6 January 2014

Review: THIRD GIRL, Agatha Christie

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 597 KB
  • Print Length: 276 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0425174719
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece ed edition (October 14, 2010)
    originally published 1966
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046RE5DG
Synopsis (Amazon)

A perplexed girl thinks she might have killed someone…

Three single girls shared the same London flat. The first worked as a secretary; the second was an artist; the third who came to Poirot for help, disappeared convinced she was a murderer.

Now there were rumours of revolvers, flick-knives and blood stains. But, without hard evidence, it would take all Poirot’s tenacity to establish whether the third girl was guilty innocent or insane…

(Agatha Christie site)
One of Poirot's latest appearances, Third Girl was published by Collins Crime Club in November 1966 with the American first edition appearing the following year - but after a condensed version with a photographic montage had been published in the April issue of Redbook magazine.

This story is relatively unusual for a later Agatha Christie in that Poirot is present more or less from the beginning of the case. Ariadne Oliver and Miss Lemon also feature and there are a great deal of amusing references to Poirot's age and the fact that he is no longer well known as a detective, now that the world has entered the Swinging Sixties.

The novel was adapted by Peter Flannery for ITV and was filmed with David Suchet as Poirot and Zoƫ Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver in 2008. The story was reset in the 1930s to bring it inline with the rest of the TV series.

My take

I knew all along that I had read THIRD GIRL more than once before.
I thought perhaps my familiarity came from seeing the TV version and wasn't too clear how that differed from the book.

And then I discovered that nearly 4 years ago I had listened to
an audio version which I had much enjoyed.

For of course, what sticks in the mind, is that this is the story where the girl who comes to consult Hercule Poirot tells him that he is "too old".
That really gets under his skin because he thinks his little grey cells are ageless even if his body is showing rather a lot of wear and tear.
This leads the reader into all sorts of useless calculations about how old Poirot really is. He made his first appearance in 1920 (THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES) as a retired, evacuated Belgian police detective. 40+ years on he has to be approaching 100 if not more. Charles Osborne, in an article about THIRD GIRL, suggest we are meant to see Poirot as about 80.

Despite the era change by the television producers this is a book set firmly in the Swinging Sixties. Girls are much less bound to parents and home than they used to be, as shown by these young things sharing a London flat, and living in an unsupervised fashion. So once again here is Agatha Christie reflecting social and economic change in English society.
And of course, there is a little romantic match-making by Poirot which almost escapes notice.

And is Ariadne Oliver a reflection of Christie herself? She is much younger than Christie was at the time of writing the book (76), as well as a bit more impulsive and scatter-brained than I imagine Christie to be. But she does a lot of research for her books and obviously has a fertile imagination.

Critics have written that Christie shows signs of Alzheimer's in her last novels, but I saw no signs of it here.

And this is by no means the last Poirot novel.
Christie will publish another 9 titles, by my calculation, and 4 of them will feature Hercule Poirot.
POIROT'S EARLY CASES (1974, short stories)
CURTAIN (written about 1940, published 1975)

In reality ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER will be the last novel she will write featuring her little Belgian sleuth, and POSTERN OF FATE (featuring Tommy and Tuppence) published in 1973 will be her last novel.

My rating: 4.4


vicki (skiourophile) said...

I don't know about Alzheimer's, but some of those late ones are a bit weird -- however, I've always thought they reflected a pretty weird era quite well! She captures the ugliness of the times really well, and it sort of meshes well with the moral ugliness she sees in her characters.

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - I think you're so right in bringing up Christie's eye for the times in which she lived. She really does hold a mirror up to the sixties in this one, and I like the way Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are contrasted with the young people of that day.

Irene said...

I could swear I've read this one too, but I can't seem to find it on my shelves. Thanks for your thoughts. I think if she had Alzheimer's, she certainly handled it well. And at her age... well she's amazing.


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