Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “4:50 from Paddington” by Agatha Christie


4:50 from PaddingtonAgatha Christie creates a unique angle on a murder mystery in 1957’s 4:50 from Paddington, or What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw, as published in the United States. On a December afternoon, Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy travels down on the train from London to visit Miss Marple when she suddenly looks up at the train traveling next to hers and sees the window shade fly open and a man strangling a woman right next to her. In shock, she turns to her friend for succor, but no reports of the body surface. Miss Marple assures Mrs. McGillicuddy that she has done all that she can do, but the sleuth has other ideas and turns to research on train lines and time tables. Then, knowing she herself is too old to do physical research, Miss Marple writes to a young friend, Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to ask for assistance. Lucy, who earned top scores in math at university, has abandoned an academic career in exchange for becoming the most in-demand short-term household help in all of England. So Miss Marple hires the lady to find a body.

Lucy moves into the rambling Rutherford Hall, occupied by only the patriarch of the family, the miser Luther Crackenthorpe, and his daughter Emma. Plus, Alexander, the son of Emma’s deceased sister, is coming with his best friend, James Stoddart-West, for the first half of Christmas vacation. The two boys bring energy and verve to the scene. When Lucy finally finds the missing body of the strangled woman, things become exciting at Rutherford Hall, especially with all the members of the Crackenthorpe family descending upon the Hall and all the men falling in love with Lucy. With Miss Marple staying close by with her “Faithful Florence,” who had been her maid years before, Lucy has her criminal consultant nearby. Plus, Miss Marple gets Dermot Craddock, whom we first met in A Murder Is Announced, now a detective inspector at Scotland Yard, to take the case, so the trio of Miss Marple, Lucy, and Craddock work together to solve this curious case.

This book has a fascinating premise, with some creative twists, yet even what seems unrealistic at first comes out as having a conclusion that seems highly reasonable, with Miss Marple’s thought progresses making great sense once she lays them out. I really appreciate the way that Miss Marple, who is too old and feeble to do the physical work needed to solve the case, works with Lucy’s doing the legwork and Miss Marple’s doing the mental job.

Moist Agatha Christie books contain stock characters with little depth to them, but this book does a better job of development than most of her other books. The characters at Rutherford Hall come across as having a variety of temperaments and careers. Luther Crackenthorpe shows himself as a curmudgeon who has a soft spot for Lucy, eventually beginning to endear himself to the reader. The siblings have very different natures, from Emma’s being down-to-earth to Alfred’s flashy cheapness and questionable ethics. Cedric spends all his time as a painter in the island of Ibiza, and Harold is a big financier in the city. Then, there is Brian Eastley, the widowed husband of the sister Edie and father to Alexander. As a decorated fighter pilot during the war, Brian has had trouble settling down to the boredom of civilian life, leaving Alexander to take over the role of father-figure many times and determined to set his father up with Lucy. Alexander and James especially delight, eating voraciously and having great times playing football. All these characters cause genuine feelings in the reader and make you feel invested in them.

The audio version of this book is performed by Joan Hickson, whom Agatha Christie herself selected to play Miss Marple long before Hickson was old enough to play the part. Hickson does a fantastic job of narrating this book, making me wish she had lived long enough to record all the Miss Marple books. While the publishers did a great job of selecting other readers, no one can surpass Hickson in my mind. It feels to me as if Miss Marple herself were reading this book to me personally.

Though not my favorite Miss Marple book, 4:50 from Paddington, makes my list of top five favorite Miss Marple books. I love the enjoyable characters and think the book very cleverly written. I give this book five stars!

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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