Three-Act-Tragedy“Mr Satterthwaite sat on the terrace of ‘Crow’s Nest’ and watched his host, Sir Charles Cartwright, climbing up the path from the sea.”

It’s been a really terrible week, what with one thing and another. As we stagger blindly towards our new home inside an out-and-out dystopian novel, it’s a comfort to take sanctuary inside a comfortable novel. I’ve made my way back to Agatha Christie where, while the situations recounted might not be terribly pleasant, at least they’re well-written and the guilty party will get what’s coming to them.

Our story begins at a party hosted by noted actor Charles Cartwright, a man who never seems to be himself and enjoys playing a part whenever he can, much to the amusement of his friend Mr Satterthwaite. The usual suspects gather at the party – friendly vicar Mr Babbington and his wife, actress Angela Sutcliffe, playwright Muriel Wills, feisty young heroine Hermione “Egg” Lytton Gore, notable nerve specialist Dr Bartholomew Strange, snide young upstart Oliver Manders, and a few more besides. Most familiar of all though, is the world-renowned detective, Hercule Poirot.

Before the night has even really begun, Mr Babbington sips his cocktail and keels over. He is dead, and it’s written off as an unfortunate accident. But a few weeks later, at a party with a very similar guest list, Dr Strange dies in an oddly similar manner. When it turns out that Strange was killed by nicotine poisoning, Satterthwaite, Cartwright and Egg become convinced that both deaths are connected, but who on earth would want to kill off an innocent parson and a kindly doctor? Enlisting the help of Poirot, the group begin to study what could possibly have happened and how.

Christie fans will note that Mr Satterthwaite is not new to the canon, and has in fact appeared once before, in the more supernatural tales of The Mysterious Mr Quin. He’s back here now, though, and seems to have past experiences with Poirot. Satterthwaite is an expert in people, and is very observant, always thinking he knows best about people from studying their behaviour. This comes in useful, but his mind is that, as Poirot says, of a playgoer, distracted by drama and too busy looking at the actors rather than noting the scenery. Poirot, however, declares his mind is not the same and he can see things more prosaically.

I wasn’t as captivated by this story as many of Christie’s others, but I put that down to my mood this week rather than the storytelling. It’s a good one, with the usual twist that we always love, and I consider this half a win, as I’d worked out details of the solution, but not the whole thing. She artfully weaves a narrative where, not only anyone could do it, but absolutely anyone could never make it out the book alive. As usual, all the clues are there, but it takes more skill than I have to put them in the right order and solve the entire puzzle.