Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Kenneth Farnhill|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||At Bertram's Hotel|
|Followed by||Endless Night|
Third Girl is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in November 1966 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at eighteen shillings (18/-) and the US edition at $4.50.
It features her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and the recurring character Ariadne Oliver. The novel is notable for being the first in many years in which Poirot is present from beginning to end. It is uncommon in that the investigation includes discovering the first crime, which happens comparatively late in the novel.
Norma seeks help from Poirot, believing she may have committed murder. She flees, saying he is too old. He pursues the case, finding that Ariadne Oliver sent Norma Restarick to him. He believes there is a murder that prompted Norma’s fears. Poirot and Mrs. Oliver gather information, visiting her parents’ home and her apartment building. Norma does not return home after a weekend visit to her father and stepmother. Mrs. Oliver finds her in a café by chance, with her boyfriend David. Poirot meets Norma at the café, where she mentions the death again. After describing the odd times where she cannot recall what has happened, she leaves in fear again. Mrs Oliver trails David, ending up in the hospital after being coshed on the head upon leaving his art studio. Poirot arranges for Dr Stillingfleet to follow Norma; he pulls her to safety from a close call with speeding traffic, and brings her to his place for treatment, and for safety.
Norma’s father Andrew abandoned her and her mother Grace when Norma was about 5 years old. Andrew had run off with a woman in a relationship that ended soon. He travelled in Africa, in financially successful ventures. Norma lived with her mother until Grace’s death two and a half years before. Andrew returned to England after his brother Simon died a year earlier, to work in the family firm, arriving with a new young wife. Norma can recognize nothing familiar in this man, but accepts him. Norma is the third girl in her flat, in the fashion of young women advertising for a third girl to share the rent. The main tenant is secretary to her newfound father; the other girl, Frances, travels often for the art gallery that employs her.
Mrs Oliver learns that a woman in the apartment building had recently died by falling from her window. A week passes before she tells Poirot, who feels this is what bothers Norma. The woman was Louise Charpentier. Norma says that her father ran off with Louise Birell. Later, Mrs Oliver finds a piece of paper linking Louise Charpentier to Andrew. Mary Restarick has been ill from poison in her food. Sir Roderick engages Poirot to find documents missing from his files, which encounter brings young Sonia under suspicion.
Norma is lured from Dr Stillingfleet by an ad in the newspaper to meet David, and is again drugged. Frances kills David. She sets it up to appear that Norma did it, but the blood on the knife was congealed when Norma found herself holding it. With police and family gathered in the flat, Poirot announces that Andrew did die in Africa. Robert Orwell poses as her father to gain the wealth of the family. He had David paint portraits of him and his late wife in the style of a painter popular 20 years earlier, as part of the ruse. Most cruelly, he and his wife have been giving Norma various drugs that give her hallucinations and an altered sense of time, to set her up as guilty. Further, the wife had poisoned herself, hoping to pin that on Norma, too. Louise wrote to Andrew on learning he was back in England, so Frances killed Louise; this is the murder Norma feared she did. The woman posing as stepmother was also Frances, who used a blonde wig to cover her dark hair when changing roles. Poirot takes the wig from her bag to make that point. Murder of the two who could expose the imposters was just one of her crimes. Sonia is exonerated when she finds the papers Sir Roderick misplaced, and the two will marry. Poirot had chosen Dr Stillingfleet to help him with Norma in hopes the two would marry, and they will.
- Hercule Poirot: renowned Belgian detective
- Miss Felicity Lemon: Poirot's secretary
- George: Poirot's valet
- Ariadne Oliver: Poirot's friend, the celebrated author of detective stories
- Chief Inspector Neele: Poirot's police source and investigator for second murder
- Sergeant Conolly: a policeman in the case
- Dr John Stillingfleet: a physician and psychiatrist
- Mr Goby: leads network of people gathering data for Poirot
- David Baker: Norma's long-haired boyfriend, an artist with a police record; "peacock"
- Grace Baldwin Restarick: Norma's mother who died 2.5 years earlier
- Miss Battersby: former principal of Meadowfield School who attested to Norma being mentally stable
- Robert Orwell: man who met Andrew Restarick on a project in Africa, poses later as Andrew
Residing at Sir Roderick's home at Long Basing
- Mary Restarick: Norma's young blonde stepmother
- Andrew Restarick: Norma's father, not seen since she was 5 years old, returned a year ago
- Sir Roderick Horsfield: past age 65, once active in WWII intelligence, writing his memoirs, maternal uncle to brothers Simon (died one year earlier) and Andrew Restarick
- Sonia: Sir Roderick's personal assistant, young woman from Herzogovinia, seen by Mr Goby leaving a book for a man from that embassy
Residing at Borodene Mansions
- Claudia Reece-Holland: holds the lease of the flat #67 where Norma lives, secretary to her father, and daughter to an MP
- Frances Cary: flatmate of Norma and Claudia, works for a Bond Street art gallery that police are watching; she has long straight dark hair
- Norma Restarick: young woman about 19 or 20 years old, living on her own
- Mrs Louise Birell Charpentier: woman in mid 40s, recently died of fall from #76, seventh floor
- Miss Jacobs: older woman, neighbour to Claudia, and had unit below that of Louisa
This novel is notable for its overt use of coincidence, such as Mrs Oliver going into a café that happens to contain the girl she is seeking, and having a key piece of evidence literally fall into her hands from a drawer as furniture is being removed from a dead woman's flat. This very obvious use of coincidence is known as open authorial manipulation and is often used to draw the reader's attention to the artificiality of the plot. It is highly appropriate to a detective novel in which a central character writes detective fiction and is an example of metafiction.
Literary significance and reception
Unusually for this period, The Guardian didn't carry a review of the novel.
Maurice Richardson in The Observer of 13 November 1966 concluded, "There is the usual double-take surprise solution centring round a perhaps rather artificial identity problem; but the suspense holds up all the way. Dialogue and characters are lively as flies. After this, I shan't be a bit surprised to see A.C. wearing a mini-skirt."
References to other works
The novel reintroduces Stillingfleet, a character from the short story The Dream and first published in book form in the UK in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding in 1960, and Mr Goby, whose previous appearance had been in After the Funeral in 1953.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
A TV adaptation by Peter Flannery for the series Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet as Poirot and Zoë Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver was filmed in April and May 2008. It aired on 28 September of the same year on ITV, except for the STV Region which for some unexplained reason has refused point blank to show the final Poirot case at all (despite it showing the other 2 cases). The adaptation takes huge liberties with the novel, these including:
- Moving the 1960s setting to the 1930s, in accordance with the other episodes in the series.
- Omitting the characters of Dr Stillingfleet and Miss Lemon.
- Omitting the subterfuge of Mary Restarick posing as Frances Cary. Instead, Mary Restarick is made to be Norma's mother, who committed suicide by slitting her wrists when Norma was a little child.
- Replacing the character of Louise Charpentier with a new character, Lavinia Seagram, who becomes Norma's nanny. She is murdered in exactly the same way Mary Restarick committed suicide, instead of being pushed out of a window like Louise Charpentier in the novel. The motive of her murder remains the same as Louise's in the novel – she is killed because she threatened to reveal the true identity of Robert Orwell, the man posing as Andrew Restarick.
- Having Frances Cary become the half-sister to Norma. Norma's old teacher, Miss Battersby, had had an affair with Andrew Restarick and bore Frances. When Miss Battersby learned of Robert Orwell and his deception, she told her daughter, who found a way to become Orwell's co-conspirator. Frances tried to get Norma hanged for a crime that she never committed to inherit her half-sister's fortune.
- Having Norma's disoriented state being blamed on the trauma caused by her mother's suicide. She is never given drugs as in the novel. Her fragile mind is manipulated by Frances, who planted a knife in her room before Norma discovered Nanny Seagram's body, and then removed it afterwards. This made Norma believe that she had committed the murder.
- The character of David Baker being spared at the end, unlike in the novel, in which he was murdered. In the adaptation, he serves as Norma's love interest, whereas in the novel, Norma's love interest is Dr. Stillingfleet.
- Ariadne Oliver's book Lady Don't Fall Backwards – this is a shout-out to the Hancock's Half Hour TV episode "The Missing Page", in which Tony Hancock tries to find out who committed the murder in a book he'd just read with a missing page (mirrored by the concierge, Alf Renny, who tells Mrs Oliver that he'd read her book four times and still had no idea who did it).
- 1966, Collins Crime Club (London), November 1966, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1967, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1967, Hardcover, 248 pp
- 1968, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 230 pp
- 1968, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 190 pp
- 1968, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback
- 1979, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-231847-4
In the US a condensed version of the novel appeared in the April 1967 (Volume 128, Number 6) issue of Redbook magazine with a photographic montage by Mike Cuesta.
- Czech: Třetí dívka (Third Girl)
- Dutch: Het derde meisje (The Third Girl)
- Finnish: Kolmas tyttö (The Third Girl)
- French: La Troisième Fille (The Third Girl)
- German: Die vergessliche Mörderin (The forgetful murderess)
- Greek: Το χαμόγελο της Μέδουσας (The smile of Medusa)
- Hungarian: Harmadik lány (Third Girl), A harmadik lány (The Third Girl)
- Italian: Sono un'assassina? (Am I a Killer?)
- Norwegian: Den tredje piken (The Third Girl)
- Persian: دختر سوم (The Third Girl)
- Polish: Trzecia lokatorka (The Third Tenant)
- Portuguese: Poirot e a Terceira Inquilina (Poirot and the Third Tenant)
- Croatian: Treća djevojka (The Third Girl)
- Spanish: Tercera Muchacha (Third Girl)
- Swedish: Tredje Flickan (The Third Girl)
- Turkish: Üçüncü kız (Third Girl)
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The Observer, 13 November 1966 (p. 26)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (Page 207). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- Third Girl at the official Agatha Christie website
- Third Girl (2008) at the Internet Movie Database
- Early in 2014, la troisième fille (Third Girl in French) becomes one among the nicknames of Julie Gayet.