‘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.’ – Alfred Tennyson
Well, it had to happen sooner or later… I’ve finally read an Agatha Christie book that I didn’t particularly enjoy. I finished this feeling underwhelmed and a little incredulous at the wrap up of the story. I never usually finish a Christie novel with questions, she usually take care of all the details, but not here.
In this Miss Marple mystery, film star Marina Gregg buys Gossington Hall, a huge manor house in the small village Miss Marple lives in, St Mary Mead. Gregg throws a fete in her grounds and house and invites local people. At the soiree, local woman Heather Badcock tragically dies. At first it looks like a seizure, but closer inspection reveals she was poisoned. Marina Gregg is reported as having a frozen expression on her face and looking like ‘The Lady of Shalott’ just before this happened – how are the two events linked? Miss Marple realises that to crack this case, the police need to look further than the basic clues, they need to account for the slippery beast that is human nature. Luckily, Miss Marple is on hand, ‘I have a certain knowledge of human nature – that is only natural after having lived in a small village all my life.’
I felt my attention waning during the read due to the repetition: I’ve noticed that repeating key plot points is a habit Agatha has (such as in Cards on the Table or Five Little Pigs) either one character going through events several times or the same event being recounted by different people and usually, it’s fine (as in the aforementioned books) and often useful, but here it made the narrative drag.
I’d better balance this review out with what I did like! It was by no means a terrible read, it’s just my Agatha bar is set so high. As I read more Christie, I am really enjoying all the nods and crossovers to other characters and books, in this one, for example, one of the characters (former owner of Gossington Hall) Mrs Bantry recounts a story where this happens: ‘At any rate, she burst in and said there was a body in the library.’
Overall though, to me it felt a bit like Agatha took a shine to a line from a Tennyson poem and decided to build a novel around it, without really worrying about if it actually worked. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side lacked the depth and shrewdness I’ve come to expect from her and and well, all reminded me a little too much of this.
/Originally published in 1962. This edition published by HarperCollins in 2016.