Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side”

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The Mirror Crack’d from Side to SideAs Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side opens, Miss Marple is unhappy. Doc Haydock has declared that Miss Marple is now too old to live on her own, so her famous author nephew, Raymond West, has hired a companion to live with Miss Marple and watch out for her. The only problem is that Miss Knight drives Miss Marple crazy. So one day she gives the lady the slip and goes on a walk to visit “The Development,” which is a new community of homes recently built in St. Mary Mead for the younger families. There, Miss Marple determines that people are all the same everywhere, regardless of the conditions in which they live, and she meets Heather Babcock, a woman who takes Miss Marple in when she turns her ankle. Heather has her hand in everything around, seeing herself as “an angel of mercy.”

Shortly after Miss Marple’s trip out, the community has a fete to raise money for the ambulance fund. By now, Mr. Bantry of The Body in the Library has been long gone, and his wife has sold the estate, Gossington Hall. It has eventually become the property of the famous movie star, Marina Gregg and her famous movie producer Jason Rudd, which has sent St. Mary Mead into a tizzy. At the fete, held on the grounds of Gossington Hall, certain special guests get invited to visit the house and its occupants, including the mayor, Mrs. Bantry, and Heather Babcock, who organized the fete. The guests get introduced to daquiris, an American cocktail not yet introduced to the British so seen as exotic. As Mrs. Bantry and her friends are exploring the bathrooms the new occupants have installed in the house, they learn that Heather has had some kind of medical difficulty, and by the time they get out to check on Heather, the young woman is dead.

The next morning, Mrs. Bantry eagerly rings up her favorite sleuth, Miss Marple, to the consternation of Miss Knight, who is certain that murder is too much for poor Miss Marple’s constitution. When Dr. Haydock visits and finds Miss Marple in a depression, he suggests she take up murder in a tacit admission that Heather’s death was unnatural and giving Miss Marple permission to investigate. With her good friend, Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock, in charge of the investigation, Miss Marple gets involved personally in the case. Her domestic help, Cherry, assists her by giving her further insight into the life at “The Development,” though Miss Knight still worries that all this talk of murder is bad for the little old lady’s constitution. The police keep trying to locate a clue, coming to the conclusion that the intended target was really Marina Gregg. Miss Marple doesn’t take as active a role in this book as in some other books, but she still takes an important role.

The title of the book comes from the Tennyson poem, “The Lady of Shalott,” that Mrs. Bantry quotes to depict the look of horror that she sees on Marina Gregg’s face at one point in the reception at which Heather Babcock dies:

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.

The book quotes from this poem several times, even referring to Marina as having a “Lady of Shalott look.”

This used to be one of my least favorite Miss Marple books, but I recently had a discussion online with someone who said this is his favorite. I was initially taken aback by this, but he pointed out that this book has a really creative conclusion that only Christie could have pulled off as believable. I learned from Wikipedia that the motive actually originated from a real-life situation, though without a crime. I can’t go into further details without giving away the surprise, but once you have read this book, I highly recommend that you visit the Wikipedia page for the book and click on “References to Actual History” to read about this interesting case.

Christie seems to do a good job of dealing with the life of the Hollywood A-list people. While the paparazzi were not as active in 1962, the date of the book’s publication, as they are now, they were just then becoming a real phenomenon. Further, the pressures put on Marina Gregg as an actress come across as very realistic. As an effective actress, Marina has to live with her emotions on her sleeve, leaving her susceptible to being hurt easily. We watch as she gradually becomes unraveled throughout the course of the book as she gets more threats. We can see the dual pressures of her career and the death that she has witnessed get to her nerves.

I recently came across a list of myths commonly misbelieved about Agatha Christie books. One stated myth is that the Books are full of gay men and lesbians, but the reality is that there is only one clear reference to a gay person, in Caribbean Mystery, but it’s a very quick, casual reference. Further, some people play the part of Christopher Wren in Christie’s famous play, The Mousetrap, as gay, but the script does not give specific directions to make him gay. This book contains the other vague reference that could possibly be about a gay man in the assistant to the photographer who attended the party where Heather was killed. The narrator in the audio version plays this character as gay, but the text does not clearly indicate the issue of sexual orientation.

Rosemary Leach returns to narrate this Miss Marple book. She especially does a good job of demonstrating both Miss Marple’s growing frustration with the annoying Miss Knight and Marina Gregg’s slow descent into what could be a form of insanity. I enjoyed her voices and the embodiment of the book about this fun sleuth.

Compared to other books Christie published in 1962, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is a real improvement. I think it is one of the weakest Miss Marple books, but it is much better than the Poirot books written in the same time period. Given the high quality of the Miss Marple books, it has a high standard to match. The creativity in the solution gives strength to the book. I give it 3.5 stars!

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

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