The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side By Agatha Christie (1962) Review

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The curse is come upon me

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (1962) by Agatha Christie: 4 out of 10: In The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, Miss Jane Marple falls while walking in St. Mary Mead and is helped by Heather Badcock, who brings her into her home to rest. Over tea, Heather recounts meeting American actress Marina Gregg, who recently moved into the area and bought Gossington Hall from Miss Marple’s friend, Dolly Bantry.

Marina and her husband, film producer Jason Rudd, host a fête in honor of St. John Ambulance. The guests include Dolly Bantry, actress Lola Brewster, Marina’s friend Ardwyck Fenn, and Heather with her husband, Arthur. During the event, Heather corners Marina and shares a long story about their first meeting years ago. Dolly notices a strange look on Marina’s face during Heather’s monologue. Shortly after, Heather collapses and dies.

Dolly recounts the events to Miss Marple, quoting lines from the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem “The Lady of Shalott” to describe Marina’s expression. Which is how we got our title drop. Though “She left the web, she left the loom” is sitting right there.

Detective Inspector Frank Cornish investigates and finds that Heather had consumed a poisoned daiquiri given to her by Marina. Wallpaper paste in human form, Chief Inspector Dermot Craddock from Scotland Yard takes over the case and delves into Marina’s past. Desperate to have a child, Marina adopted three children before giving birth to a mentally disabled son and suffering a nervous breakdown. One adopted child, Margot Bence, was present at the fête but denies poisoning Marina’s drink.

The investigation deepens with more deaths: Ella Zielinsky, Jason’s social secretary, dies from a poisoned atomizer, and Giuseppe, Marina’s butler, is shot after depositing a large sum of money in his bank account. Ardwyck Fenn reveals he received an anonymous call accusing him of killing Heather, which he recognized as Zielinsky’s voice due to her sneeze. Jason suspects Marina is being targeted; she has received threatening notes, and her coffee was found to contain arsenic.

Miss Marple’s cleaner, Cherry Baker, informs her that her friend Gladys Dixon, a server at Gossington Hall, believes Marina deliberately spilled Heather’s drink and planned to meet Giuseppe. After Gladys suddenly leaves for a holiday, Miss Marple finally leaves the house and visits Gossington Hall. Mystery solved.

The Good

The Good: I like Agatha Christie. I know that hardly makes me unique. After all, she was the best-selling author of all time by most measurements. (only Shakespeare comes close).

Miss Christie wrote 85 novels and a few are bound to be duds. (That slacker Stephen King has only written 77 books). Alas, from the verbiage below, I am afraid “The Mirror Crack’d” is in that dud category.

But this is the place in the review where I tell what I liked, so I would say I find it refreshing the book takes place in relatively modern times. Miss Marple dealing with (and rebelling against) modern trends like taxis, housing estates and grocery stores is delightful.

“The Mirror Crack’d” also picks up steam for a while with a couple of fun murders I did not see coming. So kudos to Miss Christie to reliably amping up the death count when things are slow.

The Bad

The Bad: I really question Agatha making her detective a homebound invalid with drama involving her caretakers. It is a rather dry subject that both takes away from the reason for the season and takes Miss Marple out of chunks of her own book. This is not a death sentence in of itself but Miss Marples substitute nephew whom I want to say who is a police inspector is like dry toast and her issues with an over cautious doctor and housekeeper are hardly entertaining asides.

I have no trouble with the main character going off the reservation for a while and mixing up the formula, but not if it is so she can do her taxes and sort the pantry.

The Ugly

The Ugly: The official site of the Agatha Christie estate suggests that, in writing Gregg, Christie was “influenced” by the life of American actress Gene Tierney.

Influence is an understatement. Much as 1934’s Murder on the Orient Express was based on the Lindbergh kidnapping The Mirror Crack’d is based on Gene Tierney’s tragic 1943 pregnancy where she gave birth to a daughter, Daria, who was deaf and mentally disabled due to congenital rubella syndrome.

Gene Tierney was mentally ill with manic depression (Bipolar Disorder) and went through various shock treatments to get better. The birth of her daughter was a horrible setback.

Here is the issue. First of all, Gene Tierney was not dead when The Mirror Crack’d came out in 1962 (She didn’t die till 1991) She had made a screen comeback in “Advise & Consent“ that same year reuniting with director Otto Preminger. Her former boyfriend JFK was president, and she was recently married to Texas oil baron W. Howard Lee.

She was a public figure and had successfully put this tragedy behind her. And then Christie uses this tragedy and Tierney’s own mental challenges as plot points in her novel barely disguising the details. To make matters worse, she paints Tierney as a horrible monster for which there is zero evidence.

Really seems a cheap shot to a living person who almost no one has anything but kind words for.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: Good luck solving the mystery. I have no idea how a reader is supposed to figure this one out. More problematic, I have no idea how Miss Marple figured it out. Overhearing your housekeeper talking with your doctor about your memory problems is not what should lead to a revelation about a triple homicide.

A mystery novel can survive a poor plot and reveal if it is interesting and a grand adventure on the way there. Alas, the Mirror Crack’d like visiting an elderly aunt in Dublin and an hour into tea you realise you went to the wrong house and no one there knows each other.

Random Notes from reading

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A somewhat modern Agatha Christie. There are grocery stories and housing developments. This is a Miss Marple mystery, so our main character is an old lady. (Much like Miss Christie herself at time of authorship.) A pleasant old lady in a changing village fighting some changes by calling things by their old names and putting up with servants and others thinking her feeble.

I watched the movie version of this with Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, which seems like perfect casting except it was 1980, so Angela had to wear old age makeup. Also, Angela was a good foot taller than the rest of the cast, if I recall, which took away from the feeble old lady angle. I don’t remember who done it, however currently though it would not surprise me if it comes to me while reading. So far pleasant and well-written cozy.

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Well, I am not enjoying last nights read about the redecorating of the large mansion and the feelings of the previous owner. (Who seems fine with it, so no drama there) I am having trouble getting a feel for any of the characters in these scenes. But that also may just be me. We shall see what our next read brings.

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Well, we are back on track with an open house charity bazaar in the same mansion. Well-written with a feel for the characters. Miss Marple, interestingly enough, does not appear to be in attendance. Even though I now recall the mystery, I am at a loss how anyone reading this would deduct it so far. It is opaque to the point of barely being visible to those looking for it. We shall see if the book further illuminates.

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We have a dead body and a plus one to my reading comprehension. Miss Marple was not there. She is homebound hearing about the incident third hand. Seems like a poisoning during the party and was the victim may not have been the intended target. Plenty of mystery. Kudos to Christie to at least let us get the game afoot fairly early in the book. I am not in love with “The Mirror Cracked” but I have moved into like.

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The game is afoot. Very pleasant read. Miss Maple seems quite housebound but fortunately her nephew (maybe real maybe a term of endearment) is the chief inspector for Scotland Yard and he has popped by to investigate and he is pumping Miss Marple for the local gossip as she pumps him for facts in the case. There is a weird bit where Christie says things like he asked meanly or a great insult was made where none is present, but that part of the talk is gone before it almost begins. Looking forward to another read tonight.

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The mystery comes into focus. I have to say, after some initial stumbles, this is becoming a more pleasant read with nice descriptions of the mystery. Nothing really to report good or bad from reading last night’s chapter.

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We now have the possible conclusion that our nervous wayward actress was the target of the poison. Something that seemed very obvious with the description of the action so far. Miss Maple is barely in her own book, by the way. We shall see how this changes and I wonder why the author took this route and whether it was on purpose. And if on purpose, what was the reason behind it?

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Another chapter with our inspector interviewing the actress’s husband. She lost a baby (It was born disabled and had to be given away). The entire episode caused her to be institutionalised for a few years. The husband is painting her as a borderline something. He claims he knows someone is trying to kill his wife, but if he were to tell her, it would set her over the edge. Still no Miss Marple, which is really strange. I see that being a theme of the review.

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And the theme continues. More chatting between the chief inspector and some characters about some other characters. Well, apparently he is off to see Miss Marple next chapter. Hope she is not down for a nap.

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Well, Miss Marple is on the case. Okay, discussing the case with the inspector in her living room. It is a lively discussion. One nice thing is Agatha Christie uses words that I do not recognize. Since I am reading on a Kindle, I can immediately look up the definitions. So at least my vocabulary is getting a workout. I am not sure if the words used have just fallen out of favor or I am reading way too many pop novels and glorified fanfic which is dumbing down my brain. Either was it is refreshing to be challenged, however slightly and by a mass market book from the early sixties no less.

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I am towards the end, and honestly, I am really questioning this book. Miss Maple is barely in the damn thing. The inspector has the personality of wallpaper paste so far and the shocking revelation so far is that the photographer on the scene was a daughter adopted by the actress who was shuffled off with her two adopted brothers when the actress became pregnant.

I am also wondering who the actress is a Roman à clef for. I am thinking Bettie Davis is an obvious choice. But was her reputation that bad in the early sixties? It might have been.

Okay I cheated. “The official site of the Agatha Christie estate suggests that, in writing Gregg, Christie was “influenced” by the life of American actress Gene Tierney.”

Wow reading Gene Tierney’s biography Christie took her life wholesale right down to the murder solution

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Okay, as I predicted above (Ed Note: You did not predict that) the book has pulled out of its free fall in mediocrity and in a few pages has if not redeemed itself at least gotten me interested again. So what happened in a few pages? (Seriously like ten pages in total.) Well, we have two additional murders and we finally spend time with Miss Marple doing her Miss Marple thing.

So the book is, dare I say, fun to read again. Though I have to admit what I have learned about Gene Tierney has left a sour taste in my mouth as the whole affair seems awfully cruel and mean spirited. That said, nothing like a couple of fresh corpses and the actual protagonist of the book making an appearance to distract me.

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Well, we are finally firing on all cylinders. Is it a little too late?… well, we shall see. I really question Agatha making her detective a homebound invalid with drama involving her caretakers. It is a rather dry subject that both takes away from the reason for the season and takes Miss Marple out of chunks of her own book. This is not a death sentence in of itself but Miss Marples substitute nephew I want to say who is a police inspector is like dry toast and her issues with an over cautious doctor and housekeeper are hardly entertaining asides. I have no trouble with the main character going off the reservation for a while and mixing up the formula, but not if it so she can do her taxes and sort the pantry.

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So Miss Marple figures out the mystery and heads to the Manor house. Apparently the actress killed herself that morning but she sits there and then tells the tales of how she murdered the girl who gave her German Measles and … well good luck figuring that out. This really is weak sauce. You know I gave it three stars, but I am thinking two stars might be more appropriate. The plot seems muddles. The main character is barely involved. The ending is not all that clear? I am still unsure who some people are at the end. No one has an interesting personality. It is just a weak story all the way around. I know Agatha can write a better yarn than this. I have read them.

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