Only a few weeks after swearing off Miss Marple altogether I’ve been lured back. All it took was the discovery of this book, in all its lurid 1950s glory, in a second-hand shop and I forgot entirely about all my previous grumblings. I was actually on the hunt for a hard-to-find large-print book for my grandad for Christmas; no joy there but I did in the process of the search buy four books for myself including this one…. Ooops.
In spite of my reservations about Nemesis, the last Marple book I read (eurgh), I was really excited by this because it’s one of the Christie books that seems to be generally fairly highly regarded. I’ve seen two TV adaptations – the original Margaret Rutherford and the more recent Geraldine McEwan one – but even though I was pretty sure I could remember the identity of the murderer I couldn’t remember the hows and the whys of it all. In this one Mrs McGilliguddy is travelling home from Paddington station one evening when she witnesses a woman being strangled through the window of an overtaking train. Despite some searching no body is immediately discovered by the police and she has a hard time convincing anyone to believe her story except, of course, her dear old friend Miss Jane Marple.
Marple barely puts down her knitting for this one. Instead she identifies the sinister Crackenthorpe family as the most likely suspects and persuades her latest minion, Miss Eylesbarrow, to take up the post of housekeeper in their home so she can do some nosing around on Marple’s behalf. The elderly sleuth does at least get up off her bum long enough to go and have a nice cup of tea with them all, bless her, but then there’s not really much for her to do until she swoops in at the end to solve the crime and take all the glory. Nice one Marps. It gives you the odd impression that there’s no real investigating going on here, particularly as Christie doesn’t really seem to have peppered this one with so many of the usual clues and red herrings (or at least not that I noticed). I can imagine that even if I hadn’t already known the identity of the killer I probably would have been fairly nonplussed by the solving of this mystery. It seems to come almost out of the blue so all you can really do is take Marple’s word for it that she’s picked out the true murderer.
Leaving aside the flimsiness of the evidence though I think this might be one of the better Agatha Christie novels I’ve read in a while. The atmosphere is taut almost throughout and there are some quite nice creepy touches along the way like the sarcophagus and old Mr Crackenthorpe’s proposition. It feels like the sort of mystery that Christie might have enjoyed putting together, much more so than Nemesis which now feels fairly lacklustre in comparison. I’m also pretty pleased with the fact that I started reading this on 20th December which is the day on which Mrs McGilliguddy witnesses the murder on the train. I like it when book time and real time coincide like that.