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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 $44in 2022 and approximately equivalent to £28in 2021 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; psychiatrist Sir Bartholomew Strange; Hermione "Egg" Lytton Gore and her mother; Captain Dacres and his wife Cynthia; the playwright Muriel Wills; Egg's friend Oliver Manders; Mr Satterthwaite; and Reverend Babbington and his wife. When the Reverend Babbington suddenly dies after sipping one of the cocktails being served, Cartwright believes it was murder, though Strange finds no poison in his glass. Some time later, Poirot is in Monte Carlo and hears news from Satterthwaite and Cartwright that Strange died from nicotine poisoning after drinking a glass of port wine, despite there being no trace in the glass. With the exception of the three men, Strange's guests are the same ones who attended Cartwright's party. 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, and that he exhibited strange behaviour as if expecting something. A temporary replacement he hired named Ellis has since disappeared, with Satterthwaite and Cartwright finding drafted blackmail letters from Ellis in his room. Babbington's body is soon exhumed, showing he too died from nicotine poisoning.
Cartwright, Satterthwaite and Egg partner to investigate the deaths, joined by Poirot as a consultant. Each guest has a possible motive or suspicious circumstances surrounding Strange's death, but no connection to Babbington. When Wills is interviewed, she recalls noticing Manders apparently drop a newspaper cutting on nicotine, and that Ellis had a birthmark on one hand; she later disappears. Poirot stages a party where he demonstrates how the poisoned glasses were substituted by the murderer while everyone's attention was on the victim. He then receives a telegram from Mrs De Rushbridger, a patient at Strange's Yorkshire sanatorium, who arrived on the day Strange died. Poirot and Satterthwaite go to meet her, but find that she has in turn been murdered. Learning that Cartwright's servant, Miss Milray, is hastily heading to Cornwall, Poirot follows her to find out why.
Upon his return, Poirot assembles Cartwright, Satterthwaite and Egg, eventually denouncing Cartwright as the killer. Cartwright wants to marry Egg, 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, his oldest friend and the only one who knew about the marriage. After his party, Cartwright persuaded Strange to let him assume the role of his butler as a joke, and then poisoned him during his party. He planted the nicotine cutting on Manders after tricking him into being at Strange's home. He falsified Ellis's blackmail letters, then travelled to Monte Carlo the day after to establish his alibi. The first murder was a dress rehearsal for the second to test whether the glass could be switched unseen, and the victim was selected at random. The only safe guests were Cartwright, Strange, who disliked cocktails, and Egg, to whom Cartwright gave a safe glass. Mrs De Rushbridger was used by Cartwright as a red herring to distract from Strange's behaviour towards "Ellis", and he killed her to divert suspicion and prevent her revealing her ignorance of the case.
Poirot reveals that the nicotine came from rose spray distilled by Cartwright at an old tower near his Cornwall residence; the equipment was found by him when Miss Milray went to destroy it. His suspicions about Cartwright were based on several facts: Cartwright was the most likely to have poisoned the cocktail, his passport showed his return to England to play Ellis; Miss Milray's actions were motivated by a secret love for her employer; Miss Wills spotted Cartwright's similarity to Ellis and was spirited away by Poirot to protect her; and the telegram supposedly from Mrs De Rushbridger was addressed to Poirot when she knew nothing of his involvement. Cartwright flees, but Poirot says that he will "choose his exit" of public trial or suicide.
(In certain American editions, Poirot tells Cartwright that doctors and policemen are awaiting him in the next room. Cartwright, unable to believe someone as important as himself has failed, tries to prove Poirot a liar and is arrested when he opens the door.)
The shocked Egg is picked up by Manders, whom she initially cared for before Cartwright appeared. In the aftermath, Satterthwaite remarks how terrible it was that anyone, himself included, could have drunk the poisoned cocktail. 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.[ 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 with Hastings, and 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 changed a number of details but was 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 British writer Agatha Christie. Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-running characters, appearing in 33 novels, two plays, and 51 short stories published between 1920 and 1975.
Cards on the Table is a detective fiction novel by the English author 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 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 the first detective novel by British writer Agatha Christie, introducing her fictional detective Hercule Poirot. 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 detective novel by the British writer Agatha Christie, her third to feature Hercule Poirot as the lead detective. The novel was published in the UK in June 1926 by William Collins, Sons, having previously been serialised as Who Killed Ackroyd? between July and September 1925 in the London Evening News. An American edition by Dodd, Mead and Company followed in 1926.
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.
Lord Edgware Dies is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in September 1933 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year under the title of Thirteen at Dinner. Before its book publication, the novel was serialised in six issues of The American Magazine as 13 For Dinner.
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. This book was dedicated to P. G. Wodehouse.
Death on the Nile is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, 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 Hollow is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the United States by Dodd, Mead & Co. in 1946 and in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in November of the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.50 and the UK edition at eight shillings and sixpence (8/6). A paperback edition in the US by Dell Books in 1954 changed the title to Murder after Hours.
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 Murder in Retrospect and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in January 1943. 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.
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.
Three Blind Mice and Other Stories is a collection of short stories written by Agatha Christie, first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1950. The first edition retailed at $2.50.
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. In the play, a scientist discovers that someone in his household has stolen the formula for an explosive. The scientist calls Hercule Poirot to investigate, but is murdered just as Poirot arrives with Hastings and Inspector Japp.
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.
Lists of adaptations of the works of Agatha Christie:
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.