Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Agatha Christie. 10 September – 23 September 2009.
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
The 37th installment of The Agatha Christie Collection, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, sees the return of Miss Marple as the title sleuth. The latest offering has a cunning twist but overall fails to leave a lasting impression.
The early part of the book spends a great deal of time “setting the scene”, but the characters are mostly bland and 2-dimensional. The inevitable murder is a relief, because it means there will at least be some plot movement.
The recurring themes for the investigation are quickly established, the “Lady Shallott” look. Christie wisely avoids dwelling for too long on any character or interview, and instead keeps the investigations brief. Although the characters are mostly quite dull and their accounts repetitive, the swift progression from one to the next prevents you from getting bogged down.
The story comes into its own at the end, with the plot quickening and twists emerging as the body count suddenly soars. The latter parts of the book are much more like the Christie we know and love.
It must be said, while I have criticised the flatness of some characters, it does succeed in making the more memorable ones shine out all the more. The incredibly complex Marina Gregg is unravelled further and further, and the represetation of the TV scene is very well represented from Christie’s quaint era. In particular, Gregg’s frequent marriages and divorces together with showbiz melodrama makes Gregg a wonderfully parodied yet equally original central character.
Also worth mentioning is Miss Marple’s hired help, Miss Knight, who backflips stereotypes of old and young people. Knight is incredibly funny combined with Marple’s sharp wit and refusal to be patronised because she is older.
Disappointing is Dermot Craddock as the lead investigator in the case. Unlike Poirot, where he does the work and has an obligatory sidekick, it is Craddock who does all the investigating in this case, with Miss Marple in something of a supporting role until the end. Notwithstanding Craddock’s own weaknesses – very little is shown of his analysis, thoughts, feelings or turmoil – it does seem a little misleading to class this as a Marple novel. Surely a character so famous of Miss Marple deserved more dialogue and action?
Overall, The Mirror Crack’d is a good read. It’s one of Christie’s shortest, which prevents the flatness of the plot and characters from being too defined. There are some great exchanges, and the solution – though very quickly revealed and forgotten in a rushed ending disproportionate to its importance – will leave you slapping your head for not working it out!