25 or so. I am almost positive that I didn't read this novel as a kid because I think I would have remembered the original way that Ms. Christie set up the novel. I loved how the beginning of the book looked just like a play program with the three acts and their separate scenes; and I thought the credits (i.e. Directed by Sir Charles Cartwright, Illumination by Hercule Poirot, etc.) were also a cute idea. In addition, I liked all of the references to the theater, both the authentic ones as well as the satiric ones!

As far as mysteries go, I loved THREE ACT TRAGEDY! There's definitely a reason that Agatha Christie is one of (if not the best) mystery writers to have ever lived. I loved all of the characters, especially the ones with the personality quirks, and I thought the mystery was complex and full of fantastic twists and turns. The suspects were a great cast of characters and I switched my idea of who was guilty at least four times. I also thought the motive was extremely interesting. I found that it showed some wise insight into human nature and the need for love and happiness. (But maybe I'm just reading too much into the story?)

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I read about half of THREE ACT TRAGEDY before watching the PBS film version -- so I knew the outcome before I actually finished the book. This is going to sound very strange, because I can't say for sure, but I think the movie manipulated me into figuring things out more quickly than the book did. I wasn't entirely sure about the motive while watching the movie, but I definitely figured out the murderer. I'm disappointed that I didn't have time to finish the book prior to viewing the movie because I am almost positive that I wouldn't have figured out the who or why based on the book alone. Lesson learned -- always read the book first!

While I will almost always say that the book is better (and I do still stand behind this belief for THREE ACT TRAGEDY), I thought the movie did do some things a little better. One of the main characters in the book (Mr. Satterthwaite) didn't even appear in the movie. I actually was very surprised that Hercule Poirot played such a small part until the end of the novel, and I liked that he more prominent role in the movie because they merged some of Satterthwaite's scenes with Poirot's. It didn't hurt that I loved Suchet's Poirot! In addition, I loved being able to "see" so much of the beautiful scenery -- from the modern house, to the gorgeous sea, etc.

Now it's your turn:

1) I was rather surprised by the small role that Hercule Poirot played in the novel. What did you think about Poirot? Did you like that the "amateur" sleuths provided much of the investigating in the story? If you've read other Poirot novels, how does THREE ACT TRAGEDY COMPARE?

2) Did you figure out the murderer and/or the motive before Poirot revealed them to us at the end of the book? What do you think Agatha Christie was trying to say about love and happiness (if anything)?

3) What did you think about the humor and wit in this novel? Were you surprised by the amount of satire?

4) Agatha Christie was a big fan of theater -- she wrote 19 plays including The Mousetrap which has been running non-stop in London since 1952. Did you appreciate how she portrayed the theater and its fans in this novel? Did you like how the book was set up -- the three "acts", the program design in the beginning, etc? Did you notice any other interesting references to the theater in this novel?

5) Why do you think Agatha Christie books stand the test of time?

Note: There is also a fantastic discussion of the film version of THREE ACT TRAGEDY on Linus's Blanket this week. If you missed the original showing on Sunday night, you can watch the movie here. Stop by Linus's Blanket and comment for your chance to win a copy of the Hercule Poirot Series 6 set of DVDs, which will be released on July 12.

Five participants in today's discussion have the opportunity to win a "cool" Agatha Christie prize pack including a copy of my next readalong book MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and a surprise AC gift!

In addition, I will be giving away three additional copies of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS for those of you who are interesting in participating in the discussion on July 21st. Just fill out the form below before June 30th. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. You don't have to have a blog to participate in the readalong!

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I wish I'd gotten this read in time for the discussion. It sounds like such an original mystery!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

What a fun thing to do. But I'm so lazy, when I know a book is out as a movie, I tend to skip the book. (I know, horrible, horrible!)

Jen (Devourer of Books) said...

1) This was my very first Poirot and I was shocked at how little his part was! However, most of my Agatha Christie experience is with her standalone novels, so I'm used to seeing the amateur sleuths try to work things out. I was happy that Poirot provided the final 'illumination,' though, because I was surprised at his absence in the first half of the book.

2) I guessed the (rough) motive about halfway through the book, but I had the wrong murderer! The way Egg did not want Poirot to help in the investigation seemed suspicious, but not enough that I thought Christie was trying to throw me off track, she was much more subtle in this book. Still, it is the closest I have come to guessing a Christie murderer.

4) With just how prolific Agatha Christie was, I'm always amazed at just how much she ties (nearly?) every book to a specific theme or catch phrase, without making them seem forced. Here, it was the metaphor of the play, in AND THEN THERE WERE NONE it is the nursery rhyme, in TOWARDS ZERO, the idea that everything moves towards the zero hour, but that it starts long beforehand. It is pure inventive genius and mastery of craft.

5) Probably because, as I mentioned in the last answer, she is such a genius at what she does. Even 50+ years later, her books still surprise, and they still seem new because nobody else can do what she did quite as well as she did it. I think how prolific and relatively consistent she was helps as well, if you get into Agatha Christie, you have SO many books you can read, and few if any of them will disappoint.

LaaLaa said...

I'd love to join in with the Orient Express discussion. Do I need to sign up anywhere or can I just comment?

Anonymous said...

I watched this one but didn't get a chance to read it before. I'm going to have to get this one read over the summer it sounds like it's better than the movie (or at least different).

Anonymous said...

1. Some of the Poirot books put him front and center, involved in every aspect and some have him as more of a consultant or an expert brought in at a later time. AC did this with Miss Marple too. The film adaptations, of course, couldn't really have their star sleuth enter in the last 30 minutes, so changes were made. I've always enjoyed the fact that AC used amateur sleuths or companions to assist her main sleuths. Both Poirot and Miss Marple had several, some only once like Lucy Eyelesbarrow, some several times such as Captain Hastings. This is not one of my favorite Poirot books, but I don't really have any that I've disliked.

2. I can say that I never ever figured out the murderer with complete certainty in any of the AC novels I've read. I probably haven't read them all, but I've come close. She was such a master at the "hidden in plain sight" clue. They are there, but don't stand out, until they do when you go back and hunt for them. I do think that puzzling through AC novels has made me a much more astute mystery reader. I oftentimes figure out the killer, but not always the twists. I think because I cut my mystery teeth on AC, I'm a better murder-catcher. LOL

3. I suspect that AC had a very dry sense of humor and she certainly understood how to make a witty statement without being overtly sarcastic. I always felt that Miss Marple and Poirot both said many things with a "twinkle in their eye" or "tongue in cheek". Sometimes, I think we feel that dry wit or sarcasm is a modern concept and yet Jane Austen novels are filled with it.

4. I love AC's plays. If you haven't experienced the Mousetrap, plan to read that play. It's wonderful. I've never seen it performed, but would love to. At one point in my life, I owned a compilation of AC's plays and I seem to remember that this book was adapted as a play. You can see how easy that would be. Yes, I did think that the set-up, as a play program with acts, etc., was clever.

5. Agatha Christie's books are the epitome of classic to me. They are as fresh and novel as when they were written. It doesn't matter that they are now historical. A reader can pick one up and become involved and easily ignore some of the things that are not PC now (such as everyone smoking all the time). They tell a great story and that is the bottom line. A great story will stand the test of time. She was simply a genius to conceive of all these plots and the fact that so many years later, we can all read them and not be able to ascertain the endings is such a tribute to that genius.

I am so very pleased that events such as this are bringing this classic author to the notice of further generations of readers. Bravo!

Enjoyed this discussion, Julie! Looking forward to what's upcoming, one of my very, very favorites - MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Makes me want to take a train trip.

M. J. Macie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. J. Macie said...

I too was surprised by the small role Poirot played in this novel. I had read another Poirot (I can't remember which one)and he didn't come into the novel until the end. I really like the way Poirot thinks and would've enjoyed more of him in the novel. He was very active in the movie version, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the book. I also didn't like that Poirot appeared not to be interested, or so it seemed, in investigating the death. He just accepted the conclusion without even questioning it. I did like the amateur sleuths though. Had Poirot been among them, one or all of them would've had to go. Too many chiefs.

No, I didn't figure out who the murderer was. At first, I thought it could've been Sir Charles, since he mixed the drinks, but I thought that too obvious for Christie. I was wrong. I think Christie was saying that age is irrelevant in a relationship as long as the two people are happy.

I did like the way the novel was set up like a play. I think it would've worked even if it hadn't been, but the set up was a nice touch.

I think her books stand the test of time because of the way she, like Shakespeare, captures the 'human nature' element. People are normal and flawed, yet also eccentric and evil. Also, no one writes twists as she does. Just when you think you understand a character, she reveals a new and shocking truth about that character. The reader doesn't feel cheated because the new aspect added has been introduced earlier in the story, just seen from a different angle. Brilliant!

S (Book Purring) said...

I really liked Three Act Tragedy, I think because I had just finished Endless Night and there was no Poirot there I didn't feel like he was missing from this book.

I've read lots of Poirot books, I think that what made this one different for me is Poirot making the mistake of not realizing it's murder in the beginning! Poirot makes a mistake! Gasp!

The humor was fine, I have to say who nicknames anyone "Egg"! That was made me giggle the most.

I actually kept suspecting the playwriter the whole time, I just figured it would have been so cool :P

Gosh I truly do not know, for me its the draw of the mystery plus the setting in past eras that makes them so wonderful :D

My review of the book and movie :)

Anonymous said...

I have never read an AC novel but plan to shortly. I think I am going to start with And Then There Were None

wife, mother, sister, friend said...

1) Though I do love Poirot, I rather enjoy that he has a small part in this book. I've read books with Mr. Satterthwaite and I really like that he is so observant and is able to piece things together.

2) I guessed that Charles murdered both men, but I had NO idea why.

3) I once read that the character of Miss Willis ("her spiritual home is a boardinghouse in Bournemouth") is a dig at Dorothy L. Sayers.

4) I love that the whole book was tied neatly together with the theater theme.

5) The book does stand the test of time. She was a great writer who was able to get people to identify with her characters.

Lila said...

I just finished yesterday reading the book, I had already seen the movie and heard the radio drama, but it still was very interesting to read.

1) I was surprised that Poirot did not seem interested in the least with the first murder, although it could be normal for an older man to just drop dead all of the sudden, but he did remark that there was some nasty taste to his cocktail, even Poirot could see that there could always be a feasible explanation for why the glass was clean, and then appearing near the end with the apology, didn't seem a very good way to reenter.
Egg was getting on my nerve, so spoiled and childish, I did not like her at all, to me it seemed she was after Sir Charles for his money and title, also I did not sympathize with him in the least, too arrogant and so redundant, to the first part was a bit tedious hearing the same things over and over again, it was a relief Poirot returned to hasten things.

2) Apart from having seen the movie, I was completely clueless as to what could give him away in the first two parts, it was after the Mugg revelation that things started to look fishy for him. The main love story here was not interesting to me, no matter how much you love someone, it would never justify to kill 3 innocent people! I mean, if he told her his situation, it would work out, she was so obsessed with him that nothing would stop her, I believe she could even have been the one murdering the wife, remember how she referred to the lady friends of Sir Charles? "BITCHES!" she had the temper alright.

3) The humor was not very evident for me, I have found myself laughing out loud with other Poirot novels, not my style I would think.

4) I think I did enjoy the three acts, so when getting to the last one I was prepared to take everything in to get the whole plot. Loved the illumination part from Poirot!

5) I think we all love mysteries, so it's a natural draw towards AC, but the settings of those mysteries for me are the key ingredient, I love the mundane of the characters and the lives they're leading, you can totally adapt them to new settings. Although for me is that period in time that's perfect!

Julie P. said...

Hey guys! Thanks for all of the great comments. I need email addresses for Kay, MJ Macie, Samita, and Lila!

Anonymous said...

Julie, I can be contacted at:

janezfan (at) yahoo (dot) com

wife, mother, sister, friend said...

I just received a copy of Murder on the Orient Express, an Agatha Christie mouse pad and bag. I'm thinking it came from you...? Thank you for making my day a bit more... mysterious!