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 Restarick seeks help from Poirot, believing she may have committed murder. When she sees him in person, she flees, saying he is too old. He pursues the case finding that Ariadne Oliver sent Norma 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
- Ariadne Oliver: Poirot's friend, the celebrated author of detective stories
- Miss Felicity Lemon: Poirot's secretary
- George: Poirot's valet
- 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: he leads network of people gathering data for Poirot
- David Baker: Norma's long-haired boyfriend, an artist with a police record; a "peacock"; murdered by Frances.
- Grace Baldwin Restarick: Norma's mother who died two and a half years earlier
- Miss Battersby: former principal of Meadowfield School who attested to Norma being mentally stable
- Robert Orwell: a man who met Andrew Restarick on a project in Africa, and later poses as Andrew
Residing at Sir Roderick's home at Long Basing:
- 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
- Andrew Restarick: Norma's father, not seen since she was 5 years old, apparently returned a year ago.
- Mary Restarick: Andrew's young blonde second wife and, thus, Norma's stepmother.
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. She plays two roles, as flatmate and as the wife of Robert Orwell, and the couple poses as Andrew and Mary Restarick to gain the family inheritance. She murders those who would expose their disguise.
- Norma Restarick: young woman about 19 or 20 years old, the third girl in the flat.
- Mrs Louise Birell Charpentier: woman in mid 40s, recently died of fall from #76, seventh floor, pushed off by Frances. Louise was the woman the real Andrew Restarick left Norma's mother for.
- Miss Jacobs: older woman, neighbour to Claudia, and had unit below that of Louise.
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.
A television 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 2008 on ITV. The adaptation took major liberties with the novel, including the following changes:
- The setting is shifted from the 1960s to the 1930s, in accordance with the other episodes in the series.
- The characters of Dr Stillingfleet and Miss Lemon are omitted.
- Mary Restarick was Norma's mother, who committed suicide by slitting her wrists when Norma was a little child. Norma's disoriented state is blamed on the trauma caused by her mother's suicide. She is never given drugs.
- Frances Cary is Norma's half-sister, the child of Norma's former teacher, Miss Battersby, and Andrew Restarick. Miss Battersby learned of Robert Orwell's plot, and told her daughter Frances, who became Orwell's accomplice. Frances planned to get Norma hanged, so that Frances would inherit the Restarick fortune.
- Louise Charpentier is replaced by Lavinia Seagram, Norma's former nanny. Frances murders her for the same reason Frances murders Louise in the novel: because she could expose Robert Orwell's impersonation of Andrew Restarick. Frances plants a knife in Norma's room before Nanny Seagram's body is discovered, and then removes the knife afterwards, and uses a similar knife for the murder. This makes Norma believe that she has committed the murder.
- David Baker is not murdered; he serves as Norma's love interest in the absence of Dr Stillingfleet.
- The element of Ariadne Oliver's book Lady, Don't Fall Backwards mirrors that of 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 had just read with a missing page, with Oliver's concierge, Alf Renny, telling her that he had 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
- 2011, Harper paperbacks, 271 pp, ISBN 978-0062073761
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.
This novel has been translated to various languages other than its original English. Over 20 are listed here. This is in keeping with the author's reputation for being the most translated author.
- Arabic: ألفتاة الثالثه
- Bulgarian: Третото момиче /Tretoto momiche/
- Croatian: Treća djevojka
- Czech: Třetí dívka
- Danish: Den tredje pige
- Dutch: Het derde meisje
- Finnish: Kolmas tyttö
- French: La Troisième Fille
- German: Die vergessliche Mörderin
- Greek: Το χαμόγελο της Μέδουσας
- Hungarian: Harmadik lány and A harmadik lány
- Indonesian: Gadis Ketiga
- Italian: Sono un'assassina?
- Norwegian: Den tredje piken
- Persian: دختر سوم
- Polish: Trzecia lokatorka
- Portuguese (Brazil): A Terceira Moça
- Portuguese (Portugal): Poirot e a Terceira Inquilina
- Romanian: A treia fată
- Spanish: Tercera Muchacha
- Swedish: Tredje Flickan
- Turkish: Üçüncü kız
- 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
- McWhirter, Norris; McWhirter, Ross (1976). Guinness Book of World Records, 11th U.S. Edition. Bantam Books Inc. p. 704.
- "About Agatha Christie". Agatha Christie Ltd. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in 44 foreign languages.