Monday, August 28, 2017

What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!: Review

I hadn't read What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! (1957; APA: 4.50 From Padddington) since I went on my first Agatha Christie binge in late elementary school. I read everything the Wabash Carnegie Library had by Christie. Since then, I've watched all sorts of filmed versions of the story from Joan Hickson's perfect Miss Marple to Geraldine McEwan's okay-but-not-quite-right version to Margaret Rutherford's comic relief, much too energetic, steal-the-murder-witness-role-and-tack-it-on-to-my-role, and who the heck is Mr. Stringer (other than the star's husband) anyway Marple. [Don't get me wrong--I enjoy the Rutherford movies, but for what they are--which isn't a Christie-style work but mystery-comedies].

Christie's original story finds Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy on her way by train to visit her dear friend Jane Marple. At one point in the journey, her train comes along side another on a parallel track and a blind flips up just in time for her to witness a murder. A man with his back to Mrs. McGillicuddy is strangling a blonde woman in a fur coat. She reports what she has seen to a ticket collector and then later pours out her story to Miss Marple. But there is no evidence of the murder--no body was found on the train when it was searched. No body was found along the tracks. No one has reported a missing passenger.  

Miss Marple and Mrs. McGillicuddy do a bit of investigation using maps and train journeys to figure out where the body could have been shoved off the train and either not be found in the official search or have been collected and removed by person or persons unknown. They fasten on a spot adjoining the grounds surrounding Rutherford Hall which belongs to the Crackenthorpe family. The next thing on the agenda is to find a way to scout out the property and institute a search for the woman's body. Of course, Miss Marple (Margaret Rutherford's portrayal notwithstanding) isn't up to traipsing energetically about and she's afraid they'll have to give things up--when she suddenly remembers Lucy Eyelesbarrow, a young, exclusive, private housekeeper of Miss Marple's acquaintance. 

Lucy is intrigued by Miss Marple's plan for her to apply as housekeeper/help to the Crackenthorpes (whose cantankerous patriarch, Luther, makes it difficult to keep extra help) and stating that she wants the job in order to be near her ailing "aunt." Lucy goes undercover--managing to provide her usual top-notch housekeeping and cooking services as well as tracking down various clues (a bit of pale fur and compact) that lead her to a grisly discovery in one of the outbuildings. The placement of the body suggests that somebody who knows Rutherford Hall well is responsible...but would that be Cedric Crackenthorpe, the lusty, artistic son who lives on an island and says he has no use for women? Or perhaps Harold Crackenthorpe, the City gentleman whose affairs may not withstand close scrutiny? Or Alfred Crackenthorpe who has been mixed up in various shady deals and who has just managed to escape the heavy hand of the far. Or  Bryan Eastley, the widower son-in-law who doesn't act nearly as grown up as his ex-fighter pilot medals would indicate. Of course, there's also Dr. Quimper who's always hanging about--tending to Luther Crackenthorpe and keeping a benevolent eye on Emma Crackenthorpe, Luther's devoted daughter cum nursemaid/companion. 

But who is this unidentified woman who has been unceremoniously dumped in a sarcophagus stored amongst Luther's collection in the outbuilding? Is she the French wife of the eldest Crackenthorpe son Edmund? Edmund died in the Great War and had written of a woman he met and planned to marry. The family always thought he had died before tying the knot, but a recent letter purporting to be from the Frenchwoman Martine with claims of a marriage and an announced intention to visit Edmund's home has them wondering. There's also a missing ballerina who fits the description of the dead woman, but what would a ballerina have to do with the Crackenthorpes? It's all a muddle and two more deaths will follow--but with Lucy acting as her eyes and ears, Miss Marple is able to see her way to the solution and hand the murderer over to Inspector Craddock before s/he can chalk up any more victims.

Although this book is not one that I usually think of when trying to come up with a "Top Ten Christie List," it is a delight for various reasons--mostly to do with the characterizations. The relations between the Crackenthorpes tops out the list. Christie manages (in a very short novel) to imbue each of the Crackenthorpes with distinct personalities highlighted through conversations, their interviews with the police, and their reactions to the events surrounding the murder. The two boys (Crackenthorpe's grandson, Alexander, and his friend) also make things interesting as they try to play detectives and discover clues on their own.  And, of course, Lucy Eyelesbarrow really steals the show with her detective work and the way she manages the household. 

The other item that I really enjoyed was the way Miss Marple traps the murderer. That final scene is really quite well-done and is more interesting than some of these denouement scenes where we gather all the suspects together, show how each one could have done it, and then, finally, point the accusing finger at the real villain. She stage-manages it perfectly so that Mrs. McGillicuddy can exclaim "That's the murderer!" in grand dramatic form. ★★

[Finished on 8/18/17]

1 comment:

TracyK said...

I love that cover, and I have got to get busy on reading more Miss Marple mysteries.