Sunday 15 November 2015

#CBR7 Book 115: "4:50 from Paddington" by Agatha Christie

Page count: 351 pages
Audio book length: 7 hrs 8 mins
Rating: 2 stars

On her way by train to visit her old friend Jane Marple for Christmas, Mrs Elspeth McGillicuddy is shocked to realise that she's witnessing a murder in the train running parallel. A tall, dark man in a dark coat is strangling a blond woman in a fur coat and there is nothing Mrs McGillicuddy can do. As soon as the train stops, she notifies the ticket inspector and the station master of what she saw, and when she arrives at Miss Marple's, the two talk to the police and report the crime.

No one else appears to have witnessed anything amiss, however. No dead bodies have been found on the train, and no women have been reported missing. There are suggestions that perhaps Mrs. McGillicuddy imagined what she saw, but she is adamant she witnessed a crime, and her friend Miss Marple, far too experienced with the dark deeds that people commit, believes her. Once her friend leaves to visit her children after Christmas, Miss Marple starts her own investigation. She discovers that the train the murderer would have been on comes to a sharp turn shortly before it enters the station in the town of Brackhampton. There is a sloping hill where a body could easily have been dumped.

As Miss Marple is old and incapable of going around to snoop for a dead body herself, she engages the assistance of a young friend, Miss Lucy Eyelesbarrow, a highly intelligent and competent woman whose made a name for herself as the perfect domestic servant. She can perform the duties of housekeeper, cook, nursemaid or nanny for the people she works for, always leaving the household much better off than it was when she left. Because of her dedication and skill, she's in high demand, but has some free time because of the holidays and Miss Marple's problem intrigues her. She manages to secure a post with the Brackenthorpe family, who live in the manor where Miss Marple suspects the body has been hidden. When Lucy finds the dead woman in an antique sarcophagus in one of the manor's outbuilding, there are several mysteries that need to be unravelled. Who is the dead woman, who none in the Brackenthorpe family claim to recognise? How did she end up hidden in their barn? And last, but not least, who murdered the young woman?

Lucy Eyelesbarrow acts as Miss Marple's eyes, ears and legs in the case, while the godson of Miss Marple's good friend, Inspector Craddock, is in charge of the investigation on behalf of the Scotland Yard. As in most good Agatha Christie mysteries, there's a fairly large cast of characters who could all be guilty of the murder, and the blond woman on the train is not the only one who ends up dead.

This audiobook was bundled with The Man in the Brown Suit, a kind gift from my BFF Lydia. As a young teenager, I voraciously devoured all the Agatha Christie novels in Norwegian translation in my local library, and I was pretty sure I'd read most of the books in her bibliography. I know I much preferred the stand-alones and the Poirot books to those with Miss Marple, and at no point when listening to this book, did I remember anything that made it likely I'd read it before. They do all blend together a bit, but I really think this was the first time I came across this particular story. While Agatha Christie didn't really write any bad books, this one very much suffered from being listened to right after one of my all-time favourites. While Lucy was an engaging enough character and Miss Marple obviously is a very clever old lady, a sedate manor mystery set in the English countryside set shortly after Christmas just cannot compete with Anne Beddingfeld's adventures in South Africa with diamond theft, cruise ships, civil unrest in South African and dashing young men in brown suits.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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