Monday, July 19, 2010

Third Girl, by Agatha Christie

HarperCollins, 2002
originally published 1966
Hercule Poirot is now in his 35th adventure; after this one, he has only three more contemporary appearances -- in Hallow'een Party, Elephants Can Remember, and Curtain.

Third Girl is set smack in the mid-sixties.  It's a time when men are wearing such clothes as  "elaborate velvet waistcoat[s], skin-tight pants," and wearing their hair long in "rich curls of chestnut," while women were wearing
the clothes of their generation: black high leather boots, white open-work stockings of doubtful cleanliness, a skimpy skirt and a long and sloppy pullover of heavy wool.
The Beatles proclaim in 1966 that they're more popular than Jesus. The younger generation is experimenting with drugs and getting high. Girls aren't staying at home much after leaving school, going off to the cities to find jobs and live in apartments, often doubling up or adding a "third" girl to help with the rent.  It is just such a "third girl," Norma Restarick, who early one morning finds herself with Hercule Poirot, to tell him that she might have committed a murder, but then proclaims Poirot too old, and disappears. He's obviously intrigued, and finds out the girl's identity only when Ariadne Oliver, the mystery novelist, begins discussing a party she'd been to earlier where she'd met this young woman. From that point, the two begin investigating Norma's past and present, trying to discover if she's unbalanced, or if there's someone that might mean her harm. Poirot looks for patterns & death, and Ariadne tries methods that her detective, Sven Hjerson, might use in her popular mystery books.

As usual, there are plenty of suspects and red herrings throughout the novel, and this time Christie puts a secret up her sleeve that she doesn't reveal until the end -- a bit of duplicity on her part which wasn't really fair, but worked.  I thought the final solution was well done and although the clues were there all along, I still managed to be surprised by the ending,  which a) I felt was quite satisfying and b) I should have figured out after the breadcrumb trail of clues Christie left behind. And while the story may seem a bit muddled from time to time, it's still well worth the read. 

Poirot, without a doubt, is one of my favorite detectives ever, with his fastidious mannerisms and personality.  Even toward the end of his career his little grey cells are as busy and sharp as ever; Miss Lemon,  the secretary par excellence,  makes an appearance, always a step ahead of Poirot, and then there's Ariadne Oliver, a rather unique character, often living off of her intuition or using her mystery novelist skills to offer help in Poirot's investigation.  While she does provide some comic relief and comes off as a bit of a bumbler from time to time, she actually manages to also provide a few valuable clues to Poirot from time to time. 
At first I was a bit unsure as to whether or not I would enjoy this novel, but it ended up being a treat. This must be one that either I read eons ago and have totally forgotten, or that somehow I managed to miss until now. I can recommend it, definitely, BUT ... if you're looking for the recently televised Third Girl, you'll find that there's quite a difference between page and screen.

fiction from England

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