"The curse has come upon me," cried the Lady of Shallot...

“The curse has come upon me,” cried the Lady of Shallot…

“Miss Jane Marple was sitting by her window.”

Privately, I think I’ve always preferred Miss Marple to Poirot, although this does change book to book, of course. While they both have similar methods, they’re different enough to make for very different reads. I realised though that I’ve not actually read any Marple since September 2013, which is partly due to the fact there are far fewer Marple books than there are Poirot, and partly sheer uselessness.

Unlike Tommy and Tuppence, who age in real time with their stories, Marple and Poirot both age only a decade or two over the sixty year span of their books being published, despite the fact that often society moves on around them. This book deals with some of those issues, and shows Marple starting to struggle with her age. By the time of the next (chronological) book, A Caribbean Mystery, she will be being sent away on holiday for her health. Despite her failing body however, her mind is still as sharp as ever.

In this book, sometimes printed as just The Mirror Crack’d, we return to Marple’s village of St Mary Mead. Things have changed quite a lot here, and the village is fuller than ever with the building of what the old guard call the Development nearby, full of modern men and women and values that are far from the Victorian idyll held up by some of the original residents. It is, of course, the sixties. At one end of the village sits the large mansion Gossington Hall, which featured prominently in an earlier Christie novel, The Body in the Library. The original owner, Mrs Bantry, has since moved out and now it’s come under the ownership of well-known actress Marina Gregg and her director husband Jason Rudd. The villagers, both old and new, are excited by this prospect and one summer’s day, the gates are flung open for a party, so everyone goes to catch a peek of Marina, and see what changes have been made to the house.

Few could be more excited about this than Heather Badcock, a kind but interfering woman from the Development who once met Marina many years ago and sought her out for an autograph. But not long after they meet, Heather is dead, poisoned by a daiquiri spiked with an overdose of prescription drugs. The police, including Dermot Craddock (an old friend of Marple who has appeared in two other novels), are stumbling over themselves to work out how this happened. Everyone has a theory, but it seems the only thing they can all agree on is that the poison was meant for Marina Gregg, as she gave Heather hers after Heather spilt the one she was meant to have.

As the police struggle to work out who would want Marina dead, Miss Marple begins to explore her own avenues of investigation, stifled all the while by live-in carer Miss Knight. Everyone wants it solved before the killer makes a second attempt, but there are too many unanswered questions. What happened to Marina’s children? What was Ardwyck Fenn doing back in Britain? And what is it that Marina saw when she was talking to Heather that made her look so terrified?

Considered by some to be a sequel to Library, the story is populated by a number of characters who we’ve seen before. Change has come to St Mary Mead, but many people remain the same and Marple is still as shrewd as ever, known by the locals to always be tangling herself up in murder, although not necessarily on purpose. Gone are her faithful parlourmaids and now she finds herself being bullied to health by Miss Knight, a domineering woman who always thinks she knows what’s best for Marple without ever questioning her. Marple finds her tiresome and will do anything to avoid her, and I completely understand why, but she’s rather a grotesque creation and a good addition.

The book deals with many themes that are far more modern than the average St Mary Mead resident or Christie reader would expect, dealing as it does with the notion of celebrity, the “moving picture” industry, the changes in class structure and how villages were redeveloped after the war for new residents. It took a while to get into the book, but the payoff was absolutely splendid and the twist one of the finest in the canon. Like everything, it’s obvious once you know, but Christie continues to work her magic and make sure that we’re always one step behind the detectives.

And if only everyone would remember to use their pronouns correctly, there wouldn’t be such confusion.

If you want to read my debut novel, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus (which is nothing at all like a Christie mystery), head to Amazon, iTunes or SmashWords to download it for any e-reader device.

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