Three Act Tragedy

  • Hercule Poirot
  • Novel
  • 1934

At an apparently respectable dinner party, a vicar is the first to die…

Thirteen guests arrived at dinner at the actor’s house. It was to be a particularly unlucky evening for the mild-mannered Reverend Stephen Babbington, who choked on his cocktail, went into convulsions and died.

But when his martini glass was sent for chemical analysis, there was no trace of poison – just as Poirot had predicted. Even more troubling for the great detective, there was absolutely no motive.

One knows so little. When one knows more it is too late.

Mr Satterthwaite, Three Act Tragedy

More about this story

The first true edition is US publisher Dodd Mead's 1934 publication which actually attributes a different motive to the killer but in such a way that other chapters in the novel did not require significant adjustment. The Collins 1935 UK edition is now recognised as the standard. The only other story to differ significantly in the original American edition is The Moving Finger.

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.
New York Times Book Review

The events of this story are referenced to by Colonel Johnson in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and by Poirot himself in The ABC Murders when he tells Hastings what’s been happing since they last met. He, Poirot, was almost “exterminated” by a murderer who was “not so much enterprising as careless”. There are also a couple of references to other Christie cases by the characters themselves. Poirot references his only professional failure (as a policeman in Belgium) hinting at The Chocolate Box and Satterthwaite starts to tell Sir Charles Cartwright the story of At the Bells and Motley when Sir Charles typically interrupts to recount his own tale.

A 1986 a TV film was made under the title Murder in Three Acts, starring Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis. The action was relocated to Acapulco, Mr Satterthwaite was replaced by Hastings and the motive for the murders was changed. Poirot also uses a word processor to write his memoirs. A radio production was made for the BBC in 2003, starring John Moffatt as Poirot, Beth Chalmers as Egg Lytton Gore, the heroine, and Clive Merrison as Sir Bartholomew. In the 2009 David Suchet TV film version, the adaptor Nick Dear removed Mr Satterthwaite as well partly because his name was thought to be too difficult for TV viewers to remember.

Did you know?

  1. This is also the only story in which Mr Satterthwaite assists Poirot – usually he can be found assisting Harley Quin.​

Buy Three Act Tragedy

* We earn a small commission on purchases made through any Amazon affiliate links on this page.

Other stories you might enjoy

Murder in Mesopotamia
Hercule Poirot
Hickory Dickory Dock
Hercule Poirot

Download the Hercule Poirot reading list

Download PDF

Sign up to the newsletter to receive The World of Agatha Christie: 1920s magazine