Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Mirror Crack'd: Review

I returned to Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd (1962; APA The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side) after first reading it from the public library when I was in junior high. I've since seen the Joan Hickson version as well as the star-studded production with Angela Lansbury playing Miss Marple and have picked up my own edition of the book so I can revisit the original story.

This story takes Miss Jane Marple into the world of movie stars and a local modern Development when actress Marina Gregg buys Gossington Hall from the widowed Dolly Bantry and brings her director husband and American entourage to live in St. Mary Mead. Jason Rudd, the husband, hopes that living in the small English village will give Marina a bit of quiet and stability--something that has been missing in her life. Marina decides that St. Mary Mead is just perfect and that she wants to really be a part of village life--so she agrees to host the annual fete in aid of the St. John's Ambulance. The party is going well--lots of games and entertainment on the grounds and Marina invites some select guests to come inside to be greeted and to see the house.

It's all going well that is until silly Heather Babcock, connected to the St. John's Ambulance, is introduced to her idol, Marina Gregg. Heather launches into a long and enthusiastic story about how she has already met Miss Gregg before--long ago when Marina was entertaining the troops. Dolly Bantry notices that Marina is no longer really listening to the babbling woman--she's staring over her shoulder with a "frozen" look on her face. When she later describes the scene to Miss Marple, they are reminded of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott:

Out flew the web and floated wide;
     The mirror crack'd from sided to side;
"The curse has come upon me," cried
     The Lady of Shalott.

Just moments after finishing her story and being offered a drink by her idol, Heather Babcock is dead. It doesn't take long to discover that she's been poisoned. But who would poison Mrs. Babcock? She was a self-absorbed woman; nice enough and not at all mean-spirited, but not really thinking about how her actions or words might actually affect others. There doesn't seem to be a motive to kill her, however. Then it's discovered that her drink was spilled and the drink which had the poison in it was Marina's. As Miss Marple mentions when she first hears of the poisoning..."perhaps it was the wrong murder." Now the police are racing to find the killer before they can rectify their mistake and kill Marina after all. But they're going to need pointers from everyone's favorite spinster detective before they arrive at the right solution.

This one continues to delight even after a reread (and watching the filmed versions multiple times). It is interesting to come to it knowing the solution and to watch how Christie practices her art of misdirection. The basic plot is one used in other stories, but I'm always intrigued at the many different ways she was able to use the same idea. 

She also gives us a Jane Marple who has aged and has to come to terms with her advanced years and the changes in St. Mary Mead. The novel is as much social commentary on the post-WWII-era as it is a murder mystery. Given Miss Marple's frailer health, the doctor has suggested she have a companion and Miss Marple is driven to distraction by the woman her nephew has employed for her. She has to find a way to ease Miss Knight out and find someone to live in who won't treat her like an imbecile child. This side story provides Miss Marple with a different way to approach the murder investigation--she isn't as mobile as she once was and all the information has to come to her--through Dolly Bantry and through Inspector Craddock. It is Miss Marple doing her best armchair detective work since The Tuesday Night Club stories.

★★★★  for an entertaining read and interesting social commentary.

This fulfills the "Dead Body" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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