Friday, September 18, 2015
Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THIRD GIRL (1966) by Agatha Christie
Let me first say that I do not, in general, like books set in the sixties. I lived through the sixties and it was not a romantic age nor a very interesting one (though some may dispute this). Society was changing but not in any way that seemed wonderful AND we had the multiple shocks of several assassinations to contend with. Not to mention an unpopular war. It was a turbulent time in which the ridiculous young thought they'd invented sex and to prove it, did a lot of recreational drugs and frequently died from excess. Tedious. But I shouldn't condemn the whole decade I suppose, after all I did get married in 1965 and shortly thereafter got a great job at Cosmopolitan magazine. So it wasn't all dismal and grim no matter what I might like you to believe.
At any rate, Agatha Christie, an anachronism from an earlier age, was still writing in the 1960's, a fact some may find hard to believe. Her distaste for the era was evident in her writing but I've always given her credit for chugging right along and doing what she did best which was think up puzzles.
She describes the young people in her books of this time as excessively dirty, oily, drug soaked and mostly in need of bathing. Ugh. But that's how she saw them.
THIRD GIRL is not Christie at her best, but I've come to the realization over time that Christie 'not at her best' is better than most mystery writers at their best, so I'm not complaining. I'd read this book years ago and only vaguely remembered it until I saw the botched PBS interpretation, (or is it BBC? I've forgotten who is in charge of the series now) with David Suchet (who, no matter what, is always wonderful) and decided to go back to the source material.
The audio version narrated by Hugh Fraser is topnotch. Fraser, who plays Colonel Hastings in the Poirot series, is a fabulous narrator and it is a joy to listen to his interpretation of Poirot - it is as good as Suchet's - and his rollicking interpretation of Ariadne Oliver. The audio version of THIRD GIRL is thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it highly.
But when I returned to the hard-copy book, I found that for whatever reason, it didn't resonate with me as well as the audio version. I found it all a bit tedious, Poirot seemed sluggish and the bits of the story that didn't work were more evident. I don't know why this sort of thing happens, but occasionally it does. And may I say that it also works in reverse - but that's a story for another day.
THIRD GIRL is a book in which a very great evil is perpetrated on a young, suggestible girl. The sort of case in which Papa Poirot must step in, save the heroine, fashion a happy ending and catch a couple of murderers.
Norma Restarick is in trouble. Out of the blue, the vague young woman shows up at Poirot's apartment wanting his advice. She thinks she may have committed a murder. But when she meets the detective, she declares him 'too old' to be of any help and departs.
Naturally enough, Poirot is affronted by this, but intrigued he decides to find out more about this strange girl.
In steps Ariadne Oliver (eccentric mystery writer with an obsession for daily changing her hairstyles, whimsically adding or taking away hairpieces) with additional information. It seems it was she, in a passing conversation during a country weekend, who suggested that Norma visit Poirot. I like Ariadne and her eccentricities but I'm glad the apple motif of her earlier appearances had, by this time, dissipated.
What they find out almost immediately is that Norma Restarick has disappeared.
As Poirot investigates the girl's background, he discovers a troubling tale; Norma may be 'disturbed', even mentally ill, at least according to those who know her best. That includes her two roommates with whom she shares a flat - hence the book's title. Her boyfriend, a randy youth in Van Dyke get-up and long curls, thinks Norma a bit ga-ga but still wants to marry her and take her away from all her cares and woes, influenced, perhaps, by the fact that Norma is an heiress.
Norma's father, a business tycoon who'd run off with another woman when Norma was a little girl, but is now back in London re-married and in charge of the family business, wants Poirot to find Norma and keep her from harming herself or anyone else.
Norma's step-mother wishes the girl didn't hate her quite so much.
In THIRD GIRL, Mrs. Oliver has several chapters on her own as she declares herself in on the case and this results in her being coshed on the head at one point even though Poirot had warned her to be very careful.
Unconventionally, the actual murder involved doesn't make itself known until we're well into the book and a second murder doesn't take place until nearly at the end. And as I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of bits that don't quite fit, and some coincidences glossed over, oddities which for whatever reason, are not as apparent in the audio version.
THIRD GIRL also features Miss Lemon and Georges, Poirot's stalwart household helpmates. Though I've always wondered, outside of writing a few letters, what exactly it is that Miss Lemon fills her days with. How much office work could a private detective have - even such a famous one as Hercule Poirot? It's a puzzle. And by the way the Miss Lemon of the books is very different from the Miss Lemon of the television series (she is more likable in the series), in the books she doesn't ever get involved in the cases. And of course, in the series, there is very little of Georges, manservant and valet. Though I've always thought he had more presence than Miss Lemon.
So what am I saying? Borrow the audio and listen to this one. Much more enjoyable and you have the added attraction of Hugh Fraser's voice.
Friday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Mystery Day, and we usually check in at Patricia Abbott's blog, but this week it's Todd Mason doing the hosting duties at Sweet Freedom, so don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.