Alas, Mrs. McGinty; we hardly knew you.
Really. I mean that. She was a widow, a woman who cleaned houses and took in lodgers to make ends meet; had a niece whom she saw at holidays, and was perhaps a bit of a nosy parker; nothing extraordinary to fill the obituary. When Inspector Spence visits the retired Poirot, he shares his troubling concern that the man he arrested for murdering Mrs. McGinty, and who is now facing the death penalty, is not truly guilty. Yes, yes; the circumstantial evidence was damning, but Jamess Bentley’ milquetoast personality seems so wrong for the deed. Could dear Poirot perhaps put his little grey cells to work? But the clues won’t be found in McGinty’s past; as Hercule Poirot points out “For, you see, Mon cher Spence, if Mrs. McGinty is just an ordinary charwoman–it is the murderer who must be extraordinary.”
It is true; the murderer is a bit extraordinary. The plotting has an interesting premise, albeit perhaps hard to understand in the modern age. A second murder (because there always is one, isn’t there?) was unsurprising. Overall, the book reminded me more than a bit of A Murder is Announced (review), so perhaps take a break between if you are on a Christie binge, or perhaps visit one of her more exotic locales in between.
For once, Christie leads with Hercule instead of consulting him later, providing an enjoyable stroll down nostalgia lane. Poirot laments the loss of Hastings as a sounding board and audience, but since Poirot’s investigative strategy is to stir up the village, he ends up ‘confiding’ in a number of people. We are treated to Christie’s standard cast of the post-war English village: a penniless but connected couple with a shabby family manse, a overly dramatic woman who enjoys her own tales of woe, the dutiful but repressed daughter, a bold young woman emblematic of the new age, an insecure, unsmart woman attempting to climb the social ladder, a postmistress with a penchant for gossip. All standard in many Christies, along with the semi-invalid elderly woman and her playwright son, echoes of Marple’s nephew Raymond.
“Mrs. Sweetiman imparted all this information with relish. She prided herself on being well informed. Mrs. Weatherby whose desire for knitting needles had perhaps been prompted by a desire to know what was going on, paid for her purchase.“
Tone seems on the playful side, which self-referential remarks on writing, appreciation and performance. When Mrs. Oliver and her apples make an appearance, it becomes quite clear that Christie is taking an authorial aside to muse on readers who obstinately prefer troublesome characters and playwrights who take license with an author’s characters. “‘How do I know?’ said Mrs. Oliver crossly. ‘How do I know why I ever thought of the revolting man? I must have been mad!… Why all the idiotic mannerisms he’s got? These things just happen. You try something–and people seem to like it–and then you go on–and before you know where you are, you’ve got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life.”
Poor Dame Christie. She seems to have had at least a gastronomic sort of revenge on Poirot at least, by boarding him at the worst guest-house possible: “I thought I would open a bottle of those raspberries I put up last summer. They seem to have a bit of mould on top but they say nowadays that that doesn’t matter… –practically penicillin.” If it is any post-humus consolation, in my old age, I prefer Miss Marple to the conceited Poirot, but I enjoy them both. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead is one worth adding to the library.