Welcome to another edition of In the Spotlight. Since this new feature was the brainchild of Rayna at Coffee Rings Everywhere, I thought it only fair to focus on one of her suggestions. So today, the spotlight is on Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d (AKA The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side). It’s a very interesting choice on a lot of levels, so let’s take a closer look at it.
In this novel, several changes have come to the village of St. Mary Mead. One of them is new council housing, and an entirely new population of people who live in the housing. Another is the arrival of famous actress Marina Gregg. She and her husband, Jason Rudd, have decided to purchase Gossington Hall, the former home of Colonel Bantry and his wife, Dolly. The purchase goes through, and Marina Gregg and her husband move in. Once they’re settled, they decide to host a fête as a benefit for a local charity, and all of the residents are invited. One person who’s especially excited about the fête is Heather Badcock, who lives with her husband in one of the new council homes. Miss Marple meets Heather Badcock quite literally by accident when she has a bad fall outside the Badcocks’ home. It’s then that Heather tells Miss Marple what a fan she is of Marina Gregg. On the day of the fête, Heather and her husband Arthur attend, and Heather is thrilled to actually meet her idol. She’s even more thrilled when Marina gives her a cocktail.
Shortly afterwards, the unthinkable happens. Heather Badcock sickens and dies. At first, everyone thinks the cocktail was really meant for Marina Gregg; it was hers originally, and Marina certainly had her share of enemies. It becomes apparent, though, that Heather was the intended victim all along. So now, Miss Marple and Dolly Bantry look into the case, sift through the clues and find out who killed Heather Badcock and why.
Agatha Christie often commented on the social changes happening around her, and we see that element in The Mirror Crack’d. At the beginning of the novel, there’s an interesting discussion of the coming of council housing, the increase in population and the way that the village has changed. Many villagers grumble about these social changes, but Miss Marple takes them in stride. Her view is that these kinds of changes are inevitable, so complaining about them too much isn’t productive. In fact, Miss Marple is even curious about this new council housing, and decides to explore it. That’s, in fact, when she has her fall and meets Heather Badcock.
As Christie describes some of the changes in the village, we also get a sense of some of the changes that have taken place in England. Christie mentions the coming of supermarkets, the modernization of stores, and even the re-naming of what used to be called the drawing room; it’s now called the living room.
More subtly, Christie comments on social change as she discusses the sale of Gossington Hall (the scene, by the way, of The Body in the Library). It had been the property of Colonel and Dolly Bantry, but in the decades after World War II (this novel was written in 1962), few people wanted to live in large homes like Gossington Hall any more. In fact, Dolly Bantry mentions that the days of those large homes have passed when she explains to Miss Marple that it didn’t disturb her at all to sell the home:
“We thought of it, I remember, as a house that would be easy to run. How we could ever have thought that, I can’t imagine! All those staircases and passages. Only four servants. Only! Those were the days, ha ha!”
Another element that makes this story interesting is Christie’s gentle sense of humor that we see in several places in the novel. For instance, at the beginning of the novel, Miss Marple has been ill, and is still recuperating. Her doctor has insisted that she have someone from the village look after her, so she engages Miss Knight, who lives in the new council housing development. Miss Knight is rather overbearing and condescending, and she has the habit of irking Miss Marple. So one day, when Miss Knight is doing her shopping, Miss Marple gives her a long list of errands, and sneaks out while Miss Knight’s gone. Miss Marple wants to explore the new housing development, and it’s quite funny to see how she gives Miss Knight the slip, so to speak.
Miss Marple is famous for her keen insight into human nature. In fact, that’s part of what’s made her such a beloved character. We see that element in The Mirror Crack’d, too. In fact, a short conversation with Heather Badcock is enough to remind Miss Marple of another villager she knew, and who
“Didn’t always see how things might appear to, or affect, other people.”
In that comment, she gives the reader a warning about Heather, so it’s not a real shock, if one’s paying close attention, when Heather Badcock turns out to be the victim. In fact, Miss Marple says of herself that she has
“…a certain knowledge of human nature – that is only natural after having lived in a small village all my life.”
It’s that knowledge of human nature that helps Miss Marple figure out who murdered Heather Badcock.
Another important element in this novel is the connection between past and present. Many of Christie’s novels explore the theme of the past affecting the present, and this novel is no exception. Miss Marple finds out some things about Heather Badcock’s past and if you will, stores them away. Later, when Heather is murdered, Miss Marple remembers what she’s been told, and finds out some other truths about the past as well. Once she connects the stories from the past that she’s learned, Miss Marple is able to find out who killed Heather.
One of Christie’s hallmarks is the plot twist. There’s nearly always something unexpected that happens in a Christie novel, and we see this in The Mirror Crack’d. When Heather drinks the poisoned cocktail, it’s naturally assumed that Marina Gregg was the intended victim. She’d made her share of enemies, including rival actress Lola Brewster, who’s present at the open house. There’s also the relationship between Marina Gregg and her husband, Jason Rudd. But in true Christie style, it’s not as simple as that, and we find out that Heather Badcock, an apparently goodhearted, blameless woman, was the intended victim.
The Mirror Crack’d is drawn together by the themes of social change and actions and consequences, among other themes. Its interest is, as much as anything else, in the characters we meet, Miss Marple’s insight into human nature and of course, the twists, turns and “red herrings” that made Christie a crime fiction genius. There’s also a subtle but real touch of humor.
Have you read The Mirror Crack’d? If you have, what elements about it struck you?
Next week, I’ll be putting Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Rosenna in the spotlight. If you’ve got an idea for a novel that you would like me to spotlight, please leave a comment or send me an Email, and I’ll put it on the In The Spotlight list.