Hercule Poirot is intrigued to receive a new visitor, a young woman who looks dirty and messy and wants to consult Poirot over a murder she thinks she might have committed in Third Girl by Agatha Christie. But when the girl takes a look at Poirot, she leaves, saying he is too old. This obviously discourages the aging detective. So when he gets a phone call from Christie’s alter-ego, the mystery novelist Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, his friend commiserates with him before realizing that the girl must be one whom she met at a party and who heard Mrs. Oliver sing Poirot’s praises. Locating the identity of the young woman, named Norma Restarick, Poirot and Mrs. Oliver, who are both convinced that Norma needs their help because she is in genuine, serious trouble, each pursue their own avenues of investigation.
Norma lives in a flat with two other young women, giving the book its title. First Claudia, the secretary of Norma’s father, took the lease on the flat and then rented out the second bedroom to Francis, who works for an art gallery and does a lot of global traveling on its behalf. Norma then took the smallest room in a position known colloquially as a “third girl.”
But after Norma spends a weekend at her father’s country house, she disappears, and no one but Poirot and Mrs. Oliver seems to notice or care. Norma comes from a broken family, with the father she has always worshiped having run away with another woman to Africa when Norma was five. Two and a half years after the death of Norma’s mother, Andrew Restarick returned to London recently with his new wife after having made a fortune in Africa. Poirot investigates by visiting Norma’s great-uncle Sir Roderick Horsfield, who worked in military intelligence during World War II and has signs of dementia but gives Poirot some useful information nonetheless.
Then one day Mrs. Oliver happens to come across Norma with her boyfriend, David, in a coffee shop and quickly calls Poirot, who hurries to the location. By the time he leaves, the only sign of Mrs. Oliver is a note that she has followed David, whom she has decided to label “the Peacock” for his bright colors and pompous attitude. But Norma remains, and Poirot learns that this troubled young woman has disturbing lapses in memory and only vague recollections of this murder she might have committed. But before he can explore further, Norma jumps up, not to be seen for some time.
This book has many disparate threads that do not come together until the conclusion, making it rather hard to summarize effectively. It plays with issues of the 1960s, including the hippy and the drug culture, and one might say that the book makes one feel a bit on drugs just from its confusing details. The one redeeming feature of the book is the addition of Mrs. Oliver to it. I always love seeing this character, who is delightful, funny, and real all in one. I wish I could meet her in person!
Hugh Fraser narrates the audio edition of this book. He attacks this challenging read very ably, and he helps to make it more enjoyable than merely reading it visually would be.
Third Girl is my least favorite of the Hercule Poirot books and one of my least favorite Christie books. It has too many plot points that don’t mesh, and I found the conclusion very dissatisfactory. One friend of mine quipped that she thinks Third Girl was Christie’s attempt to see just how bad of writing could get published if a famous name was attached to it. Thus I was very surprised to find that the book averages four stars on Amazon. Because of the redeeming presence of Mrs. Oliver, I give this book two stars.
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