4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
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Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors. I started reading her books as a pre-teen, and I still enjoy them just as much as I did then. My favorite sleuth is Miss Marple. I can hear the groans from all of the Hercule Poirot fans. However, I feel a connection to Miss Marple. Her version of detection was recognizing the traits shared between the current batch of protagonists with those she has met throughout her life. Miss Marple only featured in thirteen of Christie’s novels, and in my opinion, all except for At Bertram’s Hotel, are very good books.
This past week, I read one of my favorites, 4:50 from Paddingtonor What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw. The first title was the original British title of the book, while the latter was common in the US. The book started with Elspeth McGillicuddy travelling by train from London to Saint Mary Mead a few days before Christmas. On the journey, another train passed Mrs. McGillicuddy’s train. The trains’ speeds matched as they rounded a curve, and as Mrs. McGillicuddy stared out the window, she saw a man with his back toward Mrs. McGillicuddy, strangling a woman in the adjoining train. Mrs. McGillicuddy was shocked. However, as she explained the situation to the ticket collector a few minutes later, she found that no one believed her. However, Mrs. McGillicuddy found someone who trusted her when she made it to Jane Marple’s house. Miss Marple took her friend seriously, and the pair started a short investigation. Since Mrs. McGillicuddy had to travel on to India, Miss Marple continued on the investigation herself. With the aid of a nephew and maps, she figured out where the body may have been dumped from the train, Rutherford Hall. Miss Marple was no spring chicken, so she enlisted the aid of Lucy Eyelesbarrow to find the body. Lucy, a highly-prized and expensive housekeeper, went to work at Rutherford Hall, working for Mr. Luther Crackenthorpe, an old curmudgeon, and his daughter, Emma. Luther’s grandson, Alexander Eastley came to visit for the school holidays with his school chum, James Stoddart-West. Lucy found a woman’s body in one of the old stables, stuffed in a sarcophagus. The woman matched the description of the woman that Mrs. McGillicudy saw being murdered. The question was if the woman was the mysterious Martine, the woman betrothed to the eldest son Edmund, who died in the war. Emma had received a letter from Martine before Christmas with an answering reply that Martine was returning to France. The other key members of the mystery:
- Cedric Crackenthorpe, the eldest surviving son who lived on a remote island and painted
- Harold Crackenthorpe, the married businessman
- Arnold Crackenthorpe, the con artist
- Bryan Eastley, Alexander’s father and widowed husband of Edith
- Dr. Quimper, the family doctor
Miss Marple went to stay in the village around Rutherford Hall to be available for assistance, and to lend a helping hand to Dermot Craddock of Scotland Yard. Craddock was the godson of Sir Henry Clithering, who got a helping hand from Miss Marple in A Murder is Announced. Two more victims fell to the murderer’s hand before Miss Marple, Lucy, and the return of Mrs. McGillicuddy put the murderer behind bars.
I loved reading the book. The plot is tricky and convoluted enough to keep anyone guessing. Of course, if you watched any of the numerous movie and television adaptations, you knew whodunit. I’ve read the book a few times, and every time I reread it, I found a fresh clue. Sometimes people say that Christie made things up or provided the clues at the end only. Well, I think those folks just haven’t read the books, or they read them only once. I have to admit that I forgot that Martine was Lady Stoddart-West.
The only unresolved mystery in the book is Lucy Eyelesbarrow love life. Christie loved throwing in romance, and the suggestion was that Lucy found someone to marry. It’s left up in the air, but I think the clues are there. Every time the suggestion of marriage or choosing a partner came up with Lucy, she thought of the pig sty. That’s where Lucy had an interesting conversation with Cedric who was quite clear about NOT wanting to marry Lucy. Everyone else, including old Mr. Crackenthorpe, made a marriage offer to Lucy, including Alexander for his father. As Miss Marple told Dermot Craddock at the end, she was thought she knew Lucy’s choice. Miss Marple wasn’t keen on Brian, who was the suggested mate in the Joan Hickson television adaptation. Craddock was suggested as the mate at the end of the more recent Marple series. However, when you read the book, just pay close attention to the pig sty references. Also, Miss Marple wasn’t as keen on Brian. He was the sort who would never make wise financial decisions.
As a final note, the book was the basis for the Murder, She Said movie with Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. The general plot was the same, but Miss Marple took a much move active role in the murder.
There’s so much to enjoy about 4:50 from Paddington or What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw. I strongly recommend it!