When Miss Marple’s old acquaintance, Mr. Rafiel dies, she is never more surprised in her life when she gets a letter from his lawyers with a proposition for her. She is to undertake a task for Mr. Rafiel, without any clues as to what that task is; if she completes this task, she will gain twenty thousand pounds. Miss Marple intrigued, agrees somewhat doubtfully and immediately she is taken on a journey where little by little, the clues fall into place and she comes closer to solving the mystery.

This mystery was slightly disturbing to read. Agatha Christie treats the cases of rape and assault in a way I found appalling sometimes. The case of crimes committed by delinquents and  mentally unstable people is a major factor in this novel and lends an eerie and depressing atmosphere to the whole book. Basically, I felt the whole case along with the motive was too disquieting to read. One expects emotions such as hate, jealousy, lust, greed and revenge as being the cause of murder, but when it’s love, it makes it much more darker. I don’t know, perhaps I’m the only one who felt this way, but the novel left me sad.

Agatha Christie wrote quite a bit about the mentally unstable and referred a lot to the psychological theories new in her time. Many of her novels dealt with mental abnormalities and with dysfunctional relationships. She never shied away from discussing things such as sex and unwanted pregnancies (although she mostly blamed the girls or how girls didn’t have proper mothers to look after them anymore!). This novel is one of the queerer ones and actually, the plot has some similarities with Sleeping Murder, Miss Marple’s final case.

Mentions of known characters in this novel include Mr. Rafiel, who appears alongside Miss Marple in A Caribbean Mystery, Raymond and Joan, Miss Marple’s nephew and his wife, and Sir Henry Clithering, an old acquaintance of Miss Marple.  Cherry Baker, Miss Marple’s helper, also appears in this novel.


Some Miss Marple

At Bertram’s Hotel, and A Pocket Full of Rye; two mysteries starring Miss Marple:

 “Human nature is much the same everywhere, is it not?”

These words are the secret behind Miss Marple’s ability of solving murders; human nature is the same everywhere and she is adept at recognizing it for what it is. Like all of the author’s famous amateur detectives, Miss Marple often finds herself in the middle of a murder. In A Pocket Full of Rye it is through her maid Gladys that she becomes connected with the poisoning of Rex Fortescue, an old business man who had recently married a young and beautiful wife. The whole drama centers around the family. In At Bertram’s Hotel, Miss Marple is again confronted with crime when she comes to holiday at Bertram’s Hotel – the last place you could imagine murder to happen.

Rating: ****

I don’t really enjoy a Miss Marple mystery, but A Pocket Full of Rye was different. I was left saddened by the outcome in more ways than one. The identity of the murderer, his (I say his for convenience) method of committing the crime, his heartlessness and the cruelty of fate, all moved me to tears. I felt so much for all the characters – Gladys, the unattractive, eager maid always hoping for romance; Pat Fortescue, the awkwardly attractive and charming wife of Lance Fortescue who has faced a lot of misfortune in life; and the plain daughter, Elaine Fortescue – they were drawn with such care that I felt like I knew them. Agatha Christie is so good with those little details in a character that you sometimes exclaim “Exactly! That’s exactly how it is! How does she KNOW?!

It was an unresolved ending which made the book so much better. The crime is solved, but we are left to wonder over the fate of some characters, and the harshness of the reality of others. I’m being very cryptic, but I don’t want to give anything away – a murder mystery loses so much when you know what happens.

Rating: ***

As for At Bertram’s Hotel, what attracted me was the atmosphere of Bertram’s Hotel. I can see why the hotel would be so popular among Americans and all who want to experience Britain as it was! I myself felt tempted to hop in a plane and book a room at the hotel……any experience of that kind would be awesome. Miss Marple comes to Bertram’s Hotel to relive some memories of her own long forgotten past; but in her heart, she knows that the past is something best left behind. Although all Agatha Christie’s books turn out to be murder mysteries, the murder in this book comes quite late in the novel and isn’t the big draw of the plot. What is played up the most is Bertram’s Hotel itself and its old world charm. We also have a huge thieving racket going on in the background which somehow or other leads back to Bertram’s Hotel.

The Moving Finger

Rating: ****

Jerry Burton, a pilot, and his sister Joanna move to the small village of Lymstock. The visit, which is to last some months, is undertaken for Jerry’s health. Recovering from a severe back injury, a result of his plane crash, he is advised by his doctor to take a break from stress and enjoy the relaxations of a small gossiping community. But Lymstock is hardly the place for a recovery when a few days after their move, the siblings receive a malicious anonymous letter; the letters have been going around the village for some time.

I loved the ironic humor with which Jerry and Joanna carried out their conversations. The inhabitants of Lymstock are gentle, simple people, and the humor with which Jerry and Joanna receive their comments made me laugh!

It’s the letters, sir. Wicked letters – indecent, too, using such words and all. Worse than I’ve ever seen in the Bible, even.’ says Mrs. Baker

Passing over an interesting side-line here, I said desperately…….

The ironic comedy ends the moment that the first anonymous letter hits home – a suicide occurs and all of a sudden the letters have taken on a more serious aspect. The first half of the book is occupied with finding out the identity of the letter-writer and in that search we become acquainted with an interesting assortment of characters. I especially liked Megan Hunter, Mrs. Symmington’s unwanted daughter, who had trouble fitting in and finding herself. She seems an awkward, overgrown child and the make-over scene is something to look forward too!

When the murder does come, it doesn’t hold center stage interest for me. Not because it wasn’t well written, but because I was more interested in the developing relations of Jerry and Joanna with the people in the village and how they settled in with life in a small village. I was also surprised to find Miss Marple coming in at the end to solve the crime. I had practically forgotten that she was in this novel because of the small role she plays. I would have liked it better if Jerry Burton had been the one to solve it (which he comes close to doing).

Mrs. Dane Calthrop also appears in this novel. I don’t know why, but her character always intrigues me. See my Agatha Christie page to read more on her and her husband.

The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side

Rating: **

St. Mary Mead has changed considerably over the years. A new area called ‘The Development’ by the old inhabitants of the village has been created. But human nature being what it always is….

The excitement is great when American actress Marina Gregg comes to live in Dolly Bantry’s old home, Gossington Hall. Miss Marple, older and dependent on a nurse, still has a brain as keen as ever. Sitting at her window, her eyes see more than people present at the fete at Gossington Hall. Heather Badcock, a kind and efficient woman, is murdered at the crowded party under the eyes of many witnesses. The bold and audacious murderer seemingly got away with the crime – but did he? Was Heather Badcock the real target? or was the famous movie star Marina Gregg the intended victim? Chief Inspector Craddock seems to think so along with Miss Marple, and working together they try and narrow down the list of suspects.

The actress herself will say nothing. They have only one clue to go on; Mrs. Bantry, a witness at the party, reports of a look of doom on Marina Gregg’s face whilst talking to Heather Badcock. What had caused this look? Had she seen someone or something terrible? The poem by Tennyson The Lady of Shalott comes to mind,

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.

Whether she tells Scotland Yard or not, Marina Gregg obviously has an enemy. Two more deaths occur. Miss Marple is sure that the clue to the murderer lies in that one look. Vainly she questions and tries to deduce who she could have seen at that moment – only to make a shocking discovery.

Some thoughts
I’m not a huge Miss Marple fan which is not a famous thing to be, I know. Most readers of Agatha Christie love her and while I do admire her method of knowing ‘types’ of people, I can never really like her. Horrible, I know, but that’s just the way it is. I usually like the plots of the novels she’s in, but in this story, the plot only initially seemed water tight. Not every imaginable person was tacked with a motive to the murder – but soon things began to crop up and everyone seemed to have a hidden agenda. It may be the most unlikely person – but it shouldn’t be practically anybody! A critic Anthony Cox reviewed it thus,

“she has of course thought up one more brilliant little peg on which to hang her plot, but the chief interest to me of The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side was the shrewd exposition of what makes a female film star tick the way she does tick. And though one could accept a single coincidence concerning that married couple, the second and quite wildly improbable one tends to destroy faith in the story – still more so since it leads nowhere at all.”