The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

This month’s book for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge is one of her later Miss Marple mysteries, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, published in 1962. I tend to prefer the Poirots to the Marples, so I was curious to see what I would think of this one.

The novel opens with the elderly Jane Marple recovering from a recent illness and deciding to take a walk around ‘the Development’, a new housing estate near her home in St Mary Mead. She falls and is helped to her feet by Heather Badcock, one of the new residents, who rushes out of her house to assist. Later, Mrs Badcock is poisoned during a party at nearby Gossington Hall hosted by its new owner, the famous American actress Marina Gregg. It seems unlikely, however, that Mrs Badcock had been the intended victim…it was only through an unfortunate set of circumstances that she came to drink the poison instead of Marina.

Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock begins to investigate, interviewing all those who were present at Gossington Hall at the time of Heather Badcock’s death and delving into Marina Gregg’s past, uncovering stories of adopted children, jealous rivals and a series of failed marriages. Miss Marple, however, is conducting some very different investigations of her own, based around what she knows of human nature. She is sure that the key to the mystery lies in discovering what caused the strange expression on Marina Gregg’s face just before Mrs Badcock dropped dead – an expression which other guests at the party described as reminding them of Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott (“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).

This hasn’t become a favourite Christie novel and I didn’t find it quite as clever as some of her others, but I did still enjoy reading it. It seems that she got the idea for the plot from the tragic true story of a real American actress, although I won’t tell you her name because if you look it up it will completely spoil the surprises contained in the solution to the mystery. I correctly guessed who the murderer was very early in the story, but I had no idea what the motive could have been and had to wait for Miss Marple to explain it all for me at the end of the book!

As well as being a murder mystery, this book is also an interesting study of some of the social changes taking place in 1960s Britain with a lot of time devoted to describing the houses on the ‘Development’ and the type of people who live there – with Miss Marple coming to the conclusion that, whatever the time and place, people are still people with the same hopes and ambitions, fears and uncertainties. It is through observations like this that she is able to move towards solving the mystery, drawing parallels between the suspects and other people she has known in the past. Miss Marple is also having personal problems of her own in this book, with her companion/housekeeper Mrs Knight, who treats her like a child and is generally overbearing and domineering. It’s clear that, however much Miss Marple’s age might be catching up with her physically, there is nothing wrong with her mind and she resents Mrs Knight’s condescending attitude. Again, I don’t want to spoil things, but there is a happy ending to this part of the story too!

I can’t say that I loved this one, but I am looking forward to working through the rest of the Marple novels that I haven’t read yet.

22 thoughts on “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

  1. BookerTalk says:

    It’s many years since I read one of the Miss Marples. Unfortunately the plots are too familiar now because I love the tv adaptations with Joan Hickson so much I just keep watching and watching

  2. www.rosesintherainmemoir.wordpress.com says:

    I enjoyed all the Miss Marple books and most of the BBC portrayals, especially the ones with the late Joan Hickson. My husband is attached to the “little Belgium” Poirot more than I. As for overbearing caretakers treating the elderly with condescension and baby talk, I have one word: YEHK. I remember those scenes in “Mirror Cracked …”

    • Helen says:

      I prefer Poirot, but I do like the Miss Marple books too. Mrs Knight is such an irritating character! I admire Miss Marple’s patience in putting up with her for so long.

    • Helen says:

      I enjoy the Poirots more, but I still have quite a lot of the Marple books left to read, so maybe I’ll change my mind as I work through the rest of them.

  3. Sandra says:

    I’ve read a few Christies but never a Marple. It’s hard to think of her books set in the sixties. TV versions have me thinking that all her work is set much earlier in the century.

    • Helen says:

      I think most of her best known books were written earlier in her career, so maybe the later ones haven’t been adapted for TV as often. I don’t really think of her as a 1960s author either.

  4. Jo says:

    This is one I haven’t read but seen on tv a lot. So going into it I have a rough idea, I will see if it is in mums bookshelf and catch up on reading it too.

  5. FictionFan says:

    I’m never quite so keen on Christie’s later books – they don’t feel as sure-footed about society as her Golden Age ones. I love the motive in this one, though, and also love the Elizabeth Taylor version.

  6. Nish says:

    I remember this one very well because I thought the plot was quite clever. Never went back to reread it though, maybe because I remember it so well.

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