Mrs. McGillicuddy is traveling by train when she witnesses a woman being strangled in the train traveling alongside hers. She reports the incident and is promptly dismissed, leaving her to turn to her friend, the resourceful Miss Marple. Strange as it seems, Miss Marple believes her:
“Mrs. McGillicuddy looked at her without comprehension and Miss Marple reaffirmed her judgment of her friend as a woman of excellent principles and no imagination.”
I always forget about that brief section in 4:50 from Paddington that feels like the beginning of the dreaded story problem: “if two trains are traveling…”
Luckily, Miss Marple soon discards that line of investigation in favor of looking for the body, because no one has been reported missing and no one was found dead on the train. As it goes in the famous Breakfast Club episode of Psych, “no body, no crime.”
Elderly Miss Marple can’t go scouring a country estate for clues, so she hires the very clever and resourceful Lucy Eyelesbarrow to take a post at the most likely spot the body was dumped. What follows is classic Christie manor mystery, filled with the usual characters given enough shading to distinguish them. The eccentric, miserly father, the dutiful daughter, and the three sons: the artistic one from abroad, the posh London businessman and the youngest, a slick grifter. Cast is rounded out by the impish grandson and his school friend, household staff, Yard Detective Craddock and, of course, Miss Marple (and Florence), with guest appearance by Mrs. McGillicuddy.
“‘I’m sure you will succeed, my dear Lucy. You are such an efficient person.’ “In some ways, but I haven’t had any experience in looking for bodies.’ ‘I’m sure all it needs is a little common sense,’ said Miss Marple encouragingly.”
Among Christie’s creations, What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw (the original title) stands out in character and plotting. Published in 1957, rather late in Christie’s career, she cleverly uses Lucy as a stand-in for Miss Marple. Lucy’s position at the manor allows her to poke into all sorts of corners as well as getting to know the family–sometimes, a little bit better than she would like. I was particularly fond of the beginning chapters establishing Lucy’s tenure and her initial attempts at poking around the estate. Grandson Alexander and his friend Stoddart-West livened up the search.
“They discoursed gravely during lunch on events in the sporting world, with occasional references to the latest space fiction. Their manner was that of elderly professors discussing paleolithic implements. In comparison with them, Lucy felt quite young.”
There’s a couple bits that feel dated, particularly the investigative line spent pursuing any “mental bends” in the family tree. The denouement too: it might have surprised me the first time through, but as I’ve slowly re-read and cataloged my Christie reads, I realize it’s an ending used before –with Miss Marple, no less! While it gets a bit silly near the end, it overall manages to maintain the air of suspense. Ah well, a fun read anyhow.