Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side:
‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried
The Lady of Shalott.
4.5 Stars (Rounded to 5)
I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. I have watched an awful lot of the TV and film adaptations of both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple stories, and read my first Poirots quite a few years back, beginning when I read the entire collection of 51 Poirot short stories back-to-back. It was recently that I realised that, despite the fact that I started ‘4:50 From Paddington’ (one of my favourite Marple TV episodes), I had never finished reading a full-length Miss Marple book. This shocked me, considering the amount of Agatha Christie books that I own, the quantities of Poirot I have read and the amount that I enjoy her stories when adapted for TV; I suppose I always was more of a Poirot fan, and therefore naturally picked up Poirot books rather than Miss Marple. Having just studied (and picked up a love for) Alfred Tennyson’s poetry, with emphasis on ‘The Lady of Shalott’, I thought that there would be no better Marple to read than ‘The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side’, the book which makes frequent reference to, and is named after a line of, ‘The Lady of Shalott’. This was of course aided by the fact that I acquired this book, among many other Christie novels, for 25p or so in a local charity shop (I possess old editions, printed in the 60s or 70s). These factors made ‘The Mirror Crack’d…’ the perfect candidate to be my introduction to Miss Marple in her original book form.
I’m not going to post any spoilers for the actual outcome of the story here, as this is obviously a murder mystery, and there would be no point me recommending a mystery if I were to spoil the ending.
The first thing to say here is that I have seen this story on TV many times, and it is another favourite of mine. Saying this, the details were a bit hazy, as I had not seen it in a while. Of course, when I got into the story, the facts kept on coming back to me, so I remembered the conclusion before the end of the book. Despite this, the fact that I knew the outcome of the mystery before the climax did not disappoint me, or ruin my excitement of reading at all. I was equally satisfied identifying the hints knowingly instead of scouring the words desperately for clues. Speaking of the climax, it did not disappoint me at all. As with all Christie books, the revelation is left until the very end, where our detective swoops in to tell the characters how blind they are being. In this instance, I felt that the reveal was natural, rather than forcibly placing characters into a situation where Miss Marple could reveal all, as it sometimes does feel with the endings. The plot leads us through twists and turns, with many false leads and red herrings, yet the conclusion it comes to is, in my eyes, the best one.
The book starts with Miss Marple debating how times are moving on and leaving her behind; the ‘Development’ presents how the sudden creation of more modern housing slowly began to overcome the idyllic villages such as St. Mary Mead. This little section, beginning with the phrase “St. Mary Mead was not the place it had been. In a sense, of course, nothing was what it had been,” [page 8, Fontana Books] lead me to think about the times progressing, and how nothing ever remains the way we remember it. I was not alive in the 60s to see the start of modernisation as it is recounted in this book, but still, my over-analytical mind began to process how human life always changes, and how we are not all ready to take the next step into social advancement. Essentially, this little piece of backstory as to how times would have been changing at the time Christie wrote this novel deeply fascinated me, and I found it to be a delightful feature to the plot.
Miss Marple was not only faced with the truth that her village was no longer the place she remembered it as, but with the horrifying fact that she was physically ageing a lot quicker than she would have liked. Seeing the frustrations of an older woman who is in sharp mental health and is struggling to accept any help or acknowledge her declining physical health gives a strong sense of character to the stubbornly brilliant Miss Marple.
A lot of people so not like how, throughout the book, you see little of Miss Marple’s view of the crime, instead seeing the approach of a detective from Scotland Yard, in this case Dermot Craddock, attempting to solve the mystery (and eventually relying on Marple!). I liked this element, as having the views of Inspector Craddock to lead the readers astray along a trail of clues, and the humour of having him eventually outwitted by an ageing old woman, makes the book more well-rounded characteristically. Marina Gregg, Dolly Bantry and Heather Badcock – among others – all had strong back-stories that worked very cleverly with the plot.
As always with Christie, I loved the writing. The slow leaking of clues and subtle hints that seem obvious in hindsight make for a delightful read. I also loved the play on the Tennyson poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’, quite possibly my favourite poem. I loved the fact that, when referring to the poem, everyone misquotes the actual line until Miss Marple states it, upon solving the mystery.
Overall, I thought that this book was superb, however I stick with my original claims; I love Agatha Christie, but I will always prefer Hercule Poirot to Miss Marple, purely as I find his character to be more to my taste.