49) Agatha Christie – The mirror cracked from side to side
This one’s interesting not just for the murder mystery itself, but because it was written in 1962 and Miss Marple is feeling the passage of time. Change has come to St Mary Mead, with the advent of the Development, a new housing estate. Change has come to the social structure, with the slow disappearance of household servants, and the appearance of supermarkets. And age is affecting Miss Marple, who is old enough to need some personal care after an illness, but is not the completely dependent and mindless old lady her home nurse insists on treating her as. Her doctor and old friend prescribes some unravelling of knitting for her. He’s not just referring to her knitting, and soon Miss Marple has the opportunity to unravel a murder. Her friend Mrs Bantry sold Gossington Hall some years earlier after the death of the Colonel, and after several changes of ownership and some unfortunate attention from developers it has now been sold to a Hollywood film star, who has restored it to a private home. Marina Gregg intends to take part in village life, and this includes hosting a public fund-raising event in the grounds for charity, and inviting various village notables to a private reception to view the refurbishments. As the former owner of the house, Mrs Bantry is an honoured guest — which puts her in a prime position to view events at the reception that in hindsight were a prelude to a murder.
This was one where I spotted who and part of why pretty much at the point of the murder — but the misdirection was so good that I wasn’t sure until almost the very end, even though the rest of why had been laid out quite clearly part way through the book, if you know what to look for. It’s a great read that kept me turning the pages, although it has a more melancholy feel to it than the earlier Marples. Christie has written a superb portrayal of an old woman who recognises that change isn’t necessarily all bad, but nevertheless feels discomfited by it even as she does her best to embrace the good aspects. And the ultimate motivation for the murder is heartbreaking, all the more so because it appears to have been based on a real life incident.