Reviews – Miss Marple Mysteries ‘The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side’ & ‘The Murder at the Vicarage’ by Agatha Christie
Well, I had only been planning to read just one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery novels, but as many of you know, another Miss Marple mystery was released as a freebie, and I wasn’t about to turn that down :)
The quaint village of St Mary Mead has been glamourized by the presence of screen queen Marina Gregg, who has taken up residence in preparation for her comeback. But when a local fan is poisoned, Marina finds herself starring in a real-life mystery — supported with scene-stealing aplomb by Jane Marple, who suspects that the lethal cocktail was intended for someone else. But who? If it was meant for Marina, then why? And before the final fade-out, who else from St Mary Mead’s cast of seemingly innocent characters is going to be eliminated?
I borrowed The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side since I wanted a change of pace from the Swedish crime novels I’ve been reading – and this is one of the few Agatha Christie books I missed out on (I went on a Miss Marple/ Poirot marathon when I was in the seventh grade so I’ve read a lot of them).
Well, I have to say that this isn’t going to be one of my fave Miss Marple books for sure – it just fell short of the quality I had expected from the legendary author. In The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, we can see that a convalescing Miss Marple is getting on in her years. It doesn’t help Jane Marple’s spirits that she also has to contend with an extremely trying full-time nurse/companion who insists on treating her like a helpless child. It’s an ironically good thing then that a local murder drops into Miss Marple’s lap to give her the necessary shot in the arm (so to speak), especially as Inspector Craddock (the Scotland Yard cop who does most of the legwork) respects her crime-solving skills and keeps her in the loop.
The mystery in The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side revolves around the glamorous movie star Marina Gregg who has moved into sleepy St Mary Mead (specifically to Gossington Hall, the setting of a previous Marple mystery The Body in the Library). A local fan is poisoned during a fete at Gossington Hall, and all signs seem to point to Marina Gregg as the intended victim. As the suspects are eliminated during the investigation, unfortunately, so does the unknown murderer also increase the body count. But not to worry – Miss Marple is on the case!
The mystery itself isn’t up to par to what I know Agatha Christie was capable of, but what I did appreciate from this book was how it portrayed England on the cusp of change – with new housing projects rising, the influx of a new working class of women, the appearance of modern amenities (for example, the horrors of the vacuum cleaner!), but Miss Marple was right in her observation that as things change, so do people stay fundamentally the same. A particular funny touch for me was when Jane Marple was doing her research on Hollywood movie stars and she was reading the movie magazines – she could have just been reading about current movie stars in our gossip rags too!
Colonel Protheroe, local magistrate and overbearing land-owner is the most detested man in the village. Everyone–even in the vicar–wishes he were dead. And very soon he is–shot in the head in the vicar’s own study. Faced with a surfeit of suspects, only the inscrutable Miss Marple can unravel the tangled web of clues that will lead to the unmasking of the killer.
Miss Jane Marple has arrived on the scene, and crime literature’s private men’s club of great detectives will never be the same.
It’s so cool that HarperCollins decided to give this away for free, right? (it’s still free by the way) I was pretty happy since this is another of the Miss Marple books I haven’t read, and turns out that this is the first full length Miss Marple mystery too!
In The Murder at the Vicarage, the vicar Leonard Clement (who is also the narrator in the book) finds the murdered Colonel Protheroe in his study. Unfortunately for the local police, Colonel Protheroe was the kind of man who was universally loathed and had many enemies – so there are basically too many suspects: there’s Mrs Protheroe, Mrs Protheroe’s secret lover, Colonel Protheroe’s daughter, a local poacher, a mysterious woman newly arrived at St Mary Mead … the list goes on and on. It’s a good thing then that one of the local gossipy old ladies lives next door to the vicar and takes a healthy interest in the proceedings (since she might just solve the case before the authorities!)
Although Jane Marple had appeared in some short stories prior to The Murder at the Vicarage, this is the first actual novel that introduces her. Unfortunately, I think I liked this novel more for the nostalgia factor than the quality of the mystery. The mystery itself is not as well developed or complex as later Agatha Christie books, and the way Miss Marple solved it in the end was so implausible (!) – I couldn’t believe how she’d solved it in the first place. It was like one wild conjecture after another. One note, I really liked the narrator (the vicar) though – he was this sweet genuinely kindly older man who was so in love with his young wife, and he was one reason I kept on reading (plus, I wanted to appreciate the freebie!)