Dust-jacket illustration of the US edition.
|Publisher||Dodd, Mead and Company|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||279 (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||Parker Pyne Investigates|
|Followed by||Death in the Clouds|
Three Act Tragedy is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1934 under the title Murder in Three Acts equivalent to $38in 2019 and approximately equivalent to £27in 2019 respectively).and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in January 1935 under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) (approximately
The book features Hercule Poirot, supported by his friend Mr Satterthwaite, and is the one book in which Satterthwaite collaborates with Poirot. Satterthwaite previously appeared in the stories featuring Harley Quin, in particular those collected in The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930). The novel was adapted for television twice, first in 1986 as Murder in Three Acts , and again in 2010 as Three Act Tragedy.
Renowned stage actor Sir Charles Cartwright hosts a dinner party at his home in Cornwall. His guests include: Hercule Poirot; Dr Bartholomew Strange; Lady Mary Lytton Gore, and her daughter Hermione “Egg” Gore; Captain Dacres and his wife Cynthia; Muriel Wills; Oliver Manders; Mr Satterthwaite; and Reverend Babbington and his wife. When Babbington suddenly dies after sipping one of the cocktails being served, Cartwright believes it was murder. An investigation finds no poison in his glass. After his funeral, Poirot travels to Monte Carlo, where he is met with news from Satterthwaite and Cartwright that Dr Strange is dead. While holding a dinner party at his home in Yorkshire, Strange suddenly died after drinking a glass of port wine. The coroner rules he was poisoned with nicotine, despite there being no trace of it in his glass. With the exception of the three men, Strange's guests are the same ones who attended Cartwright's party. Due to the similarities, Babbington's body is exhumed, whereupon police find he died from the same cause.
Both Satterthwaite and Cartwright return to England to investigate the murders. They learn that prior to the party, Strange had sent his usual butler away for two months. A temporary replacement he hired named Ellis has since disappeared. Satterthwaite and Cartwright later find evidence showing that Ellis hoped to blackmail someone, while a serving maid recalls that Ellis acted strangely for a butler. When Wills is interviewed, she recalls noticing something odd at the party, and that Ellis has a birthmark on one hand. Some time later, Wills disappears. When Poirot returns to London to offer counsel on the case, he receives a telegram from Mrs De Rushbridger, a female patient at Strange's sanatorium in Yorkshire, who arrived on the day Strange died. Poirot and Satterthwaite go to meet her, only to find that she had been murdered with nicotine before their arrival. The poison had been concealed in some chocolates she had received anonymously. Learning that Cartwright's servant, Miss Milray, is hastily heading to Cornwall, Poirot follows her to find out why.
Upon his return, Poirot assembles everyone, and denounces Sir Charles Cartwright as the killer. Cartwright wants to marry Hermione, but already has a wife who resides in a lunatic asylum. As he cannot divorce her under British law, he decided to conceal this knowledge by murdering Dr Strange, the only witness to this marriage. After his party, Cartwright convinced Strange to let him assume the role of his butler, and then secretly poisoned him during his party. He left false evidence to suggest the motive was blackmail, and travelled to Monte Carlo the day after to establish his alibi. The first murder was a dress rehearsal for the second: Cartwright wished to test if he could switch the glass containing the poison. The murder of Mrs De Rushbridger was purely to create a false lead.
Poirot reveals that the nicotine poison came from distilling equipment Cartwright hid near his Cornwall residence; it was found by him, when Miss Milray went to destroy it. His suspicions about Cartwright were based on a few facts. Strange didn't drink the poisoned cocktail because he disliked cocktails, while Cartwright ensured Hermione didn't drink it; he didn't care who else amongst his guests drank it. Mrs De Rushbridger's telegram to Poirot was sent by Cartwright himself. Milray knows he is the murderer; her actions showed she sought to protect him. Wills also suspected him when she spoke up about Ellis; Poirot hid her away before Cartwright could murder her. Cartwright flees, but Poirot doesn't expect him to get far. Hermione is paired up with Manders. In the aftermath of the investigation, Satterthwaite remarks how he could have drunk the poisoned cocktail, to which Poirot remarks there was an even more terrible possibility: "It might have been me".
The Times Literary Supplement of 31 January 1935 admitted that "Very few readers will guess the murderer before Hercule Poirot reveals the secret", but complained that the motive of the murderer "injures an otherwise very good story".
Isaac Anderson in The New York Times Book Review of 7 October 1934, said that the motive was "most unusual, if not positively unique in the annals of crime. Since this is an Agatha Christie novel featuring Hercule Poirot as its leading character, it is quite unnecessary to say that it makes uncommonly good reading".
In The Observer's issue of 6 January 1935, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) said, "Her gift is pure genius, of leading the reader by the nose in a zigzag course up the garden and dropping the lead just when she wishes him to scamper to the kill. Three Act Tragedy is not among this author's best detective stories; but to say that it heads her second best is praise enough. The technique of misleadership is, as usual, superb; but, when all comes out, some of the minor threads of motive do not quite convince. Mrs Christie has, quite apart from her special gift, steadily improved and matured as a writer, from the-strange-affair-of-style to this charming and sophisticated piece of prose".
Milward Kennedy in The Guardian (29 January 1935) opened his review with, "The year has opened most satisfactorily. Mrs Christie's Three Act Tragedy is up to her best level"; he summarised the set-up of the plot but then added, "A weak (but perhaps inevitable point) is the disappearance of a butler; the reader, that is to say, is given rather too broad a hint. But the mechanics of the story are ingenious and plausible, the characters (as always with Mrs Christie) are life-like and lively. Poirot does not take the stage very often, but when he does he is in great form."
Robert Barnard commented much later that the "[s]trategy of deception here is one that by this date ought to have been familiar to Christie's readers. This is perhaps not one of the best examples of the trick, because few of the characters other than the murderer are well individualised. The social mix here is more artistic and sophisticated than is usual in Christie."
Two recent audiobook versions have been released.
The novel's true first publication was the serialisation in the Saturday Evening Post in six instalments from 9 June (Volume 206, Number 50) to 14 July 1934 (Volume 207, Number 2) under the title Murder in Three Acts, with illustrations by John La Gatta. This novel is one of two to differ significantly in American editions (the other being The Moving Finger ), both hardcover and paperback. The American edition of Three Act Tragedy changes the motive of the killer, but not so significantly as to require adjustment in other chapters of the novel. It is helpful to keep this difference in mind when reading the reviews quoted in the section Literary significance and reception.[ citation needed ]
In 1935 the novel became Christie's first title to sell 10,000 copies in its first year.
A 1986 television film was made under the title Murder in Three Acts , starring Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis, which relocated the action to Acapulco, replaced the character of Satterthwaite by Hastings, made Charles Cartwright an American movie star.
An adaptation starring David Suchet for Agatha Christie's Poirot was released as the first episode of Season 12 in 2010, with Martin Shaw as Sir Charles Cartwright, Art Malik as Sir Bartholomew Strange, Kimberley Nixon as Egg Lytton Gore, and Tom Wisdom as Oliver Manders. Ashley Pearce, who previously directed Appointment with Death and Mrs McGinty's Dead for the ITV series, also directed this. The adaptation omitted the character of Satterthwaite and changes a number of details but is generally faithful to the plot of the novel.
The novel was also adapted as a 2018 episode of the French television series Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie .
A radio production was made for BBC Radio 4 in 2002, starring John Moffatt as Poirot, Michael Cochrane as Sir Charles, George Cole as Satterthwaite, Beth Chalmers as Hermione Lytton Gore (Egg), the heroine, and Clive Merrison as Sir Bartholomew.
The production was broadcast across five weekly episodes on BBC Radio 4 and stays predominantly faithful to the novel, with only very subtle changes being made. Sir Charles travels to the South of France in order to get away from Egg, after initially believing she was in love with Oliver Manders, following a goodnight kiss between the two characters. At the end of the story, once Poirot has revealed the motive and the proof of the first wife, Sir Charles storms out of the room, in order to "choose his exit". It is implied he chooses the quicker option of suicide. A shaken and emotional Egg is then taken home by Manders, leaving Poirot and Satterthwaite to contemplate that they could have been the victims to the poison cocktail, at Sir Charles' party.
Hercule Poirot is a fictional Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie. Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-running characters, appearing in 33 novels, 2 plays, and more than 50 short stories published between 1920 and 1975.
Cards on the Table is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 2 November 1936 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
Death in the Clouds is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company on 10 March 1935 under the title of Death in the Air and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in the July of the same year under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6). The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a detective novel by British writer Agatha Christie. It was written in the middle of the First World War, in 1916, and first published by John Lane in the United States in October 1920 and in the United Kingdom by The Bodley Head on 21 January 1921.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in June 1926 in the United Kingdom by William Collins, Sons and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company. It is the third novel to feature Hercule Poirot as the lead detective.
The A.B.C. Murders is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, featuring her characters Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp, as they contend with a series of killings by a mysterious murderer known only as "A.B.C.". The book was first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 6 January 1936, sold for seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) while a US edition, published by Dodd, Mead and Company on 14 February of the same year, was priced $2.00.
Hallowe'en Party is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in November 1969 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed for twenty-five shillings. In preparation for decimalisation on 15 February 1971, it was also priced on the dustjacket at £1.25. The US edition retailed at $5.95.
Death on the Nile is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 1 November 1937 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00. The full length novel was preceded in 1937 by a short story with the same title, but with Parker Pyne as the detective. The details of the short story plot are substantially different, though the settings and some of the characters are similar.
Evil Under the Sun is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in June 1941 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in October of the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
Five Little Pigs is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in May 1942 under the title of Murder in Retrospect and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in January 1943 although some sources state that publication occurred in November 1942. The UK first edition carries a copyright date of 1942 and retailed at eight shillings while the US edition was priced at $2.00.
Curtain: Poirot's Last Case is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in September 1975 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year, selling for $7.95.
Appointment with Death is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 2 May 1938 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
Dumb Witness is a detective fiction novel by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 5 July 1937 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year under the title of Poirot Loses a Client. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
Hercule Poirot's Christmas is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 19 December 1938. It retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).
Murder in the Mews and Other Stories is a short story collection by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by Collins Crime Club on 15 March 1937. In the US, the book was published by Dodd, Mead and Company under the title Dead Man's Mirror in June 1937 with one story missing ; the 1987 Berkeley Books edition of the same title has all four stories. All of the tales feature Hercule Poirot. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the first US edition at $2.00.
Alibi is a 1928 play by Michael Morton based on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a 1926 novel by British crime writer Agatha Christie.
The Alphabet Murders is a 1965 British detective film directed by Frank Tashlin and starring Tony Randall as Hercule Poirot. It is based on the 1936 novel The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie.
Black Coffee is a play by the British crime-fiction author Agatha Christie (1890–1976) which was produced initially in 1930. The first piece that Christie wrote for the stage, it launched a successful second career for her as a playwright.
Murder in Three Acts is a 1986 British-American made-for-television mystery film produced by Warner Bros. Television, featuring Peter Ustinov as Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Directed by Gary Nelson, it co-starred Jonathan Cecil as Hastings, Tony Curtis, and Emma Samms.
Hercule Poirot is a series of full cast BBC Radio drama adaptations of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels and short stories adapted by Michael Bakewell, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between 1985 and 2007. With the exception of the first two adaptations, the series stars John Moffatt as Poirot.