Third Girl by Agatha Christie
Poirot was sitting at the breakfast table with a cup of hot chocolate, feeling quite proud of himself for a recent literary accomplishment, when his butler informed him that a young lady was there to consult him. Poirot agreed to see her. She was an unattractive girl with a peculiar problem: she thought she had committed a murder but couldn’t be sure. Before Poirot could coax an explanation from her, she changed her mind about hiring him, saying, “You’re too old. Nobody told me you were so old. I really don’t want to be rude, but—there it is. You’re too old. I’m really very sorry.”
Then she left. That might have been the end of it, but her pronouncement wounded Poirot to the core, and he also worried about her. He said to his friend, Mrs. Oliver, “She is one of whom others will look round and say, ‘We want a victim. That one will do.'” So Poirot decided to find that nameless girl and, he hoped, to help her before it was too late.
While not a particularly memorable mystery, Third Girl was an engaging read, particularly because of the inclusion of Mrs. Oliver, one of my favorite recurring characters. Admittedly, there were some moments when I was dismayed by Christie’s prose. There was a scene in which one of the characters “turned into a building,” and then on the next page Mrs. Oliver “turned into a local cafe.” That phrase, “turned into,” was certainly uninspired. In modern American English, at least, it also has a sort of comic potential, as one might at first understand it to mean “transformed into.” On the same page as Mrs. Oliver turned into a cafe, she “gave a gasp.” Whenever I see that phrase, I think “Gave a gasp to whom?” Keep your gasps to yourself. That’s what I always say.
I don’t mean to be a nitpicker. I typically don’t mind Christie’s prose, which I would describe as utilitarian. The words she used for that particular scene just happened to grab my attention. I don’t think I’d recommend Third Girl to your everyday reader, but for fans of Christie, I would say it’s worthwhile.