The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (by Agatha Christie)

We have quite a large collection of books by Agatha Christie, probably the best-known writer of light crime fiction in the middle of the twentieth century. We picked up most of them second-hand, initially for my sons who liked reading them in their teens. Now I’m slowly working through them myself.

‘The mirror crack’d from side to side’ is set in the fictional small village of St Mary Mead, home of Miss Marple. She is becoming quite elderly; Miss Marple now has a live-in helper who drives her wild, and finds it difficult to get about. But she and her friends take a lively interest in everything that goes on around them, and like to gossip about the modern housing estate, complete with supermarkets, which has grown up around the village.

Most of the story, however, is related to Gossington Hall, a large stately home in St Mary Mead. I particularly loved the description of the East Lodge, ‘a charming porticoed little building replete with inconvenience…’. The Hall has been bought by a film star and her fifth husband, and within a few chapters of the book most of the cast gather at a large garden fete given at the Hall, which attracts most of the locals.

The initial chapters introduce us to several of the important characters of the book, seen in context. Agatha Christie was very skilled in her plotting of books, and this is no exception. I’ve always felt that her characterisation, by contrast, was less well developed. Some of her people seem very two-dimensional. However, in this book I was quite drawn to Miss Marple, and a few other characters too.

Unsurprisingly there’s a murder that takes place at the fete, one that apparently happens in full view of several people. As ever, red herrings abound. I thought I was doing quite well with spotting things before the police did, or before they were spelled out, only to learn, as I continued to read, that I had fallen nicely into the intended misdirection. I hadn’t guessed the actual perpetrator or the motive until about a paragraph before all was revealed, and felt quite tense when reading the last fifty pages or so, as Miss Marple works out what has happened.

My one gripe about this book is the rather unpleasant language used to describe a child who was born with a serious mental handicap. We don’t know much about the child, but the attitudes of the times are rather shocking. The very non-PC words used could be considered seriously disturbing.

The attitude towards prescribed drugs also seems rather bizarre over fifty years later; but could be considered part of the social history of the era.

All in all, I thought it a very good example of Agatha Christie’s work. As with all this author's novels, it remains almost continually in print, but is also widely available second-hand.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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