Notes on Three-Act Tragedy

Rating: four out of five

Year of publication: 1934

Crow's Nest? My picturing Sir Charles's  whitewash bungalow overlooking the sea. A breathtaking view of Port Gaverne in Cornwall, UK

Crow’s Nest, Sir Charles’s whitewash bungalow overlooking the sea. A photograph of the breathtaking view of Port Gaverne in Cornwall, UK, which I have taken.

Motive for Murder: Love

Plot: Loomouth, Cornwall:

Twelve people were invited for a house-party at Crow’s Nest, Sir  Charles Cartwright’s retirement bungalow. Thirteen people gathered before dinner and the first murder happened. A second murder then took place in a fortnight at Yorkshire. Seven of the invitees were also the attendees at Crow’s Nest.

A missing butler became a suspect.  Furthermore, nicotine poisoning was established as the cause of death of the second victim. What was the relation to the killing of third victim, a patient at a sanatorium?

Narrated in third person, Christie conjured the character of Mr. Sattherwaite; a shrewd observant of people and particularly to women’s nature. His bumping into Poirot in Monte Carlo after the second murder resulted in the sleuth to set about working on the case.



When the book was published, Christie was already a household name. Her confidence as a writer had grown considerably since her first novel. Four other books were also published in the same year to rave reviews.

Her avid fans might have notices similarities in the characters and events in her previous books. Yet she marvelled at creating minor characters that thrilled her readers and built sub-plots in which some minor characters played their parts either as a distraction or dropping important clues about the murderer.

In Christie’s World, post-Victorian women were depicted as intriguing and fortright. In portraying their independence and forward thinking, she nonetheless understood the importance to tip the balance in order to ‘satisfy’ readers whom still held the true spirits of Victorian times. Hence Egg Lytton Gore (see The Most Fascinating Character) was made to be naïve and careless, while Lady Frankie (see Notes On Why Didn’t They Ask Evans) whom shared the same indomitable spirit looked unlady-like. It mattered less that both women were not just a pretty face.

Furthermore, a touch of religion in some chapters came as a welcoming surprise. Personally, Christianity for Christie was merely a product of upbringing and not her choice. Nevertheless, the inclusion of the subject in the conversation between Mr. Satterwhaite and Lady Gore (a.k.a. Egg) is illuminating. I wondered if her stance would have reflected the authoress. Or quite the contrary.

Likewise, Oliver Manders’s arguing with Mr. Babbington about the state of church.  Manders’s lashing out to the parson after being labelled a “sin child” I imagined would have raised eyebrows to some readers at that time.  Fortunately Christie was a popular crime author; her challenging some teachings in the Bible might have caused a stir, but not enough a cry for denigrating the religion.

Be that as it may, the views on both minor characters have not been irrelevant in 21st century. According to a poll, the number of people in the UK professing to be non-Christians keeps on the rise.

Tintagel: the home of Arthurian Legend and the museum of King Arthur

Tintagel: the home of Arthurian Legend and the museum of King Arthur

Christie’s fondness to folklore was expressed in her incorporating an Arthurian legend Elaine. On the one hand, it reinforced the legend with the setting of the novel: Cornwall. On the other hand, the heroine was the inspiration behind about Egg. It was further enriched by Sophie Anderson’s “The Lily Maid of Astolat” (1807) which fed readers with the imagination of romantic Egg.  However, I was inclined to believe that Christie’s international fans would not fully appreciate the symbolism – just because the legend could have been close only to English’s heart (and French).

Given Christie’s great interest to theatre and plays, it was not uneasy to notice the clever use of  disguises in the plot; the impersonation of Alfred Inglethorp (Notes On The Mysterious Affair At Styles) sprang to mind while reading the mysterious disappearance of the butler at Crow’s Nest and a suspicious man with shabby dress seen during a time of a murder.

Lastly, I would leave the question about the thirteen guests at Crow’s Nest – not twelve as the apostles? What was the number signify? Was Christie  superstitious? It was apparent that thirteen also appeared used in Murder On The Orient Express (1934) and is a title: The Thirteen Problems (1932).

In the end, every performance shall have an encore. So must it be for a marvellous one.



Cast of Characters:

Angela Sutcliffe (a well-known actress, Sir Charles’s ex-lover)

Mr. and Mrs. Babbington (the parson and his wife)

Sir Bartholomew Strange (a doctor, nickname Tollie, who owned a sanatorium)

Sir Charles Cartwright (a retired actor and childhood friend of Sir Bartholomew)

Cynthia Dacres (owner of a successful dressmaking company in London)

Ellis (the missing butler)

Captain Freddie Dacres (Cynthia’s husband)

Hermione Lytton Gore (Lady Mary’s daughter, nickname: Egg)

Hercule Poirot

Lady Mary Lytton Gore

Oliver Manders

Miss Violet Milray (Sir Charles’s former secretary and housekeeper)

Miss Muriel Wills (a.k.a. Anthony Astor, a playwright)

Mr. Sattherwaite ( Sir Charles’s acquaintance and a patron of art and the drama)



Beatrice Church: (the upper-housemaid at Melfort Abbey, Sir Bartholomew’s dwelling)

‘…And the doctor (Sir Bartholomew) he laughed and said “You’re a good fellow, Ellis, a first-class butler. Eh, Beatrice, what do you think?” And I was so surprised, sir, at the master speaking like that – quite unlike his usual self- that I didn’t know what to say’

Sir Charles Cartwright:

‘Roses. Now, where have I heard..’

‘I’ver remembered what struck me as odd. It was the ink-stain on the floor in the butler’s room’.

‘…Of course we could have Miss Milray, too- but I’d rather not. To tell the truth, Miss Milray cramps my style a bit. She’s so efficient that she gives me an inferiority complex’.

Hermione Lytton Gore:

‘You’re (Sir Charles) not going away again. You’re not going to give up? You’re going to find out the truth – the truth. I don’t believe anybody but you could find out the truth. You can. You will’.

Mrs. Leckie: (the cook at the Abbey, fifteen years having served Mr. Strange)

‘For one thing, he was standoffish. Oh, quite polite, quite the gentleman – as I said, he’d been used to good houses. But he kept himself to himself, spent a lot of time in his own room, and he was – well, I don’t know how to describe it, I’m sure – he was, well, there was something – ‘

Miss Milray:

‘I’d like to write to Mrs. Babbington. Only it doesn’t seem quite-well, quite…I don’t know what I had better do about it’.

Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘It struck me as a little odd the way that Sir Bartholomew chaffed his butler – you know what the housemaid told us. It was uncharateristic’.


The twists:

-The seemingly lack of motives and unrelated circumstances of the murders.

– Pastime secret of the murderer only known by one of the victims.

– The clever disguise and act

– The odd accident occurred to Oliver Manders


The most fascinating character: Egg Lytton Gore

A young intelligent woman with an aristocratic trait, she craved for a life beyond Cornwall and cared for her widowed mother. Following the inquest on the first murder, she spot fallacies in the logic of it, although she was as puzzled as Mr. Satterthwaite as to the motive.

Described by the patron of art as ‘there was nothing of the lily maid of Astolat about her’ , she was coined as the “modern Elaine” with her progressive mind and vitality. Nonetheless, she was perceived as childish. In her own words: ‘I’m not patient. I want to have things at once, even quicker’.

Moreover, her views of the world astounded his Victorian mind. On Christianity: ‘…You see, Mr. Satterthwaite, I really believe in Christianity – not like Mother does, with little books and early service, and things- but intelligently and as a matter of history. The Church is all clotted up with the Pauline tradition – in fact the Church is a mess- but Christianity itself is all right. That’s why I can’t be a communist like Oliver. In practice our beliefs would work out much the same, things in common and ownership by all, but the difference- well, I needn’t go into that…’ And on the opposite sex: ‘I like men to have affairs. It shows they’re not queer or anything’.

If only she had been careful not to have fallen in love with a much older man.



One thought on “Notes on Three-Act Tragedy

  1. Haven’t read the book , but watched the 1986 adaptation “Murder in Three Acts” , there is also a 2011 version , but the architecture and the location (house on the cliff – Acapulco)of the 1986 version are just stunning .

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