Agatha Christie needs no introduction. She’s one of the top-selling authors of all time and I’ve never read her until now. I’ve had her books around me all my life. My mother has read everything or almost everything she’s written but her favorite Christie sleuth is Miss Marple. So one afternoon, we got to talking and after finishing Ruth Rendell’s excellent novel, she said I should read “What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw.” I couldn’t find that title anywhere but after a brief search, it turns out the title is actually 4:50 From Paddington and it features the sharp and clever minded Miss Jane Marple.
4:50 From Paddington was written in 1957 and features one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved amateur sleuths. Miss Marple is well known around the village of St. Mary Mead and that despite her “fluffy and dithery appearance, inwardly she’s as sharp and shrewd as they make them.” She’s well regarded by the local police and well-connected. 4:50 From Paddington starts off during the Christmas season. After doing some shopping, Mrs. McGillicuddy boards her train and shortly after, witnesses a woman being strangled in the opposite train when her train and the other train are traveling parallel to each other before it veers off at the curve. She reports the crime to railway officials. She tells Miss Marple what she saw. Both women wait for the murder to hit the morning papers but it doesn’t. So they decide to call the police. The police find nothing at the railway and the case is closed.
It comes down to Miss Marple deciding to believe her friend over everyone else who questions her story or think she’s mistaken. Miss Marple sticks by her friend. She gets to work trying to figure out how someone can commit murder on a train and hide the body. After some clever deduction and the retracing of some steps, with the help of her friends, Miss Marple asks Ms. Lucy Eyelesbarrow to take a post at an estate on the outskirts of Brackhampton. The railway encircles half the property of Rutherford Hall. The wealthy owner is an elderly miser who lives there with his daughter.
The story is about 220 pages long and was a quick afternoon read. It’s told in third person, with a handful of characters having the predominant point of view. The main protagonist, Miss Jane Marple is seen using her famous skills of deducing who the murderer might be while she stays near Rutherford Hall and pretends to be Lucy’s aunt. The two women work closely together. Ms. Marple gets invited to meet the family. One of her most prominent social skills is what life has taught her about human nature. She can look at someone and be reminded of another person just by what she observes or hears. She also gives tell-tale signs that show that she’s heard something of import with the twinkle of her eye or with a telling cough. One would think they could spot the villain from these signs but one would be wrong. The villain turned out to be a big surprise.
The characters were all well-developed enough for this short length novel. The dialogue is laced with humorous exchanges. There’s more dialogue than narration. There are certain characters that stood out alongside Ms. Marple. There’s a strong sense of connectedness between Miss Marple and the people she’s worked with in earlier cases. All were most willing to help her out no matter how busy they were in life. There is a very noticeable formula to how the story is structured especially when the big reveal is given with Miss Marple in attendance. I’m not sure if that is the case for all of her stories and why would we want it any other way? So that wasn’t a big surprise and it was something that was expected. Many guesses were made about the motive and villain at various places in the story but there were some surprising twists that made for some concentrated reading.
Final thoughts: Very well written whodunit even for today’s standards. The theme still resonates in today’s crime fiction: greed. Miss Marple is a very likable character. She’s a shrewd woman with lots of friends the world over. Dame Agatha Christie wasn’t called The Queen of Mystery for nothing. 4:50 From Paddington has held up very well. While this title may not be the best place to start there was nothing wrong with reading it out of sequential order.
Other stories that feature Miss Marple: “The Murder at the Vicarage,” “The Body in the Library,” “The Moving Finger,” “A Murder is Announced,” “They Do It With Mirrors,” “A Pocket Full of Rye,” “4:50 From Paddington,” “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side,” “A Caribbean Mystery,” “At Bertram’s Hotel,” “Nemesis,” “Sleeping Murder,” and “Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories.”
Notes: For further reviews, read Margot’s In the Spotlight, which features this book. There’s the 1961 film version of this book, titled, Murder, She Said that starred Margaret Rutherford and Arthur Kennedy that I’m told is very good.